Frank Maagdenberg; Everything for Wheelchair Hockey (1)
Updated: Jun 19, 2019
Parasports World talks to Frank Maagdenberg, Dutch Wheelchair Hockey Head Coach Zoetermeer, The Netherlands. In the 1960s, a small fishing village nestled in the province of South Holland with fewer than 7,000 inhabitants. Today, a bustling modern city of 125,000 people geographically split from its medieval roots by Lake Dobbe which divides the old town from the new city centre. Zoetermeer is a place that doesn’t hang around.
Such a mixture of tradition and innovation is rarely seen as starkly as it is in on the banks of the ‘Sweet Lake City’. The same can be said of Zoetermeer native and Dutch Wheelchair Hockey Head Coach Frank Maagdenberg, who thinks and talks with the urgency of a man forged in a fast growing, fast moving municipality. The task is to keep up.
Traditionally the Netherlands is a Field Hockey nation, where an astonishing number of people play the sport on a regular basis. The Zoetermeer twist to the tale came in 1993 when the local hockey clubs initiated a G-hockey activity for young people with a learning disability. Considering that the initiative was founded on his doorstep and his mother was involved in starting this team, in hindsight it seems perhaps obvious that Maagdenberg is so passionately involved in this project.
However, back in the day, it was anything but obvious to Frank, that his path would lead him here. He had never even picked up a hockey stick! ‘’I started my career in 1986, when I was 18. Now you know how old I am (laughs). I wanted to originally be a gym teacher, but that didn’t happen. However I knew by then that I wanted to start a wheelchair floorball team in our country.
I started with another person, who went away after a year. I was just so fascinated with the sport that I never went away. I stepped then for the first time into a wheelchair. So the first time I touched a hockey stick was pretty much the same time I stepped into a wheelchair. Yes, I know that’s very odd, but it’s my story (laughs).’’
Frank’s fascination with the sport has been recognised beyond the borders of Zoetermeer. “The Dutch field hockey association and the International Federation want to develop the sport in a big way for mentally disabled. Because for a country like Holland, where nearly everyone plays field hockey – you have families with a mentally disabled person, who would also like to play the sport. It’s convenient when you can go to a sports club with your handicapped child, and they also have the opportunity to enjoy the sport.’’
For the uninitiated majority, he cleared up the key differences between wheelchair floorball and wheelchair hockey. ‘’The similarities are the wheelchairs! If you look at the weight of the sticks however, floorball has plastic or rather carbon sticks, which are lighter and are therefore more accessible for people with handicaps. It’s a light stick, a light ball with holes in it. It’s also easier to adapt it in countries with lack of money. It’s easier to carry around, and there is lesser arm function needed compared to field hockey. The rules are also different, however that comes with every different type of hockey’’.
So how does one go from never having picked up a stick to Head Coach? ‘’No one told me how to coach during this time, I developed the techniques myself and with my team. In 2010 this became a recognised sport under the field hockey association in Holland and then I became the Head Coach of the national team. And I remain a team player of my hometown team. In Holland even an able bodied person can play in a wheelchair. In the beginning it takes a year or 2 years to learn how to adapt to the wheelchair. It’s only after this time that its sometimes possible for an able-bodied person can overtake a disabled person.
This can sometimes be looked at as unfair. However, in Holland we believe in integrated sports. You can play the same sport whether you are able bodied or not. In the Czech Republic, where floorball is very big – they only allow 1 able-bodied person in a wheelchair to be on the field at a time. They have adapted the situation to cater to their needs.
Since floorball is so big, if an able bodied player is injured, they can easily go to the wheelchair team of their club and participate in this. These are professional players who can move stick and ball like it’s part of their body. And if they step into a wheelchair, it takes about 6 months and they adapt to the wheelchair. Their learning curve is so high and then you are at the point where it becomes unfair. But this isn’t the case in Holland – not yet. Here, wheelchair floorball is nearly the same size as regular floorball.’’
This sounded like a great opportunity to for this interviewer to finally play hockey at an international level, so she tried to dig a little deeper on the selection process. ‘’We have the national team and right under that we have our talent team. So according to our policy you would go from the talent team to the national team. We are scouting players all the time. We train them in our guidance team – me, as the head coach, along with the asst. coach and a manager. That’s the same person in this case – cheaper and better to invest in one person. We are all volunteers here. So the talent team scouts at competitions for talent.
We look for talent with stick control (guess this reporter isn’t making the team here either!) and coach-ibility, as well as game intelligence. Unfortunately this means mentally disabled players can’t make our national team. I am also a referee. You can imagine that in a sport that is still developing, you give them a finger and they take your arm (laughs). But that’s not a bad thing. I am happy about this, this way you experience all the sides of the sport. This helps you to develop it better from all angles’’
>>>End of Part 1<<<
Interview for Parasports World by Pritha Chakravarti
Check in next week for part 2 where we hear about just how big this sport can be, its Paralympic Plans and global Wheelchair Hockey domination!
Stay tuned. Parasports World provides parasports news, paralympic sports entertainment and disability sports community. Find great parasport and inspiring athletes from the Paralympic Games, the Invictus Games and parasport championships.