In November last year, Dutch hockey player Seve van Ass was competing in a Euro Hockey League match when a stick swung by a rival forward caught him square in the jaw. Playing without a bit, van Ass, as a result, lost ten of his teeth, was hospitalised and had a plate inserted into his lower jaw. He ate through tubes for the next few weeks. It also means he has to see a dentist regularly for the foreseeable future.
The injury was a huge blow for the Van Ass ahead of this year’s Hockey World League, but in the Netherlands there was a bit of morbid interest as to how the 22-year-old midfielder’s father would react. Paul van Ass is the coach of the Dutch senior team and had to name the squad for the Delhi competition. Seve was expected to make the squad, also seen as a sure shot was Valentin Verga – the latter being the one who had swung the stick.
“It was an awkward situation. Paul was obviously hurting because his son was so badly injured but he didn’t say anything. Ultimately he named both Verga and his son in the national squad,” says Phillip Kooke, a senior TV commentator from the Netherlands who is in India for the World League.
After the incident, Verga was banned for six games by the Dutch federation and, ultimately, isn’t playing the HWL as he is recovering from a knee injury of his own. However, the decision by Paul is seen as characteristic of someone who has had to balance the roles of being both father and coach to a talented hockey player. “It’s simply a case of switching on and off ,” says Paul. “On the field I am his coach, so I call him Seve, and he calls me Paul, and when we are out of a tournament, I am dad once again,” he says.
It’s no longer unusual, says Kooke.
“Paul has always been hard on his players but even more so on his son. That way there has never been any question of favouritism. When Seve broke into the squad, he had already excelled in the juniors, B team and won the Euroleague club tournament, so it wasn’t a surprise call. But ahead of the 2012 Olympics, Seve who was seen as a good prospect was dropped,” says Kooke. Indeed, soon after Seve’s debut with the senior team in 2011 — an event that was commemorated by a family celebration — the youngster was benched by his father after missing a simple chance.
Seve has to do a bit of compartmentalising himself. “It’s a bit strange at times. Sometimes in the locker room, when somebody says something about the coach, I don’t get defensive. I won’t think they are criticising my father, but rather the coach Paul,” he jokes.
In addition to father and son, Seve’s brother David, and sister Berbel also play professional hockey and understandably, the family dinner conversations would become hockey centric. But Seve says that isn’t the case anymore. “In the past, dad would start to talk hockey with me at home. One day I said, out there you are my hockey coach, but at home you are my father. So now we talk about family things like studies and girlfriends,” he says.