Most of the 336 girls currently participating at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014 still attend school back home. And with the tournament in Central America taking place in the middle of the academic year, some teams have taken special measures to ensure their players do not fall behind.
Speaking to FIFA.com, Paraguay’s coach revealed that her players have been keeping up with their schoolwork in Costa Rica and sending it to their schools electronically. But Germany have gone one step further in this respect, employing two teachers to accompany the squad to the World Cup.
Sarah Reinl and Sinja Melchinger are the trainee teachers responsible for helping the German players with their schoolwork, supervising the daily – except for matchdays - 60-minute study periods in which the girls focus on the material set for them by their school teachers back home in Germany.
“The players consult their teachers before each tournament or training camp and they provide them with a sheet detailing exactly which topics are to be covered during their absence from school. And we make sure this is the focus of their studies,” explained Reinl to FIFA.com. The lessons held throughout the tournament are similar to homework supervision periods. The players complete their tasks while the two trainee teachers provide them with support and address any individual questions they might have.
“It’s not a lesson in the traditional sense. The players all come from different federal states in Germany and also attend different types of schools, so that wouldn’t be possible,” said Melchinger of the academic approach. The subjects and topics covered are the same ones the girls would study back home, but they are given the freedom to learn the material in whichever order they choose.
In addition to their study periods, the young players also take exams in the team hotel. And these are held at a similar time to the ones taken by their classmates back home whenever possible. This process relies on trust, with the schools needing to trust the players and the teachers of the German Football Association (DFB), as Melchinger says. “Of course, the time difference can be a bit problematic here. So it’s up to their teachers to decide whether to allow them to take their exams here. Some teachers set an extra task, whereas others simply trust that the girls will not collaborate with their fellow pupils and therefore gain an unfair advantage.”
A welcome distractionThe German team has had a tough time of it in Central America so far, coming back from two goals down in their opening match against Canada to secure a draw before succumbing to a 1-0 defeat to Ghana in a game in which they had plenty of chances to score. But head coach Anouschka Bernhard’s young guns can still reach the quarter-finals if they beat Korea DPR in their last match and Canada fail to win against leaders Ghana in the group’s other game.
Combining schoolwork with participation at a World Cup is not nearly as disruptive as some people might think. In fact, the girls really appreciate being able to continue with their studies over the course of the tournament, as midfielder Saskia Matheis confirmed in an interview with FIFA.com. “It’s absolutely fantastic that we have the opportunity to do our schoolwork here. It’s tough, but it’s great that we can combine it with football.”
A month’s absence from all academic work would force Matheis to play catch-up back in Germany, learning all of the material missed and taking all of her exams as soon as possible after her return. Her delight at the successful cooperation between her school and the DFB is therefore unsurprising. “My school directors completely support my football as long as my grades are good. And the teachers are fine with it too. It’s great.”
For the pupils, the time focused on their schoolwork represents a welcome distraction and also helps them to clear their heads. Otherwise, the prospect of playing catch-up after the tournament might play on their minds. But Matheis has no intention of swapping her classroom in the team hotel for one at her school in Germany after the final group match against the North Koreans. “We have a plan and then we’ll see what happens. But we’re optimistic!”