#11: Building Winning Teams with Vera Pauw & Bert Van Lingen

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Meet inspirational football coaches VERA PAUW and BERT VAN LINGEN – 2 professional sports coaches who have revolutionized the game of football, and sports coaching. Individually they are both extraordinary.  As a team they are unstoppable. They reveal the secret to setting yourself up for success in sport and in life.


  • Coaching
  • Sport
  • Football
  • Performance
  • Training
  • Context
  • Life Skills
  • Inclusivity
  • Equal Opportunities
  • Team Work


Football Theory by Jan Tamboer

Coaching Youth Football by Bert Van Lingen

The Periodisation of Football by Raymond Verheijen

The Frailty Myth by Colette Dowling


Hidden Figures directed by Theodore Melfi and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder. Based on the book ‘Hidden Figures’ written by Margot Lee Shetterly.


‘Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression’ 
~ Nelson Mandela


Read Full Transcript

Welcome to the LifeWise Show where we explore the things in life that make you feel truly alive. In this podcast I continue my conversation with Vera Pauw from Episode 10 and have the pleasure of introducing you to her husband, former coach and greatest ally – Bert Van Lingen. Together they make a formidable team. In fact, they really are like two halves of a whole – individually they are both extraordinary and together they are unstoppable. I feel so priviledged to have spent time with them and they have opened my eyes to what it takes to build winning teams in sport and in life.
Tania Cotton: Vera, you were an extraordinary player, the most capped player, man or woman, in the Netherlands.
Vera Pauw: At that moment.
Tania: At that moment, yes
Tania: So there was a coach in your life who could see your potential and enabled you to perform at your best and really shine and that was Bert van Lingen was it not?
Vera: Yes, my husband now.
Tania: Your husband. Now please give us a little insight into Bert’s background because he has made an extraordinary contribution to football coaching and I believe he was formally honoured for this last year. Please give us some insight into that.
Vera: I always tell him, and it’s strange, well people would think it’s because I’m his wife and I adore him, but he’s a genius in that part, and he would hate me saying it like that but he’s far away from all the others. He created, together with Rinus Michels, the former Coach of the Century by FIFA, he started a project that was a vision on our game, how to analyse the game and how to structure training in a way that it was comprehensible, trainable and coachable.
He stepped away from seeing the game as one part is technique, the other part is tactic and then we’ve got condition, what they called it, and if you add it all up that would be football. He turned it around, and we’re now talking about the end of the ‘80s, into a holistic view of starting with the game, looking as a coach at what players show, what players do, and reacting on that and taking that as a starting point for creating training sessions and bringing it back into the game again.
Then in the ‘90s he got in contact with Jan Tamboer, who is a sports philosopher, and he was working at the University of Amsterdam, and through research that was published by Raymond Verheijen. As a group those three people, Jan Tamboer, Raymond Verheijen and Bert van Lingen, they set up a project related to an acting theory, that theory is based on a player shows certain behaviour and within that you react but you create a structure in which those reactions and those coaching moments are put into a learning environment.
Does this make sense so far?
Tania: Yes. From Jan Tamboer, this philosopher of human movement, what I learned from him is that to move efficiently in sport and in life our actions need context to give them meaning and purpose. So is that how you understand it? He highlights that acting is not just a sum of physical and mental states but these states are one and the same, inseparable from the context of life or the sport that you’re acting within.
Vera: Yes, exactly. So the context of football is the starting point of coaching and that gives such tools to get players to another level. I’ve used those tools without any compromise and, of course, Bert has been coaching me within using that, first as a player, of course, but later in my profession. I always know that when I talk to him that with little remarks he makes things so clear. So when you start he can lift it out to make it objective and to find the tools to improve it. He is so far ahead of everybody that for him everything sounds so easy and when he explains things it is as if, “Why didn’t we do this already for 50 years?”
It is so difficult to develop it further because he is now in his pension and still the Dutch FA is asking him to help them to educate their tutors because there is nobody who really can make this extra step and pick up the task in this and develop things further.
He wrote a book in the ‘80s, his last book was in 2008 if I’m correct, and that’s still the book that is used in all the education systems of the Dutch FA, UEFA has picked it up, they have taken it over, and FIFA has been dealing with it.
everybody is copying his stuff and everybody is putting it into their policy documents and into their coach courses. But what they then do with it shows that they don’t really, really feel it, they don’t really understand it, and I think that is the sad thing of people who are ahead of the troops.
Tania: Then it gets interpreted and interpreted in the wrong way and then it loses its value, so this is why we need to capture this.
Vera: Exactly, yes.
Tania: Can you give us a little brief insight into how Raymond so differently approached the training of players? Because just as Jan doesn’t work in a dualistic way, separating physical and mental, Raymond also doesn’t do training on the side and then the game, he integrates, is that right?
Vera: Yes, Raymond is very good in analysing what exactly are the demands on the player in the game, and how to get that to a higher level, let’s say the preconditions to a higher level. He connects the conditioning of the players with the quality of play. So he is not a physiologist who sends players into the gym, it’s the opposite. That is why I like that method so much because as a player I already found that all those players who went into gyms got injured and did not get really better because you load in a different way than what the demands are on the pitch. If you’re loading that way you get better in that load but not in the load that you’re finding on the pitch if you’re understanding what I mean?
Tania: Oh, yes.
Vera: So if you go to the extreme running for 10K makes you better in running 10K, it doesn’t make you better in playing football. So what he did is he created a method to get the football condition at a higher level while playing the game and getting better in the game and he is doing that within certain cycles, let’s say physiological cycles of six weeks, and in that he goes from big sided games to smaller sided games to one-v-ones and those are at different demands on players during a game.
So if you follow his methods your players will be able to make more actions during a game and to make better actions during a game and to keep doing that during a whole league, a whole competition.
So that is what it is about and all the preconditional exercise that is part of it is all about football because a cyclist is not going to swim to become a better cyclist so why are we going into the gym lifting weights if we want to become better football players? Somehow that connection is made, it is because there are all sports scientists coming in from outside the game and having studied it and telling the coaches, and we spoke about it before that a lot of coaches miss a lot of background, and tell the coaches that that is what they need to do because they need to do because they need to be stronger and need to be blah, blah, blah.
All the exercises in a gym are one-dimensional so the players will feel more powerful, they will feel better going in a straight line and that feels great and they feel they’re training really, really well. But as soon as they get into the game itself there is no connection with the tasks in the team so the execution of the tasks in the team does not get better. The aim of training is to develop the playing level individually and as a team.
So within the method that Jan Tamboer, the sports philosopher, has created the theory he created the football conditioning.
Tania: So context.
Vera: Again if you follow it, yes, he’s only doing things with context. If you follow that without compromise, and it showed in all the teams that I’ve worked with but there are many coaches who have showed it, it means that if you follow the analysis to make football comprehensive, is that the right word? Trainable, coachable, the way that Bert is doing it, you connect and you connect the football conditioning, the periodisation of the activities to it, and that is what Raymond did, and you execute that without compromise, without letting a sports scientist push you into another direction but asking the sports scientists help you within that given and that you know not to step sideways of it and how not step sideways of it. You will see that the learning curve goes so fast that jumps in a level and the teams will perform in a higher level than they ever expected themselves they were capable of.
So, he is very crucial in this whole programme, the togetherness. If you talk about a dream team it’s Bert van Lingen, my husband, with Jan Tamboer as the philosopher who created the football theory based on the acting theory and Raymond Verheijen. They created books for that, Jan Tamboer created the mother language of football, ‘Football Theory’ with the guidance of Rinus Michels in it. Then Bert wrote a book connected to that within that same frame, ‘Coaching Youth Football’, and the whole youth football development process is described from six until the very top level. Raymond Verheijen has written a book connected within this philosophy, ‘The Periodisation of Football’, and that goes for amateurs up to the highest professional players, and he’s worked all over the world with the very, very top teams in the world.
So those books could give a very, very good background to any coach.
Tania: Good, I will make sure that they’re included in the resource list that comes with this podcast so that people can go out and get them.
Vera: The last one to say people need to buy those books because of the selling point because they don’t earn any money from it. The critical thing is that a coach needs to choose a direction, needs to choose a philosophy, he cannot do a little bit for one and a little bit from the other, that will not bring the max result. In my opinion it will be clear because that is how it will work and that is how every team gets the success that I have worked with, if you do this compromise within this theory you get to higher heights and your teams will perform better. Every team that I coached performed above expectation and the highest level that they ever reached before.
Tania: I think this is where there is an opportunity for show, don’t tell, this is what I love about film because if we could capture the essence of this wisdom on film so that people could visualise it and see it and make it tangible I think it would be very, very powerful.

Tania: Certainly from my position here, my viewpoint, you and Bert are the dream team and you have so much experience and wisdom that needs not to be lost but also your passion for inclusivity and equal opportunities is critical for people to feel. There is a story that Bert shared with me that really deeply moved me and I felt needed to be shared with everyone. Is Bert with you now and would he share this story with us?
Vera: You need to ask him, he’s sitting next to me, I’ll give my earphones to him and then you can ask him yourself.
Tania: Thank you so much, Vera.
Tania: Hello, Bert, thank you for joining us.
Bert Van Lingen: How are you?
Tania: I’m very, very good, thank you. Am I allowed to share with our listeners that actually I have a special name for you, and it’s called ‘Mr Specialised’?
Bert: Mr Specialised. (Laughter)
Tania: (Laughter) We talk a lot about posture and movement and that if we all imagine we have a logo across our shoulders, we need to be able to see the whole logo.
Tania: And he loves the specialised bicycles so he knows, he keeps the shoulders broad, and he has broad shoulders.
Bert: (Laughter)
Tania: (Laughter) So, Bert, this story you told me is so important for people to hear, this story about inclusivity and the boy that came along with the team, share that with us.
Bert: Yes, it was some years ago, I was asked to a meeting from the district of the Royal Dutch Football Association in the south of Holland, in Limburg, and normally they invite all the youth coaches from that area. Then I tried to make clear what the starting points are in youth development, what it’s all about in youth development, that in short it means that you try to develop the individuals and you use the games for that at the end and not the other way around, you don’t use children to win games. In youth football it’s the opposite than with senior players because there the game is the aim in itself, in youth football the game is a means to develop the individual youngsters in several age groups. So that’s more the umbrella the item is going on.
That evening the whole stands were packed with coaches and I was introduced in that club by a coach of a youth team, I used that youth team as a demonstration team, and normally I ask one of the normal youth teams, not the selection team or not the special team, a normal youth team. So they were boys of 10 to 12 years and first I started with some theoretical stuff in the canteen, all the people were there, and after that I went to the dressing room to change myself in my tracksuit.
When I was doing that there was standing a small boy in the door looking at me and he was trying to say something, I said, “What’s wrong, boy?” He said, “Sir, I am also part of the team where you are working with, my father is the coach of the team, but I am not allowed to take part tonight.” I said, “Yes, but you are in the team, are you injured or are you sick?” “No, I’m not so good in football,” I said, “Because of what? You are in the team so normally you play every weekend and you train with them, why not today?” “I’m a little bit handicapped, I cannot run so fast.” He explained that he was a handicapped small boy and he couldn’t move his left leg so well, I think it was taken by birth, he had something serious.
So I said, “Why are you not going to play tonight for the demonstration?” “I’m not allowed from my father, my father said you only work with fit and good players.” I said, “Go to your father, take your training gear and you will take part tonight in the demonstration.”
This demonstration started and I didn’t tell anybody what was happening before. So he was one of the players and we did some exercises, exercises which were very related to the real game but small sizes. He came and I saw from all the other players, his team mates, that they exactly knew what his handicap was but he took part and they played with him as a team mate in a way that they all understood that they couldn’t give him a ball in the length where he had to run after but he was a very, let’s say, useful player in the connection between defending and attacking. So he had not to run so much but you saw from his teammates that they realised that he could take part related to his person, to his abilities or his qualities.
So this is an example that if it is a handicapped player or a player who is fast or a player who cannot head the ball well or a player who cannot defend well or a player who is very good at tackling, all different skills you have to combine, no individual can win a game.
Back to the starting point of the youth development it is about that all players, all children, can take part in football and I proved that in that way that night and I got a compliment off his father, it was quite honest, but he thought that I had very difficult exercises and he was afraid that his son couldn’t make it.
So in that way it was a good example of how you have to watch at youth football and have to watch individual players in the youth area.
Tania: Thank you so much.
Bert: I hope it is clear what I meant.
Tania: Yes, very clear, it’s just a wonderful example.
Bert: But it’s the same in every team, it’s the same in community, in every community, you have to play together, you cannot win and you cannot overcome as an individual, you always are connected to other people, to other circumstances, to different resistances, and it’s amazing what we all can use also today, look at each other and look at how you can help people to take part in the community.
Tania: Definitely, as a community, as a team, we need to recognise people for their strengths and allow them to participate and express those strengths because we all have different strengths.
Bert: Of course, but also weaknesses.
Tania: Oh, yes, and we have to recognise those too, you’re so right. I have another question for you actually, Bert, and that is that clearly Vera has learned a lot from you but I’d love to know what you feel you’ve learned from her.
Bert: What I’ve learned from her?
Tania: Yes. (Laughter)
Bert: I can say we are a a couple who are influencing each other and what I have learned especially from her is she thinks that she can change things. What she also says is she has the guts to fail. that’s the aim, that’s the goal, and I go there and we have to do that and we have to change that because of her, let’s say, talents and how she is born and how she grew up as a triple and experience over the resistances because of her gender. You understand?
Tania: Oh, yes. It’s interesting because in a previous podcast I interviewed someone called Boris Cyrulnik who, in France, is known as ‘The Pope of Resilience’. He’s written a book just now on sport and resilience and I think Vera is such a shining example of this and how she helps others to become resilient too.
Bert: Is that book finished already?
Tania: Yes, it is.
I will send you a copy and then you will be able to listen to his podcast that I translated into English.
Tania: Bert, thank you so much for sharing that with us.
Bert: No problem, you’re welcome, thank you very much, good luck.
Tania: Thank you, come and cycle soon.
Vera: That was a nice story.
Tania: Yes, that’s wonderful, a very, very good story to share with everybody.
Tania: Apart from Bert, who is your biggest passion, your three top passions are football, speed skating and cycling, and that includes mountains.
Vera: Yes, true. (Laughter)
Tania: Share with us, this is something I ask all our guests at the end of their podcast would share with us your favourite film, a favourite book and a favourite quote.
Vera: I’ve been thinking about that because you asked to think about that, I think I’m going for ‘Hidden Figures’, that’s a film about a woman who did all the counting behind the first Apollo going to the moon within NASA. I think her way, her path, is very similar of what I’ve done so I thought let’s keep it with subject and choose that movie, that’s really a movie everybody should see.
Tania: Goodness, ‘Hidden Figures’, do you know who made that film?
Vera: I don’t know. (Laughter)
Tania: I will find out and put it in the resource sheet. What about a book?
Vera: I’ve always said that, and I mean it in a funny way, that my bible is ‘The Frailty Myth’ if you get the original text, I’ve been reading it in Dutch, the English version and that’s the basic version is ‘The Frailty Myth: Women Approaching Physical Equality’, it’s Colette Dowling. It is about how girls are pushed down in not showing and not using their physical strength, just literally their physical muscle strength, and when they are put into situations that the difference between boys and girls in the childhood game that difference is much smaller than we always thought it was, if you see the curves it gets closer and closer to one another.
Of course the young men will always be stronger than women but if you strive to physical equality that means that you get the best out of yourself and that you push yourself to other heights, like men have been doing already for 100 years. That book shows research about all those little prejudices that we have like, for example, I was at a pitch and I was talking to a father and his boy, I think of about five years old, was climbing into the fence where all the bags where put, when you were ready with your game you could put your bag in a cupboard but you could climb in it. The little boy saw that he could climb up so he climbed to the top and his father said, “Hey, don’t do that, come down,” so he came down and I thought that it’s good that he doesn’t need to just pull him down.
His sister thought, “I get some attention when I do that,” but she was about two years older, seven years old, so she started to climb into that fence. The father saw it and he stopped talking and he rushed to her to save her from falling and he pulled her out and caught her in his arms and put her down and he said, “Don’t do so dangerous.” I thought this is exactly what Colette Dowling is talking about, we are not conscious of the fact that we keep as weak.
Fortunately things are changing and women can train now and women can show muscle but to me, when I was wearing a skirt, everybody said always, “Don’t wear a skirt anymore because with your legs you cannot wear skirts anymore,” because they were too muscular. Now these days, luckily, that is different, but we still grow up in a way that the girls have to be more careful than the boys, boys are encouraged and it’s logical that they climb and that they show their strength and use their strength. Girls often don’t know how to use their strength and literally keep small. When I work with girls, I have to teach them to use their space, to use their strength, to use their muscles, to actually know that they can do so much more than they think themselves.
When we do strength training, when we do explosivity training, and I push the players they’re actually surprised, even the top players, they’re surprised that they have just this much extra that they can use. They don’t know how to do that, they don’t know how to use their strength. This book makes you very, very aware of all those hidden prejudices that we have in our society.
Tania: Very interesting, thank you for that, Vera. And a favourite saying?
Vera: Yes, that comes back to Nelson Mandela. My time in South Africa taught me a lot about society, a lot about education, that education is everything but especially equality and respect is everything if you want to get a society to a higher level. He said somewhere that, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.” So, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression,” and that starts with that girl climbing into that fence and not being pulled down, but letting her go and letting her explore in the world.
Tania: Wonderful, thank you. Vera and Bert your generosity and spirit really shines through you on and off the pitch, I feel so lucky to have met you both and I look forward to cycling with you in the French Alps one day and even going to a football match, so thank you.
Vera: That’s it. (Laughter) It’s likewise, Tania, good luck with all the work you are doing and I’ll make sure that our next home game that we get you over to Ireland and that you be part of us.
Tania: That would be such a pleasure, thank you so much, and for sharing your valuable experience and insights with us all today. Love to you both and see you soon I hope.
Vera: You’re very welcome, a big hug back.
Tania: Stay safe.

Thank you for joining us on the LifeWise Show. In this episode Vera and Bert have highlighted that to become a winning team we need to act as a team and this means embracing inclusivity and diversity.
With this in mind I will be speaking to Sunita Sehmi in out next episode about how belonging is a fundamental human need. She will reveal how when we feel isolated, excluded and ‘not good enough’ we can ‘get out of our own way’ and move forwards.
I look forward to meeting you there.

Meet Tania Cotton

Tania Cotton avatar

Tania Cotton is a Movement Analyst and Chartered Physiotherapist with over 25 years' experience helping people overcome pain, injury and disease to lead a happy and fulfilling life. After 12 years as a consultant for the Swiss Olympic Medical Centre in Geneva, Tania began making films on health and human performance to show people what is possible and to inspire them to take action.

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