In 2017, NN Group presented the NN Running Team: the first professional running team in the world. NN chose running as our main sports sponsoring domain as it fits well with our values and our aim to contribute to people’s general health and financial well-being.
Athlete management duo Jurrie van der Velden and Valentijn Trouw gave an interview about how they support athletes. They play a vital behind-the-scenes role in propelling NN Running Team athletes to glory around the globe. The astute pair share more about their work and just how they have helped the team to consistently deliver on their goals and ambitions.
What does your role entail?
Jurrie: The main part of our elite management role is that we recruit, scout and manage athletes and the team around the athletes, such as physios, doctors, et cetera. We also work with the organisers of elite road races to help them fulfil their goals through the recruitment of elite athletes.
Valentijn: My main responsibility is with both the Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes to find a way to get the most out of each individual and the group as a whole.
What are some of the main challenges in your role?
Jurrie: It is much better today than it was 10-15 years ago, but communication can be a big challenge. In the past, very few African athletes had a mobile phone, but over time this has improved and today 90% of athletes are easily contactable.
In Uganda, coaching and physiotherapy remain a challenge. We have recruited a Dutch coach (Addy Ruiter) to oversee the group, but sometimes it can be a challenge to get the right quality coaches in to support Addy.
We also work with athletes from many different countries, such as Romania, Ireland and Switzerland. Most of them have grown up in a federation system, but each one presents a slightly different challenge. It is our job to find a tailor-made solution for the athlete.
Valentijn: I don’t necessarily see it as a challenge, but for me one of most important elements to our job is to create balance and stability in the athlete’s life outside of training. In most cases, the athletes are serious about training, but if their lives outside of athletics are unbalanced and unstable, this will compromise success. If we manage to find stability in their lives, many of the athletes are so talented that anything is possible.
What qualities does a good elite manager need?
Jurrie: I think any good manager should work with the athletes to help them achieve their goals and dreams. This always needs to be the primary motivation rather than being driven by money and short-term gain. In my last 12 years (with Global Sports Communication) we have accomplished a lot with the athletes and this motivates me to work harder and find new talent for the future.
Valentijn: I think one of the key qualities, particularly around a big race or event, is to remain calm. My role as manager is to take the small distractions away from the athlete to help alleviate stress and allow them to fully focus on the race and their goals.
What are the most rewarding elements to the role?
Jurrie: Firstly, it is going to the competition and working with the different personalities in the various races, all of which vary. Secondly, going to the country where the athletes live and train is always a privilege and thirdly, working with the big guns on a specific target and watching them fulfil their goals is also a pleasure.
Valentijn: Our athletes are all hardworking individuals who all have different dreams and ambitions - whether that is winning an Olympic title, running a 2:08 marathon or setting a national record. To help any athlete achieve their goals is very rewarding.
What is the process behind selecting which races an individual athlete should compete in?
Jurrie: It is all starts with what is the main goal of the athlete, and working backwards from there. Once we have the main goal race in mind, we might consider what races might act as a good warm up. Some athletes might want to run quickly from the first race, while other athletes may need one or two races to blow away the cobwebs. Besides these factors, other considerations might come down to our relationship with the organisers.
Valentijn: This is perhaps the biggest role of a manager. To keep an athlete motivated, we need to find the right races for them. If you put an athlete in races for which they are not suitable, their motivation will be gone within one to two years. It is incredibly important to understand which phase of a career an athlete is at, what races trigger their motivation and which events are suitable for meeting these needs. If an athlete is competing only for us rather than himself, it will never work.
What support do you give an NN Running Team athlete on a race weekend?
Jurrie: We make sure all the basics are met regarding race kit and shoes. The second element is to make sure that if an athlete has an injury, that they are treated for this. We often use meal times for one-on-one chats with the athletes. Being at the race, we also have the chance to chat to event organisers. We use our time in various ways.
Valentijn: Our role on a race weekend is to be there for an athlete to suit any requirements they may have, and to be available to discuss any issues or concerns. As I mentioned earlier, it is important to keep distractions out of the way and to bring a certain calmness around the athlete. An athlete may also receive a lot of media and/or sponsorship requests. It is our job to make sure they have the confidence to handle the situation, but not to overburden them with requests.
Why do the job?
Jurrie: Why not? If you can do something that you love and are passionate about, then there is no better job. I’m privileged to be in a position to work with superstar athletes.
Valentijn: It is extremely rewarding to work hard with people to help them achieve their dreams. To see their development both on and off the track, and play a small part in assisting this process, is very rewarding.