Trainer! (2013)

‘Trainer!’ (2013) may stifle your coaching aspiration

How good is Trainer? It’s so good, you will never want to become a soccer coach in Germany. Director Aljoscha Pause follows 3 coaches in the 2nd and 3rd divisions of the German leagues during the 2012-2013 season. The men are under constant pressure from the media. But they are also constantly pushing themselves to excel and to someday reach the Bundesliga.

A Note about the Title: In American sports, a Trainer is someone who helps develop an athlete’s skills or fitness, usually one-on-one. But in German pro soccer, the Trainer is the head coach; coaches are also known as Profitrainer or Fußballtrainer.

Following up on his 2011 film about Thomas Broich (Tom meets Zizou), Director Pause wanted to examine coaching life. He originally wanted to film Trainers in the top 3 leagues, but the Bundesliga teams would have required compromising his approach. So he used only 2nd and 3rd division teams. The 3 teams and coaches who agreed to film are amazingly open about the ups and downs of their jobs:

  1. Frank Schmidt of then 3rd division FC Heidenheim 1846 (FCH) as they push for promotion
  2. André Schubert of 2nd division FC St. Pauli
  3. Stephan Schmidt of 2nd division FC Paderborn

Coaching is a grueling, often short, business

Pause also interviews long-time coaches such as Jurgen Klopp and Armin Veh. All the coaches make their personal lives secondary; it is a grueling business. “Results are expected at the start,” even if the club has sold its key players. Armin Veh warns, you cannot coach for the money, because

“If you get psychological problems as a result, then the money won’t help you.”

– Manager Armin Veh

For all the coaches interviewed, the worst parts of the job are the pressure from the media and the club’s board, and the stress of always being judged. Two losses in a row gets people talking, and 5 in a row should expect a sacking. Thus, André Schubert is fired after just 7 games, and Stephan Schmidt is terminated with 2 games left in the season. Terminations happen to 2/3 of the coaches in the 2nd division.

Professional coaching license from the DFB

But focusing on the terminations only reflects what makes headlines. A core benefit of the film is seeing how German coaches are professionally developed under the watchful eye of Frank Wormuth, head instructor for the DFB German Football Association’s “Football Coaching License” (equivalent to the UEFA Pro license). He makes it clear that today’s players have changed. They want reasons and to be convinced, and they want to help provide solutions. Says he,

“Pushy, loud coaches telling you to eat dirt are a thing of the past.”

– Frank Wormuth, DFB head instructor

Coaches have to be skilled people managers as well as highly technical analysts. They have to motivate and breed team confidence. Pause takes you into the planning rooms, coach-player conferences, practice sessions, pre-game and half-time locker rooms, and in the touchline technical area. The tactical points are way beyond anything I can comprehend, but it made me realize how impossible it would be for an American player to succeed in the German leagues if he were not fluent in German.

American coaches & players have it easy compared to Germany

Jurgen Klinsmann once complained that American players don’t have the sense of performing under social pressure like German players. He said that after a loss, a Club player in Germany cannot show his face at the bakery for a few days. This film embodied those words, and it made me realize why Klinsmann coaches in the USA. The USMNT must be like a paid vacation for him.

This film inspired me to research and compare coaching systems at USSoccer, UEFA, and the DFB. USSoccer is modifying its coaching license structure to mimic European standards and in Dec-2015 launched a pilot program for the Pro License level. But USSoccer has a very long way to go before it can standardize its coaching quality to the level of Germany, the UK, or even Iceland.

For me, the only sad part of reviewing this movie was to learn that Aljoscha Pause has created quite a few football films. I’ll have to work pretty hard to watch them all.

9 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 9