The sorceress in goal - an interview with Yara ten Holte
She is versatile and multi-faceted. A competitive athlete and a student. Equally at home on Instagram as she is on LinkedIn. But above all, Yara ten Holte is still young, incredibly young. She made her debut in the Dutch top tier at the age of just 14. Today, at just 23, she keeps goal for the Borussia Dortmund handball team.
When she first came to the club in the summer of 2018, world-class goalkeeper Clara Woltering and compatriot Rinka Duijndam were above her in the pecking order. Ten Holte was an apprentice; preparing for the next steps and already focused on her long-term goals. Since then, she has developed into a goalkeeping sorceress, who leaves her opponents bewitched by her incredible shot-stopping ability. A conversation about physical power, mental strength and inner peace.
We meet Yara at the Hengsteysee lake. She picked the location, as being by the water gives her a sense of peace. For our conversation and the photos, however, we climb the Hohensyburg. It's a backdrop that suits her as a handball goalkeeper. We are not sitting at the ruins, but at the Kaiser Wilhelm Monument. A man on his horse, exuding power and strength. Funnily enough, there are the two qualities that define the 23-year-old.
Yara, we wanted to meet in a place that offers you peace, where you can recharge your batteries - why here of all places?
"Because here at the lake I can just be away, away from everything. On a day off or in the evening after training, I grab my SUP (stand-up paddling (board), editor's note) and go to the lake; sometimes alone, but preferably with friends. Then I can focus on other things that aren't handball. That's important. It brings my mind elsewhere and helps me to rest."
How often do you manage to get out here?
''Every other week in the summer, in winter I usually go for a walk somewhere near my flat.''
So you know the places that give you peace. What about the people who strengthen and empower you?
"Several people. First, of course, my family. My parents are there at almost every home game. I really value that. My friends from Dortmund are also always around and they give me the distraction I need. Friends from university are a bit further away, but they also provide relief in various ways."
Do you talk to your family every day?
"Yes, I have contact with my parents every day. There are lots of ways to stay in touch nowadays, which means we get to see each other a lot. We often talk via Facetime. I see my friends in Dortmund two or three times a week."
Yara. you were really young when you first came to Dortmund…
'' …yeah, that’s right…''
...how bold were you back then?
"Very bold. That said, I was already playing in the top division in Holland at the age of 14. After four years, in which I won the award for best goalkeeper in the league twice, I felt an urge to take the next step. I was looking for a new challenge and always had in the back of my mind to do it in Germany or Austria. I already knew the language and originally wanted to study medicine - in German. I had set my mind on doing that at some point. I felt comfortable at BVB right from the start. The people in charge made it clear to me that I was really still young and would have all the time in the world to get up to speed. They didn't put any pressure on me. That was good."
In goal at that time were a certain Clara Woltering and the Dutch national-team keeper, Rinka Duijndam. So you started out as an apprentice at the club.
''Yes, especially in the first year. It was a great honour that I was able to play with Clara Woltering. Just watching gave me a lot of insight. I learned so much that year, so the lack of playing time wasn't really an issue. The difference between the Dutch top tier and the German top tier is huge. I had enough to work on in training, so that gave me a sense of stability.''
"I can't afford to show fear. Your opponents will pick up on it and get the better of you.''
So were you fortunate to have Clara stay on seamlessly as a goalkeeping coach after the end of her playing career?
"It all started with a joke. At some point we simply asked her: do you want to be our goalkeeping coach?"
So you’re responsible for that?
I don't know who convinced her in the end. But we actually actively brought it up once and said that we thought it would be a good idea. We were also comfortable talking to her off the court - and you need a good, relaxed relationship with your goalkeeping coach. That's why I was very happy when she said yes.
What can Clara offer your game?
"When I watch my games, sometimes I'm still too restless and want to do too much at once. She always brings me back down to earth, focuses me on my strengths, which allows me to find my calmness again. You have to be at peace with yourself to perform well. In handball, you get a lot of shots on your goal and you can't keep out every one of them, that's just the way it is - but you still have to stay mentally stable. That's not always easy, but it's easier with Clara by your side."
In football, people say that left-wingers and goalkeepers are always a bit crazy. With that in mind, how crazy do you have to be to willingly stand in a handball goal?! Are you crazy, Yara?
"Yes, I am. The balls come at you at 100 km/h and your job is to put your body in front of it - not everyone likes to do that. But that's not all, it's also about the psychological game of sending a message to the opponent that she has no chance, that I'm going to make the save. And that part of it is fun too!"
Are you scared sometimes?
"Not any more, actually. I can't afford to be either. Your opponents will pick up on it and get the better of you. I can't be afraid of them, they have to be afraid of me. That's what I try to get across. With my presence and good positioning alone, I can make sure that a lot of shots fly wide of the mark."
What role do the garish goalkeeper shirts play nowadays? In the past, handball goalkeepers mostly played in grey jumpers, but today they dazzle in bright colours.
"There are actually studies that show that bright neon colours are more distracting and frightening, and that attackers are therefore less concentrated and more likely to miss the target."
Yara, you reminded us earlier that you were already playing at an elite level at the age of 14. Were you always the best in your age group growing up?
"I was always the youngest in my year - that always motivated me to train well and get better. Goalkeeping is all about experience, so you have to gain as much of it as possible, ideally sooner rather than later. You have to learn to be a goalkeeper, and you learn it through hours of training and minutes on the court. When I was 14, I didn't have as much of either as a 24-year-old would, so I had to fight, work hard - but, and this was important, without feeling pressure to do so."
''Goalkeeping is all about experience, so you have to gain as much of it as possible, ideally sooner rather than later.''
What was it like in Dalfsen when you were at the start of your career?
"Originally it was agreed that I would train with the first team at SV Dalfsen and play in the reserves. But then the reserve team withdrew from competitive play and they asked me if I wanted to play directly at the top level. At first I had my doubts - I was just 14 and Dalfsen wasn't exactly around the corner. It was 120 kilometres from home. I went to training every day by train and my parents picked me up every evening. I asked my parents if I could go. And they said: Yes, sure, why not? I am still very grateful for that today."
In any case, it was worth it. Today Ypsie, as Yara ten Holte is nicknamed, is a Netherlands international, German champion and Champions League player. Along the way, she has always been open to learning new things, and she even went out on loan to TuS Lintfort for a while. Her life motto will guide her as she continues her career: There will be OBSTACLES. There will be MISTAKES. There will be DOUBTERS. But with HARD WORK there are NO LIMITS. This fits with what the 22-year-old says as she climbs up a wall for a photo: "Fortunately I'm not afraid of heights.''
Yara, what were you thinking about as you had to do a serious pose for the photo?
"That was hard, as I prefer smiling. But I thought aggressive thoughts, which I also do during games to help me make saves."
Does that mean you have to be aggressive in order to make saves?
"Yes, the opposition charge towards you and get in your face so quickly. You have to have the right presence. Without explosiveness you can't dive to the corner in time, as the shots fly in so fast. And for explosiveness, you also need aggression."
We started by talking about how you have always been very young at each milestone in your career. In fact, you are still very young, but you already seem to have a real vision for your future. You graduated with a master's degree in Human Movement Sciences (sports sciences) from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in August at the age of 22. Why was that important to you?
"Because you can't live off handball after the end of your playing days. And I've always said that I want to do something else on the side. Because otherwise you just live from training session to training session, and that's boring. I've been dividing my time between handball and studies for the past five years. Now that I have graduated, I am faced with the question of what to do next."
What are you doing now?
"For now I’m enjoying the additional free time that I’ve gained. It’s going towards friends and family."
Keeping body and mind in balance is an important priority for you. Why?
"If you only ever think about handball, you won't last long. With competitive sport you are busy 24/7, starting with getting up, eating healthy, proper meals, getting a good night's sleep and, above all, all the things you don't do in the name of being a professional athlete: all the parties and birthdays you miss because of it. You need to think about something else and enjoy other pastimes. But it is and remains a hobby that you have temporarily turned into a job, and you can be proud of that. But you also have to enjoy the job. So when I play handball, that's my job; and in my free time I do things that I enjoy. That way, my mind is not permanently on my job, which is something no-one should do."
''Every step I take brings me closer to my goal''
That's an important point. You are not just a competitive athlete; you are also, above all, a young person.
"Yes, that's exactly how it is. There were also friends who didn't see this difference - you lose them along the way. But the ones who appreciate you as a person are much more important to me anyway."
Now you have your degree in the bag. Do you already have an idea of what you want to do with it in the future?
"I would really like to study physiotherapy, because the combination of movement sciences and physio is very sought-after in Holland. It means that you can treat patients from A to Z. For that, however, I need a lot of hours of training, and I don't have that at the moment due to handball. I can't manage the workload. So I'm first looking around to see if I can work part-time; maybe on a mini-job basis - or a little more. Alternatively, I'm thinking about self-study and further training."
Yara, we've covered a lot of topics, so let's bring things back to sport. You were looking down the Ruhr Valley through your Black & Yellow binoculars earlier - what did you see on the horizon for the next five years?
"I want to win the Champions League at least once in my career. Whether I can do that in five years, I don't know, but it's a key goal of mine. And in 2024, the Olympic Games are in Paris; I would really like to be part of that.''
Okay. It's a good thing that you're not afraid of heights, as it looks like your sporting career has some high points to come.
"No, because I take small steps on the way to the big goals, passing through intermediate objectives. Think of it as a set of stairs: every step I take brings me closer to my goal. That's how you have to work towards the big goals. And at the end, when I look back on my career, I want to have achieved the big goals."
Yara, we wish you good luck and every success in this endeavour. But first let's round things off here. At the beginning, we talked about places that give you strength and power. Is there such a place for you in the Netherlands? Do you have a favourite place to which you always return?
"Yes, but it's not in the Netherlands. It's in Austria, where I've always spent a lot of time since I was very young. Being there in the mountains, in nature, whether in summer or winter, it's great and soothing. I find peace there in the clear, fresh air."
Author: Nils Hotze
Photos: Guido Kirchner
This text is taken from the members' magazine BORUSSIA. BVB members receive BORUSSIA free of charge every month. Click here to apply for membership.
On 27 November, Yara ten Holte will be back on the court with the Borussia's women's handball team. The headline clash against TuS Metzingen will take place at 19:00 CET in the Westpress Arena in Hamm. Tickets for the game can be purchased via BVB's official online ticket shop. Fans can travel to Hamm with the BVB handball bus operated by DSW21. Further information here.
Yara, we wanted to meet in a place that offers you peace, where you can recharge your batteries - why here of all places?