The interview with Simon Nausch is the last in the series of interviews with the IBVCA Coaches of the year. The austrian coach works very succesful with a czech team (Hermannova/Slukova now, Kolocova/Slukova before) and talks among many topics about his philosophy of beachvolleyball and future developments in our sport.
Over many years, you have been very successful with two different team combinations (Kolocova/Slukova and Hermannova/Slukova) what were the key elements and the mostimportant steps to reach world class level?
I think it helped that I have been many years on the tour as a semi-professional player who had not had the breakthrough. So I knew very well which approach will not work and that it can only be if the coach, management (which had to be build up over the years) and the players go into the whole project with a full commitment approach.
In Czech Republic there was some success with great players before but it was only the semi-professional way, which I refer as the way of the “old days” and my personal way, with playing indoor in the winter or having another job beside Beachvolleyball. In my first year as a coach and team manager, it was a big thing to convince my players, even the families of my players, sponsors, federation, volleyball society that we would do that full time and would create a living out of it, also the coach.
I think it was part of the success that I came into it with a vision how it could work, the players adopted these thoughts and then, by being successful we convinced one stakeholder after the other.
From the technical view I analyzed very carefully, which player and which team could be able to play which style. A style that would fit to their individual and team strengths. Key elements are for me to analyze the whole situation of a player or a team.
The physical abilities, the technical abilities, mental structure of a player and also the environment financially and logistically.
You won the IBVCA Coach of the Year Award 2018 (women’s team). Could you please describe your general coaching philosophy?
In short quotes I am strongly influenced by “work smart, not only hard” and the idea of “you never loose, you win or you learn”. Both sound like smart cheapness but actually it comes close to my view of Beachvolleyball. If you only train hard or copy what others do, you will not succeed, you have to develop an understanding why you or your team plays this or that style and why you are doing something.
The second quote about the winning says a lot about our sport: there are so many factors that influence winning and often it is not controllable by one of the players, so you have to learn that when you loose, you can take a lot of information out of it and that might help you winning in the future.
I would love that my players, once they have worked with me for some years, would be able to know the difference between controllable and uncontrollable and would understand that they can only influence one of these things in competition but even in life.
Self-responsibility and self-management are very important. My philosophy is based on getting to know yourself, show responsibility for your actions or non-actions.
The two teams that you have coached on World Class level have a similar playing style: Do you think this style of play is superior or does it depend very much on the individual athlete, how you play as a team? Would you try to play the same style with taller players for example?
I do not think that they play a similar style J . Some basic understandings are the same and one player was in both teams but even she is evolving. But I understand the question: the reason why both teams play similar in some situations or same tactics is that both teams are “smaller“ teams in comparison to the top teams. Not one of the teams had a physical dominant blocker and also in both teams the defender was not outstanding tall.
Despite these things I try always an individual approach with every player and from there I go and try to find a special style for the team.
I do not believe in or have not found the “one“ superior style, but I will keep searching J. I think that we, the coaches, have to evolve and develop new skills and styles all the time and react or predict the developments of the sport and adapt constantly in some parts.
Some parts of “my“ style would definitely fit into a new approach with taller players as well, but some parts -caused by the individuality of my current players- would be left out.
Is there a certain “CZE style” to play beachvolleyball (women and men)? Do you think there is such as “European” and “US” and BRA style how to play, and how to train? How would you describe them?
I think we will always watch, learn, copy or imitate the style that is the most successful one, no matter from which continent it started.
Brazilians always play with a lot of heart and passion and that hides that they often have a very clear and sophisticated game plan.
Americans sometimes seem to be more focused on being “cool” (especially the men teams) than on winning but also that is just a mask and they are playing with a game plan too. I do not mean that in a negative way at all.
One of the best examples for me was Jennifer Kessy: Many people watched her and for them she looked only cool with her chewing gum, the Oakley glasses on the cap and her body language but she and April -with Jeff Conover behind it- was one of the most clever teams I have coached against and observed on tour. They had up to 8 different sets, different service tactics and defense traps.
Europeans sometimes try to play “their“ system or plan too much and forget that it is a game and not a series of tactical actions on the coach’s board.
Let’s have a look at some general topics:
What are for you as a coach the most important skills that a top player must have? Which are the characteristics you need as a blocker player and as a defender player? Is there a perfect combination for a beachvolleyball team?
I very much believe in a step by step development of the players and that one area feeds the other one. So it starts somehow with technical and physical skills which have to be developed to a certain degree before you can even start to teach the mental and tactical skills you need on the top level.
I actually test my players at self-developed bench marks in the physical and technical areas and once they have reached the benchmarks, we do not focus to increase these ones significantly but focus then more on the tactical and mental part and philosophy of the game.
I think once you meet the benchmarks that the other top teams are bringing on the table as well, the understanding to use these skills -and do so at the right moment- are more deciding about winning or loosing than a dominant physic.
But I am not saying that this is the only way and maybe that came along with the players I was coaching until now.
About the Blocker : For me it goes along with the things I just mentioned. A blocker who is a great force at the net but cannot set or receive will not bring the qualities I need to build up a great team. That would be the technical skills. But a blocker who will not understand mentally that a lot of his or her actions are only to get the opponent into a problematic situation and instead is focused on his/her kill block points has not understood the philosophy of the game. So for me it is the same system, he or she has to bring certain physical and technical qualities that allow her or him to be a blocker and from there we would develop the understanding and mental armor to be a good blocker or net worker.
About the Defender : Defending in Beachvolleyball has more to do with reading the game than with speed. For me a defender has to be able to read the game or has to be able to execute the tactics that a team decides before a game. Calmness in the attack after a defense is a big factor too. Teaching defending techniques once you are at the ball is a big factor of my focus. Nearly everyone can be fast on the two or three meters the defenders have to overcome to get a ball but the main factor is what they do once they are at the ball.
If you look at the 4 “pillars” Technique/ball control, Tactics/decision-making (including court vision), Athletic ability, mental strength: How would you see their importance in the work of a World Tour coach? Is there generally a big difference in coaching top performance level and junior/development level??
I do not think that there is such a big difference as we might think it is. One big factor is that on the professional level we spend naturally much much more time with the players and are getting more into detail. But I have coached players in courses or camps on the amateur level and semi-professional level and it is interesting that they often struggle with same problems that pro players struggle with. So to a certain degree I would use the same measurements on junior or development level that I use with pro players. Then as you go deeper into the topics it naturally won’t be possible that you go into topics like court vision or mental strength with hobby players or junior players. But once again: on the fundamental level I would try to teach the players the same way.
How did the game develop in your eyes in the last 10-15 years?
One thing is for sure: the first ball sideout percentage has been decreased dramatically in men’s and women’s. Due to the development of the coaching, the statistics and the professional approach and more and more physical big blockers and players. The game is much more about scoring when you are at the serve now. But when it is about the fundamental requirements, the fact that you need a high resilience in mental aspects and have to be a volleyball player who can do all the things and is willing to do all the things that a volleyball game requires, the game has not changed much.
What are for you the main differences between women’s and men’s game? Did this change in the last 10 years? How will it be in 10 years from now?
I think, you have to be empathic to be women’s coach and you have to understand that fear or pressure is shown by emotions, mostly crying or doubting themselves in women’s sport. While on the men’s side, similar feelings might be expressed by pretending to be “cool“ or by being angry and aggressive.
Technically I think the physical explosiveness in the men’s sport will always play a role in the difference between the two genders. In general, I was often orientating my coaching style on the men’s game. So, if there was something new it often took just a little bit longer until the women’s game took it over. One example would be the hard driven ball in attacking. The percentage in women’s Beachvolleyball is still lower than in men’s Beachvolleyball, but compared to 15 years ago in women’s it has become a “must“ ball on the top level. The service game I would say, the women side is more advanced and men’s Beachvolleyball is less creative as the big blockers are more dominant and often you do not want to put the other team in “out of system attack”. So that is for sure a difference, in women’s Beachvolleyball you try to put the other team “out of system” with the service and in men’s you might not even try it as you want to have your blocker in the right, expected position.
Let’s talk about the job and the role of the coach: You are very active in the Coaches association IBVCA. Can you tell us something about the goals of IBVCA?
I think we all started to do it to help developing the sport and our profession. We are the top of the pyramid of coaches. The small 2 % or maybe a little bit more who have been successful enough to be coaches in a fulltime position. Many of us have been in this sport already a decade before becoming a professional coach. I think our main goal was to strengthen our position as a communicative and cooperative asset for the other stakeholders. Not to use our knowledge and experience would be a loss for the sport. On the other hand, we have to be very careful that our position is understood in the right way. Much of our work is unseen from the outside and also the importance of having a coach on professional top level is often not understood. I think we are on the right way and it is the only way for us coaches but also for the sport.
How do you see the development of the role of the coach for a beachvolleyball team in the last 10-20 years?
I think a top team cannot exist without a coach anymore. 15 years ago, top players could coach themselves and could deal with the pressure of the game alone. Today I think the definition of a coach is that it is a person with different perspective. Without this third person with this different perspective you cannot develop your game anymore. So sometimes players or also others might have the feeling that coaches think or present themselves as very important. Yes, I see my input as essential for the career of my players but my players know that I have the deepest respect for this definition of the “third person” with the different perspective, next to the players. It is not about the “person Simon Nausch”. It’s about a third person with different perspective and with expert knowledge.
Would “coaching on the court” be a big change for the game? What would change?
I think it would be a big change but just as big of a change as it was that all teams have statistics today and are working with different coaches and tactic plans. What I am trying to say is: the best players who have the best developed skills of self-regulation on the court and will find the quickest answers to the tasks of a game situation will still win.
I think we should not change into such an active coaching , that the coach can speak or give commands during the rally or into the game. But I think an approach with coaching possibilities in the time-out and the side change could be an interesting evolution. Players or others who are against it should think back in time: Ten years ago maybe many players or coaches were saying that the detailed statistics and the tactic plans are betrayal of the idea of Beachvolleyball but nowadays 99 % of the top teams are using these tools. I think it would be the same with coaching on the court. Maybe it is a big and emotional topic now but in five years it would be seen as a normal tool like the referee, statistics, video challenge.