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second careers

Pro soccer coach Steve Payne works with a young women’s team in Orangeville, Ont.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

This story is part of a Second Careers series that looks at people who are making major career changes after 50 – workers who are staying relevant and thriving in today's job market.

Steve Payne spent a lifetime preparing for his second career as a soccer coach but it took a moment of serendipity for him to seize the opportunity and take the shot.

As he looks back on his decision to "go hell-bent for leather" and leave the security of a government job to pursue a professional level soccer coaching licence, he realizes he couldn't have made any other choice back in 2008.

"I'd been thinking about going for it," said Mr. Payne, now 64, who started out as a journalist and ended up as an Ontario government communications officer. "So much so I'd been thinking about resigning from my job."

Timing was everything: Days from resigning, he was called to a meeting in which he was thrown a severance package as part of a civil service cull. He was surprised and thrilled at the same time. His dream was about to take flight.

"I just bit the bullet and took the package," he said, noting the adventurous switch to a new career has cost him about $40,000 over the past decade or more. "I'm still paying some of it off on the line of credit."

He spent the next 18 months travelling back and forth to Northern Ireland, Britain and eventually Brazil, studying the discipline of coaching and working toward the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) pro licence. He'd already obtained his UEFA A and B level certificates using his vacation time and savings while working, but this was a huge leap of faith.

It's been quite a journey since the second half kicked off; along the way he's learned to speak Portuguese, picked up from his stints studying soccer in Brazil and working with the famed soccer club Cruzerio Esporte Club in Belo Horizonte.

"We even had some talks about a job but it really didn't pay enough and I don't think my wife Deb was too keen to go," he laughs.

Today he is one of only a handful of people in Canada with the UEFA pro designation. He's also written a book, Streetwise Soccer, detailing his youth coaching philosophy: "Let them have fun playing with the ball like the Brazilians do playing on the street. We tend to overcoach and yell at kids and we're paralyzed by analysis. Let them experience the joy and discover the game and develop into great players."

In 2009, at 59, with his pro licence in hand, he was offered a job in Australia with the Tasmanian Football Federation as technical director. He and his wife spent more than a year there before moving back to Canada where he picked up again with the Bryst International soccer academy in the Greater Toronto Area and then signed on as the head coach of the Ottawa Fury in 2011, though that tenure lasted just a few months.

He is now working as the technical director with the Huronia District Soccer Association and as a coach training other coaches at the Ontario Soccer Association which, between them, keeps him working full time.

In many ways the transition was inevitable. Mr. Payne long harboured a passion for soccer stretching back to his childhood in Britain where, like most kids, he was obsessed with the sport. It led to a stint as a trainee with professional club Charlton Athletic in London and then on to amateur clubs Hitchin Town and Stevenage Athletic. When that ended he continued on, taking his basic coaching course certifications and then going into journalism.

After meeting his future wife on a Jolly Roger vacation cruise in Barbados, he moved to Canada in 1981. He was hired at the Toronto Sun where he spent 19 years as a reporter and editor.

"I had to stop coaching at that point because of the shifts," said Mr. Payne, though the passion for the game burned as brightly as ever.

He is famously remembered at the tabloid Sun for his piercing English accent where, as an assistant city editor, he was known for the phrase, "I wanted a news story mate, not a bleedin' novel!"

After 19 years there, he was laid off in one of the initial waves of newspaper downsizing. Mr. Payne found his feet as a communications officer for the Ontario government. But the lure of the game was never far away.

"It just fell together for me. It hasn't been everything I thought it would be, but I would do it all again. On my deathbed I'll still say I'm glad I went."

He says his age hasn't been a factor. "Good ideas don't just come from people under 35," he laughs. "On the courses I was treated with a lot of respect and got some great help from some very high-level former players. They got to know and recognize me as the Canadian who was giving it a go."

The dream continues with no thought of retirement.

"I have been fortunate to have the support of my wife Deb and all the family. They have been brilliant," he said adding anyone considering a second act must have the support of family.

Advice for others

"I don't think it would have been possible to cold start at the age of 50 and achieve this. It's something you have to work at for a long time and be committed to," Mr. Payne says. "So, if you have something you're passionate about, perhaps it is a good idea to build the path to a second career as you go along, even if you may never actually get to do it. At least that way the foundation and option is there should you decide to take the plunge."

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