Fleur Smout (team captain of Dutch national team)
Birth year : 1981
Dan : 5th Dan
Started kendo in 2002, national team member since 2005.
Kendo lineage: Edo Kokichi, Iijima Akira, Vitalis Louis, Job: nature management specialist for The Dutch Nature Conservation Society
First of all, congratulations. How do you feel right now?
Fleur : This has been coming for a long time, I think. When I started, I remember Guido (the current coach) asking me whether I wanted to be in the national team. I was shodan and I thought it was ridiculous because I was so inexperienced. But I also saw it as a chance to push and improve myself and I think we built on that. I believe we saw progress and we kept getting better.
Today, we wanted to win the gold very badly and we knew we had a very good chance. That also made it scary to put it into words. However, yesterday evening I did tell the team that we should win and I think that we played really well. Even if we wouldn’t have won I would have been very proud but this really is the crown on top of all our work. That includes the work by all ladies who have been in the team before. It is like one line that we continued and kept building on with the help of our coaches. This is something we have been building up for years. I don’t feel like it’s just a momentary success.
Guido : The ladies have been working very hard over the last few years. It has already started in 2011 or so. They started getting results, consecutively being 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 3rd… At the World Championships in Korea, they made it to best 8. So they have been growing all this time and I think this is the result of years of hard work. I am very proud.
Like you said; Yesterday you told yourself you were going to win but did you have the confidence to win as a team?
Fleur : I think I put extra pressure on some of the girls by saying that we should win. I felt a bit bad about that. I was worried the extra pressure might interfere with their performance. But as the captain I’m supposed to lead the team towards the highest possible goal. And I really did believe it was possible to win. I felt it was very important to say that out loud and play the championship with that mindset. After we talked about that a little bit they started to feel more confidence and today they showed it. At times, some matches didn’t go so well but there was always somebody else to pick it up. That is what it means to be a team and that is how we played today and always have been playing. I think they did that brilliantly even though I put some extra pressure on them. They truly rose to the occasion.
Guido : I agree that if we ever had a team that can fix situations this is the one. They work together continuously and that has also been their strong suit for the last couple of years, so I couldn’t agree more.
You look like a very good team. What do you focus on to prepare the team mentally?
Fleur : We always have a talk the night before. We sit in a circle and you can say anything you want. You can cry, you can express your doubts, you can say if you don’t feel well or you could say you feel very strong and confident. Everything is allowed in this circle and everything has to be out before we go to bed. So that is our short term preparation. We did the same in Korea and it helped a lot. Because if you feel stuck or maybe you cannot sleep that is the circle is the moment we can let that go and then we can show that we are there for each other. A team is much more than 5 matches in a row. It is something you build. Long term in training we just really try to make everybody feel confident about their strengths. For example, Olga played her strength today. We needed that badly and she did it. I think it is about finding unique good things in everyone and then practice on those things so we feel confident as a team as well.
Guido : I agree that there is a certain confidence within the ladies team that is unmistakingly working I think that will continue in the future as well.
You played a lot of matches today. Which one left the biggest impression and was the most important to you?
Fleur : I think it was my last match. I had to win because I really needed to give Sayo the set up. We knew she would be able to win but we needed another win because Mariella lost at the beginning. It was not a big deal but sometimes you have some wiggle room. However, this time I didn’t have that. I think that match was the most important because I had no choice but to win. Not the best fight technically, but certainly the most decisive.
Thank you for your comment. Congratulations!