Dutch Powerhouse

The Secret Of Success


Nikki Dryden

Finishing second in the total medal count behind the traditional swimming powerhouse nation of Germany, the small team from the Netherlands proved that quality is better than quantity. And the country's younger coaches appear to be the secret to their success.

Jacco Verhaeren, of PSV Eindhoven, is one of several young coaches who trains some of the country's best. Pieter van den Hoogenband, Inge de Bruijn, Kirsten Vlieghuis, and Marcel Wouda all train with Verhaeren, who is part of a new generation of young coaches in the Netherlands in touch with the needs of a new generation of young swimmers.

Without the luxury of a huge pool of talented swimmers, Dutch coaches individualize programs to get the best out of each of their athletes. According to Wouda, coaches in the Netherlands are very laid back in their approach to coaching. "The coaches here are very motivated to listen to their swimmers and try new things because they are not stuck in the routine of I've been around, I've seen it all and I know it all.'"

Victorious Dutch 4x100 medley relay team
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Wouda attended the University of Michigan from 1991 to 1995. World renowned for its high-volume, intense training program under head coach Jon Urbanchek, Michigan has been home to such top swimmers as Gustavo Borges, Royce Sharp, Eric Namesnik, and Tom Dolan. For Wouda, training with the world's top IM swimmers was a great experience, but when the time came to decide where to train after he graduated, he chose to head home to the Netherlands. "I swam with Jacco the summer before 1994 Worlds. It was then that I learned the difference between long, hard training and shorter, smarter training. I learned from Jacco that going a lot of metres wasn't the same as doing a lot of hard work."

Wouda determined that training with his competition every day in workout was not the ideal situation for him. "At Michigan we sometimes became very stressed out racing each other in training-it was like an Olympic final every day in practice. Here I can do a breast set with breaststrokers, a free set with Pieter or Kirsten. I am still challenged and I still can push myself without training with IMers."

There is a great deal of mutual respect between Verhaeren and his athletes. By maintaining an open attitude about coaching, he proved in Istanbul that whatever it is they are doing in the Netherlands, it appears to be working. With nine gold medals, five European records, and eleven meet records, the young Dutch coaches and their swimmers demonstrated that youth is king.