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2 March 2004

Heidelberg's Ball School a Successful Model for Germany

From a motoric viewpoint Germany's children are not "fit for Pisa" — Ball School opens new bases in Berlin, Essen and Munich — Two major sponsors from Heidelberg help to spread the innovative children's sport programme of the Institute of Sport and Sport Science of the University of Heidelberg to a national level

Heidelberg's Ball School is opening new bases in Berlin, Essen and Munich. Thanks to the commitment of two major Heidelberg sponsors, the innovative children's sport programme devised by Heidelberg University's Institute of Sport and Sport Science is moving up to the national plane. And the "ABC of learning to play" is arousing ever greater interest at an international level too. The Ball School curriculum has now been published in Spanish, Portuguese, Hungarian and Japanese.

At the Ball School in Heidelberg there are more than 2,000 children between 5 and 8 years of age playing and practising on a regular basis. The School cooperates with some 50 sports clubs and primary schools in the north of Baden-Württemberg. This means that the number of children and cooperation partners involved has almost doubled every year since the foundation of the School in 1998.

With this headlong growth the aims of Ball School have also expanded. What was initially a talent-promotion project for budding creative ball artists has turned into a new programme for all play beginners. In a relaxed and playful atmosphere, the children acquire a broad range of fundamental techniques and tactical skills that will later help them to find their footing in the world of adult sport. Motorically disadvantaged children benefit especially from this approach, as demonstrated recently in a Ball School project for hyperactive children.

The universal significance of modern children's sport programmes is uncontested. Motorically speaking, Germany's children are not "fit for Pisa". Over the last few decades their ability in this respect has been continuously waning. In a comparative intercultural study on general motoric aptitude concluded this year by Prof. Dr. Klaus Roth, director of the Institute of Sport and Sport Science, German adolescents came last but one, well behind youngsters of the same age from South Africa, Japan and Brazil. The fact that these deficits can have repercussions on health is substantiated by the data obtained from several orthopaedic and physiological studies on children starting school.

After an extensive six-year pilot stage, Heidelberg's Ball School is aiming at further expansion, not only locally but also at the national level. For two years now, the project has been generously supported both financially and conceptually by Manfred Lautenschläger, honorary senator of the University of Heidelberg. In 2004 the project was also fortunate enough to enlist the support of a second major sponsor, the Rudolf Wild GmbH (a producer of soft drinks). Thanks to the commitment of these two sponsors, the full-time Ball School staff has significantly more members than before. The initiator of the project, Prof. Dr. Klaus Roth, is now assisted by a team of ball-sport experts. Dr. Daniel Memmert is responsible for the overall coordination, Dr. Jens Haaf heads the talent-promotion sector, Dr. Christina Hahn looks after the integration programmes and Silke Haude and Jörn Uhrmeister are in charge of establishing the new schools in Berlin and Essen. The immediate aims are clearly defined. In autumn of this year the first Ball School groups in the German capital and the Rhine/Ruhr area will be taking up their work, with support from the Rudolf Wild GmbH. At the same time, new cooperation programmes will be starting up in Munich and in all the sports clubs of the Bayer company. This means that in a relatively short space of time the number of Ball School children will top the 10,000 mark. In addition, organisational structures will be established to assure the quality of the programmes at all these locations.

Owing to its secure training-scientific basis, the Ball School model arouses increasing interest in many other countries. In Brazil the Escola da Bola is already an integral part of primary-school sport, in Spain, Hungary and Japan the curricula devised by Prof. Dr. Klaus Roth and Dr. Christian Kröger (University of Kiel) were published in book form in 2003. Everywhere the increasing strategic importance of support for sports programmes for children and adolescents has been acknowledged. The Ball School is in line with the latest insights. Children are not specialists but all-rounders, they need to be treated not like miniature adults or training organisms but as personalities in their own right.

Please address any inquiries to
Prof. Dr. Klaus Roth
Institute of Sport and Sport Science
University of Heidelberg
Im Neuenheimer Feld 720
D-69120 Heidelberg
phone: 06221/544642, fax: 544346

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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