What is the story of Thomas Briels?
My grandmother started hockey at Royal Antwerp Hockey club where she became Belgian champion. Afterwards she started the first women team at KHC Dragons. My mother and uncles also started playing hockey so you could say I followed my family and started playing at KHC Dragons at the age of 4 together with my brother and sister (we are triplets). I played for all the youth teams at KHC Dragons and started to play for the first team at the age of 17. I also got selected for the U18 and U21 national team of Belgium and at the age of 19 I got selected for the A team. Since then I always played with a lot of proud for my country.
What do you like to do outside hockey?
I like to eat good quality food! My girlfriend can cook really well so I enjoy her cooking and company on a free night and if I have time I love to go out for lunch or coffee with my friends. I also will finish my study Podiatry in June so I am also interested in the human body and I like to read books about physiology of the human body.
Do you have any role model?
Not really! I always looked at a lot of good players and try to learn from them but if there is one player who I tried to copy from it was Mathias Witthaus. I remember seeing him play and the way he was leading for the ball was amazing to see. He could get every ball and the defenders were always too late. I always tried to do the same thing in my leading and I enjoy it when the defender does not know were you are.
You joined the Dutch iconic club Oranje-Zwart from Eindhoven 7 years ago coming from the Belgian club Dragons as a young talent, how did that happened?
I got a phone call in the summer at the age of 20. I remember we had 2 games against Pakistan. I got the call from Roger van Gent after our first game and I had to decide the next day. It was a big decision because there also was a big difference in level between Belgium and the Netherlands at that time. I remember thinking how cool it was that I had this opportunity so the next day I decided to leave my club where I grew up and leave my friends for a big challenge.
How were the last 7 years since you joined OZ?
It was a great life experience. I started playing there as a young guy with only a bit of hockey talent. I had not much discipline when I was younger. I learned a great deal at OZ. It is a big club with a lot of great people who helped me a lot. There always played world class players so I needed to step it up. The first years it was hard to get the level but I trained really hard and tried to get better every year so I could be important for the team. I am proud I could achieve this. I also lived 4 years in Eindhoven, met my girlfriend and studied there. So you could say Eindhoven and OZ is and always will be a big part of my life.
Feelings about the return to your youth club Dragons?
When I left Dragons I did not know for how long it would be. I would never have guessed it would be 7 years. I always had the dream to come back to Dragons on a high level to show them what I can do and help the team. After winning the EHL with OZ (Oranje-Zwart) I felt it was a good moment to say goodbye and start a new chapter of my hockey life at Dragons like I always had in mind. I feel happy to play once again with my youth friends at the club were it all started.
As Belgian national team is preparing for Olympic Games next year, you together with other international players decided to return to domestic league in order to be available for the weekly preparation with Belgium. Can you tell us how that is planned and how will you conciliate with the club training and competition?
We decided as a team to train more together next year. We have high ambition and we have a team to do well internationally. But we know we have to do more than other top teams. That is why we want to train more together and we will be together from Monday till Thursday with the national team. On Friday we will train with our clubs and on Sunday we will play competition. It will be a busy year but the focus should be on the Olympic games and we want to perform at our highest level there.
A lot of young players dream to become professionals or partly financially supported to allow them to become more or exclusively dedicated to the sport. As a world class player what would be your advise to them?
First of all as a professional player you can earn enough to live and play hockey but it is important you know what you want to do after your hockey career. You will not make enough money to sit back and relax the rest of your life. Combine the hockey with studies, even if it will take longer then normal. Or make a choice in witch direction you want to go next to hockey.
On the hockey side I always try to get better every year. So I want to play better and make steps every year and I set myself small goals where I need to improve. This can be technique, tactics, physical or mental aspect. I am always very critical and I am almost never happy with my game.
As a topsporter you are required to have a very disciplined lifestyle regarding diet, fitness, schedules, etc. Have you ever thought like: ‘This is a big sacrifice, I just want to be a common guy’?
Every now and then I have that feeling. Most of the time I get this feeling when I am training hard and being very disciplined for a long period of time. But in the end it is routine for me. I know I can’t go out with friends because I have hockey or fitness almost every day and you have to rest and recover for the next training if you want to be better. I know I can’t go on holidays because we have training trips or tournaments with the national team. But in the end you get a lot back. You do what you love to do and travel all over the world just to play hockey. A top sport career is just a short time in your life so I try to enjoy it while it last and don’t think too much about the sacrifice but enjoy the time with your teammates. In the end if you reach a big goal with your teammates and friends it was all worth it.
Is there something you dislike about hockey, a rule, a club, a competition, etc?
I think the HIL is a good way to make the sport more popular and to get the players some money so they can focus more on hockey. But because the international calendar is so full it makes it almost impossible to participate. Also the club competition needs to be changed a lot because of the international calendar. I think the timing of all those competitions can be better. Now every party looks at their own interest. Make windows for every competition with enough time in between.
We all dream of hockey getting bigger and more popular; what can we do better?
I think a big part of it is infrastructure. If you look at Holland were there are a lot of hockey players (10 times more than in Belgium!) you see a lot of clubs and a lot of hockey fields. I think the sport is getting bigger and enjoys more media attention but still a lot of clubs don’t have enough space for more members. I think TV coverage is also very important. It gives you visibility to sponsors and can help to grow as a club or federation.
Which teammate did you admire the most and the best opponent you played against?
There are a lot but if I had to pick one it would be Sander Baart. I saw him grow as a player and now he is just world class. He is the engine of our team at OZ and he always stuns me with his power.
Best opponent is difficult but I will always remember (Rodrigo) Garza. He was always on the good spot. His tackles were superb, he had great technique and a great pass. I remember pressing on him was a nightmare.
Best goal and best match?
I will always remember my tip in goal in the half final of the European Championship against England in Boom (Belgium). It was the first goal of the game from a superb pass from Florent van Aubel and that day was my 26th birthday. I remember the crowd singing happy birthday just after. Goosebumps! We won that game 3-0 to qualify for the final for the first time in history.
What brings the future inside and outside the pitch?
I will finish my study in June and next year will be a big hockey year with the preparation for the Oympic games. I look forward playing back at Dragons and I look forward to first qualify with Belgium for the OG and then train hard to achieve our goals. Next year my focus will be full time on hockey. After that we will see what the future brings!
Here is a video with some of the best goals from Thomas Briels with Belgium:
Thank you Thomas!