Interview with Martin Olejnak about the Beach Volleyball Program in Germany

Martin Olejnak is a longtime FIVB Coach. After a coaching Schwaiger/Schwaiger for almost a decade Martin worked for the Polish National Team and is now Head Coach in Hamburg for the German National Team program. In this interview he describes his view on national federation programs in general and the system in germany in particular.

Martin, you are working as head coach for Germanys Mens Beachvolleyball National Team, aiming at winning medals in international competitions with your national beachvolleyball program. Let’s start with some general questions… Can you quickly describe the structure of the NFs project that you are working in at the moment (number of teams, number of coaches, form of organization etc)?

We started the 4 years period with 4 teams (or 8 players), 2 coaches. In our olympic center in Hamburg there are also other members of staff like athletic coach, physiotherapist, sport psychologist our athletes work with. Each athlete is nominated  generally for one season. For the last 2 years of olympic period we work with “only” 3 teams where 2 teams should qualify for the olympic games and 1 team is a kind of “back up”.

All the staff is paid by federation or olympic center. Players get from federation a budget for covering training camps and tournaments but this budget doesn’t cover all the costs. Players don’t get any salary by federation but as national team players have the opportunity to become army sportsmen and are paid by the army.

What are the advantages of a big NF system which includes several teams and coaches hired and paid by the NF? What are the risks or limitations of such a system?

I think the biggest advantage is the possibility for young talented players or teams to get faster to top level without financial pressure. The whole “NF system” staff players work with has much more quality than what players were able to afford by them self like a private project. I can see the biggest risk if you have some one in the team who is not willing to team work.

Is it even possible to speak of an “ideal” system or does it depend too much on the circumstances and maybe as well on the perspective: ideal system for the player? Ideal system for the coach(es), ideal system for the NF? Ideal system for the performance of a team? Ideal system for the performance of a country?? Your thoughts!

In my opinion an “ideal” system in Europe could be similar to the German one with the difference that there would be one coach per team. The other conditions could stay the same ones like Germans have right now. I used to be part of another NF system in Poland where players got covered all costs and paid salary by federation (but I think it changed already).It was to much “for free services” and players couldn’t appreciate what they have. In German system I think players feel much more responsibility.

One big question/issue is obviously the nomination/selection of players and teams: who should be part of the NF program? Who will play in which tournaments? The two extremes here are “all decision power to NF/coaches” on the one and “ranking points” on the other hand: what are your thoughts on this? What is the “right” solution?

It depends on the country. In Poland started beach volleyball with the NF system from the beginning. They don’t know other situation and every one accepts that the teams are nominated by NF or coach. In Germany the NF system is running since 2017. Before 2017 players got used the ranking  decided about who is playing a tournament.

The spots for each country according to the FIVB belong to NF and in my opinion NF has the right to nominate the teams. An example from tennis: The players for Davis Cup are nominated by NF and not by ranking points.

Let’s have a closer look at the coaches and the coaching in such a NF system…To which degree can these coaches work together or even be a “team”? What is necessary for such a collaboration? Do all coaches need to have the same philosophy? Do you need a “leader” who makes the big and final calls?

The most important think for good collaboration is the team work. You don’t have to have the exactly same philosophy. There is a big advantage in such a team, you have a partner to exchange your thoughts and ideas. Sooner or later you will find a common philosophy. If not one has to be gone. For the big calls is in a NF system one more position needed: sports director.

For each coach as an individual, what are the pros and cons of working in a NF system? Which coach personality is fitting better in a NF system, which is suited better for a “private” team project? Does it maybe also depend on the phase of their career they are currently in?

I feel well working in a NF system and don’t want to think why it should be better in a private project.

Are “common/shared philosophy” of playing and coaching on the one hand and “individualization” (which is usually considered an important success factor in high-performance sport) on the other hand compatible? Or is this a common dilemma for any NF project? What can be done to solve this?

On the one hand there are some basic principles you believe in (for example how to receive the serve) and that should be shared as common philosophy in your team, on the other hand there are no 2 same persons. Every one is unique, has different strengths and weaknesses. And that’s the part for individual treatment.

Further reading:

You might want to read this interview with Spiros Karachalios about the polish system: https://ibvca.net/2020/the-polish-beachvolleyball-system-interview-with-spiros-karachalios/

Or the interview with Sebastian Beck about the SWISS system: https://ibvca.net/2020/interview-with-sebastian-beck-about-the-swiss-national-federation-program/#more-43