BART DEURLOO / The story behind the mental game in gymnastics


I used to make excuses when I was younger, I’m sure. That I was afraid of competitions, or the pressure people put on my shoulders. I made excuses to get out of them. But in the end I did it anyway. “Bart Deurloo has been the Netherlands’ biggest gymnastics talent for years.” “He’s on the way to step in Epke Zonderland’s footsteps.” “Bart Deurloo… He, you would say; he is the biggest all-around talent in the Netherlands at the moment.” “But due to several accumulating injuries major successes and medals have eluded him..” “That’s when I would have had a medal.” ” It is always if, if, if.. And it’s just a snap-shot of that moment.” “People have been calling you’re the new Epke. What do you think about that?” Incredibly shit. Of course I tell people I’m just Bart Deurloo, and I am. But it is nice to be compared to someone who was, and is, that good. That has given me a boost. But eventually it also gets really annoying. Epke is an entirely different gymnast than I am. There’s just no comparing us. I think it adds to the pressure. But I am definitely someone who thrives under pressure. So maybe it has been a positive thing after all. Laypeople looking at the sport do not realize how hard gymnastics is. They only see me not finish first. In the end you’re still an elite athlete so why don’t you win? That’s their thoughts. That’s not how it works though. There are plenty of elite athletes in the world, they all have the same goal. Sometimes you just need to be lucky. You can train as hard as you want and be the best… but that doesn’t mean you will actually win anything. Gymnastics is quite an individual sport. It’s a quite lonely sport. From when you are young. You are just alone.. Seriously, it’s very individual. You have to make your own choices. Your coach will help you, of course, but you have to do it yourself. Same for the World Championships, it is all on you. Nobody can hang on the horizontal bar for me. You can’t say: “Ouch, my foot, I’d like a substitution please.” That’s Impossible. You have to make your own choices from an early age. I think that makes you stronger, mentally. You are a bit of a loner. You become stronger, mentally. You learn to deal with it. He likes to separate himself and be alone. Headphones on and doing what he needs to do. It results in him having a very independent sporting life. He calls the shots. That way he experiences less pressure from outside. He has a goal and chases it. He had a couple of factors that played their role in his daily life. School and family for example. He needed to find a balance in how to deal with that. Everyone expects something of him, wants something of him. Sport should be first priority. Combining that was difficult. Now he’s got it all figured out. Ever since 2015 I think. He had some help from a sports psychologist. Marco Hoogerland made sure that happened, so it worked out well. I have had a different childhood than most other boys. I never went to play outside with friends or something like that. That hits you when you get older. You notice that in who you are. Sometimes you need support with that. You just want to talk about it. I have the feeling I am that little bit different. You are an elite athlete, something entirely different to a normal job. Gymnastics can be a rather lonely sport. Sometimes you just have some issues, being glum… I wouldn’t call it lonely, but I was feeling down and I didn’t know why. Because I never had people to talk to.. It’s really nice to have a sports psychologist to talk to at such times. Telling you that you’re just normal.. You know, something like that. At the beginning of training we talk about what’s going on. How he is physically, what the mindset is like. Then we decide what to do. I have the outlines of course, which are on paper, but that is an outline. It’s not necessarily what is going to happen. We change the plan regularly. When your coach sees something is up, especially with men… they are pretty closed. When someone asks if something’s wrong, you usually answer with no, nothing. Sometimes it is ok to be miserable, I think. Some people always say: Great, self-pity..Yeah, great. I really like that, whining about everything. Self-pity is not a weakness. Some people think so. But I think it is a great way to get your head back on straight. It’s not a bad thing to whine sometimes. It is not that bad to have an injury which keeps you from training, if you start whining for a little while. I see it as an outlet. If that is your way to be chill again, that’s fine. I think people should not whine about that too much. I think he’s very positive. He always has a goal, knows what he is going to do as soon as he gets out of bed. That positivity makes him do everything. If things really are bad, that’s fine too. He’ll do some extra physical training then. Tomorrow is another day. Especially that brings him peace. You always hear top athletes, “build a team around you, people around you…” It’s just true. Not that I’m looking for those people. I don’t have them, others do. Others really look at “he’s a dietician, he can help me with this, he can help me with that..” hat’s not me. I look at what I can do, and what they can give me. That’s what I do. I have Jeroen, my coach. He is a fantastic trainer. I honestly think he is the best coach in the country. No offence to the other coaches.. I have Niels Hagen, physiotherapist. And my friend who train here. All are from around here, from Rotterdam. It is my thing, building a team around you. Everyone does it. Even if you are not an elite athlete, everyone has people around them. I think that’s a good description of building your team around you. If you think it’s OK with the people you have, then that’s your team. That’s how I see it. I think that injuries and the psychological part are very similar. Many injuries are between the ears. Many injuries I used to have when I was younger, I don’t have anymore. That’s not because I train less. I actually train more and harder. But I now know better what I can and cannot do, physically as well. I used to make excuses when I was younger, I’m sure. That I was afraid of competitions, or the pressure people put on my shoulders. I made excuses to get out of them. In the end I did them anyway. He gets nervous quite regularly. During warm-up he usually loses that. He is someone who can do it in mid competition, if he feels right. But they are related. You have to have the confidence to be ready to go. That’s something we really learned over the years. Never participate in a competition if you are not fit. I am older and more mature now. Of course I can win that title, but there are plenty of possibilities if I don’t win. Do what you can, see where it ends. I know that is not always the best top sporting mentality. Some people don’t think so anyway.. But I do. It takes off some of the pressure. Because somewhere you think: way better if I do make it. But if you keep saying these things to yourself and to the world… you will only get disappointed because people start expecting it. Outsiders only hear: :oh, he will win”. And afterwards they ask: “why didn’t you win?”. That’s exactly what happened to Dafne Schippers in Rio. She finished second, fantastic result, ran a record. But the Jamaican was just a bit faster. She also had the run of her life. That doesn’t mean you lost. And she never said that, it’s what other people say and put pressure on you. That’s elite sports. Sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t. At the World Championships in Montreal in 2017, I finished third. Was a bit lucky, others fell. But that does not matter. You still have to be there. I’m training hard and im feeling good now. I deserve it, I think. If you look at how I’m training and how far I am now.. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. If it does happen, it happens. But it’s not like gymnastics is any less fun if it does not happen. We have a long term planning. The previous cycle we wanted to the Olympics as a team, that was the main goal. That was the main focus. We worked a lot on the difficulty scores. You need a certain program and experience to break into the top level. If you look back in time, he only got a World championship medal in 2017. The previous years were investments to make it that far. Have faith in what you train for. If your preparation is good and you can do it in this hall, you can do it everywhere. I’m trying to think about my good preparations and that everything will be fine. When we are getting ready for competing and we have to wait in the area behind the competition hall.. and it’s really cold there… but we start to get real nervous.. Casimir and I tell each other: it’ll be over in three hours. Whatever happens, you did all you could. Or a lot anyway. If it doesn’t work out, you’re unlucky. It’s not that you didn’t prepare. That gives a good feeling. In 2014, 2015, 2016 he was really focusing on the sport and not so much on the environment.. lately you can see him developing into taking part in that. He now shares his opinion a lot more and we give him the space to do so. I like it when he does that because it progresses the whole group. Looking at the juniors I can see that it’s tough sometimes, they are training day in day out.. they want to be a bit bad-ass. I tell them that’s fine. Some really fun things are happening, if you think about everything that happens when you’re a gymnast. That’s what I tell them; that it is super fun. They have a life in front of them. If the keep training hard they’re going to experience lots of fun things. The things I already experienced. It’s not all about the games. It’s also about having fun with each other. It’s also tense, of course. But if it works… look, if it all goes to pieces, that’s unfortunate. But eventually you have each other. You can laugh about it together and move on. You’re sharing the same thing and that’s nice. You don’t want to let the team down. You don’t want to be the guy who screws up for the team. You really don’t want that. That’s… you know they won’t be angry.. Because we’re in the same boat, we know how it feels.. .. But you don’t want to be that guy. That’s an extra pressure. But in the end it is still individual. I want to perform at the bar, for me. That that is good for the team as well, is an added bonus. That’s what makes gymnastics shitty sometimes. No other sport has that. Of course you’ll get interviewed at European and world championships.. And you’ll say you did well.. How it is.. And if they ask me if I want to win a medal; Well, of course I want to get a medal. But it’s not that easy, I need to put effort in. You’re behind the camera and I have to do the bar, that’s a difference. Just let me train, let me do my thing, Just leave me alone sometimes. If I want to say something, I’ll let you know. I’m an ambassador of Rotterdam Topsport… I have one of their sweaters which has a quote: ‘just relax’. That’s a good quote. Just relax, act normal. Everybody wants to be special nowadays, but, if you want to, you should. Me and Frank sometimes have these beautiful philosophical thoughts during training. A person can never be perfect. If somebody has a perfect life, they’ll start thinking about why that is. So they’re still making problems. There is no such thing as perfection. There comes a time when you have to be satisfied with what you’re doing. I don’t want to quit before I know I did everything that was possible. Whether that means being Olympic champion, or not even taking part. I am training hard and doing all I can. I deserve achieve things. If it doesn’t happen, then it won’t. I like training so it just keeps me bussy as well. Who is Bart? Just Bart, right? Just relax. That’s a good quote. Just act normal, that is crazy enough.


13 Responses

  1. Daan Vlasblom

    April 1, 2019 12:18 am

    Zo’n mooie video en ook zo’n mooie boodschap dit geeft zo veel motivatie 💪🏻💪🏻

  2. Astrid Timmer

    April 1, 2019 12:53 am

    Mooie aflevering van een mooie man van binnen en van buiten 😊😉. Heel veel succes ik hoop dat je de OS haalt samen met het team. En ga vooral door met zingen 🧡

  3. MsTeaAndCoffee

    April 1, 2019 2:18 am

    I love love love those short documentaries. Gives just a nice insight in the sport and a nice portrait of the people and how different they all are, even though it seems they are all doing the same thing from outside. Bart seems such a nice and funny guy and I wish him all the success he deserves.

  4. Floor van B

    April 1, 2019 4:25 pm

    Waaaauw wat een mooie video! En wat een mooi mens is Bart toch 💕.
    Hoop nog meer van deze video's te zien, keep up the good work 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻.


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