The Polish Beachvolleyball System – Interview with Spiros Karachalios

Spiros Karachalios works with the Polish National Teams in a centralized system. IBVCA has conducted a series of interviews with coaches that work in such systems compared to more individual approaches that were favored until 2016 by many teams. Read here what Spiros has to say about the advantages and disadvantages of centralized systems in general and the situation in Poland.

Spiros, you are working as a national team for the Polish federation. And of course you are 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)?

Briefly, the men’s Polish BV national team consists from 2 groups at the moment. In addition Polish Federation supports a beach volleyball school for the development of youth / junior players and national teams. Group A (Olympics) : 2 teams / 2 coaches. Goal for this group is the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Group B (Intermediate)  6-8 athletes / 2 coaches Group B is a mixture from older experienced players with younger players that graduated from the Polish beach volleyball high school. Goal for this group is to further develop the players, make the transition step from junior to senior volleyball for the younger players and finally prepare potential players/teams that could join Group A in future.

Staff : Physiotherapists / Physical Trainers / Scout / Mental Trainer etc. There is a group of professionals supporting the above 2 groups.

Polish Beach Volleyball School : High school that is working with another group of coaches and selected kids, from which will be built the youth / junior national teams. Graduates from this school are being selected for Group B.

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?

Obviously there are some advantages and some risks or limitations, which have to do with the specific conditions of each NF system. In my opinion it also depends from which perspective you are looking on this, federation, coach or player? In general I would say that such systems usually provide better financial support, better conditions, better opportunities. Another advantage I can see is that in such NF systems you can have better long term planning for the national teams. On the other hand such systems with different coaches / teams are much more complicated and there is always the risk to be less efficient in individualization of athletes/teams.

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?

Definitely it depends on the circumstances and as well on the perspective. In general I don’t believe in ideal systems as each project has different characteristics, probably also different objectives. In my opinion this diversity is what makes coaching so interesting. At the end, a good system is the one that each member is aware of his/her specific tasks / responsibilities and is trying daily to maximize his/her efficiency in order to achieve common goals.

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?

For me it’s quite clear actually. In systems that NFs are covering all costs and players are contracted from the federations, NF/sport director/coaches should be making the decisions about the nomination/selection/participation of THEIR players/teams. However teams that are not part of the federation program should be allowed to play in tournaments according to their ranking points. It’s important for the growth of our sport that there is a clear way to compete and develop, even if for some reason you are not part of your NFs system, and that’s through ranking points. We need more tournaments and better structure and that’s the real issue here.

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?

Certainly coaches can work together and even be a team. You need to be cooperative and build trust and the right communication with your colleagues. In addition you must be open to learn from them and share your knowledge. I don’t believe that you need to have exactly the same philosophy. Actually it’s even better for the system that every coach has something different to offer. In my opinion your philosophy is developing with the time and according to your experiences. What is important for me is that after interacting with each other, finally more or less you have to be on the same page when you are working together with the same project/teams. In such big systems it’s essential to have a head coach that is responsible for the final decisions and communicates/works with the federation about the development of the system.

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?

Pros and cons can vary from system to system. Some pros in a NF system can be bigger job stability, more options/athletes/teams that you can work with and usually better conditions to do your job than private teams. Obviously the position and the role of the coach is much stronger in such systems and I think that’s a big plus from many aspects. Biggest cons can be in general all political things that you have to deal with federations, bureaucracy for everything and sometimes not manageable load of work. As far as it concerns the personalities, I think it depends more on the role that you can have in a NF system or the type of private team that you have to coach. In few words selection of personality should be in accordance with the specific project. In general you need to be more “team player” to fit in a NF system, and also have good managing and organizational skills as you have to deal with much bigger groups.

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?

Definitely individualization is an important success factor in our sport and at the same time in most cases there is a common/shared philosophy of playing and coaching in a NF system. It’s always challenging how this can be compatible. In my opinion the first step is to select people that can fit in this common/shared philosophy. In any case I don’t treat this common/shared philosophy as the Bible, I would say it’s more the base that you built your system. For sure you have to be able to make adjustments according to players/coaches characteristics in order to develop the system and be successful. These is no magic solution, but smaller groups inside the big system and more individual sessions with athletes/teams can create space for more individualization. Of course it can never be as working only with one team but the task here is to get to a level that you can achieve your goals.