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Verhaeren continues to take care of athletes but not in NOC*NSF’s employment


by: Leo Aquina | 13 May 2021

‘First a breathing spell, and then we’ll see what happens’. That was Jacco Verhaeren’s plan when he returned to the Netherlands in September 2020, after sever successful but demanding years as Australia’s national coach. And things were happening alright. When Maurits Hendriks in February announced that he would be retiring as ‘NOC*NSF’s technical director, the NOS news organisation assumed there was just one person who could succeed Hendriks, and ‘his name is Jacco Verhaeren’. But at this point the swimming coach does not aspire to this position. Jacco currently trains coaches of the German swimming association, and works with Toine Schouten of FluxPlus on the development of chrono coaching. This is a method of regulating the biological clock to enhance performance in sport.

JaccoVerhaeren-1The Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for Jacco Verhaeren to crown his Australian career with the Olympics in Tokyo. ‘When I left for Australia seven years ago, we were aiming for Tokyo’, he remembered. ‘Of course Rio came first, but I came onboard half-way the cycle and we would need five to six years to roll out the full plan. Of course I am sorry I won’t be going to Tokyo, but my successor had the chance to work with me for a while, and I knew I would be leaving the team in good hands.’ The choice in favour of the Netherlands was a choice in favour of his family. Verhaeren: ‘I got an offer to stay on in Australia for another year, but because of Covid I could no longer travel between Australia and the Netherlands. That made the choice easy.’

Verhaeren was named as Maurits Hendriks’ successor at NOC*NSF almost like the obvious choice. ‘Of course, it is nice to know that people would like to see you in that role’, he admitted. ‘I think that a technical director first of all has to create a care-free environment for coaches and athletes. Or as Pieter (Van den Hoogenband, ed.) calls it: creating an optimum performance climate’. Although his name is still going round, Verhaeren and Van den Hoogenband, the Olympic chef de mission, will not be renewing their collaboration for the time being. ‘I am currently talking to several parties about a new position, but they’re all related to swimming, in the Netherlands and abroad. I will think everything through but it will not be NOC*NSF.’

‘I am not a business administrator, obviously, but I know how to inspire people through coaching, that’s generic’

One of the parties in swimming that Verhaeren already works for, is the German swimming association. ‘I counsel the coaches on a project basis’, he explained. ‘The point is to bring the coaches together to share knowledge and expertise. Not so different in fact from what I was doing in Australia. We designed a three-year plan for short-course.’

In addition to his work in sports, Verhaeren is engaged in coaching businesses. ‘I am not a business administrator, obviously, but I know how to inspire people through coaching, that’s generic. Both in sports and in business you work with people, and we all want to get the most out of ourselves. You have to properly define your goals and draw up a realistic planning. In sports we excel at designing a training plan, but we don’t treat it like it’s set in stone. That is my role in this type of process.’

JaccoVerhaeren-2Chrono coaching
Chrono coaching
, too, is all about planning and responding to the flexibility required of professional athletes where competition schedules and itineraries are concerned. The bond between Toine Schoutens of FluxPlus and Verhaeren dates back to over ten years ago, when Verhaeren had to prepare his swimmers for the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. At the time Schoutens was working with Philips to develop a light therapy device, which people could use to influence their biological clocks. Because of the time difference between China and Europe and the times when the swimming finals were held, Verhaeren was looking for a way to get his swimmers on the starting blocks as rested as possible and at the right time. Verhaeren: ‘With that in mind we sat down and talked. Toine is a developer and I wanted something that was easy to take with you. Those devices were big and clumsy, and Toine then developed a pair of glasses.’

The glasses worked. From that point on Schoutens and Verhaeren never stopped working on the development of the concept. ‘I have always been inspired by science, what can we use, what works in practice.’ The solution must be tailored to the real problem, and that is what chrono coaching does. Verhaeren: ‘Our bodies respond to light and dark. When it gets dark, we produce melatonin to make us drowsy. When it gets light, we produce cortisol to activate us. The different time zones between continents can mess up our day/night rhythms. You could travel a few days early to acclimatize, but that is not always an option, like with Tokyo now.’

‘The glasses emit like a short-wave blue light with which you can simulate a day/night rhythm.’

Athletes not only have to worry about the time differences between continents, they also have to deal with competition schedules that do not always fit in with their day/night rhythms. Verhaeren: ‘As a rule, the best time for peak performance is between three in the afternoon and seven at night. But swimmers have to do the finals in the morning, and the Olympic marathon, too, will start at 7 in the morning because of the heat.’ With the FluxPlus glasses athletes can influence their sleep/wake cycles. Verhaeren: ‘The glasses emit like a short-wave blue light with which you can simulate a day/night rhythm.’

Quit talking and begin doing
JaccoVerhaeren-3Chrono coaching, however, is more than just putting the glasses on and off. Verhaeren: ‘You have to have a good strategy. We all have different sleep rhythms. There are morning people, and evening people. You have to take that into account.’ Verhaeren believes that the influence of someone’s biorhythm on their performance is often underestimated: ‘In sport, the motto tends to be “quit talking and begin doing”. All very well, but you can’t deny the biological clock. So you have to make sure that you do the right thing to optimize performance. We have the technology, and the research is overwhelming. Toine and I have made it our mission to help people with this.’

Who would benefit from chrono coaching? Verhaeren: ‘To put it bluntly – anyone who wants to deliver a top performance. We have been contacted by associations, but also by individual athletes. Over the years Toine has built a huge network, including the Belgian Olympic team, Norway, the Swiss swimming team, Australia’. Verhaeren emphasised the importance of chrono coaching as part of an integral approach. ‘No matter the product, it will never be the holy grail. To perform optimally, you have to consider a whole range of aspects. If you bring something on the market, it has to be a real solution and not a burden. Athletes and coaches often have to do dozens of different things every day to prepare optimally and every single thing takes energy. That is precisely where I come in with chrono coaching. We should take away people’s cares.’

For more information: chrono coach

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