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“Do you want to win or
stay afraid of losing again?” 

Story of Jan Smeekens
Coaching: Frans Cappers

Becoming world champion. That was the burning desire that former speed skater Jan Smeekens lived for. He spent 15 years of his life perfecting his performance in the 500-metre distance. Several obstacles put his resolve to the test. At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, for example, he thought for a moment that he had won Olympic gold, until a time correction of 0.012 seconds meant that he had come in second after all. How do you cope with such a setback? Does it strengthen your resolve to win or do you remain afraid of losing? Jan made a choice and saw his dream come true in 2017, when he became world champion in Korea. Now that he has stopped skating, he has a desire to share his story so that he can inspire others to ‘make work of development’. And that is exactly where Jan and Frans find each other…  


How do you translate a 15-year skating career into a compact and engaging 25-minute story? Faced with this completely new challenge for him, Jan came to Frans. It was not only Frans’ experience as a director, but also their shared passion for sports and personal development that ensured a smooth cooperation between them.  


What immediately appealed to Frans was that Jan was not out to tell a garish, showy, or egocentric story. Rather, he was keen to share an honest and personal story. In that way, he was different from many others. “At first, I mainly let Jan talk a lot. He told me stories that were dear to him and that he felt were important to share in the context of his career as a speed skater. We selected the most important anecdotes, divided them into four chapters, and arrived at a single storyline: what kinds of obstacles do you encounter when you set for yourself an extreme goal, and how do you overcome them?”  


Starting from there, Jan and Frans moved on to the principle of storytelling, which was something completely new to Jan. “I taught Jan that ‘telling about yourself’ is less interesting than ‘reliving the story’ and reliving it on the spot, says Frans. Jan adds: “I notice that I now understand the difference between a reflective story and a personal one.” Frans agrees: “Apparently Jan is not only good at skating fast. He also turns out to be a fantastic storyteller.”  


Although Frans and Jan want to develop the presentation even further together, they are especially proud that it has not become a “slick presentation”. The story Jan tells is a personal one. We see Jan, not his ego. Instead of heroic anecdotes, we opted for human details, because our aim was for Jan to stay as close to himself as possible. That’s how a low-key story makes someone great.”  



Continual rehearsing and fine-tuning has resulted in a storyline that is ready to be presented. Ultimately, the presentation will consist of two parts: a story about how Jan overcame the obstacles towards his goal and, above all, an invitation for the audience to engage in discussion with him afterwards. To what extent do people recognise the obstacles and how do they deal with such obstacles themselves? In that way, Jan and Frans aim to further dissect both the dialogue and curiosity about personal development to inspire people to try to get the best out of themselves.   


Both Jan and De Federatie say that their collaboration has whet their appetite for more. “You notice a lot of common ground between theatre and top sport, because both are disciplines in which you understand how much effort you need to put into achieving a good performance. The effort that goes into producing good results is definitely “work,” however. It takes a lot of discipline and practice to sharpen your skills and ultimately achieve your goals.”  

Are you curious about Jan’s story and would you like to invite him to give a presentation for your organisation or educational institution? Contact Frans at 

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