Koen de Kort, former professional cyclist and currently team support manager at Trek Segafredo, proudly tells us how the Master in Sport Management Online has helped him to get the position in the factory team and to perform better in his job
Koen de Kort has been, for the past year and a half now, the team support manager at Trek Segafredo. The factory team, for which he rode the last five years of his career, handed him this responsibility after a serious accident resulted in the amputation of three fingers on his right hand which led to an early retirement from professional cycling. It is the first time in history that Trek Segafredo has hired a former cyclist for the position. “In the past, the management was handled by people from the business world. I think I could have taken the step, but I also think it would have been more difficult to get the job without the knowledge that the Master in Sport Management Online has given me. Because Trek is a big company, they could choose from a lot of people to fill this position,” Koen acknowledges.
The Dutchman has 17 years’ experience competing at the highest level as a professional cyclist and was already planning his retirement when he was surprised by the accident. He had already been trying to find gaps in his demanding competition schedule of Tours, Giros, Vueltas and so on, to progress in the Master in Sport Management Online. The accident was by no means the farewell he had dreamed of, but the fact that he had his future on track made waking up after the operation a little less traumatic. “The accident was terrible. It was very hard to bear, but I was mentally prepared to retire. It was clear to me that I wanted to go into management, so I also tried to find the right studies that would really help me for the future. And this program, the Master in Sport Management Online, was really what I was looking for. It was hard, but I’m very proud to have achieved it,” he says.
Right after collecting his diploma on graduation day, Koen took some precious time to talk to us about his experience with us and his new professional live.
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We could compare the master’s with a Tour de France, a long series of stages with a lot of effort on your behalf. How do you feel now that you have successfully reached the finish line?
It’s a really good feeling, of course. It’s pretty similar, actually, to finishing a Grand Tour. There is obviously a lot of hard work involved, a lot of preparation, and it’s not always easy to reach the finish line. And a few times you think you’re not going to make it, but now I’ve made it, I’m really happy. I know that it’s going to really help me for the future. So, I’m really happy to have this behind me, this graduation.
What about the teammates and professors that helped you along the way? Did you feel their support? Did you really enjoy having other professional athletes in class?
I think the support was really great. I’m pretty sure that it would not have been possible without it. I really got a lot of support. Sometimes I had to take a few months off if I really did not have the time or the energy to keep studying. So, then I had to take some time off, and there was always a lot of support and understanding. So, then when I did start again, it took me a long time to finish this program, but I was really determined to do it. And I’m glad that all the other students, but also the tutors and the professors, they all understood that I really wanted to do it, but that it was complicated and they gave me all the possibilities to do it. And your other question about the other students? It was really nice to be there with other athletes. I met some really nice people. I know I still have some friendships from it, so I’ve been going to watch basketball with one of the other students and I’ve been able to follow handball on TV. So, yeah, it was a good experience.
“I think it’s almost necessary, as a professional athlete, to start thinking about what’s going to happen afterwards; as hard as it seems, there is always time to study, there’s always time to develop personally”
Would you recommend the dual career to other professional athletes?
I think it’s almost necessary, as a professional athlete, to start thinking about what’s going to happen afterwards. There are so many athletes that are just really focused on their sporting career, and it makes sense, it’s something hard, you have to put a lot of effort and time into it to reach your goals. But then I think it’s not the end. After you retire from your sport, there is more to come. You really need to work, even if you don’t need it financially, you will need it just to feel fulfillment in your life. And if you have something like this behind it, and as hard as it seems, there is always time to study, there’s always time to develop personally. And I think it’s really, really important to think about that and I think for me, it worked really well. I managed to combine my final years and I could really kick-start my career after cycling.
Unfortunately, last year you suffered a serious accident that forced you to retire. How do you now remember those days?
The accident was terrible. It was really tough to deal with and the moment of retirement was the right moment. I was mentally ready to stop. I was already in conversations with the team to go into the management, the position that I’m now filling. And it was a hard moment, of course, to have to retire that way, but it was definitely the right moment. I was finished with cycling, you know. In my head, I could feel that I could not put into the sport anymore what I could in the past. And then it’s really time to move on.
“I had a really clear career path and I knew that I wanted to go into management. The Master in Sport Management was really what I was looking for and I think it also really helped me get this job”
Do you think that the fact that you were already studying made your retirement, let’s say, less traumatic?
Yes, for sure. For me, I had a really clear career path. I knew what I wanted to do. Of course, I left a few options open for myself, but I knew more or less that I wanted to go into management. And this is also why I tried to find the appropriate studies to really help me for the future. And this program, the Master in Sport Management Online, was really what I was looking for and I think it also really helped me get this job. So, I had it really mapped out already in my mind. And as I said before, it took a lot of effort, but it was something that I really wanted to do and I’m happy I did.
“A normal study would have been a lot harder, but Johan Cruyff Institute, which really facilitates this kind of thing for athletes, is something that makes a huge difference”
Tell me about your role as a team support manager at Trek Segafredo.
I’m in charge of all the equipment at the moment, so it’s really a management role within the team. But because Trek, the bike brands, own the team and the team is really used as a factory racing team. So, all the new equipment, all the new bikes, all the new helmets, shoes, you name it, wheels, everything, they always have been tested with the team. So, I can really combine my experience as a pro cyclist with all the equipment that I used in the past, also with really the management role and making sure that everything gets tested properly and gets introduced properly within the team and within professional cycling. So, that’s a really exciting part of it. And the other side of it is just to really make the team better, get better support in the team, do more wind tunnel tests to get better time trial suits, get faster equipment. So, all that combined makes it a perfect role for me at the moment.
“I can really combine my experience as a pro cyclist with all the equipment that I used in the past, also with really the management role and making sure that everything gets tested and introduced properly within the team”
Do you think you would have been able to apply for the position without the knowledge acquired on the master’s?
I think I could have done the step. It would maybe have been harder to even get the role, because, of course, Trek is a big company, they could choose out of a lot of people to fill this role. For the first time, they’ve chosen an ex-pro cyclist for it, they’ve always filled it with people from the business side. So, for me, it was important to have this behind me, to even get the role. But, also it really helped me, even if it’s just with making a budget or the leadership. What I learned in the studies really helps me already now in the role itself.
“Even if it’s just with making a budget or the leadership, what I learned in the program really helps me already now in my role as a team support manager at Trek Segafredo”
Johan used to say “who better to serve the best interest of sport than athletes themselves or someone who has the heart of an athlete”. Do you agree with that?
Of course, it worked really well for me, also. I’m a big fan of Johan. I had the honor of meeting him one time also, when the Tour de France was in Barcelona, we finished here on the top of Montjuïc, and I met him here. And it was a big honor for me. Of course, as a Dutch person, he’s a big hero, but for me especially. I believe a lot in what he says, and his name being combined with this master’s program also really helps. But it’s great that things like this exist for professional athletes and for people in sport where you’re able to combine it. A normal study would have been a lot harder, but Johan Cruyff Institute, which really facilitates this kind of studies for athletes, is something that makes a huge difference.