The school of life
© Images Daniel Delang
Our top talents train at the FC Bayern Campus. Away from the pitch, a whole team helps with schoolwork, household chores and heartache. The "51 FC Bayern Magazine" spent time with the educators in their daily work.
Five educators look after the up to 40 residents of the Allianz FC Bayern Academy, as the boarding school is officially called. Welfare is taken very seriously. More than a dozen employees not only look after the academy residents, but also all the players in the FC Bayern youth section. There are around 200 of them. To do justice to all of them, the club has created its own so-called psychosocial area. It consists of three pillars: the academy, in which a dedicated educational team takes care of the residents; education, which focuses on schools, training, child protection and prevention; and sports psychology.
Cake and gifts
The qualified social workers Lena Neumeier and Nikola Ries belong to the first pillar of the plan. Nikola Ries says: "We are the connecting bridge to everyone: the parents, the coaches, the school." Colleague Lena Neumeier adds: "We don't see the teenagers like a football coach. We see them as normal youngsters who are very talented at football." They are the first point of contact who help with questions and problems, for example arranging help with homework or offering general support options together with sports psychology. And often they just listen when it comes to heartache or homesickness. Neumeier says: "We have a responsibility to the parents who entrust their children to us." In her office there is a calendar with the birthdays of the talented youths living on Campus. "We want to ensure normality as much as possible," says Neumeier. For example, when the players celebrate their birthdays away from home, there is a cake baked by the supervisors and a gift to unwrap.
In the evenings, when it's quiet on Campus, after training, after dinner, after the teenagers have watched a film or football together, "you can hear one or two of them phoning mum," says Ries. "We can't replace what their parents give them emotionally. But we try to make them feel comfortable here as young people. We want them to have as warm a home as possible."
„We have a responsibility to the parents who entrust their children to us.”
The talents live in an area separated from the rest of the site. There is a cozy carpet on the floor, and panoramic photos of Munich and Bavaria hang on the walls. Only the residents and their supervisors come in here. "The teenagers need privacy," says Sandy Zitzelsperger. As a "house mother" she is the only adult permanently living in the boarding school. She can see the training ground from her official residence, and the pasture behind, where she sometimes sees sheep and hares.
Training off the pitch
The talents learn from Zitzelsperger how to run a household: How do you quickly make a fried egg? How do you wash t-shirts, or wool sweaters? How do you keep order in a room that only belongs to you? The boys should take responsibility for themselves. A term that is important to Zitzelsperger is respect. Before she started as a housemother, she worked at the Campus gate: "Nobody got through who didn't at least have a hello, a 'pfiat di' or a 'servus' for us." Compliance with a certain degree of social rules for living together is required by everyone. It starts with a 'good morning', and also means the boys clean up their rooms. It's working quite well says Zitzelsperger.
A few rooms further on, Dr Eva Zier is having a conversation with a young player. Zier leads the education team on campus, the second pillar of the psychosocial plan. She attaches particular importance to the training of young players, both academically and professionally. She asks the player she is interviewing today: "Guess how many make it out of the NLZ to become a professional?" - "20 to 30 percent?" - "Less than 3 percent. And how many have high school diplomas?" - "20 to 30 percent?" - "Two thirds have at least a high school diploma." The boy is impressed.
Zier would like to encourage people to think for themselves. She doesn't point fingers. "Listen, there's a chance you won't turn pro - learn something decent." She encourages college or an apprenticeship, depending on where the talents lie. "It's a matter close to my heart to be transparent," she says. "That shouldn't demotivate anyone, but give a realistic picture of the future." The aim is to successfully combine the best possible individual education and competitive football. School leaving certificate, studies, vocational training, federal voluntary service... There are many possibilities. The campus even offers the possibility of dual training within the club. Rederve player Angelo Brückner was the first to successfully complete this recently in a fan shop. Zier says: "We as a Campus, together with the parents, have the responsibility to encourage and challenge the boys off the pitch to create prospects for their time after football and in the normal job market."
„Success and self-esteem are based on several pillars. A football career is just one of them.”
The area of child protection is also close to Zier's heart, and she receives support from child protection specialist Christina Heigl if necessary. Workshops and inputs on topics such as tolerance and diversity, social media and addiction prevention take place regularly. And she keeps in touch with the parents. On the one hand to get a better picture of the talents ("You can't look into the boys' heads"), but also to involve the parents. Even before a new talent moves to boarding school, Zier visits the family. Openness and transparency are important to her in these discussions so the parents understand - even at FC Bayern there is no guarantee a talented boy will make it to the pros.
What actually is success? And what if he doesn't want to take a certain path? What if it's more frustration or fear of failure? So the Campus football players are not alone with these questions and feelings, there is sports psychology, the third pillar of support. As recently as March, a Mental Health Awareness Month was held on Campus under the direction of sport psychology team leader Christian Luthardt. Among other things, there was a discussion with Oliver Kahn, Serge Gnabry and Lina Magull on the topic of 'Mental health and well-being in competitive sports'. Players are encouraged to listen to themselves: What is really good for me?
Success, says sports psychologist Lorea Urquiaga, has many faces: the jump to the next youth team, the professional debut. But it's not just about the sport, it's also about personal development. "Success and self-esteem are based on several pillars. The football career is just one of them," explains Urquiaga. Maybe a talent learns an instrument. Or plays another sport. All this is not easy. The dream of professional football requires a lot of time and energy - and can overshadow all other interests. "The word passion contains the word suffering in German," says Heigl.
Continuous monitoring and social media
All talents have the opportunity to attend regular one-to-one meetings with the members of the psychosocial team. The content is of course confidential and will not be passed on to coaches. A classic topic, for example, is how to deal with setbacks or criticism. A professional, even someone who wants to become one, is under constant observation. He can be the hero one day, the big loser the next. Today, social media has been added to the traditional sports press. It is no longer just who gets the best score in the 'kicker' magazine. Now there's who has the most followers on Instagram? It's not easy to classify this kind of attention. Many people, normal people as well as football professionals, confuse this with what actually makes them human. But that's how it is, says Urquiaga: "You can only attribute self-worth to yourself."
The psychosocial team on Campus supports the talented youngsters. Educators like Lena Neumeier and Nikola Ries or Sandy Zitzelsperger provide support in everyday life. Christina Heigl, Christian Luthardt, Dr Eva Zier and Lorea Urquiaga help with mental challenges and all the other questions life brings with it. The impression you get when you spend a day on Campus is it's a place where the youngsters can feel at home.
In thr interview, Thomas Müller, a true homegrown talent of the record champions, talks about his journey at FC Bayern and his way of life: