Arno Mul; Managing the Spider's Web (2)
Updated: Jul 24, 2019
Welcome the the Parasports World Coaches' Corner where we hear from the top Parasport coaches in the World, and find out about their philosophy, their leadership style and their tips for success. This is part 2 of an article from Arno Mul, the Head Coach of the Dutch Para Athletics Team.
Benchmark, Benchmark, Benchmark
If you want to be the best, you’ve got to know what excellence looks like, how it trains, how it performs, how it eats, how it sleeps. That’s why I consistently benchmark with my athletes.
You’re here, World Class is here, how do we bridge that gap? That can be everything, we’re in a technology based sport, so let’s look at the technology, are there any gains to be made there? Perhaps it’s technique, how can we improve it?
But remember this is all in the context of Parasport where the boundaries are being pushed at an incredible rate. You take Kenny for example, he won in Rio 2016 by quite a margin, but with his Gold medal time there I think he would struggle to get to the final in Tokyo 2020, such is the rate of improvement.
My philosophy is quite straight forward, I will do everything I can to make you the best athlete you will ever be. A part of that is a good analysis, a big part of it is making a good plan and after that working that plan off to the absolute maximum. Adjust and review things on a regular basis, never be afraid to change your mind, it’s often an improvement!
Realism is your friend
Sometimes coaches are the only ones who will be straight with an athlete. The family want to support, agents want to promote. But for me as a coach I’m there to talk to the athlete with 100% honesty. It’s difficult sometimes, to have those conversations but it’s worth it. Any objective, any goal no matter how big or small has my signature underneath it.
I won’t have any expectations either with the athlete, the mother, the press, whoever, that I don’t believe in. If it’s unrealistic, I’ll tell my athlete that. If they don’t like that then maybe I’m not the right guy to help them. For sure I’ll make a long term plan, especially with the younger guys when you can talk in terms of 2 Paralympic Games cycles. It gives everyone a peace of mind that the expectation levels are where they should be.
Managing the Spider’s Web
There’s nobody on Earth who wins medals alone. I learnt that lesson early on when I was working as a Physical Education Teacher. You make a school together, it’s the same in athletics, you win medals together. For sure the athlete is at the centre, but the physio, the guy doing the massage, the technicians, the nutritionists, the people in the office they’re all contributing.
When I started coaching I thought I knew everything, I had some great coaches and I thought they were doing everything all by themselves. For sure this isn’t true, the higher up you go the more people surround the athlete.
You have to make sure you manage the spider web of people connected to the athlete, that’s where the leadership part comes in. Everyone needs to know what their job is. It’s my job to make sure that everyone delivers at the right time.
The motivation part is easy. I have highly motivated boys and girls. The coaching part is making sure that the right things happen at the right time. It’s the difference between training and coaching. Everyone can do a good training. Coaching is bringing together all the different elements and making it happen when it matters.
Medals don’t come easy, but they also don’t come unexpected. It shouldn’t be a complete surprise that your athlete does what they need to do when they need to do it. If they are beaten by another athlete, OK. But if they didn’t perform to their own standards, something is wrong.
Identify with the Person, not just the Athlete
I regularly schedule a coffee with my athletes. I want to understand them as people as well as athletes. Athletes are human, their performance will be affected by life in general. If they have a death in the family, it will affect them, if they have money worries, it will affect them. Like I said coaching is the tricky part, training is the easy part. Being a good coach means knowing about these things. Actually it’s perhaps the most important part.
It can be a real challenge because not all athletes are open as other athletes. You have to spend time to improve your relationships with your athletes. Every other week I try to find a moment to speak to my athletes, to check in with them a little bit. With some athletes, it’s a 10 minute thing, with others you might be there for 2 or 3 hours! The better you get to know each other the fewer words you need to exchange.
When you identify an athlete for the first time it’s on physical grounds. They stand out as being quick, strong, whatever it may be. What you can’t see is what their parents are like, how is their character? Can they handle pressure? Do they have a temper?
What we do is run a recruitment day where talented kids can come and try out for the team. At the same time we’re identifying the parents to see what they’re like. After the try out days we give the athletes some assignments, which are close to impossible.
To test how the athlete handles the situation but also to see how the parents react. There’s basically 2 types of parents, those that get the coffee for the coach and are then in the background, and those that are actually on the track.
Your parents need to support you. Not just with money, but by being there at the competition of your child. It seems obvious but there are lots of parents nowadays who think they are too busy to go to a competition and support their child. You don’t get to see any of that when you’re on a scouting day, but it can have a huge effect on the athlete and you need to be aware of that.
If you’ve got a talented athlete who doesn’t make it, apart from injury you can be sure that an external, non-physical factor is to blame. Something from their life affecting their performance.
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