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Marrying football and philosophy

By Russell Trott
BBC News

A new football academy in France is aiming to turn its pupils not just into star goalkeepers, but top-class thinkers and citizens.

Training at French football academy
The academy hopes to do more than make great goalkeepers
Drawing inspiration from two illustrious predecessors - World Cup-winning keeper Fabien Barthez and goalkeeper/philosopher Albert Camus - the unique institution aims to instil the values of citizenship in 11-16-year-olds from around the world and from all walks of life.

That means mutual respect, discipline, understanding and a sense of team spirit are as important in football, say organisers, as in the communities where they live.

One of those behind the project is Barthez, the former Manchester United and France goalkeeper, or gardien de but, who, despite a long and lucrative career at the top, never lost sight of where he came from.

"We're trying to get away from the idea of producing champions - we're more interested in promoting good morals among young adults," he says.

"It is important for our pupils to learn to become men, just as much as it is for them to learn to become goalkeepers.

"I want to give back to football what it has given to me."

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Instructors teach life lessons as well as football skills

As well as the football and life-skills coaching, the students will also receive a conventional education, in line with France's school curriculum.

We've come here to progress in school as much as in football - and gaining and developing good values is what is important to us," says Jeremie de Aldiah, 15.

Philippe Jackson, 15, says the teaching is not just about football - it is about life.

"The coaches here expand what they've taught you on the pitch," he said.

"Everyone needs guidance for later on in life. Everything is based around the football, and expanded to show that some of the skills we learn on the pitch can be used in life."

Resilience key

The academy is based in south-west France, at a school high in the Pyrenees, in the pretty spa town of Luchon.

As well as support from local businesses, international companies such as Nike, and the French FA, it appears to have captured the imagination of the sporting world - with a number of English Premier League clubs said to be watching the academy's progress closely.

Fabien Barthez
Fabien Barthez says he wants to give something back to football

Students from France and abroad will board at the local school and train every evening. They have been selected for their goalkeeping ability, and also for their resilience in what is a competitive and mentally challenging sport.

Qualification is based on their passion for goalkeeping as much as their academic record.

The academy's philosophy has drawn comparisons with French writer and Nobel Prize winner, Albert Camus, an Algerian-born philosopher and goalkeeper, who saw the beautiful game as providing moral guidance and inspiration for living.

The sense of team spirit, fraternity and common purpose appealed to Camus.

"All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football", he said.

Academie de Gardiens de But technical director Jacques Julia agrees.

"Whilst French keepers Fabien Barthez and Elie Baup were the inspiration for the academy, there are parallels with what Camus was writing about," says Mr Julia, a former Toulouse FC coach.

"Working in a team with a common objective, respect for each other and one's own abilities. After all it was he who said that everything he knew about life, he owed to football."

Lessons for life

Mr Julia is one of the academy's top coaches, and uses diagrams and flow charts in the classroom to teach his own brand of sports psychology to the young keepers.

"Every time a child saves a ball it's similar to every difficult situation they will face in life. Every time they jump to catch a ball, or go into a tackle, they need courage and commitment, and it's similar in life", he says.

Mr Julia knows the importance of instilling the values of fair play and discipline within sport, to young people who may have lost their way in life.

Albert Camus
Albert Camus was a keen goalkeeper
He has worked in some of the most deprived areas of French cities, known as the banlieue, or suburbs, where disaffected youths became embroiled in crime and other anti-social behaviour.

Young people fought running battles with police and set property and cars alight, during rioting around Paris and a number of other French cities in 2005.

"We organised physical exercises and intense training sessions to help keep those youngsters from getting bored and roaming the streets," says Mr Julia.

"It was all about learning to be disciplined and respecting a working environment within a structure that gave some meaning to their lives," he said.

Louis Ferre, Mayor of Luchon, says the citizenship values being taught at the academy will have wider implications for the town and the region as a whole.

"We have the mountains here, and the weather too, so we're confident the young students will enjoy being coached here," he says.

"And our own students benefit because they will meet and interact with these young goalkeepers.

"Our students are away from the cities and the problems of living in the suburbs, so the academy will also be an education for them."

Whether or not the academy proves to be a success, only time will tell.

But those behind it believe the coaching skills, both on and off the football pitch, will only help those young goalkeepers find their feet when they have to make their own way in the world.


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