She first took to the pitch as a six-year-old. So when Renee de Groot (20), a second-year International Bachelor Arts and Culture student, joined the football club Antibarbari many years later, she felt right at home. These days, she proudly serves as the club’s chair and figurehead.

And members of the association appreciate her role, to the point of nominating her for Student of the Year. One of the recommendations she received described her as ‘the best chair ever’. “She may not always have it easy, but she’s one in a million”, the recommendation stated. In addition to arranging a confidential adviser, Renee has launched a well-being plan for board members. That said, she is keen to stress that the entire board acts as one.

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How would you describe yourself as a chair?

“I’m the first point of contact for people at the club who feel down. It’s important to me that all members and my colleagues on the board are comfortable in their own skin.

“This year, we jointly agreed to appoint a confidential adviser when the next board takes office. That person will serve as the point of contact at the club for people who have questions, worries or complaints about transgressive behaviour.

“In addition, we made a start with a well-being plan for board members earlier this year. This serves as a foundation for the next board to build on. It starts with questions like ‘How can others recognise when you’re ill at ease?’ and ‘What action would you like others to take in this case?’. Based on the answers to these questions, we’ll draw up a customised well-being plan for each board member. The idea is to share this with the other board members, so that everyone knows what to do when something is wrong.

“Serving a full year on a board is really hard. For me personally, combining my role as chair with my studies has been a mental challenge. That’s why I put my degree programme on hold in the first period, so that I could focus fully on the club.”

Why do you put such a premium on the mental health of the club’s members and your colleagues?

“There’s been an increasing awareness of the importance of good mental health in society, and I believe football clubs should follow suit. Football clubs serve as an outlet. People play football and have a beer together, but mental health deserves attention as well. Because I’m so busy, I look after my own mental health less than I’d like. However, conserving your mental health should take precedence, whether you’re busy or not.”

You have been nominated for Student of the Year. Take me back to the moment when you found out about this.

“I was studying in one of the university’s quiet study spaces when I received an email from Erasmus Magazine in my personal club inbox. I receive newsletters from EM more often, so I thought I’d skim it. But when I read it, I thought: Huh? This is something different entirely!

“This really came out of the blue for me. It was very special and an honour, but a little crazy as well. I felt at once that the credit shouldn’t be all mine. Everything that we’ve achieved at the club is thanks to the efforts of the board as a whole.

“It’s great that the jury believes we deserve a place alongside the other nominees that are working to improve society. To me, this nomination shows that we’re doing something special as a board. I’m very proud of the fact that seven young students are managing to keep a club with around 550 members going.”

You are known as a caring and helpful individual. Can you tell us one of your hidden qualities?

“I wouldn’t know. I’m not really one to keep secrets – I usually say what I think. In that sense, I’m a real open book.”

The election for Student of the Year is organised by Studium Generale and Erasmus Magazine. The jury has chosen the finalists from 104 nominations. From 11 May, you can vote for one of the students. These votes are one part of the final outcome. The jury will vote again and the very last round of voting will be by the public on 31 May.

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