Interview with Ricardo de Freitas on Beach volleyball and Coaching in Brazil

Ricardo de Freitas is one of the most successful Brazilian coaches of the last years: he won the World Championships in 2015 and the Olympic Silver Medal in 2016 (both with Agatha/Barbara). He also won (how many?) Brazilian National Tour Titles. His father Bebeto de Freitas was a very famous and successful Volleyball player and coach.

 

Rico, let’s start with some more general questions… How popular is Beach volleyball as a Sport in Brazil? In terms of people playing, TV ratings, degree of popularity of players and sport? Is it widely considered as professional, high-performance sport?

Well, beach volleyball is a very popular sport in Brazil mostly because of hobby characteristics that the sport has during weekends all over thousands and thousands of beaches in our coasts. In the end of the 80’s and 90’s people were in love with this sport and they got in line at 4am to try to get in the stadium to see the legendary matches between the Americans, for years unbeatable, Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos (called kings of Rio) Mike Dodd, etc.. against various Brazilian players (Edinho Tinoco, Franco, Roberto Lopes, etc..). Despite its incredible history the sport stopped to develop and, except for some cities, the stands are usually not full on the Brazilian Tour and also TV broadcasting and ratings are not the same anymore.. this changes every 4 years, where Beachvolleyball is always one of the first sports to have sold out tickets in the Olympic Games. It’s something that must be asked to those who organize this sport globally, why the popularity of this sport stopped to grow even being so successful in the Olympic Games??? Something that immediately comes to my mind is of course TV broadcasting… it is a sport that doesn’t go that often internationally, and from there it’s a snowball… but for sure a study should be made to understand exactly where are the mistakes, and why this beloved Olympic sport is not stronger worldwide.

How is the situation in comparison and context with Indoor Volleyball? Is Beach volleyball like the little brother? Is there a close collaboration? Under “one roof”? Or strict separation? Are the 2 sports rivals?

Beachvolleyball is for sure (misplaced!) the ugly brother of the indoor, but not only here in Brazil, it’s worldwide…the exception are countries that don’t have a strong indoor national team. There is collaboration due to the fact that the two sports here in Brazil are under the same roof, but the preference for the indoor is clear.. not something made on purpose, but here in Brazil and I think all over the world it’s easier to sell national team indoor matches to the TV than Beachvolleyball. Personally, I don’t think they are rivals, but for sure two different sports, bringing the need to sell them to TV and internet transmissions in a complete different way (must be studied!!).

What does the formation and development of a player in general look like in Brazil? What could be the main typical steps from a young kid starting to play to becoming an Olympic Beachvolleyball Medalist?

In Brazil the big majority of players, with few exceptions, starts as indoor player, inside clubs and schools…In my opinion that is very positive because indoor brings to the players good technique and arm speed, of course we have and had great players that made the entire career on the beach (Olympic champion Sandra Pires and Olympic Silver Medalist Barbara Seixas). The problem is that here in Brazil clubs are having difficult times in the last 5 years. This is of course breaking the chain and we can see every year less new players with good level at the National Beach Tour.

For a kid to get to an Olympic Games? Hard one… of course I’m not the guy to answer that because i didn’t play Beachvolleyball internationally at high level, but no matter if the kid starts in Indoor or at the beach, the most important for me: it needs to be something you have passion for, from passion hard work becomes pleasure.. and there is no other path to an Olympic podium but the hard, hard work.

Which role does the Indoor Volleyball play? Is that a common pipeline for Brazilian Beach volleyball players? Are many players for example on Indoor youth/junior national teams? Is there a “dual” formation in Brazil?

Indoor is something like the base for young players, at least it was…and after that, they get to decide which way to go. “Problem” is that junior national teams players already have salaries in their clubs, and many of them need to help families around the country, so the choice is always not easy…what would you choose: Start to make (small) money when you are young and get to help your family or invest (big) money in your own beach volleyball career not knowing what will come out? A huge investment should be made in the Beachvolleyball in order to help young players, at least in the beginning (as it was done with Ana Patricia and Rebecca).

Let’s take a look at the international competition and the Brazilian national teams and their programs… How do you see Brazil in the international context/competition? How will it be in the future? Which dangers do you see? Which opportunities?

Brazil still plays a huge role in the sport, mostly because of its big history, titles and consistency (after 30 years of men’s World Tour Brazilian duos finished top 1 ranked 17 times and between the ladies after 27 editions top 1 ranked 23 times, with 30 World Championships podiums since the beginning in 1997) but it is something that is really changing in my opinion, and (again in my opinion) coaches have been a game changer for this. Brazilian culture of coaches started earlier than in other countries, where players were used to play more than practice, and that brought advantages to the Brazilians (after 1992, where in brazil coaches really started to be part of the team). Years ago, coaches around the world started to have a decisive role in the players’ way of understanding and playing the game and in my opinion this change brought the international level to be very similar and competitive. The future in Brazilian Beachvolleyball is not that promising as I mentioned a few lines before, not many talented young players and really big financial problems with the clubs.

Traditionally, Brazilian teams are working by themselves, supported by the NF (national teams) but mostly by private sponsors, choosing their partner, their coaches, where they train etc: could you describe the role of the NF in this?

During the season the NF doesn’t interfere with the teams’ programs of training, competitions, etc.. Coaches plan periodization, which competition to play, etc…and teams work by themselves as “clubs”. Financially it is not easy to find sponsors here in Brazil, big country, few TV transmissions… I personally used to go after sponsors by myself hundreds of times. NF has 2 roles here: to organize the Brazilian Tour (used to be 14 tournaments, now just 8) and also to support the senior national teams giving to the first 3 teams per gender very good conditions of travel. I don’t see other nations, with so many teams, having the support and structure we have in Brazil to compete in the World Tour.

Another very important factor is the national tour (Banco do Brasil): Do you believe that the “natural selection” through the competition on tour is and will always be enough to develop the next Emanuel/Alison/Larissa/Duda, in order to dominate international competition? Are there other or additional “channels of developing players” other than the national tour and the training within the private team? Do you think something like a national development/youth/junior program (on a daily training basis) will be necessary or helpful in the future? Or does it already exist?

In fact the National Tour is fundamental to develop new and amazing players, but in order to get to that level they should start somewhere, and that is the problem. The National Tour should be the middle to end of the chain, because in that level and with no support from the NF, players with no sponsor (80% of the players) have to invest money to travel (really expensive in Brazil). Young players of course now that only the firsts 5 to 6 top teams in the end will be the ones who will play the World Tour. That is what makes the young players to choose indoor rather than beach as I said before..

There is a National development team for young players, but still with not much funding…So again the option to start to get some money early in indoor and help your family is much more attractive for many than having to invest your own money for an uncertain career.

At one point, CBV had decided to centralize the system and work with national team coaches appointed by the Federation. In more and more countries this is the system used nowadays: the NF chooses the coaches, the coaches choose and develop the players. Could you tell us your opinion on the “private teams vs centralized system” issue, in general but especially under the Brazilian circumstances?

For the 2013 season Brazilian Federation tried to develop a Senior National Team program, choosing coaches who had the right to choose which players could come and also to change their original team formations. Maybe in some countries this is the best and only option (less players, less national events, etc..) but in a country like Brazil it’s impossible in my opinion. We have at least 5 to 6 strong teams per gender… how to manage that with just one responsible coach? Those teams are, in many cases, big rivals on the National Tour. It is something that doesn’t work here in Brazil, and my personal opinion is that it is not a good system in countries that have more than two Top 10 teams in the World Tour.

Private teams of course have a hard time (at least here in Brazil) because the team, if not among the three top teams in World Tour ranking, needs to invest their own money to compete internationally. But there is also something positive about it: it is something that bring a lot of value to your goals. Resuming, I’m not against the “National team lead by one head coach” system, I just don’t see it fits in a country like Brazil, or any other with more than two Top 10 teams.

If you were the main responsible for the Brazilian Beach volleyball performance now and for the future: would you try to change/adapt something concerning the coaches, coaching, working with the teams? What would that be?

I can’t complain about how the Brazilian federation is treating the Beachvolleyball coaches, of course it is not like indoor national teams’ coaches (salary, a lot more staff structure and social security as employee) but for several years now, all season plans, needs for the team during world tour, dates of travel, which hotel to stay and everything else regarding performance is discussed directly with the coaches. Those things seem to be small, but in the end they help to leave the athletes worried just about trainings and performances. I just would change the legal professional relation between coaches and NF, and for sure would try to give the same security to work as the indoor national teams’ coaches have. One easy solution could be that for the entire season a team must be linked with only one coach, giving to the NF the peace of mind to work without the fear of any changes…of course, like any other situation, there could be some force major changes, but it would simplify for sure this kind of work.

Let’s talk about the coaches and coaching itself in Brazil… Could you describe the current Beach volleyball coaches’ education in Brazil?

You can find in Brazil 2 levels of educational courses for coaches. Level 1 can work only with kids and/or young players, not allowed to be on the bench on National Senior Tour, and Level 2 can work with senior athletes and sitting on the bench at National Tour events. But besides the course, a coach is allowed to sit on the bench in two cases: Having the L2 course + being graduate at Physical Education University or having the L2 course + comporting to work with Beachvolleyball before 1998. Other than that you can make the courses but not be on court during matches.

There are some clear tendencies when you observe most of the Brazilian teams, coaches and practices: a lot of staff/assistants and high intensity practices with a lot of repetitions. Is there something such as a “Brazilian style” of training? Or some characteristics of training which most coaches/teams have in common?

Maybe there is a “school tendency” in Brazil, I can’t tell you exactly… I have some idols as coaches and, of course now I have my own style, but nobody starts without any kind of “mirror”… I started looking at some coaches styles, until I got mine. There are two or three coaches in Brazil to whom a lot of other coaches look as references, my father was one of those 🙂 🙂 🙂

During the years I think that Brazilian coaches needed to improve always more, because the responsibility on “coaches’ backs” started to grow after the“new” kind of relationship between NF and coaches… improving yourself is the only thing under our control.

Did the training style develop and change over the years? Do you see adaptions or changes coming in the near future? What is the direction or tendency?

I believe a lot in technique, and at some point I think we lost it a little as a sport… how beautiful it is and was to watch players like Misty May, Bruno Smith, Smedins, Shelda, Julius Brink, Ricardo, etc.. I think the biggest challenge for us as coaches is to unite the importance that the athletic part has nowadays with the best technique possible. This is the past, present and future! Of course there are the individual characteristics of each player and some players will not do what others do in their lifetime, but the fact that they are working hard on technique is already a way of improvement. This has been my goal since 2008 when I started as a coach.

While on the World Tour and in international Beachvolleyball (and Volleyball) it is quite common, Brazilian teams never had a foreigner as a coach. Do you believe that might change in the near future? Could it be important to get also different influences into Brazilian Beachvolleyball?

I don’t see that as on purpose…of course we have a very good school of coaches but I would not find it strange at all to see a foreign coach working here. Exchange is important for the growth of any professional, and we have a lot of very good coaches worldwide.

Taking the two “poles” Developing (of a player) and Performing (of the team), where would you range the Brazilian Coaches and Coaching style? Is there a certain age and/or level of play, where the one becomes more important than the other?

I don’t see Brazilian coaches linked more to one or another pole, I see it again more like individual styles and preferences…some coaches are more for developing young players and others are for performing. I don’t think there is an age where one becomes more important than the other. I believe that coaches have the responsibility to understand and to guide players trough the steps and if the coach clearly sees that a player with 17 years old can perform, I don’t see a problem.. before 17 even when “ready”, I still think that players should follow the youth tournaments, etc… About developing in general, there is no age at all, from my point of view developing is something continuous for players and coaches, it’s a dangerous word.;-) When we think that there is no space to grow any more in any kind of skill or knowledge, than we are open to fail!

Of course each team is different but how would you describe the usual role of the coach within a Beachvolleyball team in Brazil, in terms of hierarchy, leadership, decision-making etc?

It is not because I’m Brazilian, but I’m proud of the way of working like I do since 2008… as you said, each team has their ways, but I see here in Brazil a huge respect for hierarchy and decision making from players towards coaches. Roles are really clear, and being the “decision maker” or “leader” doesn’t mean that there is no dialog and exchange of ideas between players and coaches…I just believe that the responsibility should be with the one who leads the team’ work, and for the better performance players should focus on training and performing, dialog will always exist anyway. To be “on court” is fundamental for this position.

At the end of this interview, let’s have a look at the role of the coach during the game… On the Brazilian national Tour, the coach is allowed to be active during the game: could you describe the regulations and the also the role of the coach in the game?

National Tour coach is allowed to:

  • Call time outs (1 per set) + the technical
  • Talk after each ralley (not during)
  • Talk when switch courts
  • Talk in end of sets and timeouts

The role is really important in my opinion and takes the game to another level, pushing coaches and players to create and adapt different strategies in a short period of time.

It must be strange for Brazilian coaches on the World Tour not to be allowed at all to actively coach during the game: how does that feel?

In fact it is really strange for me, and I think also for other coaches outside Brazil who are allowed to “work” during the match in their countries. It feels incomplete in terms of what I believe that a professional coach’s work is based on…It is much easier in my opinion to be on the stands just screaming “side out”, “good job” and so on…I believe that the responsibility in my job goes a lot further than this, as coaches do in 99% of teams sports. It is an experience that makes us look for personal evolution, it’s really challenging just to image to work like this on the World Tour!!!

How is the game changing when in-game coaching is allowed? What does it to the functioning and communication of the team?

As I explained before, it’s about strategy and communication in my opinion. Once that the game begins there is nothing more to learn, it is just about understanding and communicating in the right way with your players. Seeing this mechanism working well is something that really makes me feel accomplished and complete as a professional.

Could you talk about the opportunities and dangers of in-game coaching in terms of the coaching itself: what is in your opinion helping the team? What could be contra productive?

I feel that for us coaches it is the opportunity to feel responsible also during a match and to always look for improving ourselves. I don’t think players will be more stupid or smart having the coach on court. I just think that this could bring more dynamic to the game, where strategies could be changed faster giving even more emotion to it. I don’t see nothing contra productive… Are Brazilian players better or worse than any other players because in Brazil we have the coach on court? Or Americans… It could even be a choice, players or coaches who don’t want to work like this can continue as it is nowadays. I don’t see this as the only option, I just think that this should be an option for those who want.

Do you think that in-game coaching on the FIVB World Tour would favor certain countries, team combinations or player types?

I don’t think that it would favor certain countries, of course a period of adaptation will exist, but the advantage will be defined by our WORK, as everything in the fairness of sports. Success in sport comes from hard work and doesn’t have a flag…

Our sport passed through a lot of huge rule changes during history which in the beginning were seen very critical (points per side-out, court size, net fault, etc..). What my experience tells me is that for us coaches this would represent a huge step towards recognition, professionalism, work opportunities and responsibilities towards the evolution of our sport. Hope to see that happen very soon!

Cheers!

If you are interested to read about the situation in beachvolleyball in the US in comparison, Tyler Hildebrand (Director of Coaching USAV) gave a good overview that you can read here: https://ibvca.net/2020/interview-with-ricardo-de-freitas-on-beach-volleyball-and-coaching-in-brazil/?preview=true