Dutch sport training, physical education and bodily cultures
Day and Carpenter note that despite the seemingly ancient roots of training, little scholarly attention has been directed towards its history or its social and cultural situatedness.2 In the Dutch case, work is similarly absent, partly hindered by less
Building the new man 39 attention being paid to the history of sport in general. While biographies of trainers and coaches who have worked in the Netherlands exist, including those of pioneering sportsmen who also acted as trainers in the late nineteenth century, research that takes account of the emergence of systematic sport training around 1900, its early development, and debates about the role of training and trainers in society is lacking.
My own work on Dutch football around 1900 has dealt with training tangentially. Utilising media reports from 1910 to 1920, and underpinned by Foucauldian theory, I highlight how training in football formed part of an increase in disciplinary technology in Dutch society. For those in Dutch education, and beyond, who were sceptical of the consequences of competitive matches for young boys, the Neder-landsche Voetbalbond (Dutch Football Association, NVB) focused on the value of training as a form of physical education. Sport training was part of the construction of useful and docile bodies, which would ’perform the 'correct' movement at the 'correct' time’.3 However, this work only briefly highlighted the debate that existed within the Netherlands about the concept of sport training and paid little attention to the emergence of professional trainers and their practices.
Work with Porter on the influence of the touring English Corinthians in Dutch football around 1900 highlights how training was linked to wider debates about the nature of the game.4 Training became a point of tension between individuals who wanted to promote the expansion of the game on a national level, including improving standards of play, and those who desired to keep football as the preserve of those from a higher social status. It was, therefore, slightly strange that the Corinthians, who formally eschewed training, provided symbolic inspiration for those seeking to improve playing standards through greater practice. Such complex cultural connections, which go beyond simplistic Anglo-centric explanations for sporting development in the rest of the world, support Van Bottenburg’s claim that 'English sports culture was selectively adopted, adapted, interpreted, contested, incorporated, and resisted'.5 The development of sport training in the Netherlands around 1900 saw similar complex cultural interactions.
This chapter locates sports training within wider changes in attitudes to the body and bodily culture in the Netherlands around 1900. In their work on the historical development of'fitness culture', Stokvis and Van Hilvoorde note that in the late nineteenth century, sport, gynmastics, acrobatics, and physical education were closely connected. Noting that European sport historiography often makes hard distinctions between physical education, gymnastics, and sport, they argue that, in the Dutch case, this masks a much more nuanced relationship that underestimates the sporting roots of gynmastics and the hygienic and political elements of sport. The spread of gynmastics happened at a similar time to the spread of sport and while tensions between the two existed, they were presented as rival views of physical education.6 Examining the works of Dutch sport polemicist, Muller Massis, Zondag has outlined that physical education was seen as a method to bring Dutch imperial and economic success and the need to create resilient bodies was central to this. For Muller Massis, sport and its practice were essential to remove the decadence which had overtaken Dutch youth, to reinvigoratethe nation and awaken what he, and others, saw as the latent racial characteristic within the Dutch people; or, at least, the male section of this society.7 Beyond Dutch borders, Heggie has demonstrated how nineteenth-century sport and science were both intrinsically linked to discussions of the body and were able to ‘express national strength or reveal national weakness' and were seen as processes to ‘reform or preserve national bodies’.8 As such works suggest, sport and training were part of a cultural debate linked to the health, nation, race, and gender in the period before 1914.
Debates about training were also linked to fundamental changes in how the body was understood. In the words of Van der Woud, this was part of a ‘cultural revolution" in which a ‘new culture" emerged in contrast to an older civilization. This ‘new culture" was marked by its openness, its pluralism, and its ability to adapt. It was materialistic, consumeristic, and encouraged observation. In the nineteenth century, the ‘body was discovered". Van der Woud suggests that developments in the field of natural sciences, allied with mass consumption and production, led to a detailed medical understanding of the body and more attention directed to the functioning of one’s own body and those of others. This new body was to be measured, weighed and appraised.9 On the same theme. Stokvis and Van Hilvoorde demonstrate that there was a fundamental shift in how the body was considered in the Netherlands around 1900. The conceptualization of the body shifted from the acrobatic body, viewed at distance and determined by nature, to the improvable body, one which could be constructed through training using new commercial products, pills, and apparatus.10 Thus around 1900, as Milliner outlines, a ‘new type of body emerged, the athlete's body'.11 This new body was a prototype body for an age focused on industrial and economic productivity and one that could be shaped, designed, and built.12 The increased attention given to training and the emergence of the trainer in sport was part of the wider ‘discovery of the body" of the late nineteenth century and a focus on building the new man.