Six traditional, emancipatory or downright weird Dutch sports

The Dutch may be fabulous at football, hockey and speedskating, but they’ve got some pretty odd sports of their own. Here’s our favourites.

1. Paalzitten
t’s what it says – pole sitting. A lot of people, each sitting on his or her individual pole. The person who stays on the longest wins. The poles are erected in water so the person falling off doesn’t get hurt. It is presumed that pole sitting originated in Friesland where the Frisians tried to stave off the boredom of long winters by inventing sports to do with poles, like fierljeppen and pole sitting. The sport became nearly extinct presumably because sitting on top of a pole did not stave off boredom. It has now made a come-back as a tourist attraction but  is not a spectator sport.

2. Korfbal


Two teams of eight trying to get a ball into the opponent’s korf or basket. The game was invented by a Dutch primary school teacher in 1902 and remains one of the very few mixed gender sports – with four men and four women per team. The korfbal world championship is held every four years. The Dutch national team have consistently won the title since the championship was established in 1978, only losing to Belgium in 1991. This is because Korfball is only seriously played in the Netherlands and Belgium – plus a few other places.

3. Klootschieten
It’s throwing a leaded ball as far as it will go. Two teams have to make their way across a field or a paved area in the shortest number of throws possible. Klootschieten is popular in Overijssel, Drenthe and part of Gelderland and elicits childish sniggers in the remaining provinces because ‘kloot’ (the leaded ball) also means ‘testicle’.

 4. Fierljeppen (called ‘bongelwuppen’ in Groningen)


Fierljeppen is Frisian for vaulting over a ditch using a long pole and people who live in waterlogged provinces are very good at it. Contrary to pole sitting contestants, vaulters are likely to end up in the water much more frequently and consequently are much more fun to watch.

5. Skûtsjesilen
Another Frisian speciality. It’s a sailing competition using skûtsjes, or traditional Frisian sailing boats formerly used to carry freight. The official competition only allows entry of skippers from sailing families whose boats represent a certain town or village which prompted those who got their hands on a skûtsje any old how to organise their own championships. This is a good thing because it allows you to see more of these beautiful boats in action.

6. Kaatsen


This form of handball dates from the middle ages. Again it’s the Frisians who played it most and it remains their number one sport. It is related to other sports, like fives or American handball, in which the bare hand is used in lieu of a racquet. This still holds true for the person who serves the ball; the other players are allowed to wear a leather glove. The game is played with two teams and scored in a similar way to tennis. Kaatsen is not unique to the Netherlands: some form of it this game is being played in over 50 countries and regions.


3 thoughts on “Six traditional, emancipatory or downright weird Dutch sports

  1. Fred van Hessen

    With regards to #4:
    I’m not a linguist, but I believe that the name ‘fierljeppen’ is an example of how the Friesian and English language are related: ”fier’ is related to ‘far’ and ‘ljeppen’ is related to ‘to leap’. So the name can be translated into ‘farleaping’, as the purpose is to leap as FAR as possible (so as to avoid winding up in the water), just like with the pole vault you try to get as HIGH as possible.
    It is not as simple as you might think: You hold the pole somewhere (and where that is, is a matter of experience) in the middle, make a running start, plant the pole in the middle of the ditch and let the momentum carry you over the ‘dead point’ (where the pole is vertical) to the other side.
    When that is all you do you will wind up in the water for sure, for the ditch is too wide.
    When you hold the pole too high up, you will not make it over the dead point and you will fall back to where you started, or worse, you get stuck in the middle. That of course is the most embarrasing outcome of all.
    So the thing to do is – as soon as you plant your pole in the muck – you start CLIMBING up the pole as high as possible and hope for the best.

  2. Gerda Kooger

    Steenwerpen is een traditionele sport die in Noord-Holland nog wordt gespeeld, bijvoorbeeld in Middenbeemster. Op de dinsdag van de zomerse kermisweek vindt daar het grootste steenwerptoernooi van Nederland plaats. Zo’n 140 teams van acht personen strijden dan om de eer.
    De kermis-spelregels: een team telt acht spelers + één schrijver. Er strijden twee teams tegen elkaar. Iedere speler mag 20 worpen doen. Op een roodwit paaltje ligt een grote dobbelsteen. Het doel is om vanaf een werpafstand van zeven meter met een kei de paal met dobbelsteen om te gooien, zonder kaatsen via de achterwand. Het aantal ogen van de dobbelsteen die boven liggen, is het aantal behaalde punten. De punten van de dobbelsteen tellen dubbel als het paaltje blijft staan. Het team met de meeste punten van het toernooi wint de felbegeerde wisselbokaal.
    De club-spelregels in Middenbeemster zijn strenger. De dobbelsteen doet zelfs niet altijd mee, het belangrijkst is het aantal omvergeworpen palen. En vóór het paaltje ligt een metalen plaat, die je niet mag raken. Dat sluit (het verboden) stuiteren met de steen uit.


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