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Elite sport in times of corona - Charetha Okken

27 March 2020

Empty sports calendars for elite athletes due to coronavirus crisis. How long they will remain empty is hard to predict. Who are the UG’s elite student athletes and how are they staying fit during this crisis? Today, we hear from Charetha Okken, goalkeeper for SC Heerenveen.

Who is Charetha?

‘I’m Charetha Okken, I’m 24 years old and I live in Drenthe with my boyfriend. I’m currently in the last phase of the Master’s degree programme in Private Law. I was supposed to have my two final exams on 7 and 9 April and was going to start writing my thesis after that. Because of the coronavirus, I will have to change my schedule – but how? I hope this will become clear soon.

I am SC Heerenveen’s first-choice goalkeeper and we are doing really well this season. We are currently in fourth place, which qualifies for entry to the champions group. In this group, you get to compete for prizes, the championship or qualification for the Champions League. We are six points and five goals ahead of ADO Den Haag, with only two more matches to play. However, if and when the matches will continue is also uncertain due to the coronavirus.’

What impact has the coronavirus had on you as an elite footballer?

‘Our matches and group training sessions have all been cancelled. Normally, we would be at the club five to six days a week to train and play matches but now, all of a sudden, we are just sitting at home every day. This mainly results in a lot of insecurity: when can we hit the pitch again as a team? How will everything go with exams and rounding off my degree; will I incur a study delay because of it? I am used to having to juggle a thousand different things in my day-to-day life but now everything is a lot quieter, suddenly. In spite of all that, I am convinced that everyone’s health and safety should come first, regardless of how great and valuable football and sports in general are.’

'We receive a video and exercises every day that we have to do to stay fit. Apart from that, I go running and/or do kickboxing almost every day on my own initiative.'
'We receive a video and exercises every day that we have to do to stay fit. Apart from that, I go running and/or do kickboxing almost every day on my own initiative.'

How are you making sure that you stay fit during these times?

‘Behind the scenes, the staff at SC Heerenveen are working really hard to organize all sorts of things for us. For example, we receive a video and exercises every day that we have to do to stay fit. Apart from that, I go running and/or do kickboxing almost every day on my own initiative. I can fortunately still see my physical therapist in my village at the moment, so I can do more personalized exercises as well. Other than that, I am taking a bit more rest and sometimes I take our dog out for a long walk in the woods. Aside from exercising, I’m mainly busy studying for my final two exams so that I don’t fall behind.’

How have you experienced the combination of playing elite sports and studying at the UG?

‘This is only the second academic year that I have been making use of the University’s Elite Sports Student Programme. In the Master’s programme in Private Law, we mainly follow lectures and as an elite athlete, you can watch these online. This makes combining studying and playing elite sports a lot easier. That being said, it’s my ambition to follow the regular programme as much as possible, which makes it a bit harder. Especially during exam periods, it can be very busy. But you can plan everything yourself, so it’s very easy to combine.’

How do you see your future?

‘Besides my studies and football, I am also following a placement at a law firm one day a week. My goal is to eventually take the vocational training course for lawyers. In terms of sport, I just want to be the very best that I can be, while I’m still young and able!


Charetha’s football career

‘I started playing football at Hollandscheveld football club when I was six years old. After having completed the youth training scheme there, I was placed in the first women’s team at only 13 years of age. In addition to that, I played in the youth teams of the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) from the age of 10 to 14. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make any more headway due to my insecurity/fear of failure at the time – something that I managed to shake off many years ago, luckily. I played in the first team for eight years and then, Heerenveense Boys football club asked me to play on their team in the ‘Hoofdklasse’ (second highest league of amateur women’s football in the Netherlands). My thought at the time was that if I ever wanted to accomplish something in my sport, this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass on.

After that year, SV Meppen (in Germany) approached me to play in the 2. Bundesliga (the second division of professional women’s football). I got injured that season – I had a pneumothorax – which meant that the first half of the season was over for me. After the mid-season player break, I secured my place to be in goal and we only just failed to get promoted to the 1. Bundesliga by one point. Nevertheless, I had decided early on that I would leave SV Meppen after as little as one year. I didn’t feel at home there. When it became known that I was going to leave SV Meppen, SC Heerenveen’s manager Roeland ten Berge approached me. After a few good conversations, I made the choice to play for SC Heerenveen. This felt right from the very first training session.’

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Last modified:30 June 2020 4.00 p.m.
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