A lot of the focus is on the riders and their incredible horses, but what about the team behind the team, or more specifically the person that pulls it all together and selects the combinations who get the chance to represent their country? As part of our series on the people within the sport, we speak to Dutch Chef d’Equipe, Vincent Voorn about what it takes to be a good team manager.
“I think a good Chef should try to select the right people and horses and create a comfortable environment,” Vincent says of his role, “of course we are all there to win, we are not there to play around, so sometimes there are hard choices to make, but it all depends on the riders in the ring - a Chef is basically as good as their riders are at that moment.”
But being a good Chef d’Equipe is more than just being a team selector. According to Vincent, it’s about knowing what not to do as much as how to guide your team to enable them to reach their peak performance.
“What I am completely against as a Chef, and what I found difficult as a rider when I competed, is if you have managers that try to change their riders.” Says the former Olympian. “Riders are invited to compete in a Nations Cup based on the training and results they’ve been achieving all year. But then on Nations Cup Day, if there are 5 or 10 people standing in the warm up telling a rider that they have to do ‘this or that’, it’s not trusting them to know what’s best for them and their horse, and I don’t want to be that coach.”
Of course, if one of Vincent’s team has questions, then part of his role is to discuss their best approach with them, “but I’m not there to teach them or to guide them every step of the way, I trust that they know what works for them. If something really isn’t working, then we can talk it over but I like to keep everyone in their own comfort zone and allow them to compete in the way they want to do it.”
Vincent has clearly earned the respect of his riders. At the Longines EEF Series in Ebreichsdorf earlier this year, Dutch team stalwart, Henk Frederiks, spoke highly of their Chef d’Equipe, “it’s always great to have a team manager who has been riding at the highest level, so he knows what it’s about. Vincent won medals and is a great sportsman, he realises that mistakes can be made and it’s about the reaction you have as a rider to a mistake.” Henk said. “He’s not a trainer, he’s a chef – he wants the best rides to go into the team and he lets us do our job, but he’s there supporting us and giving us advice if we need it.”
But being a Chef d’Equipe isn’t always plain sailing. “Last year it was even difficult for me to get a whole team together for the Nations Cup if I didn’t bring two young riders in, as not everyone saw the benefit. But this year, I have a full list for every show because people want to go. So that’s nice that you see a little bit of development and I hope that we’ll get even more.”
Which begs the question, how did you develop the mentality to prioritise the team competitions? “I just talked to a lot of people and really pushed for the younger generation and the developing riders to do these shows and explained the importance of riding in a team environment,” Vincent says. “It’s a completely different feeling than if you always ride as an individual. Of course I understand that everyone wants to start in those big shows, but I think there are a lot of riders and talented young horses that can get way more benefit out of jumping a 3* series than going to the 5* series too early.
It's apparent that this Longines EEF Series has become a fundamental part of the Dutch show jumping team development. “It’s a steppingstone, we want to use this Series to progress riders” he explains. “I think the Series is great, it’s good to give upcoming and young riders the experience of being part of a team, and talented horses the opportunity to jump two rounds and get their strength and experience.”
Looking back on the team’s performance in the Series so far, the Netherlands have put in a solid performance, winning 2 qualifiers and also taking the top spot in their Semi-Finals. “We have a good group of riders this year who are serious about the sport and understand what I want and am trying to achieve, so far it has played out well.” Vincent says of his team selections thus far. But he’s not one to rest on his laurels and is already focusing ahead on the Longines EEF Series Final in Warsaw coming up next week.
“Rider’s places are not guaranteed for the Final, this year my group of riders is a lot bigger compared to last season so have a lot more to choose from, which is a very good problem to have!” He smiles wryly. “But the guys that put in effort for me through the year, if they have good results and work all year long for the Dutch team, they should get rewarded for that.” He says of his upcoming team selection. “So if their horses are fit and the riders want to go, then we will make a good plan, and if there are a few on-form riders stepping up at the last moment again, then they can fill up the loose ends.” We’ll just have to wait and see how his strategy plays out!
Source: Press release - EEF