Next to ‘Mister Ajax’ Sjaak Swart, ‘Master Ajax’ Kees Stokhof has been a familiar face at the Toekomst Sports complex for years. The 64 year old mathematics teacher celebrated his twelve and a half anniversary as an Ajax teacher and Ajax A1 mentor.
If you’re in the cafeteria of the Toekomst with Kees Stokhof, you’ll never feel alone. At every turn, he greets students, former students and fellow teachers. He has something to say to everyone, small talk or mathematical advice is always at the ready. And all that for about a fifth of his life.
When asked if he is popular with Ajax’s youth players, he smiles broadly. “I’m popular in the sense that they seek me out for explanations about math. Many people have difficulty with the subject, and that’s no different with the Ajax youth players. Just like history, math is, by nature, a subject that is very dependent on the teacher. Think about it: if a history teacher can talk about the war in a compelling way, he’ll automatically get the class’ interest. With math, it’s more about listening carefully to the student. What is it that he doesn’t understand? You need to go into his way of thinking with a math problem. If you can find an a good way to do that, then you don’t need to teach him any tricks. It will stay with him.”
Stokhof has been with Ajax since September 1, 2000. Before that, he worked as a mathematics teacher at Marcanti College, and later as the head of student administration for the Esprit School group in Amsterdam. He managed to combine both functions for several years, but now he focusses fully on Ajax for three days a week. “It was actually a coincidence that I came here twelve and a half years ago. People at my school were told that the Ajax youth academy was looking for an economics teacher to give some support to the students with their homework. I then told them that I could lend my support as a math teacher. Ajax thought that was a good idea.”
Almost all of the players in the current Ajax selection who came from the academy have had Stokhof as a teacher. From Davy Klaassen to Ryan Babel, from Christian Eriksen to Daley Blind. Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen also did their homework with Stokhof for years. “I was the mentor for Ajax B1 first, but in time I grew with the guys towards the A1. Since then, I’ve stuck around. It’s an age group that appeals to me a lot. They’re all guys who are at the point of their final exams. Next to that, some of them are already close to playing in the first team, or a contract is luring them. It’s hard to keep your focus on school then. As a mentor, it’s my duty to make sure that school isn’t cast aside. A contract is important, but so is school.”
“Because of all the trainings, they miss quite a few hours of school during the week. The study hours at the Toekomst are therefore extremely important. Sometimes that means that a student will temporarily train less so that he can spend more time with school work in order to pass a certain exam. You hope that they will all have a future in football, but there needs to be a foundation. With Ajax, every youth player needs to have basic qualifications as a minimum.”
According to Stokhof, there aren’t many differences between a ‘regular’ student and an Ajax youth player who is attending school. Of course the class schedule is adjusted accordingly, but the experienced teacher doesn’t notice much ‘top athlete’s mentality’ at school. “But that extra factor, the possibility of a future in football, is of course at play. You can’t take that away. At team meetings, I notice, as a mentor, that students exhibit 95% of the same behavior at training as at school. That’s more about their personality than their football training.”
For this Ajax fan, it’s a treat to help up and coming football talents to get their diploma. “Both math and Ajax are hobbies of mine. This combination is ideal for me. It gives me satisfaction if I can help a student pass his math test with a few hours of tutoring. Something like that gives you a great feeling.”