Arjan Vos is an ambitious coach who is eager to support the development of athletes in sport and life; he studies the Master in Sport Management and the Master in Coaching at Johan Cruyff Institute
Arjan Vos has a wealth of coaching experience. He is currently the head coach of the premier division water polo team ZV De Zaan, and he was coach of the National Female Water Polo Youth Team in The Netherlands. He also worked in Australia as a head coach at the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS) and as a coach of the National Junior Program in Sydney.
“I believe that when you approach sports professionally, you always want to continue to develop yourself, to be a better professional than you are now”, Vos says, and that is why he studies the Master in Sport Management and the Master in Coaching at Johan Cruyff Institute.
It’s clear that Vos is an ambitious and demanding coach, towards himself and his team. “I have been reading a lot about leadership, and I agree that good managers create leaders”, he says, “So I want to know what all the options are, find the best people and let them do what they are good at. That’s why I am studying areas outside coaching, such as sports marketing or sports finance, in order to improve the performance of the team and the athlete, and to contribute to the sport sector and of course to coaching.”
We spoke with Arjan Vos about his plans and vision on coaching.
You study two Masters and you are a head coach. What drives your ambition?
I think it all starts with passion, both for sport and for coaching. And I want to invest in my own future and in the future of top sport. I am looking for the best version of myself. I’m just trying to improve myself every day in order to become the best coach I can be.
Water polo has everything that makes team sports so beautiful: it’s hard, fast, exciting, and complex and it requires physical fitness, tactical insight and mental balance. It is also handball, rugby, judo and swimming in one sport. Parents who bring their children to all of these different sports, should consider the local water polo club at some point.
What are your goals in the short and long term?
For me the short term is today. I want to have done at least one thing every day – a conversation, a read, or training. That helps me grow as a coach. And I encourage the athletes with whom I work to do the same.
My heart lies in talent development. In my view, that is about the long term. As a performance coach I love to coach sports talents and talented coaches and performers in arts and business. There is still a lot to be gained in that area. In my sport I want to work at the highest level, at home or abroad.
A DUTCH COACH IN AUSTRALIA
You lived and worked in Australia between 2015 and 2017. What could you contribute most to water polo in Australia?
When I arrived in Australia, I found a more traditional hierarchy between coach and athlete than I was used to in the Netherlands. In Australia it was mainly ‘do as I say’. In the Netherlands, we were more used to mutual exchange; talking to each other before, during and after the training sessions, to make development a joint process.
In Australia the solution was often sought in working harder, while in the Netherlands we were more inclined to try to train smarter if an approach does not work.
But what I mainly remember was that they liked that I looked beyond the water polo player, who often also is a searching, sometimes over-bold, sometimes insecure student, daughter, sister, friend or colleague at the same time. As a coach I am just as interested in those aspects. In the context of sport, the elite athlete is of course central, but they do not have to leave a part of themselves at home.
What did you learn from that time in Australia?
For me it was important to find a balance between coaching and my personal life. I know many fellow coaches who, like me, were working 24/7. That does not always benefit the quality of your work. Letting go is an art. The climate and environment in Queensland invites you to relax, so that was a good learning environment for me. I still put a lot of extra time into work, but I’m really conscious about recharging the battery in time as well.
I also got to know a good sports psychologist, Jonah Oliver, who introduced me to ACT, Acceptance & Commitment Training in High Performance, a new and scientifically based view on performance psychology. Little is being done in this field in the Netherlands, and I enjoy sharing this with colleagues and specialists.
What were the biggest challenges in Australia?
Before I arrived the QAS was the major supplier of the National selection. After London 2012 however, a large number of well experienced players stopped. My challenge was to rejuvenate the selection. There was a high turnover in the group at the beginning. Old flowed out and young took over. It was a nice process, which I also enjoyed as a coach of the national u16 selection. Those talents arrived at a young age in a good, professional sports program.
In recent months, a number of young QAS girls made their debut in the national selection. I am so happy about that!
And water polo is an elite sport in Australia. Parents pay a lot of money to have their child play at national and international levels. There are parents who think that because they are paying, they also get a say in the approach. That can lead to misunderstandings sometimes, even though those are universal. There are certainly several cultural differences as well, but those make life and work in another country so fascinating. I feel very much at home in Australia.
You like to coach top athletes. What makes coaching them so special?
Young talented athletes enjoy their development so much. It’s very rewarding to challenge and support them towards their goals in sport and life. It is fascinating to see where top athletes set their own standards and how they can indulge in it. For me as a coach, the exact same things are at stake as for the athletes and all the others of the team: becoming aware – making them aware of their own influence on their development, both inside and outside the sport – increase their independence and keep the fun.
What do you see as your contribution to elite sport?
If I can help top athletes or talents make use of their opportunities and, as a result, achieve their goals and realize dreams, then I think that is wonderful.
Besides goals, I mainly work with values: What do you stand for as (top) talent, as a person, as a student, and what actions can you link to that? For me, a trajectory with an athlete is successful if they are also aware of their position in ‘normal’ life. After all, not everyone reaches the top. You must also prepare, and be prepared for that.
What are the challenges of top water polo in the Netherlands?
The Dutch women’s team were Olympic champions in Beijing in 2008. Since then ‘we’ have not been at the Games anymore. I know the current generation of internationals well and I expect that the Dutch will be back in Tokyo 2020, also because of the increase of teams for those next Olympics (8 to 10). Missing the third Games in a row would be disastrous.
A concern for thereafter, besides the level and size of the national premier league, is the number of young, talented and committed water polo players and – at least as important – dedicated coaches who can train them. A talent development program for trainers / coaches could offer a solution; a sophisticated program tailored to the development of the coach and to working with the best athletes at regional, national and international level.
What are opportunities for water polo in general?
Thanks to the Master in Sport Management, I see some opportunities to better market the sport. The World Cup in Budapest was a fantastic event. In Hungary, water polo is the biggest team sport. And this summer in Barcelona, the European Championships will be a fantastic event for sure as well.
For our regular water polo competition, we could invest more in the sport. We have great athletes, strong personalities and water polo – especially at the highest level – is spectacular to watch. Of course, limited financial resources play a role. But an approach that goes beyond just the competition, for example investing in building a community, more hospitality and side events, will also generate revenue.
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