‘I always want to improve.’ Reinder Nummerdor – Olympic athletes interviewed Episode 24

5 time Olympian Reinder Nummerdor outlines how he maintained to stay hungry over 5 Olympic Games, and how he followed his heart when he decided to switch to Beach Volleyball.

Reinder participated at the Olympic Games 2000 in Sydney and the Olympic Games 2004 in Athens he competed as an Indoor Volleyball player, and at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the London 2012 Olympics, and the Rio Olympics 2016 he competed as a Beach Volleyball player.

In this video we discuss

Christian: In this interview, I’m joined by Reinder Nummerdor, Reinder was nominated by Victor Anfiloff in a previous interview. Reinder is a quintuple Olympian, which is a fancy word for five-time Olympian, and has participated in the Olympic Games 2000 and 2004 as an indoor volleyball player, as well as in the Olympic Games 2008, 2012 and 2016 as a beach volleyball player.

Reinder’s long list of achievements includes

  • a 5th place for Indoor Volleyball at the Olympics 2000 in Sydney
  • a 5th place at the Beijing Olympics 2008 in Beach Volleyball
  • a 4th place at the London 2012 Olympics
  • a 5th place at the Rio Olympics 2016
  • Runner-up at the World Champs 2015
  • European Champion Indoor Volleyball 1997
  • Three-peat European Champion Beach Volleyball 2008 – 2010
  • Best defender in 2009 and 2011 awarded by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB)
  • most inspirational player 2016 awarded by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB)

Reinder is now the assistant coach for the Dutch national men’s team for Beach Volleyball. Welcome, Reinder.

Reinder: Thank you.

Reinder’s darkest moment

Christian: Reinder, in your life as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?

Reinder: Because I had a long career, I had a few dark moments, but I think the one that hurts the most was the loss in the quarter-final at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. That was perhaps our best chance to finish at a top spot in the Olympics because we were at the top in the world at that moment. We played a team that we should have beaten on paper, and maybe that gave us a bit of extra pressure, at least in my head, and therefore, I didn’t play my best.

The one that hurts the most was the loss in the quarter-final at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. That was perhaps our best chance to finish at a top spot in the Olympics because we were at the top in the world at that moment.

I think. that it was a mental issue at that time, that I didn’t perform at my best. It was not bad, but it was not good enough. It was a team, that we always had a lot of trouble within the competition.  The games that we won were always close, and then they end up beating us, which we didn’t expect.

Of course, being in the quarter-finals there was a big opportunity to go for the medals, and knowing that, probably gave me some anxiety. And because the loss was partly mental, it hurts even more. I don’t know why that is but that’s how I felt.

Because the loss was partly mental, it hurts even more. 

Christian: And how did you recover from that?

Reinder: The good thing about the ending of the Olympics is, that it is the end of a goal that you’ve been working towards for four years. You get a lot of time to recover mentally because there is a long break. You don’t have to train and there’s no practice, so that gives you time to recover and set new goals.

The end of the Olympics is also the end of a goal that you’ve been working towards for four years, and you get a lot of time to recover mentally. I started to make new goals and worked towards them. That cleared my head.

I started to make new goals and then work towards them, and that cleared my head after a while. What I learned from that is that I should have talked about my mental struggles earlier, maybe with a coach or a doctor.  Sometimes it helps me to just talk about what’s in my head; just talking to someone clears my head and makes me feel better. That’s really enough most of the time.

Before that game, there were too many thoughts in my head that I didn’t want. Maybe I should have spoken with the coach or with someone who would help me to feel confident before the game, but I didn’t do that. I learned from that experience. If that were to ever happen again, I would open up and talk to someone who could help me.

Christian:  Do you think you were mentally stronger after that experience in the following years?

Reinder: Yes. When I got older and wiser, it got better, because I just had more experience. I knew what to focus on to get more control of my thoughts. And also opening up to someone about my thoughts made me stronger; that was a lesson I learned from that experience. It was just too late for that event. But I had another chance again in London.

Christian: And that was also a close match.

Reinder: At the London Olympics, that was the first time we had gotten to the semi-finals, but we didn’t have a chance. I didn’t play my best game, it was just more technical, and they were playing better. In the end, we lost to the team, that later became Olympic Champion.

And the bronze medal match was really close. We won the first set, and in the second set, we were close with 19 points [out of 21], only two points away from a bronze medal. We lost the second set and then the third was pretty obvious, we lost 15 – 11.

One of the things that I didn’t win, it was a medal at that Olympics, which was always one of my main goals. But I feel like in the end I did everything I could to achieve that, and I feel good about that and I have no regrets.

So, if we are speaking about one of the things that I didn’t win, it was a medal at that Olympics, which was always one of my main goals. That was a big disappointment afterwards, but I feel like in the end I did everything I could to achieve that, especially in the last years with a new coach and with a new team, I think I was more dedicated than ever, which I feel good about and I have no regrets.

Reinder’s best moment

Christian:  What was your best moment?

Reinder: There were a few ‘best moments’, but I think what has been most impactful for me, and maybe for Beach Volleyball in Holland as well, was when Richard and I won the World Tour event. We were the first men’s team in Holland to win a World Tour event.

The most impactful for me, and maybe for Beach Volleyball in Holland as well, was when we won our first World Tour event. That may seem a little bit strange because it’s not the highest award that I’ve ever gotten. But it was a confirmation that we were on the right track and we could beat everyone at that time.

That may seem a little bit strange because it’s not the highest award that I’ve ever gotten. I think getting second place in the World Championships and European Champion are better achievements, but it never happened before in Holland that a men’s team, won a gold medal at a World Tour event.

It was the best achievement ever in history. And the fact that we did it was crazy, we had beaten the Brazilians, who were the best team in the world. It was also a confirmation that we were on the right track and we could beat everyone at that time. And the impact that it had was enormous, the text messages we got for example, it was crazy.

Christian: When was that?

Reinder: That was 2007, in Bahrain. I will never forget that moment. It was special. It was during Euro Sport, and our wives were with us. We entered the Beach Volleyball competition the year before that, so we had just started, and in the end, we got fifth place overall and we won the tournament out of the blue. It was the first tournament of the new season that we had played, so it was the best feeling.

Christian: And after that you were confident.

Reinder: Yes, after that we started to win more medals. We got a silver medal in the Grand Slam. And it meant that it was not one lucky shot; it meant that we were on the right track and we started to win more and more. And in 2008 we got the first European championship title.

His advice to a younger Reinder Nummerdor

Christian: If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?

Reinder:  When I was a young athlete, we didn’t have the knowledge about food and lifestyle, as we have now. Now we’re talking with the guys about sleeping, lifestyle, nutrition, and so much more. There is also so much more information available, and I’m really happy that in the last few years I got to experience this a bit with the new coaching staff.

When I was a young athlete, we didn’t have the knowledge about food and lifestyle, as we have now. There is so much more information available, and I’m really happy that in the last few years I got to experience this. It was much more professional.

In the last years of my career, I was way more focused, and I was paying more attention to my food and my lifestyle.  It was much more professional. You also have to be lucky with who you get as your coach, and I think the coach we had in the last few years was really good for me physically and mentally.

We talked about how things like, how to deal with your partner when both of you are completely different persons and are speaking a different language. We were working with a coach as well to get our communication on a higher level because we were so different. We worked harder than ever before, and one of the advantages for me was that I was more relaxed before the Rio 2016 Olympics.

That was the end goal in Rio because I really felt like I couldn’t blame myself for anything then, no excuses because I did everything I could in my opinion at that time. I also cut back on drinking beer, I drank less or almost none at all, I no longer went to bed late, little things like that.

I was more relaxed before the Rio 2016 Olympics. I really felt like, I couldn’t blame myself for anything, no excuses, because I did everything I could.

If I had known that before Rio, that would have given me confidence since I did everything I could. So, then all we had to do was perform and see what would happen. And you will be happy with the end result because whatever the outcome you would have done everything you could.

Christian:  You mentioned your partner, I think you’re referring to Chris [Varenhorst], right?

Reinder: Yes.

Christian: Were you and Richard [Schuil, Reinder’s partner until 2012] more similar?

Reinder: Maybe not in communication style, but if you look at how we were playing our matches and tournaments, we were just playing on talent. We had a lot of fun together, we went out sometimes and we performed well. But now I feel like, if I had known certain things or if I had set more specific training goals, and talked and evaluated the performance after every match, things would have been better.

We were just playing on talent, and we had a lot of fun together. But now I feel like, if I had known certain things or if I had set more specific training goals, talked and evaluated the performance after every match, things would have been better.

That’s what we did the last few years, after the match we talked about what went well and how we executed the goals that we have set before the match. We discussed whether we did the right things, whether the execution was good or not, and whether the communication was good or not. So, it was somewhat much more professional.

Richard and I came from Indoor Volleyball, and when we played for professional clubs in Italy in  Indoor Volleyball. Professional Volleyball in Italy was like ‘You’re the foreign player, so you should just play well, and you’ll get a contract the next year.’ Sometimes the level of the coach was not really good, so you would be on your own and just play.

Professional Volleyball in Italy was like ‘You’re the foreign player, so you should just play well, and you’ll get a contract the next year.’

That’s how we continued to play when we started out in Beach Volleyball, we just played and we came a long way because I think we were talented and we had experience. We knew how to play in the big moments and we normally scored on the big points. We were strong in that area, because of our Indoor Volleyball experience in Italy, where we played under pressure every week, so we had some advantages there.

Reinder’s decision to switch from Indoor Volleyball to Beach Volleyball

Christian: How did you decide to switch from Indoor Volleyball to Beach Volleyball?

Reinder: That was purely me following my heart. I was playing in Italy for eight years in a row, plus playing with the national team in the summer.  It was a really tough ten years of my career, I was playing to the bone.

That was purely me following my heart.

The national team was a tough program with a lot of traveling because of World League games.  We would play World Championships, European Championships or Olympics at the end of the summer season, and then one week later you had to be at your club. There was no time for rest. One week later you would play in the first league for Indoor Volleyball.

I felt like I was almost at the top of my game for Indoor Volleyball at that time. I was 28 years, playing in the sub-top of the league. Italy was the strongest league in the world, but I was not in the top four teams, only one year I got in a really good team and we went reached the semi-finals. But I never made it to the finals, so I didn’t get to play for the title.

I was tired of the life alone abroad every year and the pressure altogether, and when I started to think about Beach Volleyball I was smiling. It was going to be a new ambition, a new challenge. I was ready for it, and money-wise it was the most stupid decision to make if you were to talk about contracts or salary.

I was tired of the life alone abroad, and when I started to think about Beach Volleyball I was smiling. I was ready for this new challenge, but salary-wise it was the most stupid decision to make. But I’m proud of that choice because I just did what I liked.

We started from scratch with nothing, and yes, we had the money from indoor, but we didn’t make prize money, we didn’t have sponsors, we just did it. I’m proud of that choice actually because I just did what I liked. And that showed in the results; we did well because we had fun. In the end, I was also really, really happy because I think it gave me an extra boost.  It was really a choice of just listening to my feelings.

We did well because we had fun.

If his daughter wants to become a professional volleyball player how would he react

Christian: Your wife [Manon Nummerdor-Flier] was also a very successful volleyball player, and you have a daughter. If your daughter wants to become a professional volleyball player how would you react?

Reinder: I would be happy. If she wants to become one, I will fully support her.

Reinder’s success habits

Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful athlete or person?

Reinder: My perseverance. I’m always on the go. I never give up.  And I’m like a lot of athletes, I’m a perfectionist, which sometimes works against me in my personal life. I’m never happy with the minimum, it always has to be better. That keeps me pushing in every practice.  And to have a long career you have to be lucky physically, getting very little injuries and stuff like that.

Maybe if I had won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens 2004 or in Sydney 2000, I wouldn’t have been playing so long, I don’t know. It’s possible that that was, what kept me pushing for the Olympic medal. I always wanted the gold medal.

But the love of the game always pushes me to improve. Maybe if I had won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens 2004 or in Sydney 2000, I wouldn’t have been playing so long, I don’t know. It’s possible that that was, what kept me pushing for the Olympic medal. I always wanted the gold medal.

Christian: Is that something you’re using now in your coaching career as well?

Reinder: Yes, but it’s difficult to teach that to someone. You can be critical of yourself, but you must also try to be positive in coaching. The danger is, that you can get too negative at times because there is always something that needs to be improved. It keeps the player sharp, but sometimes it’s also really nice to have some positive feedback to keep the fun in the game. If you are too negative as a coach, I don’t think it’s good.

In one way it’s good because you want the players to always improve. I had a coach in Italy who was fun. I really liked him, and he was also from the national team, one of the best coaches we had in Italy. And I remember we had a really good team and every time we had won a match, or we played well and crushed the opponent when we would watch the video on Monday, our day-off, the coach would only talk about the things that didn’t go well. And we knew that even if we won and we played almost perfectly, for the one thing that was not perfect he was like, ‘Guys, we have to do this better. Look at this video.’ He was always negative. And when we played terribly, he would say, ‘It was not that bad. Some things were pretty good’, just to keep us motivated for practice.

Reinder’s morning routine

Christian: Did you have a morning routine?

Reinder: No.  I didn’t really have a morning routine.

Christian: Any routine you’re following?

Reinder: No. And then you can say, there are certain superstitions when you’re in a tournament and winning a match and then you would sit on the same seat in the next match. I think the routines came up automatically when the tension builds up. Another thing I was using, I’m visualizing a lot of actions as well as the opponent.

The routines came up automatically when the tension builds up. Another thing I was using, I’m visualizing a lot of actions as well as the opponent.

I’m also really fond of watching the video analysis of the opponent, it helps me a lot. I’m a visual learner. So, in my head I follow the players, I see what’s happening, and it builds up the tension for the match. That’s a normal routine that comes automatically but it’s nothing special. Of course, I don’t eat aalf an hour before a game.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian:  That fits in very well with the next question. How do you prepare for important moments?

Reinder: If it was a really big tournament, I would start preparing really early. For example for the Olympic Games, I would start two or three months before, I had already started seeing the moment, and images come up when I would be showering or in daily life. It would start really early for the big tournament, but for a normal tournament like world tour events, it’s just one hour or two hours before the match that I would start the routine.

Christian: Before you stepped on the court, what did you do?

Reinder: We have the pre-game routine which is always the same. One hour before the game we would come together for the video. I would watch the video first and then my partner would watch it next, and then we would come together and make a plan. 35 minutes before the game we would start our warm-up routine. That’s scheduled and that’s what worked for me.

We have the pre-game routine which is always the same, and that’s what worked for me.

One person needs 45 minutes, another one needs 30 minutes, that’s all individual. Just before the game, I try to let loose because I don’t want to think too much in the game. I would analyze the opponents a lot, but I would not do too much thinking about my own game. It’s more thinking about the technical plan that helps me a lot.

Christian:  What do you do to let loose?

Reinder: It happens most of the time automatically when the tension gets higher. Just before the game, the nerves get high, but it always gives me a sense of relaxation. When I got older, I got more relaxed when the game started. And because of the tension, all thoughts go away, and you just play. I think that’s the perfect mindset because then you’re just focused on what’s happening, the ball is coming, and you just do what you did over and over again in practice.

And because of the tension, all thoughts go away, and you just play. I think that’s the perfect mindset because then you’re just focused on what’s happening. The ball is coming, and you just do what you did over and over again in practice.

How the preparation changed, when Reinder got older

Christian: You had a long career of 20+ years, I think at your first Olympics you were 23/24 years and the last one in Rio you were 39/40. Did the preparation change over the years?

Reinder: Not really. What I remember, especially in Beach Volleyball when the years passed by and I got older, I was more relaxed when the game started. And sometimes it even started to work against me, like I was not motivated enough anymore. My coach also said I could only get really motivated before a big game at the end of my career; that was true I think.

When  I got older, I was more relaxed when the game started, and sometimes it even started to work against me.

We played World Championships 2015 in Holland and we got the silver medal. However, it was in the middle of the season and on one side it was one of the most beautiful tournaments I’ve ever played because w got a silver medal. On the other side, the disappointment was huge, because we had five match points and we missed for the world title.

And then, a week after that, the world tour had started and then we had European Championships three or four weeks later, and the coach couldn’t get me motivated anymore,  I was so done for the season. Our main goal was World Champs, so I thought it would have made more sense if the World Champs was at the end of the season; the Olympics is at the end of the season most of the time.

The coach couldn’t get me motivated anymore,  I was so done for the season.

It was really hard to motivate myself after that. That was something that I couldn’t manage. I talked with the coach about how we could find new goals, but it was hard. And also because of my age, I had nothing more to win except for that. I really needed a big break after the World Champs for my mental well-being, but there was no time.

Christian: Does the preparation change for Indoor Volleyball vs Beach Volleyball? There are more players on the Indoor Volleyball team and for the Beach Volleyball team, there are just two players. Does the mental preparation change for a match?

Reinder:  Indoor Volleyball is guided by the coach, you have a whole team, you are just one player of the six players, and you have to fit into the technical plan, you have no input really.

In Beach Volleyball you are the master of the technical plan, you decide for yourself while the coach gives feedback; he gives the numbers, the statistics and most of the time, he lets the players decide how they want to play a team.  Sometimes if the coaches don’t agree, they change it a little bit, they give some directions, but most of the time we made our own plans.

Indoor Volleyball is guided by the coach and you have to fit into the technical plan. In Beach Volleyball you are the master of the technical plan.

We did a video analysis of the opponents during the week. You would play one match a week in the league, so we had a video analysis on Thursdays and Fridays. Sometimes that makes a big difference mentally because you play a game, you talk after the game and you evaluate. You have to focus two hours later for the next game. It’s crazy. It’s mentally different. It asks for different qualities.

Plus, you have to prepare again, you make the plan and forget about the last match or the match that you just won because it’s also dangerous if you go into relax mode and you have to play another one and you have to win it.

I thought mentally it was way harder than Indoor because if you really suck in Indoor, they just put another player in. In Beach Volleyball, if you have a bad day, the opponents pick you and go at you, then you have to figure it out with your partner and find solutions. I was really getting better in finding solutions after a few years, looking at different options and seeing which ones weren’t working and then trying other things. It makes you really inventive.

Mentally Beach Volleyball was harder than Indoor Volleyball. If you really suck in Indoor, they just put another player in. In Beach Volleyball, if you have a bad day, the opponents pick you and go at you, then you have to figure it out with your partner and find solutions.

How to overcome setbacks

Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?

Reinder: As I said, I do overcome them, but I need some time. It’s not very easy for me. If it’s a really hard setback it takes a long time. Sometimes you will lose a game and you have a rematch two hours later. Most of the time I can easily evaluate what went wrong, make a new training goal and then I get motivated to get better. That’s actually the normal routine and that keeps you motivated.

I do overcome them, but I need some time. It’s not very easy for me. If it’s a really hard setback it takes a long time.

You have to set a new goal for yourself after a setback or decide where you want to improve. Set small goals, but work specifically on those. Also, maybe analyze the video afterward and see what went wrong. It’s important to find out and not just push it aside because then what are you training for? I think that helped me a lot.

Set small goals, but work specifically on those.

Many times in Italy I had to do it myself because you weren’t getting the attention. In Beach Volleyball you have much more personal attention because only two players are on a team. With Indoors in Italy, it was really like you have your contract, you make a lot of money, you make sure you perform and how you do it is your responsibility. It really felt like that in Italy for contract players.

Then I had to figure out for myself if I played a really bad match on Sunday what I learned from it; I think that helped me a lot in Beach Volleyball. I really learned to reflect on myself. I was pretty good at analyzing myself after a while. I would watch a video really slowly and then by myself I would do extra sprint work or short turn or action explosive and more explosion just to improve. It was not the coach who told me to do that.

With Indoors in Italy it was really like you have your contract, you make a lot of money, you make sure you perform and how you do it is your responsibility. I think that helped me a lot to learn to reflect on myself. After a while, I got pretty good at analyzing myself. 

Christian:  You said in Italy you had to figure out everything yourself, so what was the role of the coach in such a team then?

Reinder: Making exercises for the practices, analyzing the opponent and also making videos for analysis. In Holland, in the youth national teams, there were really good coaches, and I improved a lot with them. But when you go abroad, I felt like they just don’t put any effort into details anymore or you have to improve on this or that by yourself. It’s really about performing well, they try to prepare you physically from one Sunday match to the other one, you would play the next Sunday. But there was no real personal attention.

The mindset was you’re already a star and now you’ve come to Italy as a foreign player where there are only three or four foreign players per team. You’re the big guy, you get paid more than the Italians and you have to be the star; you have to perform every day. But many coaches were not at that level.

Reinder’s role model 

Christian:  Do you have a role model?

Reinder: I admired athletes when I was younger. I had a poster of Carl Lewis t and Agassi, the tennis player, later on, Federer when I was older. But I would say my role model was my father because he was really into sports. He was a PE teacher, and a volleyball player as well. He did the basics from soccer, table tennis, etc. I did many different sports with my father when I was young. Also, when we were on a holiday, he took the softball or baseball, so that we could play catch with me and stuff like that. So, I did a lot of sports when I was young.

Christian:  I remember, when we worked together on the Beach team in Holland, your coach at that time said, that you were one of the best technical beach volleyball players. There is a theory in the sports science world, which describes, that the more sports you do during your younger years, it will have a positive influence on your technical development later. Is that something you think you had?

Reinder: Like the Athletic Skills Model, I’m actually reading at the moment. And I know, there was a big survey on the Olympians, and I heard most of them did all different kind of sports when they were younger, so I believe it based on that.

I was young when I started to play Volleyball, I was seven. But I didn’t play for many hours. I played tennis and soccer at the same time. My volleyball career got really intense, when I was 14/ 15 years, I had practice three, four times a week. So, it was pretty late, when I made more training hours.

My volleyball career got really intense when I was 14/ 15 years, so it was pretty late when I made more training hours.

Yes, now I believe maybe it helped me, based on what I am reading. I think I had a good eye for seeing things. Maybe it was because of those different sports. I don’t know. I was pretty good in a lot of ball sports when I was young, above average I would say. They said, if I would have practiced a lot, I could have been a really good tennis player. I was invited for selections, but I didn’t do it. I was more into team sports, so I stuck with volleyball.

Maybe it was a good thing that my father was my coach. I think it’s also important if you want to be a technically good player at a young age, you need the right teacher. Because if you learn it in the wrong way when you are young because someone doesn’t have the knowledge, then it’s difficult to change later. So, you have to be a little bit lucky with that also.

The best advice he has received

Christian: What’s the best advice you have received and who gave it to you? 

Reinder: Actually, I can’t think of anything. I think it was from myself, from my heart. That’s also what I would say to younger athletes to please follow your heart. I think, if you do something that you want to do, you’re more motivated and you get better results than if someone pushes you to do something that you don’t want to do or in your core, you’re not really happy doing.

I think it was from myself, from my heart. That’s also what I would say to younger athletes to please follow your heart.

The advice to change was all mine. It wasn’t anyone who said I should go. Of course, sometimes if someone said something particular about Beach Volleyball, I would start thinking about it. That’s the only answer I can give actually. I don’t have one advice from one person that was a light bulb or one that changed my life a lot. If I think about it and something pops up, I’ll let you know.

Christian: That’s interesting, I did an interview with Celeste Plak and she said ‘Follow your heart.’  Another volleyball player.

Reinder’s interview nomination

Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Reinder: Yes, Robin Haase a tennis player from Holland. I met him at the Olympics, and he is still in his prime, still playing top 50 in the world.

Christian: Interesting, I used to work with a Spanish tennis player, Pere Riba a few years ago and he played Robin Hauser twice in the German Bundesliga, and he told me, ‘I can’t beat Robin Haase.’

Reinder: Yes. At the moment he is the best player we have on the men’s side, Kiki Beertens is doing really well in the women’s tennis.

Where can you find Reinder Nummerdor

Christian: Where can people find you?

Reinder: On the beach court, in Zuiderpark, Den Haag [Netherlands].

I have a Facebook account and Twitter, but I’m really not active on social media. I have an Instagram account, but no pictures. I just have an account so that I can follow others. So, I’m really not active on social media.

Christian: We’re a different generation.

Reinder: Yes. I don’t care. Even when I was still a player I was like, ‘I’m too old.’ I know, it’s interesting for sponsors, but now that I am a coach, I don’t know why I should be on it. Private is private. Sometimes I’ll post a picture.

Christian: Thanks.

Reinder: Thanks you.

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