Looking back and forward

First week of training with Olga Rypakova is over. Learning how she moves, thinks and feels, her needs and limitations. It is always a pleasure to work with an accomplished, experienced and mature athlete like Olga. Despite the many years of high impact training for and competing in triple jump, her passive movement apparatus is in good shape and no major damage has been done. Of course, her body seems to be designed for her task, born to jump.

Olga is not extremely strong or fast and her technique might leave room for improvement, but she is able to mobilize her physical capacities to the maximum. Also very important, she loves to compete and to be challenged. See her box jump upon 1.10 m.

Olga boxjump 1.10m

It not seem to be important, but she has a great sense of humor too. In other words, looking forward to 2020 and see how far we get in Tokyo.

Preparing for Christmas

The end of the year is always a good time for looking back. Thinking about the things you are grateful for, the things that you could have gone better and the things that you would have liked to avoid. It’s a mixed picture most of the time. It never happens that everything in your life is fantastic or everything is going terribly bad.

From sports point of view it’s also a mixed batch. I am proud and happy finding a new challenge: to work and coach in Kazakhstan and work with an Olympic champion. And at the same time there were athletes who chose another direction in their lives.

During 45 years of coaching I gained enough experience to know how this job works.

It is quite simple: I have been coaching for 45 years: the career of an athlete does not have this length, so athletes come and go. Some athletes I was able to coach for a longer period, sometimes even 12-15 years. Some of them I coached on and off, depending on the situation in     their private life. Some of them left because the grass is always greener at the other side of the hill, moving to colleagues who promised them to make them much better than under my coaching.  My numbers (personal records, medals) show that this seldomly happened.

Some of them came back, mostly when their performances went down, or after they got injured or disappointed about their performances. I never found any joy or contentment in athletes performing badly after they left me. On the contrary, it hurts. Like a sculptor who spends a lot of time producing a beautiful piece of art and selling it for good money to a museum. And then somebody drops it and it breaks in a thousand pieces.  Even though he sold the sculpture, it still hurts.

I sometimes run into athletes again who left and who tell me that leaving me was one of the great mistakes they made and they regret the decision until today. Sad enough to hear, since I respected their decision and choice. It’s like a train, my train moves forward, and if people decide to get on board or get out at a station, my train keeps on moving forward, with them or without them, I have no choice.   

If athletes are younger, sometimes their decisions are amplified or even taken by their parents, since their opinion influences the athlete’s decision, and also because they support the athlete financially and otherwise.

One can only enjoy elite sports for a few precious years and taking the wrong decision within this short time frame might haunt them the rest of their lives. Something they might not realize when they took that decision, but only do so after having spent a few years of “normal life” after their sports career, and while looking back at the decisions they took and the opportunities they missed.  

Elite sports is about realizing dreams, about emotions, feelings  and hopes. It’s about meaning, purpose, structure, about finding out who they really are, it’s almost never about the money, the status or the power and ……it’s not easy.

Some of them leave because they did not understand my intentions and behavior, which I can understand and you can too, if you know me. I tend to go all-or-nothing, I don’t like to do a half-hearted job. If there is mutual trust, I go for 100%. But I don’t want to waste my valuable time and resources. I am flexible and do not demand much, but dedication, trust and honesty are very important to me. Don’t mistake my kindness and flexibility for a weakness.

If an athlete leaves you it is also an opportunity to see how well you did as a coach. If they perform much better after they leave you, you weren’t able to get the best out of them.  If they don’t do better, there is no reason for joy, but at least you know you did a decent job.

It’s no use feeling sad or bitter about it. And of course you have more time and resources to spend on coaching other athletes and try again.

Knowing human biology and psychology quite well, the athlete’s behavior and decision making is predictable and understandable no matter how unique they think they are.

In many cases husbands, wives, boy- or girlfriends play an important role and honesty forces me to say, in my limited experience, not always a positive one. Boyfriends and husbands do enjoy the money, the glory and the status, which come with being an Olympic athlete, but they don’t like the focus and dedication of their wives or girlfriends when it comes to training, the competitions, the trainings camps and the coach. I never compete with the relation of the female athlete.

In the end I am only a coach, trying to deliver a temporary service. Our cooperation is limited in time and content, and the female athletes have the rest of their lives with their relations, that is where their future lies. In the past I have seen relationships or marriages going nowhere or turning very bad, even before the athletes saw it themselves. Of course that is an important dilemma for a coach too, because somehow this will affect the athlete, the performance and the way we are able to do a decent job. This is a topic that I have never heard discussed in any coach’s education program or written about in books. Maybe because it is rather personal and it can be painful.

There is no single one-size-fits-all solution, every coach-athlete relationship and every context is  different.

It’s something we have to learn by experience and thus one is never too old or too smart to learn new insights or to gain new experiences.

2 Comments

  1. Lee Derby

    Wow! Such a true insight into coaching! It could have been my blog (after 48 years!) I can’t recall too many athletes who have found the greener grass or the holy grail, despite being enticed by unscrupulous ‘poachers’ who promise them the world and bad mouth their coach to build themselves up! The hardest part, I find, is when the athlete is not honest up front, then disappears without a word. I respect the athletes who come to me and discuss their thoughts openly. They are always welcome back. Thank you for your thoughts!

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