Having been appointed team captain earlier in the year, Marloes Keetels, 24, is being forced to step out of her comfort zone. And successfully so, because the seemingly shy and modest student from Brabant – nicknamed ‘the silent force in the midfield’ – is the captain of the team that won the European Field Hockey Championships last month. But this will not suffice for Keetels, who is going above and beyond to make the most of her elite hockey career. Every now and then this will go at the expense of her degree, which she has not yet completed, despite spending six years at uni. Because whenever there is a conflict between her academic and athletic schedules, hockey will win out.
When she is not playing hockey, Keetels is not seeing much effect from her new role as the standard-bearer of Dutch field hockey. She hardly ever gets recognised or addressed by strangers. “That only happens when I wear my national team uniform,” she says. “When I am wearing regular clothes, I am a regular student, thankfully. I can sit in the UL without anyone recognising me.”
Initially, Keetels’ friends and family did not think she was leader material. “Seriously? You are going to be the national team’s captain?” was her mother’s surprised-yet-ever-so-proud response after Keetels had told her that she had been appointed to the captaincy.
The brand new captain herself thinks it is mostly an educational experience. “I am currently learning how to act as a leader and call my teammates to account when things go wrong. I still find that a bit scary, particularly when the other person is older than I am.”
Keetels’ degree in Business Administration is coming in handy. It has taught her that it is important to create a level of support among the people she leads – in this case, her fellow team members. “Being a captain who wants things done in her own way without hearing other people’s opinions doesn’t work.”
In the same boat
To Keetels, combining a degree and an athletic career requires a bit of juggling. She trains with her club and the national team five or six times a week, has several strength training sessions a week and generally plays a game on Sundays. She fits her study hours in between her training hours, even when she goes on training camps or competitions with the Dutch national team. In the next few months she has trips lined up to Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
“On such trips we will establish a study group for all the girls who are taking a degree, and we will help each other or exchange tips. We are all in the same boat: we are often abroad, and the exams are scheduled at fixed dates and times.” Keetels says this has made it hard for her to get her Bachelor’s degree within the nominal three years. “But every once in a while I’ll have a few months during which I’ll spend four days a week in the UL.”
Nevertheless, field hockey is her priority. “If I’m supposed to be revising for an exam, but am suffering from hamstring problems, I will end up seeing my physiotherapist every day, rather than hitting the books,” Keetels admits. Even so she considers her degree time well spent. She wishes to have a university degree for once she has retired from hockey, and she enjoys doing ‘group assignments with people who don’t even know how to hold a hockey stick’.
Her intensive athletic and academic schedules leave her little time to do other things. For this reason, she is not having much of a regular student life. “I hardly ever go out. After my training sessions I’m happy to just go to bed.” In what little spare time she has, Keetels likes to go to the cinema (she has a Pathé discount card) or watch films with her flatmates. She likes to make up for all the parties she is missing out on by celebrating national league titles with her club, HC Den Bosch, or competitions she has won with the national team.
Even though she does not have much spare time, Keetels has plenty of friends. During quiet periods, she does her best to invest in her friendships with others. “They understand the choices I’ve made. Many of them came to see me at the European Championships. That’s a sign to me that they’re empathising.”
Thanks to her encounters with sponsors in the field hockey world, Keetels has been able to build a network that will be useful once she retires from elite sport. However, she has no plans of doing so any time soon. She will continue until the 2020 Olympics. “I want to captain this team to the gold medal in Tokyo,” she says confidently.
She hopes she will have completed her degree by then, so that she will be ready for a career outside the world of sport. “After that, once I have retired from hockey, I hope to be able to look back with pride on the growth I have made as a person: from a quiet girl that barely dared guide anyone on the pitch to the captain of the Dutch national team.”