Maximiliaan Winkelhuis – Performance Coaching for Excellence

I’ve always loved dancing. And I early discovered I was terrible at it. I’m glad no one remembers and anyway, I’ve hidden all the evidence 🙂 Despite this, life managed to throw me a surprise – an adventure and a curve that I never could have seen coming. From a communication specialist I became a specialist in performance coaching.

And here’s how my story goes….

Performance Coaching

I was very close to Ruud Vermeij when his dance partner was Debbie Fletcher. I wanted to be a part of the team and help them, though I had no clear idea where I was going with it. One day Ruud asked me to join the board for the International Dancesport Association that was in The Netherlands to teach competitors using the best teachers in the world. 

He soon invited me to give some lectures and approach them as a communications specialist. I said Yes without realizing that there were two lectures of a few hours each. So I had to make up material answering these main questions: 

  • „What do we do on a day?”
  • „What do we do to get the season right?” 
  • „What do dancers offer more than skill, technique and choreography? What is their personal contribution?”

I was lucky that in the audiences there were always top couples such like Massimo Giorgianni and Alessia Manfredini. They encouraged me to continue this journey on performance coaching because I was bringing something new to the table.

Dance To Your Maximum

In 1998 I left behind my commercial years in advertising. Being triggered by those lectures, I decided to study transformational psychology. I went through the mentoring program for transformation psychology at Shakti Gawain in Hawaii. Then I followed the three-year training as voice dialogue trainer at the Institute for Transformation Psychology in the Netherlands. 

What Does “transformational psychology” Stand For? 

Basically, it’s a psychology form that helps people use their assets better. More exactly, to use their resources at their maximum. After this, I wrote my first book on dance – Dance to your maximum. Nadia Eftedal said it was an wonderful book. She wanted to send her 100 copies. 

On the other side, Ruud told me that I need to get more work done on it. I needed more foundation, theory and more effectivity. So it took me two more years to get the book finished. He was right and the book is still sold. You can find it in 6 languages.

I did not realize that dancers are not very much readers. They are mostly visual thinkers, so releasing a book with over 300 pages and no pictures was a challenge. I’m happy that it’s a source for many coaches and dancers. But reading it all at once is a big thing.

Dance Without Stress

The second book focuses on lowering stress levels. This is how dancers have the chance to perform better. I also wanted it to be a more light read.

I travel a lot with Michael Malitowski and Joanna Leunis around the world. I used to coach and travel to competitions and I always had to find new tactics to get them out of the stress. After 2-3 competitions the same interventions would not work anymore. Each time I had to study and find new interventions. 

When they won the first world title I decided to stop travelling. So I made a book with all the tactics dancers could use to handle and relieve stress, thus touching the subject of performance coaching. You can buy the book here.

Teachers Or Performance Coaches?

And that raises a point in the discussion around the difference between a coach and a teacher specialized on performance coaching. Of course, most teachers are able to spot the pain points due to the patterns they’ve recognized in the past.

Performance coaching investigates which issues are occurring and recurring to the particular couple. Then they work on them individually because what’s stressful for one couple does not necessarily have to be stressful for another couple. Performance coaching can measure the levels of stress and see them better. After every competition, we stress test each couple. We aim to see which areas are problematic for them specifically from choreography to their hotel rooms.

The Question Top Dancers Ask The Most

Change doesn’t happen overnight. One cannot do it all in one day. Saying that is getting ahead of yourself. The couples have to go into a practice program where we help them work with their controllables. Then they learn how to operate with their bodies.

Do you know what’s the question that most top dancers ask themselves? Let me tell you, it’s

 „How can I improve myself?”. They don’t ask “How can you improve your partner?”.

If you have worked on yourself and you already reached your conclusions or you are still convinced that your partner needs improvement or some particular exercise is not working, keep your suggestions to yourself. Unless you can ask politely if they want them. 

This technique lowers the stress for both and puts you in better control of yourselves.

Feedforward = The New Feedback

I never liked how feedback sounded so I replaced it with feedforward. When you give suggestions to your partner, frame them positively. Instead of saying to your partner “You’re too slow”, rephrase it to “I need you faster on those specific steps”.

For each positive suggestion your partner gets 3 moments of tryouts: 3 times the suggestion or 3 different suggestions depending on what you have to say. Now it’s your partner’s turn to come with 3 suggestions also positively framed and voilà! Now you have 6 experiences on the problem at hand.

Sometimes the problem is not solved because all 6 versions do not work. That’s when is good to go to a teacher and ask for help. Another approach is to forget all suggestions and focus again on your task. See how it runs now and half of the times, this last trial is the best one. The problem was caused due to stress while practicing, and not because your partner made a mistake.

The Team Is The Key To Success

One of the most important steps, maybe the most important step, is to find a great team. That means a team who shares your enthusiasm. A group of passionate people who raise each other’s game. When thinking about performance we often focus only on the individual. Yet it’s by optimizing teams that we can truly take ourselves to the next level.

You have to feel safe enough to explore your boundaries. Go beyond what you normally do. That’s why there needs to be an open dialogue between the dancer and the team around them. That means loyalty on both sides, and not jumping from one teacher to the other. On your last 4 to 6 weeks prior to a big event, you need to have a very small team of 3 people who are dedicated to your development. They will work together to push you in one direction.

That creates excellence!

Article written after the Dancesport Life podcast with Maximiliaan Winkelhuis.

From a communication specialist in advertising, Maximiliaan turned into a communication specialist in dance, a performance coach who loves finding the strengths that lie in the couples he works with. He wrote two books Dance to your maximum and Dancing without stress. You can find more on his workshops by following Team Amsterdam: Website:

Tags: excellence Maximiliaan Winkelhuis performance coach

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