What can a high performance center do for its athletes during the Olympic Games? Jochem Schellens, director of Papendal and former student of the Master in Sport Management at the Johan Cruyff Institute, reveals a few secrets
If there is a sports facility in the world where one breathes competition, effort, determination and excellence it is a high performance center. Furthermore, if it is an Olympic year, the level of dedication is utmost, not only for the athletes but for all the professionals who work with them before the most important event in their career.
A few months ago, the Johan Cruyff Institute had the opportunity to visit one of these magical places, where dreams are pursued day by day with the goal of the Olympics on the horizon. And that place was none other than Papendal, the high performance center connected to the Dutch Olympic Committee, where Jochem Schellens, an alumnus of the Master in Sport Management at the Johan Cruyff Institute, has been the director for a little over 10 years.
Jochem’s story has also been a long-distance race that led him to travel the world before ending up at Papendal. He worked as the manager at various hotels in South Africa and Vietnam before returning to Holland, his home, and applying his experience in these countries to managing local restaurants and hotels. But something told him that his time abroad should serve for something else. “I wanted a change and had the chance to do so as director of the Dutch Olympic Committee facilities. So, for me, studying at the Johan Cruyff Institute meant acquiring much more knowledge than I had as director of facilities and gave me the opportunity to develop the center to see it become what it is today. The Master really helped me to grow in this world. I am very pleased and grateful for it,” says Jochem.
The town of Arnhem is 100 kilometers southwest of Amsterdam, and within in its forests we find Papendal, with an area exceeding 160 hectares. This has been the training center for elite athletes since the early 70s. More than 300 Olympians and Paralympians train in Papendal each year.
With the help of Jochem Schellens, here we will get an idea of what it means to work every day with these athletes in a year of preparation for the Olympic Games and what a high performance center and its staff can do for them.
What does it mean for you to be the director of Papendal high performance center?
I have now been here for a little over 10 years and it is very gratifying to see how the athletes train and prepare, and to discover how you can contribute to their results from here.
How would you describe the athletes that you have in your center?
One of the most significant features in all of them is their dedication and determination. Obviously you need to have talent, but to achieve the necessary level to train in a high performance center like ours…I think that what really counts is determination.
How can the people who work in Papendal help athletes to live with success and failure?
I always say that we have to help them achieve their dreams by giving them the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. We give them these pieces and they need to put them together and do the puzzle for themselves. Whether they win or not, we will have done the same. I am happy and proud when they come back with results, but we are not the kind of people to say that they have achieved it thanks to us. They are the ones who achieve their goals and their medals, we’re just here to help them. We don’t do more or less because they have more or fewer chances. We must ensure that we offer them the best working conditions; that is our mission. As a high performance center, we must also aspire to be the best in the world.
“The athletes are the ones who achieve their goals and their medals, we’re just here to help them”
What is success or failure for you personally as the director of Papendal?
Success is that athletes want to come and train here and appreciate our work. That is our success as a center. Failure is a little harder to explain. But for me, it would be a failure not to convince people to invest and spend money on what we do in order to be able to continue offering our athletes these services. If I am not able to explain everything we do here to politicians, the government and sponsors, then that would be a failure for me. I have to continue to convince all parties concerned to continue investing in our athletes.
How much can the workload in the center change between a ‘normal’ year and an Olympic year like the current one?
We are full almost every year, but it is true that in an Olympic year there is more pressure and more stress in all the training programs, and that means we have more work. We have had a good year in terms of results and that makes people a little more relaxed in winter as they face their preparation for the Olympics. But the pressure is starting to increase because most athletes will wait until the last minute to travel to Rio, either because the facilities have not been ready until the last moment or because there was not enough accommodation for so many people in advance. So we will be full here until the end of July and that’s a big difference compared to other years.
“In Vancouver and also in London, we set up a small-scale high performance center near the Olympic Village. In Río, it will be inside”
Papendal will provide its athletes with facilities and services to train in Rio as if they were at home. How can you do this?
For us, the training that we give our athletes for four consecutive years in preparation for the Games is very important and we have seen that once they arrive at the Olympic village, either they do not have the same facilities as at home, or they have to share with all the other athletes. So for some years now we have gone with them. In Vancouver and also in London, we set up a small-scale high performance center near the Olympic Village. In London, we used the parking lot of a shopping mall and we set up stretching rooms, a medical center, an area for physiotherapy, etc. Now we are going to do exactly the same in Rio, but this time inside the Olympic Village. That way we can adapt everything they have here on a smaller scale abroad. Together with the Dutch Olympic Committee we will try to ensure that the athletes have the best conditions and amenities when they are in Rio.
What conditions will they have?
Our facilities will be available for use a week before the Games start and our goal is that up to about 30 athletes can train at the same time, although it depends on the sport because some need more or fewer facilities. But we talked with the coaches beforehand to understand their needs and develop a plan.
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