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Sports: the global language

Semmler: 'It's all about training smart'

Borussia Mönchengladbach's U23 goalkeeping coach, Christoph Semmler, missed out on his annual holiday this year to go and instruct coaches in Ethiopia. He speaks to DW about his experiences in the Horn of Africa nation.

DW: The coaching courses that you ran in Addis Ababa were the first bit of coaching you have done outside of Germany, and your first contact with Africa. What were your impressions as you arrived in Ethiopia's capital?

Christoph Semmler: In Addis Ababa everything is different: the fields you play on, the footballs themselves, and the rarified air too which makes doing simple drills really hard work. I was really gasping for air, until I realized that we were 2355 meters up. My students - if you want to call them that - were a bit quiet the first few daysy. But they soon became very welcoming and interested and they always greeted me with a smile.

What did your coaching program consist of?

In total we had 70 goalkeeping coaches involved, in two courses which both ran for a week. I had prepared everything already in Germany: the course content, the daily timetable and the drills. I soon realized that I had to change plans, or improvize, more than I expected. In the end, everything worked out though.

Every participant could nominate an area that they wanted to focus on, from the athletic, tactical or technical area of goalkeeping. Then, he or she needed to plan and run a training session, with a warm-up, a main section and a concluding part. The coaches then demonstrated this in front of the group for 20 minutes in the stadium. That was a practical part.

There was also a theoretical part too, which involved picture and video studies. On the weekend, championship games took place in the stadium where we were practising and we used that for a match analysis. And, on the last day there was a written test of course.

That sounds like a busy program. Was there even enough time to get to know the people and the country?

It was, indeed, hard work. During our lunch break I was able to sit with the local coaches and the translators and eat typical Ethiopian food. During the week, in the evenings, I met up quite a lot with Joachim Fickert, the coordinator of the project and we philosophized about football. After the courses ended I flew to the north of Ethiopia and I was able to get to know part of this huge country. On the last night of my stay the Ethiopian Football Assocation put on a dinner, with traditional food and music. It was an interesting and fun evening.

Christoph Semmler runs a coaching

Time to improvize: Suddenly, Semmler found himself coaching Ethiopia's first team keepers

What will participants really learn from the course do you think? What is the level of football like in Ethiopia?

The league in Ethiopia is comparable with perhaps the fourth division in Germany. The national team is a little bit stronger. I definitely think that these sorts of projects make sense. Joachim Fickert is showing Ethiopia how to organize their structures better, and to improve instruction of coaches. They train a lot, but it's all about training smart. My impression is that they took a lot out of the week with me, even if it is difficult to change your coaching habits. It has to happen step by step. The most important thing is that they want to do it. And, from what I can see, the will is there. I am in regular email contact with one of the participants. He lets me know how his team is playing and asks me for my opinion on new drills and what he can improve.

The project manager, Joachim Fickert, is a real hands-on sort of guy. He has over 30 years of experience overseas. How are the Ethiopians dealing with such a tough, pragmatist to lead all the organizing?

There is only one phrase to describe Joachim Fickert: world class! He has so much experience and his stories about football are amazing. People just like to listen to him. He has been almost everywhere and done almost everything. He knows the problems that exist in different countries and he knows how to deal with them and set priorities.

He is a really great guy, who lives for his job and is very passionate. The Ethiopians are lucky to have him I think. Personally, I've learned from him an ability to improvize and to be flexible. A German who has lived in so many African and Asian nations has to be like that. Still, he remains faithful to that cliché of "German exactness." He helped me a lot and I would love to be involved in foreign projects like this in the future.

How would you describe the whole experience? And what potential does Ethiopian football have in the future?

For me, the whole thing was really positive. I got to know the Ethiopian Football Association and the coaches and board members there welcomed me with open arms. I was able to experience a lot of different things and I also learnt a few tips from those students taking part.

Ethiopia has 15 million more inhabitants than Germany, and football is the most-loved sport. The fans at the games are crazy, in a good way: they start singing one and a half hours before the game and that continues during the match and afterwards too. If the infrastructure in the country and its football scene could be improved, I think Ethiopia could regularly qualify to be at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Christoph Semmler is 35 years old and played with second division German team Oberhausen as well as Belenenses in Portugal. Since mid 2013 Semmler has been working in the juniors at Bundesliga club Borussia Mönchengladbach as a goalkeeping coach.

The interview was conducted by Nils Schmidt