Combining elite-level soccer with university studies

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Student Maria Luisa Grohs manages the balancing act between playing top football
Student Maria Luisa Grohs manages the balancing act between playing top football for FC Bayern and studying mechanical engineering at TUM.

FC Bayern goalkeeper Maria Luisa Grohs is studying mechanical engineering at TUM

About the privilege of turning one’s favourite sport into a career, training routines and making sacrifices in student life: Maria Luisa Grohs, 21, is studying mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Munich - and is a goalkeeper in the FC Bayern Munich 1st team.

You just spent the day at the FC Bayern training facility. How do you combine life as a professional athlete with your studies?

No two days are the same for me. It depends where I am in the semester and in the soccer season. I’m in my fifth semester right now. One thing I’ve noticed: whenever I’m really busy at university, studying hard and keeping long hours, I play better soccer, too. It obviously helps my mind find a healthy balance. Then I’m even more focused on the field. But I’ve also realized: when things aren’t going right on the field or when I’m injured, I also have a harder time with my studies. They’re both connected.

So you’re probably very good at time management by now.

Well, I certainly try to put in the time for university. There are good and bad phases. Of course when we’re on the road a lot with the club, that’s more difficult. But when we’re in Munich for extended periods it’s easier for me to spend more time in the library and I make a point of doing that. At the beginning of the semester I always think about which exams are my top priority. And towards the end of the semester I focus on those ones.

Do you ever get time off? With no soccer and nothing to do for university?

That would be nice. But the semester and the soccer season always overlap to some extent, so I am never completely free. Sometimes I miss normal university life.


After playing for VfL Bochum club until 2019 you transferred to FC Bayern. How did that come about? And why Munich?

Well, I grew up in Münster and went to school there. I also spent 10 years with my very first soccer club, 1. FC Gievenbeck. For the most part I played for boys’ teams. I spent a year with VfL Bochum, which was the nearest women’s club. And then came my final year at school. The fact that I lived at home until I finished school was unusual.

Why?

A lot of women soccer players transfer to a boarding school by that age to make it easier to combine pro sports and school. But I wanted to finish my schooling at home. And when the time came to decide where to go after graduating, it was clear: I needed a city where I could play football - and where there was a good university. The first degree program I thought about was aerospace engineering. But I ended up enrolling in mechanical engineering. For that program, TU Munich was an obvious choice.

Enrolling at a university and making the FC Bayern team. Those are two very different hurdles. How did you manage it?

While at school I played for the national youth team. That’s where you will be seen by the big clubs. And then there was a coincidence: in ninth class I happened to do a two-week school internship in Munich. During that time I was allowed to join in with FC Bayern - to "keep fit", as they called it. They let me train with the women’s professional team as a 14-year-old. That’s where I met the goalkeeping coach. He said that he could certainly see me playing for FC Bayern one day and promised to get in touch once I finished school. And he did. And that’s why I’m in Munich today.


Do you recall the moment when the FC Bayern goalkeeping coach called you?

He was a very nice person. But there was a problem: I could barely understand a word he was saying. Back then I hardly knew anyone who spoke Bavarian dialect - and that’s how he spoke the whole time on the phone. But shortly afterwards I travelled to Munich with my dad and looked everything over - and it didn’t take me long to decide.

Let’s move ahead to the present. How does a typical week look for you at the moment?

The club sets the basic schedule with the training times. We train every day, with one day off per week. That’s generally Tuesday, which is two days after match day. We also have one or two days a week where we train twice a day - mornings and afternoons. But as a rule I train in the morning. Then we have lunch together in the canteen on the FC Bayern campus. After that I go home, where I study for the university in the afternoon.

That takes a lot of discipline.

Definitely. For me personally it’s also important to cook something good in the evening. Because as an athlete, it is essential to make conscious food choices. I also know now that I need nine hours’ sleep if I want to function properly the next day.

Given the double workload of professional sports and studies: what is it that you love about soccer?

It was a lot of fun for me right from the start. And when you see that you’re good at it, the motivation is just there. I have visited so many countries with the national teams and played in a U17 European championship and World Cup.

Like the men’s team, the FC Bayern women are among the top teams in Germany.

What makes me proud at FC Bayern: that I fought hard for the top job and am now on the field in the Bundesliga and in the Champions League. Especially after an extended break for health reasons, including inflammation of the heart muscle after COVID. In the lead-up to the 2021/2022 season I also got mononucleosis.

You’re only 21. Can life get any better? What are your career goals?

My goal is to become the world’s best goalkeeper. Of course I’m setting my sights high, but it’s not completely unrealistic. I also dream of the chance to stand in goal for Germany. In October 2022 I was called up to the national team for the first time. It was a reward for some games that I was very pleased with. That doesn’t happen often. And then there’s the 2027 World Cup - my next big goal.