Learn from Ireen van den Assem on Tips for Success in the Hockey World
Let’s dive in – she’s a 7-time National Champion, 2-time European Champion, and World Champion. She’s won the Hockey Pro League, Hockey World League, and European Championship Indoor. Joining the Dutch National Team after the Rio Olympics, Ireen van den Assem is working hard for a spot in the 2020 Olympic selection.
Apart from the national team, she has played for TMHC Forward, Rotterdam, and Den Bosch in Holland’s Hoofdklasse. We asked this star athlete questions to learn more about her experiences, what has helped her along the way, and what she wants for the hockey community in the future.
What has been the key to your success playing hockey?
For me personally, it’s working really really hard every single day. Sacrificing a lot – you have to limit your social life. You have to be aware of how much you rest and take care of your body. You have to be very disciplined. I changed my mindset over the years by changing and believing in myself. I gained confidence and believed I could make the national team. I was on the U16, U18, and U21 national teams, but the senior league was a lot harder.
At first, I was too harsh for myself and didn’t believe in myself, I didn’t always show my true self and I overtrained. I didn’t have the confidence to show who I really am. I gained my experience from my club and winning championships. You have to win big games to know how to play, win, and succeed under pressure.
Now, I always try to be a stable player these days. I’m one of the older players on the team, my role is to be stable and help other people play better. Coach them in the right way. Play my task and do what I need to do. I’m a defender, so I need to play well and make sure the opponent is not going passed me, and I have to make the right decisions in the build up.
Out of all of your successes, what is one of the most important moments for you and why?
During the summer of 2016, when I was watching the Rio Olympics. I couldn’t look at this in a normal way. I wasn’t jealous necessarily, but I had an insane life goal that I wanted to go to the Olympics. After that, I made a plan with my club coach and mental coach. We were going to invest the time, develop a plan, and see if there’s an opening in the Dutch team or if the coach was interested.
In December of that year, I had the chance to prove myself to the coach with other league players. I showed her who I was. I made a plan around the idea: “she needs you for who you are.” My trainers and I agreed we would do everything we could, show her my true self and abilities, and if she doesn’t pick me, I would consider looking into other options like working or investing into other life plans.
Fortunately, she ended up picking me and asking me to join a team for a three week trip to Spain, and I was able to show her who I was on a higher level.
For me, that was when I hopped on the train. Step by step I played in more tournaments and stayed on the team. If that didn’t happen, I probably wouldn’t be playing at this level. I’m 29, it was a crossroads where I had to choose if I was going to pursue hockey, or will I have to find something else.
Is there anything you wish you knew along your path to high-level hockey?
In the beginning, I wish I knew how to train. I did it a lot of it in my own way, but didn’t know the right things to do. I was super eager, but wasn’t making the right decisions. Asking for help and finding accurate information is something that I wish I did.
From your experience and hockey career, what do you think is commonly overlooked or missing in the process?
I think sometimes it’s easy to select people on their physical abilities, but you have to consider the finer ability. I think you need a mix of talents. Players who are strong or fast, but also who are mentally very tough and who have a lot of passion. Everyone can learn from everyone. People who came a long way, they’ve had to learn to work very hard. To become your best self, you have to. I don’t think everyone uses the mental aspect yet, but it can be something that makes people even better. You work on fitness and physical ability, why not work on the mental health to make the game better?
How has playing hockey helped you personally?
I think hockey has helped me so much and I’ve learned so much from hockey. I learned who I am. How to reach your goals or work toward your goals. How to make a plan to work for something. How to cooperate with people and how to perform under pressure. I have met a lot of people through the sport too. I think it’s such a big part of my life and I love the game. It has truly shaped me as a person – it’s such a big part of my life.
What advice do you have for others in the hockey community?
Just ask yourself what you want. You need a target, ask yourself, am I making the right decisions to get myself closer to that target every single day, month, week, whatever that target is.
From her fierce motivation and mental strength, van den Assem has claimed a spot on the Dutch National Team over the past couple of years. As the Olympic team selection is approaching, she is training hard and doing whatever it takes to join the team in Tokyo 2020. To learn more about Ireen’s story and grind to the national team, follow her on our Uru platform here.
Why Uru? van den Assem exclaimed: “Hockey is changing a lot, so we can learn a lot from others in the sport. Field hockey is unique because we can’t just be quick, we need endurance as well. Seeing what other athletes do is helpful to get the right mix.”