Sport. The “CENS”, the school model designed for elite athletes

Paris has INSEP and Nantes has CENS. It is the only private school in Europe dedicated to elite athletes. The Nantes Educational Center for Athletes was founded in 1984. Initially it was exclusively dedicated to FC Nantes and was in charge of the training center. As of now, the school offers 35 sports structures for 23 different sports disciplines and educates 291 students from high school to high school.

Throughout the school year, students are enrolled in a “triple project” around “the individual, the athlete and the school”, explains Rémi Ledoux, the director of CENS. Since the year 2021-2022, 35 sports structures, from 23 different sports, have been linked to the location. With the Covid-19 and the many trips of the various students, the director and his team were a bit ahead of their time. “All classrooms are equipped with boxes for distance learning and every student receives a tablet on arrival,” explains the former sailing specialist who helps prevent school drop-out. “We have a college student, a tennis player, who was absent for two months this year and she didn’t drop out,” he says.

Many requests and few accepted

So how does this “high school for athletes” work? Before each start of the school year, students are selected on the basis of sporting criteria, with priority being given to members of the France cluster, even if not all students are on the lists of elite athletes.

And on paper you also have to convince the parents. “It can scare them because there are fewer classes and more sports. They wonder how their child will do well at school,” explains the director. But the situation has changed in recent years and most of the athletes who have gone through the CENS have obtained a degree. If before it was complicated to fill the classrooms, now it is a headache to get everyone back. “I have 34 school files pending for next year. Going to CENS has to be earned, both in terms of sports and citizenship’, says the former history teacher who wants his students not to lock themselves in their sports bubble.

The CREPS of Pays de la Loire, a jewel of modernity

Football at FC Nantes, basketball at Hermine Nantes, handball at the Neptunes or ice hockey at the Corsairs. The CENS cooperates with most of the clubs in Nantes, but one of the most important partnerships is the CREPS. The Center for Sports Expertise and Performance Resources in the Pays de la Loire region welcomes sports people from Nantes, trained at the CENS, and other sports people from the region who are housed, fed and students within this regional structure. , public and community funded. If this is their basic difference, most CENS classes are under contract with the state, but that doesn’t stop them from working hand in hand. “The CENS is an essential basic model. We are working on a renovation of the teaching practice”, praises director Aude Reygade. Their relationship is all the more favored as the CREPS inaugurated its new premises in September 2021, close to the CENS.

From now on, the “Jonelière”, a name known as the holiday resort of the Canary Islands, welcomes the CREPS, on the land “offered by Nantes Métropole”. In just ten minutes’ walk, the students have their classrooms, their sports facilities, a medical service and even their housing, for the 120 trainees, within reach. And the jewel of futurism is none other than the sports building. Inside, the paint smells have not completely disappeared despite the daily use of the three gymnasiums. One of them is completely dedicated to table tennis and regularly organizes French teams for training. Thanks to the video equipment, installed in all rooms, they can decipher their gestures in slow motion. The recovery room, with hammam, sauna and cold bath, is a delight for athletes after their sessions. And in a few weeks, two rooms, almost untraceable in France, will be inaugurated: a hypoxic room, used to simulate high-altitude situations, and a thermo-training room to train in very high or low temperatures. Not to mention the brand new weight room and over-equipped physical therapy room. Undoubtedly, young adults are placed in the best possible position to fulfill their dream of becoming a top athlete.

Many athletes who use the CENS . have gone through

And the roof has other surprises in store. In this 2017 project, it was decided that an outdoor archery range would be set up, and what was done taking into account the Olympic distances. Apart from South Korea, it is the only place in Europe where such a structure has been built. Something to dream of the Koreans, the best nation in the world in the discipline, who would like to settle there for the 2024 Olympics, but they are not alone. “This dual model is starting to interest high-level structures. The French Table Tennis Federation is considering repatriating its players to Nantes”, the director of CREPS welcomes.

All this has something to dream about, but you still have to worry on the side of the school. Future big names in French sport have sat on the benches of CENS: Laura Valette, Olympic athlete in the 100m hurdles, Quentin Merlin, recent winner of the Coupe de France with FC Nantes for his first season as a professional, and former players such as Mickael Landreau and Christian Karembeu just to name a few. Some have failed at school or have great difficulties and have managed to find their way back to school thanks to the supervision of the CENS, the small classes, this daily check by the teachers and the administrative team in going through “the familiarity and personalization”, explains Rémi Ledoux. Many of them come back regularly to tell their story to the students and make it clear to them that if the athlete is important, the school is just as important. And these speeches enter a little more into the minds of these athletes that they dream of imitating.

Minimum 1,200 euros per year

Because the CENS is a school like any other, and sometimes struggles to get some students on the same page. “If he is not good academically or behaves badly, we will remove him from the training,” explains Rémi Ledoux. And the coaches understand that perfectly. “We have a coach who came to a lesson and warned his players that if there was someone who was not a partner of the teachers, he would be denied a game,” he says.

But this idyllic setting has a price: 1,235 euros for secondary school and 2,525 euros for secondary school. Scholarship students receive support, but “70% of families pay everything”. And again, to this tuition fee come the CREPS packages where a year costs about 5,000 euros. Some clubs roll up their sleeves, such as FC Nantes, which manages all the necessities for the students. The CENS is an association of the law of 1901 and there have been occasions when tuition fees fall from one year to the next.

However, despite its price, the establishment is a success. The students have a schedule adapted to their education and they benefit from quality infrastructures and no longer have this “constant balance of power where teachers have the stereotype of the top athlete with a profile incompatible with large and traditional classes”. The codes are broken, the individual is once again put at the center of the project.