When my friend Ralf Souquet says, “Best coach ever,” I sit up and take notice.
He was talking about someone whom I knew well, but had not connected with in several years—Johan Ruijsink, the non-playing captain and coach of Europe’s Mosconi Cup team. What is there about a man who can bring together players from four different countries, with four different languages to form a cohesive battle unit that laid waste to the best of American players?
I first met Johan in 2002 in Cardiff, Wales at the World Tournament. We were introduced by Niels Feijen, a student I had been working with since he was a teenager and Mosconi Cup MVP. We struck up an immediate friendship and I agreed to return to The Netherlands with him to teach in his poolroom. I was with the great Arubian champion Ditto Acosta. The three of us set out from Cardiff to Northern England in Johan’s old Volvo.
Not always driving on the correct side of the street, our very merry band made it to an old hotel in the north of England where we spent the night in very cramped uncomfortable conditions made worse by Ditto’s, AKA: El Snorizo, unbelievable snoring. Johan and I never got any sleep, none. In the morning we drove onto the giant catamaran that would ferry us and our car—along with 500 others—to The Netherlands later that day. With over one million horsepower the trip did not even take three hours, clearing Customs was another story.
Finally on the road to Johan’s home, night club and pool room in The Hague, we coasted in under cover of darkness with no brakes, no gas, no sleep and there they were waiting—I do not know for how long—eight to 12 young men acting like a drill team, waiting to learn pool.
I worked with them as long as I could before I had to sleep. In the morning I woke to Johan’s beautiful wife’s face getting me up for breakfast.
That is when I began to understand how great coaches create themselves.
While Johan was out getting an assortment of cheeses for breakfast, his wife, an Olympic swimmer, related that Johan was ex-Dutch Special Forces, an expert in discipline and teamwork. This explained all of the eager teenagers waiting for us in the middle of the night, and Johan’s tireless work ethic.
After spending several days teaching with Johan and his friends, I went on to fulfill teaching engagements all over Europe. Johan went on to work tirelessly, and for very little financial reward, bringing his discipline, work ethic and, did I mention, joy to his students from the youngest players in the Netherlands and Europe to the Champions of today.
For Johan it has been a 12 year road to success, so when Ralf Souquet says, “Johan Ruijsink is the best coach in the world,” I believe him.