Academy for Foreign Coaches in Mainz celebrates record course

23 July 2013

Twelve scholarship holders from Africa, Asia, and South America take their leave: The 35th degree course of the Academy for Foreign Coaches at the Institute of Sports Science at Mainz University has ended. Another chapter in the success story of this extraordinary institution has been written.

A graduation ceremony could scarcely be more emotional and personal. Karim Ould Ahmed holds his light athletics coach diploma in his hands. "It was a great honor for us to participate in this course," he says. "This year was simply wonderful. It was perfect." Tears well up in the young Algerian's eyes. "Many thanks to Dr. Werner Steinmann, who was like a father to us."

Ahmed's voice falters. He is so moved that he can hardly continue and needs to take a breather. The corners of his mouth twitch. "At home, I will be proud to say that among the most important things that I learned in Germany is how to cook and operate a washing machine."

Of course, the 35-year-old learned much more at the Mainz Academy for Foreign Coaches. Together with eleven other scholarship holders, he completed a comprehensive 14-month program. A marathon of nine exams and two demonstration lessons came at the end. Their time was fully packed with theory and practice, not to mention that the dozen students also learned the German language. "I still find the language very perplexing," claims Ahmed, although his speech in fluent German belies his confession.

Jewel in the crown of foreign policy

The Mainz Academy for Foreign Coaches at the Institute of Sports Science at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has been in existence since 1978. The original concept was that of Berno Wischmann, the founder and long-serving dean of the Faculty of Sports at Mainz University. The funding for the project is provided by the German Federal Foreign Office, which has expressed repeated praise for the input provided by Mainz.  Foreign Office representatives have called the academy a 'pearl of our development aid strategy ' and a 'jewel in the crown of German foreign policy'. The German Athletics Association (DLV) also actively supports the academy. Since its inception, more than 400 scholarship holders from 80 countries have graduated from the degree course. Now the 35th intake is graduating.

"This is the best intake yet," says Dr. Werner Steinmann, who has headed up the Academy for Foreign Coaches for 19 years. "Karim has achieved the best grades in our history." Steinmann is quite obviously proud of his student, but there are two aspects that are even more important. "Twelve people from different ethnic groups, cultures, and religions grew closer together here. And they learned to speak German and have become acquainted with our country. They will return to their homelands as our ambassadors."

The scholarship holders from Chad, Egypt, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Brazil, and Cambodia lived next door to each other for 14 months in the Berno Wischmann House on the university campus. Name tags with their national flags decorated the corridor on the first floor. Now the farewell ceremony and the welcoming ceremony for the 36th intake are taking place on the ground floor.

A trademark of Germany

All the speakers are full of praise. "This coaching academy has become a symbol, a trademark of Germany," explains Theo Rous, Honorary President of the German Athletics Association. Mario Sauder of the German Federal Foreign Office takes a similar view: "The Academy for Foreign Coaches has done much for our image and reputation in the world." Meanwhile, JGU Vice President Professor Mechthild Dreyer speaks directly to the scholarship holders: "We hope you will be taking fond memories of us home with you."

Two days later, Steinmann sits with Karim Ould Ahmed and Adama Djitté from Senegal in his office. They will be leaving soon, but the three still have time for a chat. Who are the people who come here to Mainz to earn their track and field coach diplomas?

"In my country, I am a sports teacher," explains Djitté. The 31-year-old already had experience as a referee and, as a result, she also refereed various soccer games in Germany while attending the coaching academy. "I came to Germany to improve my education. I wanted to learn about another culture."

For two years, Ahmed was a national coach in combined events in Algeria. "Maybe I will be able to work as national coach again when I return." That is not so unlikely. Some of the Mainz graduates have become presidents of their national light athletics associations or have even been appointed the relevant ministers in their homelands. They also include head coaches and university teachers among their ranks.

A sad goodbye

"There is also a good school for coaches in Leipzig," interjects Steinmann. "But there they work with interpreters. Our students learn German." The degree program for coaches always starts with a four-month language course taught by Dr. Thomas Bleicher of the Foreign Language Center of JGU. Over the years, he too has become somewhat of a father figure, like Steinmann.

It was a major decision for Ahmed and Djitté to come to Germany. Ahmed has a daughter whom he has barely seen to date. She is 14 months old. "She is our first child. It was so difficult for my wife to be alone with the baby." Djitté left her partner behind. But it was worth it for both of them, for the courses for coaches provided in Germany have an extraordinary reputation. "Apparently, we are considered to be well organized, exacting and precise, while our training system is seen as being particularly well-structured," says Steinmann.

But now it's time for the course participants to pack their bags and go home. "That's not so easy," sighs Ahmed, looking over at Steinmann. Steinmann adds: "Can you imagine how hard it is for me to say goodbye to these twelve? Look at Adama. 14 months ago she could not speak a word of German, and now ..." Steinmann falters, then composes himself, "You know what, let's do something tonight. We meet around eight thirty …"