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Germany

Kick boxing world champ packs educational punch

A Munich non-profit organization called Sports Club Future aims to give kids with educational disadvantages a boost in the classroom. It uses pro athletes like world-champion kick boxer Dominik Haselbeck as role models.

Dominik Haselbeck kicks in a kick boxing match

Kick boxing may be a new part of the curriculum in Leiblfing

Raimund Betz's curriculum for his ninth graders at Leiblfing High School 120 kilometers (75 miles) outside of Munich doesn't normally include kick boxing. But Betz doesn't always have world champion kick boxer Dominik Haselbeck as a special guest in his classroom, either.

The seven-time world champion Haselbeck has teamed up with a Munich organization called SV-Zukunft, or Sport Club Future, to motivate students to set and achieve goals, particularly in their careers.

Dominik Haselbeck demonstrates proper punching technique

After a lesson on goal-setting, the students enter the ring

"The most important message that I can give to these students is that nearly any goal is achievable," Haselbeck told Deutsche Welle during a break in the lesson. "You have to put in a lot of work, but by setting and achieving small goals one after another, nearly anything is possible."

Haselbeck fits right in at the school in Leiblfing. He is clearly physically fit, but not grotesquely muscle-bound, and could just as well be teaching algebra down the hall. He speaks the same Bavarian dialect as the students, and lives and trains nearby.

He says when he was 14, the age of most of the kids in the class, life was mostly about sports.

"That's not necessarily good, because school should actually be most important," he said. "I was an average student, but my life has always centered on sports."

In fact, just over a week after meeting with the students, Haselbeck won his latest kick-boxing world title at a fight in Munich.

Sit up straight!

Today's lesson isn't meant to focus on kick boxing, but rather on how to achieve goals. The 16 students sit in a circle with Haselbeck and Sport Club Future's Birgit Niefanger.

A girl strikes a boxing pose while wearing one of Haselbeck's world champion belts

Students got to wear Haselbeck's world-title belts

Niefanger and Haselbeck have visited many classrooms like this one in Leiblfing. By bringing together students and role models like Haselbeck, Sport Club Future tries to teach practical lessons in goal setting.

During the lesson, Niefanger occasionally reminds the students to sit up straight, or to expand on what are typically yes or no answers to the questions she asks. It's important to make a distinction between simply giving students rules and showing them why certain actions are beneficial.

"They hear from their parents and teachers all the time things like 'sit up straight!' But sometimes there is no connection to their own world," Niefanger said. "But when, for example, one of our athletes explains why he had to learn to do these things, and how he shows interest and engagement by sitting up straight, that is easier for the students to accept."

Boxing lessons

Haselbeck has brought along some boxing gloves and sparring pads, and after the students clear away the tables and chairs from the center of the room, he shows them how to kick box.

A student practices punching with Haselbeck

Haselbeck has visited classrooms all over Bavaria

The students take turns sparring with Haselbeck, and a girl named Lea is a standout among the participants. She's a little smaller than some of her classmates, but there's a reason she's got so much fight in her.

"I've never really fought properly like this before," she said, "but I have three brothers, so you learn that sort of thing. I've got some muscles."

Another girl, Jenny, also took some good cuts with the boxing gloves. Sports aren't a top priority for her but she recognizes the fact that the success of a six-time world champion like Dominik Haselbeck didn't come overnight.

"He took the initiative to do this," Jenny said. "He sees it through and doesn't get distracted by anything else, but really applies his whole self to his sport."

Classroom reinforcement

After the boxing lesson, Haselbeck takes time to sign autographs and take pictures with the students before heading home. Birgit Niefanger she says the real work starts now, after Sport Club Future and Dominik Haselbeck have left. It's easy to motivate kids with something engaging like kick boxing, but reinforcing the goal-setting lessons is up to the teachers.

Dominik Haselbeck

Haselbeck is a seven-time world champion in kick boxing

"If a teacher says, hey great, here's a few people who are going to take over my lessons for a day and I can catch up on grading papers, then our success is diminished," she said. "But, when a teacher uses the chance to revisit the topics we cover, there is a good chance this stuff will stick."

Raimund Betz has had this particular group of students for three years now, and appreciates any new approaches to help him drive home what he teaches in his classroom.

"Over time, the tips, advice, and reminders from the teachers lose some of their weight," he said. "It's nice to have experts and specialists who can come in an offer a fresh perspective, which gives the students a different angle on some of the teachers' lessons."

It may be the first time Betz has ever incorporated kick boxing into his lesson plan, but after seeing how much his students enjoyed meeting Dominik Haselbeck, there's a good chance kick boxing will come up again this school year.

Author: Matt Zuvela, Leiblfing
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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