“All I Knew Was The Ball Was Round”

5 Mar

imagesMeet Traute Wohlers, a one-woman coaching machine. How did I not know of this Guinness World Record Holder for having coached football to over 3000+ children before this week? Shame on me. Everyone should know who Wohler is. She is what I would affectionately call a “ballsy broad” (no pun intended). I want to adopt her.

Alex Raack translated the article below on Wohlers from the original, which appeared in the German football magazine 11 Freunde last year.

The small woman with the big heart sits at a table in Concordia Hamburg’s club- house, picking gingerly at a plate of green beans. Recent facial surgery means each bite hurts her jaw and has caused her weight to drop significantly in recent months. The outsized tracksuit and Tweety Pie t-shirt that hang from her shrunken frame threaten to engulf her completely, making it difficult to imagine how this woman gets up at 1 a.m. each day to supplement her pension by delivering newspapers. Just as incredibly, nobody on Earth has taught more children to play football than she has – at least according to the Guinness Book of Records, where she has held this honour since 1999. To date she has taken more than 3,000 budding young players under her wing, most notable of which was Jan-Philipp Kalla. Now a first-team player at St. Pauli, he paid tribute to his former coach by saying: “Traute and her incredible dedication enabled every kid to discover the fun of movement and the value of team spirit.”

No love at first sight
75-year-old Traute Wohlers has been coaching kids for 42 years now. ‘Trautchen’, as all those at Concordia Hamburg affectionately call her, appears at first glance to be the epitome of a diminutive, fragile grandmother, with white hair that ends just over her ears, a hearing aid and a slightly unsteady gait. Each step she takes makes it almost impossible not to reach out with a helping hand, yet before taking training with the under-7s earlier that morning she greeted her young charges with the kind of casual high-five that a substitute might give his team-mate before stepping onto the pitch. Now, while tucking into her lunch, she suddenly offers a blunt assessment of her lot as a football coach: “Do you know what I don’t have? What you men have between their legs.” I beg your pardon?

But let us start at the beginning. Born in Hamburg, for years Traute had no interest in football. Her father might have kicked a ball around with his daughter, but his death in the war meant she never got to know him. Years later, she met and married her husband and had two sons and a daughter. Husband Herbert Wohlers was a huge fan of SC Concordia, and eventually took his beloved wife along to a match at the Stadion Marienthal – but she certainly did not fall for the charms of the beautiful game straight away. In the middle of the first half, Traute – who has been hard of hearing since birth – asked her husband: “Herbert, why do they keep shouting ‘Kindermann, Kindermann?’” “Don’t be stupid,” he replied, “they’re saying ‘Hintermann’ (‘man on’)!” His wife did not accompany him to the stadium again.

A short time later, when Cordi’s youth department found themselves extremely short-staffed, Traute was asked if she would mind helping out with the under-10s. “At that point, all I knew was the ball was round,” she admits between two mouthfuls of beans. Nevertheless, a previous stint at a school holiday camp for socially disadvantaged children had given her plenty of experience with young people. “I turned up to the next tournament as arranged and waited for the coach,” she recalls, “and I’m still waiting.” Traute went home to fetch a ball and managed to keep 14 children occupied. At the next training session she found her goal- keeper. After the team lost their first match 16-0, she asked the first team staff to give her a grounding in the game. Soon she knew the difference between shooting with the instep, inside foot and head – and SC Concordia had a new coach.

Striking out in a man’s world
Traute and Herbert divorced long ago, while her sons now live far from home and her daughter died in a car accident at a young age. She then raised her grandchild until he too flew the nest. But while there may no longer be anyone at home for her to look after, there are always plenty of children at Cordi eager to learn the joy of football – the perfect environment for someone who likes to feel needed.

Despite the experience she has now amassed, Traute still faces challenges not only because of her advancing years but also because she does not have – as she so eloquently put it – “what men have between their legs”.

This has forced her to fight several battles within this male-dominated environment over the years, including with fellow coaches who resented her popularity within the club and fathers who refused to entrust a woman with teaching the rudiments of football to their seven-year-old star of the future. One such parent, a lawyer, even arrived with an official letter outlining his objections. Deeply hurt by this, Traute briefly considered quitting the club before deciding the issue was not worth worrying about. She has also encountered occasional problems with her adolescent charges: “By the time they reach the under-11s, they know your weaknesses and exploit them mercilessly.” Traute’s grandmotherly authority reaches its limits with that age group, but her charm remains as infectious as ever with the club’s smallest members, and that makes her happy. “Even when I spend all day standing in the hall, I don’t feel any pain.” Her bones and joints only cause discomfort in the evenings once she is back at home.

When asked how long she wants to carry on coaching, she defiantly replies: “Until I drop dead!” Until then, there are still plenty of children ready to learn about the game. Recently, Traute was contacted by the father of two boys she coached for years. As a thank you for her efforts, he has set up a standing order for her of 20 euros a month. Understandably, ‘Trautchen’ was delighted.


– hopechaser

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