Robert Krabbendam has just finished his fourth year with Rotterdam Basketball. He first started playing basketball in Hoorn, before his journey led him to the youth teams of Amsterdam, then made his debut for the men’s team at 16-years-old, continued his career at Virginia Tech, played in Tallinn, Estonia and Cyprus and then finally made his way back to the Netherlands to Rotterdam. He also played for the Dutch National team. Now, Krabbendam is 31 years old and a semi-prof at Rotterdam, while he works with Challenge Sports.
Can you explain what Challenge Sports does?
The owner, Johan van Haga, started the company 25 years ago, because he had a difficult time growing up as well. Years later, he thought he could do something for teens and young adults at risk, people who want to achieve something, but have trouble doing so. The goal is to get the teens and young adults a job or get an education. We work to get their life (back) on track so they can go back to school to get an education or a job. In order to do so we developed a special program teaching them the (social) skills that they need to get ahead in their life. Trust, integrity and positivity are core values for us in our various projects. That can be as simple as being on time, or teaching them skills to apply for a job or for their interview, but we also go into topics such as dealing with emotions, communication skills and financial education. Sports plays an important role in our programs to activate our participants. Challenge Sports has an impressive track record in Rotterdam getting thousands of young adults back to school or work and saving the government millions of euros per year on social benefit/welfare payments.
We use experts who have life experience in this area themselves, because we think they’ll have more of a connection with the young adults that come to us. If you’ve learned all you need to know only from the books, it might be harder to connect with them, but everyone does have the right qualifications and most importantly a passion for the job. Furthermore, we use role models, especially athletes who tell their story. Michael Madanly for example, one of my teammates, came by and told everyone his story. It was quite emotional and all the participants picked up on that as well. Recently we had UFC fighter Stefan Struve do a seminar and sports activity with our participants.
After they’re done with our program, we’ll keep in touch for at least a year, to give them something to fall back on, and to see how they’re doing. We’re trying to get them to achieve what they can, and try to improve their way of living.
We’re expanding with Challenge Sports to other cities. At the end of the year, we’ll probably start a project in Almere, to see if we can make it work over there as well. We’re currently speaking with different cities throughout the Netherlands to start up Challenge Sports projects there as well.
How long have you been involved with the organization?
I have been working for Challenge Sports since August, but I’ve been involved with the organization for four or five years now. As I’m still a semi-professional with Rotterdam Basketball, during the season I work around 30 hours a week. Johan van Haga once was the owner of Rotterdam basketball, and that’s how I got involved. It all started with giving a couple of lessons and I kept coming back and doing more and more. It’s a nice combination, it has a lot to do with sports, and we’re really helping people.
How did you end up studying psychology?
After I finished high school in the Netherlands, I decided to make the step to go study and play basketball at a college in the US. At the time I could have gone to Southern Europe to play professionally, but going to the USA was always my dream, so I chose to do that. I have no regrets doing so.
If you play College basketball overseas, you really live as a professional basketball player, but I also wanted to get a degree. But, I knew I was going to be very busy, so I chose something I was interested in and something I knew I had enough (spare) time for to be able to finish.
I had the choice between several colleges, but at that time, it wasn’t really possible to check them all out. I decided to visit five of them, and chose the university I liked the best, Virginia Tech. It wasn’t the biggest school, but they played in a great division, the ACC, with teams like Duke and North Carolina, and I made friends for life, all over the world.
What did you do when you returned to the Netherlands?
When I came back, Amsterdam had a pretty good team, so I decided to return there while finishing my degree at the University of Leiden. After that, I continued to play basketball full time. But in 2009, the club collapsed and I decided to go and play abroad. I ended up with Kalev Cramo in Tallinn, Estonia, the club where Thomas van der Mars is playing at the moment. That was going great, and I thought I could make a step up after that year, but then I got a stress fracture in my ankle, due to fatigue.
The doctors said that I could no longer play at a professional level, but I didn’t agree with that. During my recovery, I worked at the marketing division of the Rabobank for 1,5 years, while I was doing a lot of physical training, kept in shape until I was convinced I could give my career another go.
What was your next step?
I contacted my agent and he got me an offer in Cyprus from Apollon Limassol. That was the perfect place for me, because the season only lasted 6/7 months, which meant I could ease back into it. This was way different from Estonia, where we played in three competitions at the same time. I played against teams from Cyprus a couple of times when I was playing in Amsterdam, and the competition seemed to be a good level. I continued to play there for six months, the entire season, and it went great and I was really able to prove I could still play. The only downside was that the roster kept changing and a lot of player switched clubs throughout the season. Myself included, there were only a hand full of players that stayed with the club for the duration of the season.
And how did you end up with Rotterdam?
After the season on Cyprus, I decided it was time for me to go back to the Netherlands. I returned to the team in Amsterdam and convinced a couple of old friends of mine to return as well. We started the season off with a month long memorable trip to China, playing games all over the country. That went great, but halfway through the season, Rotterdam offered me a spot on their team, and though it was a difficult choice, I took the opportunity.
Rotterdam had a lot of ambition, which was difficult at first because they had lost a lot of games in recent years, but they also offered me the opportunity to start working on my career after basketball. Now, I’m already in my fourth year with the club, and we keep on improving ourselves. This year, we’re even a good match for the top four in the league. Results, the organization and fan attendance improved every year so it has been fun being part of this. Next season we will play as Feyenoord Basketball, so I’m excited to see what this will bring.
How do you combine your career with playing professional basketball?
Our team practices twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, but I skip the morning practice, because I have to be at Challenge Sports at that time. But, they’re all aware of that and are very understanding. It’s a bit different for me, because in the past, I had the whole day to prepare myself for a game, and now sometimes I have to hurry to a game from work, which is very different. Our coach has his own company as well and understand how busy it can be, and if I really can’t come to a practice, he understands. And of course, if I have the opportunity to attend an extra practice, I do.
What are your thoughts on Dutch Basketball?
Basketball is a fantastic sport, and teams in the DBL are finally understanding that they have to work together to be able to take step forward. That is quite important, because not everything will improve if the only thing you do is compete with other teams. But publicity, getting noticed by the media, is also of importance.
For example with Challenge Sports, we have a great project, but we are regularly in the media with Challenge Sports. This is necessary to be able to continue our projects. The moment your name has been in the paper and on tv a couple of times, doors just tend to open a little bit easier for you. Similar with basketball, it’s important to let everyone tell his or her story. Basketball players and teams with unique stories, or who do something important next to basketball give the sport a face and this can improve bonding with the public and upgrade our image. We can improve that. Furthermore, the organizations around the games are improving, and that helps to attract more audience to the games, more sponsors, but having a great team is also of importance. That way, you can entertain everyone with your style of play, even if you don’t have the resources some of the other teams have.
What would you improve?
There are a lot of good developments in Dutch basketball, and a couple of teams are actually playing with several youth players on their team, who actually get to make decent minutes. With the exception of a few teams the quality of imports is lower than it used to be, this doesn’t help the level of overall play. I would like to see teams have 2 or maximum 3 high quality imports, and a solid base of good Dutch players, who then will make the difference for clubs winning championships or not. I don’t think you can stop the really good guys from going abroad as of now, especially if that’s their dream, but you can try to offer them something good, as Amsterdam did for me when I was younger. But players also need their safety net, or a plan for after their career. That doesn’t mean you need a team consisting of semi-pros, because that way you won’t really develop in the right way as a team. But, you can offer those players a chance to get experience in the field, for example in the same way I did by giving lessons at Challenge Sports, so players can also work on their future after basketball. Ideally, every team in the top league should consist of full pros with all facilities to put players in an optimal position to be successful, but we’re not there yet.