Ditgens interview: Education boss on new learning options

School, competitive sport, host families: The coronavirus pandemic has had grave effects on the day-to-day work with youth players. Frank Ditgens (54), head of education at Bayer 04 for over 20 years, talks to about an organisationally challenging year and the comprehensive education provision for the first team players of the future.

Mr Ditgens, what new challenges has the pandemic presented to you and your team face over recent months?
The ramifications of the pandemic have been, and are, a very big challenge for us too. In the first weeks after the outbreak started we were primarily dependent on the decisions of the governments and the club and that was primarily from our medical department. The colleagues helped us out a lot with their efforts and succeeded in overcoming challenges for the whole club. We are very grateful to them. We mainly had organisational work to deal with here in the educational section. We had to continue to reconcile the academic and football elements under all circumstances. Our main task was to bring these two areas into harmony with the host families.

What problems did you face?
One central problem was that different age groups and thereby risk groups met up. The whole thing was a question of co-ordination. And fortunately we were able to, and still can, draw on an outstanding support network. Whether that’s our partner schools, host families and the staff at Kurtekotten: Everybody has been working together for many years and they all trust each other. During that phase, we came together as a team to deal with the challenges and were able to find satisfactory solutions for all sides in the end. A very positive example of that is the perfect interaction of Bayer 04 and the schools under the guidance of the Dr. Dittmar’s team, particularly during the long lockdown and quarantine period for our players.



The youth players were and are most affected by during the suspension of training and matches. How are they handling the situation?
The lads always come first in the youth section. Of course, it was and is a difficult time. A number of the very young players have had to do schoolwork and their football and sports exercises on their own at home. But that independence and self-reliance are characteristics that we wanted to see and develop on and off the pitch before the pandemic. These have only become more significant under the new circumstances.

How did you communicate with the players during the lockdown?
We endeavoured to find a digital solution with nearly all of them. Of course, it’s another form of co-operation but it is now part of our lives today. The provision of online tuition is very popular with our players. And here we have had a reliable partner at our side for a year in Bayer 04: Easy-Tutor. The digital learning system is a great help for our lads and has successfully filled a gap in our comprehensive education system.

What value does academic training have for the Bayer 04 youth players?
A decisive one. There is no alternative to the dual training for our top talents but also for the 97 per cent of the players from the youth performance centres in the state who do not make it to the top in professional football. Bringing the lads through to the first team squad is obviously our aim. But here at Bayer 04 we also want to enable young people to be in a position to build a promising foundation for their future personal development. That’s why we offer numerous opportunities through the sports college, tuition at Kurtekotten, the co-operation with local schools or the many educational options at Bayer 04 as well as with Bayer AG. With Easy-Tutor there is now another part of the puzzle that coincidentally fits in brilliantly during the pandemic and also plays an important role in support for the students during their time at Bayer 04.

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