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Nils Petersen – German Soccer Academy and Soccer Scholarships USA

Interview with the experienced Bundesliga professional of SC Freiburg, Nils Petersen, and Warubi Sports. Nils talks about playing and growing up in a German youth soccer academy as well as the unique soccer scholarship opportunities in the USA. He has played in the Bundesliga since 2009 and is the top goalscorer in the history of SC Freiburg. In the 2011/12 season, Nils played for Bayern Munich and from 2012 to 2015 for SV Werder Bremen before moving to SC Freiburg. 2016 he even won the silver medal with the German National Team at the Olympics.

In an exclusive interview with our international manager, Chris Griebsch, Nils talks about his experiences growing up and playing in the soccer academy of Carl-Zeiss Jena. He also emphasizes the need to develop alternatives to professional soccer. Starting with good high school graduation all the way to creating a ‘Plan B’. A soccer scholarship in the USA is at the top of Nils’ list for excellent alternatives to professional soccer.

The Interview with Nils Petersen

Chris: Nils, great to have you here. Just a quick introduction for everyone who is watching. Nils Petersen, the leading goal scorer of SC Freiburg in the German Bundesliga. Also a silver medal winner for the German Olympic Team. Played for Bayern Munich as well. Nils played with great international players and has a lot of experience. Played many games in the 1. Bundesliga as well as in the 2. Bundesliga and scored almost just as many goals. Great to have you here, Nils. 

Nils: Hi Chris, thank you for this introduction. Thank you.

Chris: So Nils’ English is not the best. ‘The yellow from the egg’ in Germany we would say. We switch to German and talk about his career. I will ask the question once in English, once in German and then there will be subtitles for everyone who does not speak German. 

Youth Soccer Academy in Germany

Chris: Ok, the first question is going to be: How did playing and growing up in an academy, in your case Carl-Zeiss Jena, prepare you for professional soccer?

Nils: It was the perfect preparation for men’s soccer because I could spend a lot of time on the soccer field without neglecting school. I had the ability to be at school or on the practice field or in my room within minutes. At school, I sat together with my teammates, which meant we could even continue to talk about soccer. Not during the class of course, but during breaks. You have a lot of time on the training field, and you also get to know other sports. 

That’s where you also arouse interest and get a different input. At our sports school, you could also choose a second sport. That meant you had done something else for your fitness and your body. The coaches were also present at the school. There was an exchange between teachers and coaches and that was incredibly important. Simply because the school cannot be neglected. Not everyone makes it into professional soccer and you still need a good plateau for the future.

Nils Petersen at Bayern Munich with Sebastian Schweinsteiger - German soccer academy to Soccer Scholarships in the USA

Can you recommend playing in a soccer academy?

Chris: Can you recommend to play in an academy in Germany and why?

Nils: Yes, I can totally recommend it. For anyone who wants to become a professional soccer player, and many people in Germany do, it’s the easiest way. That’s where the best support takes place. That’s where coaches with the most knowledge teach and train you. Coaches who have enjoyed a high level of education. You will get closer to professional soccer, simply because you train 6, 7, 8 times a week. Which usually doesn’t happen in your home club. 

That is where the best players come together. You can only improve if you come together with the best, train with the best, or play against the best in a league. All of that is offered at an academy like the one in Jena. Here you can get out on the soccer field day after day with like-minded people and really develop to your best level.

How do you get quickly accepted in a new team?

Chris: You have played with many international players. What do you think is the best way to get quickly accepted in a new team and a new country?

Nils: The easiest way is through performance. Then team, surrounding people, the city, the people in the city accept you quickly. But before performance can be shown, it is good to familiarize yourself with the city and the new environment. Spend a lot of time, in the beginning, to be present in the locker room, look for conversations, but still remain authentic. Don’t start acting extra cool or special, don’t act overly excited if you are usually more of a shy person. I think the players notice that quickly nowadays. It goes fast. You have the same hobbies, you have a past, everyone is interested in where you played and I think that’s the key. 

Apart from that, it is important that you take time to go out to eat with the team, that you take part in the team. Don’t always shut yourself out of everything or take yourself away from the team. I remember that. You come somewhere new onto the bus and don’t know at all where is your new seat and so on. Nowadays, if you just stay true to yourself and be an authentic person, everyone will help you. That’s the way it is in a soccer team. That is also the job of the coaching team. Find a player council or a hierarchy so players take care of the new ones right away.

Nils Petersen with Manuel Neuer for the German National Team - Soccer Academy to College Soccer

Alternatives to Professional Soccer

Chris: How important is it to have alternatives in case professional soccer doesn’t work out?

Nils: It’s incredibly important. I don’t think that’s just an empty phrase. When you hear that you might think ‘ah yes, I already know’. But in the end, there are many footballers who put all their hopes and efforts into turning pro and suddenly have a problem because they don’t make it because they get injured, they don’t reach that level, or they fall through the cracks. The statistics don’t lie, the quote of players who make it into paid soccer is very small. Accordingly, it is important that those who help make things possible for you, from your environment, but mainly from you, have an alternative ready: “What do I do if it doesn’t work out?” That’s the way it is everywhere in life! You always need to have a plan B.

Yet the struggle and fight to become a professional soccer player bring you further in other parts of life. You learn discipline, patience, acceptance, teamwork. These are factors that can become important again in other spheres, away from soccer. Take that with you into your professional life, if professional soccer does not work out. On the other hand, it is of course brutally important not to neglect school. Because otherwise, you might run into some problems and unfortunately there are already many negative examples.

How to prepare for alternatives to professional soccer

Chris: You also graduated from high school yourself, right? At the sports school in Jena. How important is such an education and how did it help you in your career and what is coming up for you after your career? 

Nils: During my time towards the Abitur (high school diploma), it was of course personal pride simply to achieve this Abitur – for my family, for me, for my environment. In the end you can say ‘I have something here that will definitely get me further in life, no matter what happens’. I’ve also finished something. I’ve managed to do it, so to speak. I think it is important to finish some things in life. 

During my life as a soccer player I always thought ‘I didn’t need my high school diploma’. Now I’m suddenly over 30 and think ‘luckily I have my high school diploma, luckily I have something in my pocket where I’ve already proven to myself that I can do it’. But of course it also opens doors for me to study again later, to take other paths, to write applications. To submit something and say ‘I have at least already achieved something in my life’ and I am grateful that I have that. Because the soccer time, I notice it myself, goes by so quickly. 

Suddenly comes the day X where you no longer generate income, where probably no one in the soccer area is that interested in you anymore. Then a new chapter begins. A new life. This time comes so quickly and you suddenly have another 30 to 40 years until retirement. That’s why it is so important to have something in your pocket that will definitely take you further on a different path.

From German Soccer Academy to Soccer Scholarships in the USA

Chris: Nils thank you very much for your time. First of all, thank you for taking the time. Secondly, I would like to mention that Nils sent two jerseys yesterday because there is someone here who is not doing so well. Nils immediately sent the jerseys without batting an eyelid. That is not self-evident, so thank you very much for that. You’re a great guy, keep it up, and again, thanks a lot for your time. 

Nils: My pleasure, I can only say that back. Thank you.

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