Building the Perfect Athlete

Combining university classes with high-performance training, specialized academies are dedicated to “building” the best athletes on the planet.

Text: RAMIRO MARTÍN @RamiroMartinBCN


photo: CORBIS


Compete or study? Become an athlete or pursue a college career? The choice has been something of a crossroads for many who have had to decide between the two paths.

But what if you didn’t have to choose? The answer has been in development for some time, and it’s finally coming to fruition in high-performance centers that serve as sports universities. Combining a first-rate education with elite sports training, these institutions have brought the two worlds together with great success in a visionary business model.

photos: laureus archive


The Academia Laureus has a different approach from similar establishments, aiming to foster and promote the positive impact of sports on society. With 150 programs in 35 countries, this academy pays special attention to projects for children and the creation of a philanthropic network linked to sports.
Laureus is joined in these noble efforts by more than 50 athletic legends, including skier Alberto Tomba, golfer Jack Nicklaus and gymnast Nadia Comaneci. The academy is famous for its annual awards gala, probably the most prestigious event of its kind in the world.


Medals in the sun or snow

Founded 40 years ago, the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida (USA), features several stadiums (one with a capacity of 5,000 spectators), pavilions, and more than 50 tennis courts, as well as an extensive educational campus. IMG is considered one of the pioneering institutions in the field, with a selection ranging from post-graduate programs for adults to training for professional athletes who want to get into shape for the coming NFL and NBA seasons or the pro-tennis tour.

The center’s many sponsors include multinational companies that appreciate the chance to collaborate with the educational system and the sports world through this initiative. At the same time, IMG’s non-profit foundation provides financial resources for athletes who want to partake in higher education, but lack the resources to pay for tuition.


photos: img academy


Beyond the school’s extensive staff of coaches and trainers, elite athletes like Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova, and Jari Litmanen have passed through the halls and training centers.

Another prestigious academy is NTG in Bekkestua, Norway. It has six schools scattered throughout the country, with a total of 900 students, and is backed by the Norwegian Olympic Committee.

In this Nordic land, winter sports are obviously an essential part of the students’ sporting curriculum. This focus sets NTG apart from similar centers around the world, which rarely emphasize these disciplines. No wonder Norway holds so many Winter Olympics medals. NTG has produced 36 Olympic medalists in both the Winter and Summer Games and 96 world championship medalists.

NTG’s academic and sporting concept emphasizes flexible scheduling, highly-qualified staff, personalized attention, and the chance to live with other students who are already elite athletes. Who your roomies are may seem like a minor point, but it can really help to stoke the students’ drive for achievement.

About 25 hours are spent in training every week, and there’s a minimum daily time dedicated to study: no less than three hours.


From academia to the field

Founded in 1947, the Deutsche Sporthochshule Köln (DSHS, German Sport University Cologne) stands out as the largest sports university in Europe and the only German school dedicated exclusively to sports-related subjects. DSHS has a staff of nearly 900 employees – one third are teachers – and more than 5,000 students from 70 countries who take classes in everything from sports journalism to sports science.


photos: ©Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln


The DSHS library is the world’s largest on matters relating sports and exercise. Additionally, the university also offers international exchange programs of up to six months to reinforce the breadth of the students’ education.

One of the most notable things that sets DSHS apart, however, is its collaboration with research centers and the publication of its own research on different aspects of sports, scientific articles on subjects like controlling space in soccer, sports neuroscience, social responsibility in sporting organizations, and the importance of retention and attention in athletes.

But at the forefront of this kind of center, we find the Aspire academy, thanks in great part to the considerable publicity it has garnered for the participation of some of today’s greatest athletes, including soccer ambassadors like Lionel Messi, Raúl González, and two-time Olympic middle-distance running champion Hicham El Guerrouj.



photo: aspire academy


This futuristic academy is located in Doha, Qatar, and boasts some of the world’s most modern facilities. Created by the decree of the emir, its grounds can be used to practice up to 13 different sports simultaneously, from soccer to table tennis. The main location houses about 300 students, but the academy works with more than 6,000 students throughout the country.

The original idea behind Aspire was to train and produce national athletes to participate in major competitions, with a special focus on soccer, since the country will host the 2022 World Cup. Nevertheless, the school has accepted students from other parts of the world who have been drawn by the latest training methods, which seem taken from some kind of space lab. Trainers and sports scientists from more than 25 countries oversee these futuristic techniques.

Aspire’s objective is clear: to be officially recognized as the top sports academy in the world by 2020. in

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