Frank de Boer (41) has started his first full season as head coach. What’s striking about the 112 time international is that he often jumps in himself during practice sessions. The player De Boer seems to live on in coach De Boer.
Playing Scrabble on his iPhone is one of Frank de Boer’s favourite hobbies lately. “A friend from Monnickendam suggested that I try this app. And I have to say: it’s very addictive. During the training camp in Germany, I often made use of our free time by playing Scrabble online with my wife. It’s so nice to play a game on your phone for a while, it clears my head. A simple distraction with your telephone ensures that you’re not constantly thinking or talking about football. That’s why I don’t have grey hair. I can let go of football.”
On the training field, the situation is reversed. Coach Frank de Boer can be found regularly wearing a tunic. If you happened to forget that De Boer is now head coach, you would think that the former defender still belonged in the selection. You would also believe it by watching him perform. Centre forward Kolbeinn Sigthórsson has noticed since his arrival at Ajax that his own coach is sometimes the biggest challenge during the practices. “I’ve never experienced that a coach participates so fanatically in the practice. It’s clear in every way that De Boer was a world class player”, says the Icelander recently during the training camp in Germany.
It’s striking that you often participate yourself in the trainings. In those moments, you are literally leading the charge. Is this a conscious move on your part?
“When I participate, it’s often out of necessity. I’m not doing it because of any overwhelming desire to do it. But when we have uneven numbers, I can square it up easily by jumping in myself. Of course, I normally enjoy it a lot when it happens. After all, you want to stay fit yourself. Plus, the players can learn even more from my coaching.”
How do you coach for free kicks? Can you pass on your trademark as a player to the current specialists at Ajax?
“Everyone has his own techniques when taking a free kick. There’s not much you can change about that. But when I notice an issue, then of course I will spend some time addressing it. My help will often cover what the best way is to avoid the wall, and in which corner to shoot. There’s not so much you can change with a player’s kicking technique. Finally, it’s all about repetition and lots of practicing. That way, you can build some steadiness in your kicking. That’s how I did it for years.”
You’re a young, modern coach with a rich history as a player. You’ve also worked with some of the best coaches in the Netherlands through the years. In addition to that practical experience, do you also use psychological tactics?
“Of course, as a coach, I do draw on experiences I’ve gained by working with top coaches like Louis van Gaal, Guus Hiddink and Bert van Marwijk. In addition, I use a lot of my own feeling and instincts. Sometimes you come across something that you can use in your coaching. For example, I wanted to play a motivation video from Ajax TV in the locker room right before a match one day. But I only wanted to do it if we had a chance to be champions on the last day of play. When everything came together on May 15, we let that clip work its magic right before the game against FC Twente. Everyone got goose bumps. It gave us all a great feeling, which was only made stronger by the incredible atmosphere in the stadium that day. But I wouldn’t use a video like that again very soon. You need to do something like that once, and at the right time. Only then do you get the optimal effect.”
Does it give you a kick when you succeed in reaching a player?
“Of course you’re happy when that happens. I have a good recent example from the training camp in Germany. With team building activities, you often see a few players react sceptically in the beginning. As a coach, you can call them on it, or you can keep your distance and give them some space. Afterwards, it turned out that those were the guys who had participated the most. If you can strike the right chord with the players, they’ll walk through fire for you. And that’s what you want to achieve as a coach.”
An interview with Frank de Boer will appear soon in the official presentation guide. Ajax’s coach will talk about Edwin Evers’ imitations, his brother Ronald, and the town of Monnickendam, where he lives. The presentation guide will be available in stores as of the beginning of September.