Toine Klerks is – among a few others – the heartbeat of Dutch wheelchair basketball. We asked the director of BEN (Basketball Experience Nederland) for an interview in which he talks about a very special wheelchair basketball camp in December (Winter Camp Experience), the two upcoming major wheelchair basketball events in the Netherlands (European Championship in Rotterdam & Champions Cup Final in Nijmegen) and the work of BEN. Furthermore, the family father talks about his most emotional moments in wheelchair basketball and the support of his girlfriend Eline.
Toine, you resp. BEN Foundation are organizing an international wheelchair basketball camp (Winter Camp Experience) in cooperation with the Johan Cruyff Foundation in Zwolle at the end of December. Which players do you want to reach with this camp?
One of our employees, former wheelchair basketball player Paul Toes, is in charge of the camp. He is organizing this camp on behalf of the BEN Foundation with the aim to make it possible for young wheelchair basketball athletes to experience a few days like a pro. We are looking for talented players on several levels and several classifications who are looking for a way to develop themselves in becoming a better player.
Crew for FUNdamentals (monthly junior basketball project) – Photo: Ilse Schaffers
How many participants have registered already for the camp? And where do they come from? Can you say something about that.
At this moment we have 20 out of 30 spots filled. And we have some athletes who are above the age limit, who are on a waiting list (maximum age is 23 and these athletes might be accepted if we have open spots after November 10).
What can the “Juniors” expect in Zwolle?
A unique experience chance to train under the supervision of the best wheelchair basketball coaches and players of The Netherlands.
That means …
… that Gertjan van der Linden and Irene Sloof will be leading the camp as head coaches, players as Mustafa Korkmaz, Bo Kramer, Paul Toes (ex-player), Mark Aalders (ex-player) and more will be guiding the juniors and share their experiences.
What else is offered besides basketball?
Well, we touch base in workshops on several important aspects which are part of the wheelchair basketball player development: nutrition, wheelchair maintenance, mentality, personal hygiene, strength and condition, communication, game analysis and teamwork.
Where can the athletes find more information?
On our social media channels, all federations have received an invitation, but they can also request an invitation by sending an email to email@example.com
BEN Director and National Women’s Coach: Gertjan van der Linden – Photo: Uli Gasper
Let’s change the subject: a wheelchair basketball camp in Zwolle, the Champions Cup final in Nijmegen and the European Championship in Rotterdam. Holland seems to be the new stronghold of wheelchair basketball. Do you have a long-term strategy to position the sport in the Netherlands and what are your goals with BEN and the federation?
We are creating professional experiences to make people aware of the adapted sports, to inspire others and to attract people to start playing wheelchair basketball. There are more and more adapted sports possibilities and we want to make sure wheelchair basketball is becoming the most popular.
That sounds interesting. Can you elaborate on that?
Sure. We try to do that by getting the most interesting events to the Netherlands. Champions Cup and European Championships are definitely part of that! We aim to make every event unique and upgrade it to the next level, as I think this sport deserves that. A bit explanation maybe about the construction behind the scenes, as it seems people are starting to think the BEN Foundation is the National Federation, which we are not.
In The Netherlands wheelchair basketball is integrated into the national federation for basketball (NBB). This has advantages and disadvantages. Even though organizational integration is in fact a positive thing, we both concluded the federation was not able to give the full attention which wheelchair basketball deserves. I must give credits to the NBB about making this choice, as it takes courage to acknowledge this and to trust a new young organization like us as an executing partner in a field of many different forces. Since 2016 we have a – growing – cooperation contract with the federation where we decided together that the BEN Foundation will execute the preparation program for the national teams towards Euros, Worlds and Paralympics. Since then more and more questions about wheelchair basketball landed on our plate. After organizing a successful Euro 2019 these requests accelerated – in a wide variety from youth development to competitions and from tournaments to 3×3 basketball – and we managed to expand our employees and volunteers to full-fill most of the requests.
The Dutch women’s national team before their match against China at the World Championships 2018 in Hamburg – Foto: Uli Gasper
Thank you for the clarification, Toine. Next point: In the women’s sector you have a “Golden Generation” with Jitske, Mariska & Co. What is the situation with young talents in Holland, both in the men’s and women’s disciplines?
There is a new group coming up in the Junior program at Papendal, basecamp of Olympic and Paralympic Team NL. Led by coach Irene Sloof there is a mixed group of 14 athletes training in a full time academy program. There are definitely talented athletes in there who are getting prepared for the bigger work. Some of them sometimes get selected by national teams already. A nice milestone was the participation at the European Paralympic Youth Games in Finland in June this year, a mixed U23 group took part and experienced their first international games together as a team.
Meanwhile nationally, the challenge is at the clubs and at the start of the careers of juniors. We see more and more clubs having a big gap in age. When they start at a club, the age difference with the youngest member of the club is very often 10+ years. We are trying to make juniors train together in our monthly “FUNdamentals” program and support clubs with young players to encourage them to keep it up and ignore the age gap with their club members.
What are you doing as BEN to stay at the top of the world as a nation in the long term?
We are not the ones being responsible for that or making the plans for that. The NBB (national federation) does that together with their coaches. However we do give input of course, as feedback from the preparation programs we organize for the NBB.
What was your feedback?
Well, I can say innovation on technical and coaching are important aspects. For us as a foundation we see the successes of the national teams as a great bonus for our goal: creating role models, inspiring others and attracting people to start playing wheelchair basketball. We are proud to help the national teams in facilitating on a high level.
I’d like to talk about Toine as a person. You have an orange heart in your chest. What were your three most emotional moments in wheelchair basketball?
What a question ..
Not bad, is it (laughs)
Well, probably not the ones you might expect.
I am quite curious.
To be honest: 2013, in the role of team manager becoming European Champion with the women’s team in Frankfurt is a very important milestone for me personally. After the final and medal ceremony coach Gertjan van der Linden and myself talked about the ideas and dreams he and my father (Ben Klerks) once had. This resulted in a plan and in the start of the BEN Foundation one year later.
Toine during the 2013 European Championships in Frankfurt – Photo: Uli Gasper
Your second highlight?
2015, men’s team qualifying for Rio 2016 was a very special one as well. It was the result of the junior development program which started in 2007, missing 2 Paralympics in a row and finally getting that spot. This was the push for me to switch from parttime teacher / parttime BEN Foundation to full time work at the BEN Foundation.
Last but not least …
… Paralympic gold women in Tokyo. Extra special: as I was not able to be there, neither in function nor as a fan. Due to corona, we organized an event for athlete’s family and friends at our office, which was not opened yet, where we watched the final with them on big screen.
Between us: What does your wife say about being married to a “wheelchair basketball maniac”?
Well not married yet, but Eline has always been very supportive. Since we have kids I am not abroad that much anymore and I have the idea she likes it that we have an office close to our house now. Marriage is coming though: unfortunately, this will happen during the world championships -thanks to a wonderful amateur postponement which we all know about. Will this become the first wedding with a wheelchair basketball livestream? Who knows!
Euphoric Dutch fans at the Worlds 2018 in Hamburg – Photo: Uli Gasper
If I could grant you three wishes to take the sport to the next level, what would they be?
Is rewinding time a wish I could use?
In that case I would use three wishes in history to do something about the recent classification discussion, the cut in numbers of teams at the Paralympics and the postponement of the World Championship. It actually comes down to: I would wish for a more professional approach of our sport in general. On all aspects of our sport. This starts with our players and must be accompanied by more professionally on organizational level. Locally, nationally and internationally.
Final question: Who will win the Champions Cup and which teams will be European champions in 2023?
I always like underdogs, so for the Champions Cup I hope there will be a surprise like Bidadeak Bilbao, Ace Gran Canaria or Hornets Le Cannes. But my gamble would be Lahn Dill. Very solid group with a nice mix in experienced and talented players.
For the Europeans it seems impossible to predict: I am afraid the World Championships will have a huge influence on all competitors. I think women Team Netherlands and for the men Turkey can be the surprising winner: looking for revenge after Madrid and the Corona debacle, a real tournament team and no energy lost during the world championship.
Thanks for the chat, Toine. Appreciate it.
Interview: Martin Schenk | Titelfoto: Uli Gasper