A psychology student by week, and top footballer at the weekend

Dirk Proper
To combine playing football with my studies, I have a lot of contact with my study advisers for a suitable programme
Dirk Proper
Current role
Student and professional football player at N.E.C.

A psychology student in the lecture benches at FSW and budding maestro in midfield at N.E.C., Dirk Proper combines studying at our faculty with a promising football career. Lecturer in Communication Studies and big N.E.C. fan Carlo Hageman invited him to talk about the psychology of professional football, media training, social work and his studies.

'How do you deal with the psychological pressure of professional football? For example, you played a draw against Cambuur the other day when you should have won. The supporters clearly showed their dissatisfaction.'

'That's the impressive thing about football; it's a rollercoaster. When you win, there is extreme euphoria, which you share with many people. But if you lose or draw when you should be winning, well, this can be a lot to take. I deal with it more easily, though, the more often I experience it. You don't experience it as much during a match because you are focused. But it's still a lot to be yelled at.'

'What fascinates me as a communications scholar is the media training that footballers receive. You always seem to give the correct answers; what do you do at that training?’

'I did expect this question, haha. And I understand it, too; an interview with a footballer is never really fun. But we honestly don't get actively trained. At most, we are given an indication that some things are not useful to say, such as publicly slagging off fellow players.

On the contrary, when I am interviewed, I notice that journalists are too intent on getting answers for articles they have already written. They ask a specific question, and they want a specific answer. Footballers are, therefore, careful about what they say so that responses are not distorted. I also think interviewers often ask the same questions, and with footballers not wanting to take a risk in their answers, this can sometimes make interviews a bit boring.'

Footballers are careful about what they say so that responses are not distorted.

'Besides football, you also have a public role. You are already a role model at 21, signing autographs on scarves, recording videos and fulfilling a social role.'

'I think being a 'role model' is not so bad. There are teammates who have been around longer and are more famous, but I try to come across as positive as possible. A lot of requests come in for recording videos or signing autographs, and we actually always do that. The team manager asks if I will come and record a video or if a shirt needs an autograph, and then everyone is expected to sign it. It's a small effort, and people love it.

Dirk Proper en Carlo Hagemann

We also try to be socially engaged. For example, we work with an organisation that wants to improve children's reading skills. To help, we visit schools and read a piece to the students, and it's fun to get them excited. We also sometimes go to a (children's) hospital, holding a kind of press conference with the children there. Then they can ask us questions, and we walk with them for a day, which means a lot to them. Sometimes a topic comes up that I am less familiar with, but in general, it is great fun to work on different topics, and I am happy to commit to it. Ultimately, we are just regular guys who are good at playing football, so we can make children very happy with a little effort.'

'How do you combine football with your studies?'

'So far, it's going really well! I have a lot of contact with my study advisers to plan a suitable programme and ensure a nice pace in my studies. The bottom line is that I am doing each year of study in two years, and so far, I am on track. If all goes well, I will complete my second year of undergraduate studies this year. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to do this alongside playing football. I train twice a day and don't have weekends, so occasionally, it's hard to plan. Fortunately, Psychology only has a few contact hours, but it is challenging when it comes to compulsory working groups. I find my studies super interesting, and it's nice to be in contact with other students. The football world is small and mostly consists of the same type of person, so it's nice to stay in touch with fellow students and make new friends.

It's difficult to participate in student life, though. Of course, I can't go out during the week. Sometimes when we have won a game, I go into town with a few players and message friends to see if they are available. I am really happy being a footballer because I have been able to make my hobby my job, and I try to take bits and pieces of student life, but unfortunately, that's not always possible.'

'And what do you want to do later on? Footballers are often retired before the age of 40.'

'I think that's a good question. I would love to do something with psychology. I'm going into my third year, so I have to start choosing a direction, but I still need to figure that out. I hope to finish my bachelor's and play football until I'm 38. After that, I might do something in psychology, but I might have completely different interests then. For now, though, I expect I'll do something in the Psychology field.'

I hope to finish my bachelor's and play football until I'm 38.