Britta Steffen, two-time Olympic swimming champion in 2008, shares her experience as a career counselor at the Olympic training center in Berlin. Jonas Reckermann won Olympic gold in beach volleyball alongside Julius Brink in 2012. He now works as a teacher at a high school in Leverkusen.
Deficits in the promotion of elite sport in Germany
The former world-class swimmer Steffen still sees deficits in the promotion of top-class sport in Germany, including at elite schools. Overall, more money is needed in the system, but above all a better distribution of the funds used. Steffen spoke of “island solutions”, but overall there was a lack of a visible concept and examples of where the funds used clearly led to sporting success.
Reckermann also sees a need to catch up compared to other nations when it comes to financial support for top-class sport in Germany, especially with regard to the remuneration of coaches. “But it would be too easy to say: If we put in 10 percent more budget, then we also have 10 percent more medals.” Above all, it is important to improve the structures, such as the connection to universities, as well as the support of career advisors at the bases, such as Britta Steffen.
Britta Steffen: “Broader social basis for sport”
When asked what better support for top-class sport could look like, Olympic champion Steffen also called for a debate on values. A broader social basis must first be created for how important sport and exercise in general is, Steffen remarked: “Then the appreciation for sport would be different.” From this greater breadth, you can then also develop the top better and use the money there in a more targeted manner.
Jonas Reckermann, who works at a grammar school in Leverkusen with an attached sports boarding school, outlined the role of schools in promoting young athletes. Above all, the system of elite schools, which are closely linked to the clubs in their respective region, plays an important role here. However, the focus is always on the compatibility of sport and school performance.
Reckermann: “Competitive sport is impossible without mass sport”
Like Steffen, Reckermann also emphasized how important it is to promote the sport in its entirety and not just to concentrate on top-level sport. “We have registrations without end in the clubs, in many departments, especially in the children’s and youth sector. But there is a lack of coaches and halls. That’s why popular sport has to be included.”
At the sports-oriented grammar school in Leverkusen, attempts are therefore also being made to win children interested in sports in special courses for volunteering, training as a trainer or working as a sports assistant. On the one hand, society benefits from this. “I’m happy for every child who moves, even if it’s completely clear that it never has anything to do with competitive sports.” At the same time, however, top-class sport, through a broader base of people who are active in sport: “Competitive sport without popular sport is an impossibility.”
However, Reckermann emphasized that top-class sport continues to play a prominent role in establishing sport and exercise more broadly. Without idols, figureheads in a sport, it is much more difficult for mass sport to generate new members and get people moving.
Steffen welcomes rethinking in dealing with top athletes
Britta Steffen noted a change in thinking in dealing with the perception of top athletes and their perception in society.
“As a young athlete, I had to experience how my idols were really made fun of by the media,” said Steffen. “As a young athlete, it really scared me that I thought: Hey, do I even want to be a good athlete? Because if it doesn’t work out, you’ll be chopped up. That shouldn’t be.”
Participatory management style as a success factor
In the meantime, it is much more possible and also more recognized to have psychological care in order to be able to withstand the immense pressure better: “We have really developed there.”
Steffen emphasized that the way coaches deal with athletes is also an important development: turning away from authority and towards a participatory management style can also be a success criterion for better performance.
European Championships as a model for the Olympics in Germany?
The changed view of the big sport could also be seen at the European Championships in Munich, said the Olympic champions in the Dlf sports talk. The events were “greatly accepted by the population,” said Jonas Reckermann, precisely because the focus was on sport.
Against this background, Steffen and Reckermann also supported a possible new German Olympic bid, as long as this would be ecologically and economically viable to implement. This could certainly further fuel enthusiasm for sport in society.