Rens Sleegers, Youth Coach at VVV-Venlo, a Dutch professional football club, and alumnus of the Master in Coaching in Amsterdam at Johan Cruyff Institute, assures that he now “enjoys the coaching process more”
Rens Sleegers has built up extensive experience as a coach at VVV-Venlo, a professional football club in the Netherlands, where he is currently training the U16 youth team. He decided to do the Master in Coaching in Amsterdam at Johan Cruyff Institute, to further develop his coaching because “more self-knowledge provides a better basis for coaching”. He successfully completed the master’s program and we spoke with him about the effects on his coaching.
“More self-knowledge provides a better basis for coaching”
What have you learned in particular through the Master in Coaching?
The Master in Coaching is based on the principle that you can only coach others if you can coach yourself. It means that during the program you learn a lot about yourself and who you are, not only as a coach, but also as a person.
“If something is bothering me now, I make it discussable. That way it is solved sooner and I can more easily put all kinds of situations in their context”
Thanks to the program, I have become much more aware of my own thoughts and feelings. I also step out of my comfort zone more easily. I have especially learned to allow emotions to surface, which I used to push away. If something is bothering me now, I make it discussable. That way it is solved sooner, I experience more peace and I can more easily put all kinds of situations in their context.
But the program has given me even more. It has made me think about what I currently stand for—and want to stand for—and what gives me energy and what doesn’t.
How did that affect your coaching?
In the past, I often assumed an advisory role, to give guidance from my own perspective. But is my solution also the best for the other person? One of the most important insights that I developed through the Master in Coaching —and which I also apply the most— is NOT to project from myself onto the problem or the question of the other person, the coachee. How you experience a situation is never the same as how someone else experiences it. Every person has a unique background!
“I am more focused on helping the other person find a solution. There is more connection and I also enjoy the coaching process more”
So now I am more focused on helping the other person find a solution. What that solution is, I don’t necessarily need to know as a coach. It’s about the coachee. This also changes the contact; there is more connection and genuine interest. I now enjoy the coaching process more.
As a youth coach in a professional football world, how do you ensure a good balance between fun and top performances?
The reason kids are playing soccer is because they like it. Fun should be the basis. After all, learning goes faster when players experience it as light and fun.
Besides fun being paramount, we also challenge players in their process. Each child is challenged in a different way, because each child is different. What does this player need? How can I best challenge him? These are questions we work on every day.
“What does this player need? How can I best challenge him? These are questions we work on every day”
The development process is linked to the four learning lines —performance, football, social-emotional and physical. The players are ultimately responsible for their own development. We challenge and support them in this. In the end, it’s all about players’ awareness. The players themselves have to know what is asked of them, to become a professional footballer.
What do you consider essential in that approach?
Our goal is to deliver players at Eredivisie level, the top football division in the Netherlands, on a structural basis. Aspects that we as a club find very important in coaching are:
- Who is the person behind the footballer and how can we best challenge and support this person?
- Patience: development takes time and it is a long-term process.
- Responsibility and self-management by the player himself.
- Connection between trainers and players, which is about development on an individual level.
Do you recognize elements of Johan Cruyff in your approach?
We pay a lot of attention to that connection and the whole person ‘behind’ the footballer. From there we work—on the basis of autonomy—on personal growth.
Your colleague and head of education at VVV-Venlo, Roger Bongaerts, also studied the Master in Coaching. Have you noticed anything of that?
Yes, certainly. Because we both did the program, we have better conversations with each other, without making snap judgments. He studied the program before I did and through my own experience with the Master in Coaching, I can now better understand how he has challenged me in my development as a person and as a coach in recent years. This has helped me tremendously.
And finally, what are your personal goals?
I would like to grow as an assistant coach of the first team within VVV-Venlo. Besides this I would also like to make a step to a bigger professional football club, to step out of my comfort zone to gain new knowledge and experiences.