Self-confidence, consistency, and leadership – all discovered, developed, and displayed in personal development courses. What sounds like statements on a poster in many business meeting rooms of big agencies in Westminster, are also guidelines of the ProKeeper Academy (ProKA) in Riedlingen, Germany.
The academy focuses on supporting young goalkeepers between the ages of 9 to 18. Located in the deep south of Germany near the Swiss border, it was founded by the brothers Hubert and Thomas Deutsch. Hubert graduated in business administration and Thomas is a business psychologist and former Youth Bundesliga goalkeeper.
They started ProKA in order to improve German goalkeeping training. Whilst other academies in Germany have included goalkeeping within larger academy structures, ProKA caters exclusively to young goalkeepers.
“Goalkeeping is so much more than catching a ball these days. It’s about taking responsibilities and making decisions. A goalkeeper has to have all the characteristics of a top business manager,” Thomas states.
While a manager sets the direction of a company and leads his employees with calmness and confidence on a day to day basis, the goalkeeper’s job is similar. “The keeper needs to radiate peace and after making a save, dictate the pace of the game,” says Thomas.
Every six months, ProKA scouts over 80 players from a special event of which 16 will be part of a three-month-long training camp. Afterwards the 12 best goalkeepers become a part of the academy.
Together with their parents, the young goalkeepers set goals they want to achieve – on and off the football pitch. “Our main aim is to provide the kids with personal development skills which they could use in football, at home or at school,” says Thomas.
To achieve that, ProKA works with various goalkeeping, mental and personal development coaches. As in any job, a good work-life balance seems important, even for young, striving goalkeepers. “If you’re successful at school and have a good relationship with your parents and friends, you’ll play better football at the end of the day,” says the business psychologist.
The academy, unique within Germany, has been attracting increasing levels of interest, leading to cooperation with a number of Bundesliga clubs, including TSG Hoffenheim and VFB Stuttgart.
Another milestone for the academy’s success was achieved in July this year when ProKA had its first goalkeeper promoted to a Youth Bundesliga club, as 15-year-old Damai Bock joined the U-17 team of SV Alberweiler. When her first season was interrupted on 2 November due to Germany’s second COVID-19 lockdown, they were top of the league, undefeated after six games.
“She improved her zone defence and tactical understanding significantly and her cognitive skills took a big step forward,” says a proud Thomas.
“The mental coaching took her leadership competence and her mental strength to another level. Damai communicates better than before and she appears more confident on the pitch. Our extensive mentoring can’t be provided by any football club.”
It will be interesting to see if specialised academies like ProKA could one day become the norm in youth development and if Damai Bock reaches the heights of compatriots such as Aston Villa captain Marisa Ewers in the FA WSL one day.