Players learning off the pitch and on

From doctors to psychologists, masseurs or assistant coaches to chefs, a national team’s support staff provide their players with every possible amenity. When it comes to junior teams, this support team meet one additional need: the players’ education.

This is certainly the case at the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2013 in the United Arab Emirates. Several teams have brought their own teachers with them or are relying on help from local schools.

In the Austrian camp, assistant coach Mario Huemerlehner has assumed responsibility for taking the players through the school work they are missing, including an open learning group on the topic of languages, for example. In the afternoon, a professor from the German language school in Dubai provides mathematics tutoring. 

“Of course, in addition to training, we know our players also have exams to pass," explained team manager Hermann Stadler on the homepage of the Austrian Football Association (OFB). "Players miss a lot of school time by coming to the World Cup. By offering this educational support, we want to ensure that nobody is left at a disadvantage when they return to school. Schooling is extremely important for every young athlete.”

Good grades provide opportunities
Germany senior starlet Julian Draxler, currently being pursued by a number of leading European clubs, has already demonstrated how young players can prioritise their education. Despite already having made his first professional appearances, the 20-year-old completed school before focusing fully on his career. As the midfielder is often keen to stress: “Thanks to good grades, I’ve now got lots of options.”

In addition to training, we know our players also have exams to pass.
Austria team manager Hermann Stadler

New Zealand goalkeeper Zac Speedy holds a similar view, confirming to FIFA.com that he has also been doing some school work in addition to training and matches during the tournament in UAE. “It’s difficult to strike a balance between these two commitments, but I’ve tried. I’ve got to sit an exam when I get home.”

The hosts have even received support from their Ministry of Education and had already been released from school several months before the tournament began. They will also only need to pass one exam rather than two. Nevertheless, the players are not missing out on schooling. Their assistant coach is also their schoolmaster and has arranged several lessons at the team’s training camps in Europe and Asia. 

Football is a school of life
“For our Japanese players it’s not a problem to be out of school, as it’s not an important time in the school year, but some of the players are working hard here in the Emirates too,” Japan’s coach Hirofumi Yoshitake revealed, adding with a laugh: “But not everyone is doing that. Perhaps it even acts as extra motivation: the longer they’re in the tournament, the longer they don’t have to go to school!” 

As German footballing legend Gunter Netzer once stressed: “there is no guarantee of a career in sport.” He is right; after all, it should not be forgotten that the protagonists in this U-17 World Cup have not yet even reached the age of majority, and still have to travel a long and rocky road to become professional footballers.

Both the players and their support teams are aware of this and are dealing with it in an exemplary manner. As a result, all attention is now focused back on events on the pitch, as the quarter-finals take place today, Friday 1 November, and tomorrow, Saturday 2 November. As FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter has already said: “Football is a school of life. You learn not just to win, but to lose too.”