More than just a game

Let’s be honest, Malou simply knows more about winning and Niels a little bit more about losing. However, we are both completely aware of the fact that the sport we love, has brought us so much more than only results. It made us the people we are today.

The Bovelander Foundation does amazing work in ”Incredible India” to help kids and coaches to develop. Where we are born has quite an impact on the chances we get in life. And Floris Jan simply wants as many kids and coahces in India to get acces to things which are often ”normal” to us. A safe spave to grow up, acces to play sports for both boys and girls, coach who play a positive role in youth development and like most important: acces to a lot of fun!

When we got the question (or even better: opportunity) to provide a coaching course for the Foundation in Kerala, in the South of India, we didn’t need much time to consider. To travel to the Home of Hockey and share our passion and perspective on the game and hopefully add a little piece to the Foundation’s puzzle, sounded awesome. And it turned out to be even better…

Important values of the de Foundation are: creating a safe space, fun, learning, developming and structure. We are happy to share how we experienced the two weeks in Kerala, where we shared these values.

Creating a safe space

Social circumstances for many kids in India are totally different than we are used to. Being 14 years old and leaving home to leaving home to live in an ”Academy” for the whole year… tough. Being 12 years old and helping your parents in agriculture, taking care of your siblings, going to training at 6 AM, so you can start school at 9 AM… tough. And in all those lives of these youngsters, their hockey coaches play quite an importante role. To help those coaches understand that next to hockey they can also help those kids develop in a more holistic way, was amazing.

Bringing the WHO (World Health Organization) Life Skills to life for them, linking them to hockey, working with and within their own local circumstances. We both learned just as much as they did that week. Our biggest goal with the 16 coaches in the course was not to just provide them our hockey knowledge, but to litterly create an environment which was safe. Regardless of age, gender, experience or class. To show them how much more we learn if we next to hockey, spend a lot more time on the people in the room. Their stories, their challenges and their dreams. We left Kerala with 16 new friends.


It’s impossible not to speak with Floris Jan about training, coaching or hockey. And it’s also impossible doing that without the word ”fun” involved. In the end, no matter how important a discussion around quality or social skills might become, he’ll always brings it back to the most essential element of the game: having fun! Fun for the kids, fun for the coaches and fun for ourselves. The stories we heard, the circumstances we have seen, it was incredibly inspiring to see how little is needed to actually create that vital element, and how important it is. We dare to say that in elite sports we maybe sometimes forget this and take ourselves or te outcome to serious. Being in India was a reminder and often even eye opening, to see it happen in front of us.

The smile of a barefoot 9 year old in a small rural village, with a stick as high as her shoulder, a ball we likely would replace even for our dog, just because after a long day she could join a hockey session. Priceless.

Learn & develop

We noticed more than once that purely because we’re from the Netherlands and both had our careers in international sports, people take everything we tell them as the truth. This might sound great. But often we found it quite a challenge. What’s truth or right for us, might not be the complete truth. Or it might not be best for them. Where they wanted to absorb all we knew, we wanted them to think with us, consider themselves and what would work for them.

I’ve never seen a group of 16 coaches listening, learning, writing so focussed and eager. No matter if it were 10 minutes of 2 hours, they took it all in. We loved them for it and we quickly realized that this was exectaly what we wanted to add. To not only listen to us and take it all blindy, but to get them to think twice, ask questions, come with local situations and circumstances challinging our thoughts and behaviour.

We would love for them to develop into coaches who tell their kids a bit less and ask them a bit more questions. To learn from a situation it helps if you found the answer on a certain problem yourself instead of someone telling you. So you have to ask creative and powerfull questions. At the same time, they simply love to hear how we train in the Netherlands. For example like what methods we use, what type of sessions did Malou prefer and why. Looking back, it became a mixture of explaining and asking and trying to investigate together what works.


Quite often we experienced a feeling of chaos when walking around in India. So many things seem unlogic, and they probably are, from our perspective so to say…

We often laughed when we saw three kids on a corner of the street, with a chicken of the back of one of them. What are they doing here? In the end of the day, close to darkness, when you look closely, it all seems to cluster. Chickens, cows and goats all find their way home. And their keepers are never far away. They might have been working on the land just a 100 meters away from where we saw them. Or they were busy with their job just around the corner.

In the rural areas of Jharkand, families live on a small property in tiny houses with their kettle on the other side of their doorstep. And they never leave theri kettle, it’s key for them to survive.

In the Netherlands we are brought up with extremely well organized sport infrastructures. Every town has at least one hockey club, often even more. All clubs have trainers and coaches. Yes, we indeed struggle to find the ”good” ones. But after two weeks spending time here in India we can say that we are lucky. How to organize a training session, how to think about what you want the kids to learn, how to really make a training more than just play a little bit with a ball and stick, some many things are so normal to us that is even takes time to try and explain things in a simple way.

On the last day, the coaches organized a tournament foor all the kids involved. We gave them all the ingredients to organize and making sure it run smoothly within time. It was amazing! And for sure not within time… On paper it worked out so well, in practice not so much. After every 5-minute game, all four goalkeepers sprinted to the sideline to get out of their gear and give it to the next goalie, because there were only four goalkeeper kits and we had eight teams playing. The goalkeepers were aged between 14 and 17 years old, boys and girls all with different heights. But we did not hear one complaint.

We believe that we provided them with a lot of structure and they can learn a lot from us. And still, the moment we believe that what is structure for us means the same for them, the moment we think we can copy-paste, the moment we stop asking questions and only tell, we do not have to go to India anymore. They’ll only develop if we think with them and not if we think for them.

India, you are amazing. We can be jealous of such incredible numbers of talent. Around every corner you can be surpised. We can be jealous of needing so little to experience such joy. We came home richer and humble.

See you next time,

Malou and Niels

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