‘I see myself as an employee of the athlete, my job is to get the athlete better.’ Jorden Bres – Olympic S & C coaches interviewed Episode 22

Olympic Strength & Conditioning Coach Jorden Bres has made an incredible career from working with junior athletes at the beginning of his career to high-level athletes, including Olympic Champions and World Champions in the last years. Jorden started his professional career as a sports instructor when he made the decision to invest his own resources. into his education to become a Strength & Conditioning Coach. Jorden not only shares his top tips and pieces of pieces of advice, but also

Christian: In this interview, I’m joined by one of my colleagues, Jorden Bres. Jorden is a strength and conditioning (S & C) coach, who over the years made a successful transition from working as a junior S&C coach supporting youth athletes to working with very high-level athletes. Jorden provided strength & conditioning support to Epke Zonderland, Olympic Champion 2012, and who dominated the sport of gymnastics for literally two to three years, winning the World Championship, Olympic Games and the European Championships. Jorden has also worked with Olympic medalists in speed skating, World Champions in Judo and is a successful trainer of personal trainers, where he brings principles of strength and conditioning into personal training.

Welcome Jorden.

Jorden: Thank you. Nice to finally be here.

Jorden’s way into strength & conditioning

Christian: Jorden, how did you get into strength and conditioning?

Jorden: It’s now a long time ago, but I did judo myself and besides that, I did a lot of strength training myself, just because I liked it. At that time, I read all the Muscle & Fitness magazines from the ’80s and the ’90s. I copied all the programs, got injured and I learned from that.

I read all the Muscle & Fitness magazines from the ’80s and the ’90s. I copied all the programs, got injured and I learned from that.

Up until now, I still like strength training, it gives me a lot of motivation, and relaxation. When I quit Judo due to an injury, I was thinking that I wanted to do more in the field of strength training, strength and conditioning, or whatever you want to call it. I have always had contact with high-level athletes, some of which are friends of mine now or some are people I trained with. I’ve always liked the dedication of high-performance athletes, the motivation and the drive and the perseverance.

I was asking myself the question, “What am I going to do now?” At that time I was working at the military as a sports instructor, and I came in contact with other people who said, “Why are you not going to look at the field of S&C working with high-level athletes?” And that got me thinking. I trained with him a few times with Henk Grol, the famous judoka from Holland, and I asked him, “Who’s doing the strength training for you?” And he got me in contact with his strength and conditioning coach.

At that moment I was thinking “Okay, what am I going to do after the military?” And my girlfriend said “Just go, call the S & C coaches and go visit them, travel to see them and visit their training to gain experience. It will cost us money, but if this is what you want to do, go for it.” Then I contacted the coaches and I did a lot of traveling all around Holland. But the coach really got me hooked, he could talk about the field of S&C with a lot of passion, and I learned a lot of things from him. I invested more than a year visiting him and his athletes every week and then he asked me the question, “We need somebody next to me. Is it something for you?”

I did a lot of traveling all around Holland. But the coach really got me hooked, he could talk about the field of S&C with a lot of passion, and I learned a lot of things from him.

I didn’t have to think about it and I said: “Yes, that’s what I want to do.” It was certainly not for the salary, because it was not a lot of money. It actually did cost me money, but I did it in combination with another job, where I was teaching young kids sports. That was the starting point of how I came into the field S & C.

Jorden’s darkest moment

Christian: So as an S&C coach what was your darkest moment?

Jorden: That’s still a little bit hard to talk about. If you know what it takes for an athlete and how long it takes for this one moment of fame; talking about one moment, my darkest moment was at Rio Olympics 2016.

If you know what it takes for an athlete and how long it takes for this one moment of fame, …

After Epke’s [Zonderland] success at the London Olympic Games, he got two times World Champion and European Champion, a lot of success, and then towards Rio he had a lot of injuries, really bad injuries. And after all these injuries, in the last two months, he got fit again and all seemed all really good. And then 1 hour and a half before the Olympic final, he got injured again in the warming up. However, he started in the final, and all seemed to be good, but then he fell off the bar. That moment was a dark moment, one of the darkest moments, because I think he was capable to get a medal again.

All seemed to be good, but then he fell off the bar. That moment was a dark moment, one of the darkest moments.

Especially for him, I felt so sad. And to be honest, I had some tears in my eyes, when I was watching it. Especially for him, working so hard for 4 years. And that was similar with a few athletes for the Judo squad, Henk Grol, Dex Elmont, Kim Polling. We had hoped for a few medals for them, and then it didn’t happen. So yes, thinking about the darkest moments, those were the darkest moments.

Christian: Yes, I can relate to that. At the Rio Olympics, some of my athletes did really well, but some of them performed below expectations, and especially below their own expectations. They went there to medal, and they ended up not doing it. That was tough to see.

Also, leading up to the Rio Olympic Games, some athletes didn’t qualify. They worked so hard for it and they didn’t qualify at the last minute. It’s tough for the coach to see.

Jorden: Yes, it’s really tough, really tough moments.

Christian: Did you learn anything from these moments? How has it influenced your life now?

Jorden: I’ve learned, when we have a big tournament like European’s, World’s or Olympics, and one of the athletes I’m training doesn’t do well the way you are hoping or predicting before, you can only evaluate. The first thing I do is, I evaluate my own work and what I did working up to that moment. That’s what I always did, I’m always critical of myself.

If one of the athletes I’m training doesn’t do well, you can only evaluate. The first thing I do is to evaluate my own work.

What did I learn? I think what we both know from working with high-level athletes, that in competition, it can only take a split second. It can all be over in a split of a second.

You know that, but at that moment and it’s still so tough. Even though you know, it’s still hard to deal with, and I think that’s why we feel so strongly with our athletes. And yes, what are you learning from that? It can be very tough sometimes, it can be very, very hard and so cruel. I think a lot of people from outside don’t understand that you have to see it and you have to feel it.

I think a lot of people from outside don’t understand that you have to see it and you have to feel it. And like I said, when Epke fell, I was crying on the couch. Try to explain it to somebody from the outside.

And like I said, when Epke fell, I was crying on the couch. I was literally crying. Try to explain it to somebody from the outside. It’s hard to understand, and I really don’t know how to describe ít, but it’s hard.

Jorden’s best moment

Christian: Well, what’s your best moment?

Jorden: My best moment by far the was Epke’s gold medal at the London Olympics 2012. It became really famous what he did over there because he did something that has never been done before in Gymnastics. He took the risk, and he did it. I get goosebumps, just talking about it. That was one of the most beautiful moments that I had. And I had cried again, but this time out of joy.

It became really famous what he did over there because he did something that has never been done before in Gymnastics. He took the risk, and he did it.

And besides his Olympic success, when he became a World Champion for the first time in 2013. Another beautiful moment was with Margot Boer, one of the speed-skaters, when she got the bronze medal in the 500m and 1000m races. But besides that, when an athlete gets the success he or she wants, that are always good moments. That’s what you’re working for, that’s what you’re doing it for.

What advice would he give a younger Jorden Bres

Christian: What advice would you give your younger self?

Jorden: My younger self, that’s a difficult one. Speaking for myself, I do everything out of passion and I think that’s one of the most important things. You need to have it and to do it with passion in our field. As an S&C coach, you must have a lot of passion, because it’s a 24/7 job.

I do everything out of passion, you need to have it because it’s a 24/7 job.

That’s a hard question. I really don’t know what else to say. But I wouldn’t change anything I did.

I would tell my younger self, do it out of passion and always do it with the best intention for the best of the athletes. I think that’s what I’ve learned from the past and that’s what I took with me. So yes, now I can say I got the experience from 10 or 12 years and that made me a better coach, I think.

Christian: I had an interview with Alex Torokhtiy and also Mark Tuitert and both of them also said, that they wouldn’t change anything. I personally would add to keep going and believe in yourself.

Jorden’s advice to young and aspiring S & C coaches

Christian: If a young aspiring S&C coach comes up to you and wants to break into the S & C industry, what would you say? What advice would you give him/her?

Jorden: You’re already starting to smile. You know me as a practical guy and one of my quotes that I always say is “practice what you preach.” A few weeks ago I gave a seminar and then one of the trainers asked me, “What is the best education you’ve had?” I said, “My best education is the work in the field. Train your ass off. You don’t have to be a World Champion Powerlifter. You don’t have to be a world champion Olympic lifter. You don’t have to be a bodybuilder with 4 percent body fat. That’s not important. But you have to lift.”

A trainer asked me “What is the best education you’ve had?” I said, “My best education is the work in the field.”

And because you’re working daily with high-level athletes you have to feel what they are doing. You can write the most beautiful papers, where it says you have to do 4-6 reps of this and this weight, but if you see an athlete doing squats, for example, and you see after two reps that it’s not going well and the paper says now you have to do 4-6 and they get injured by that 3 to 4 reps, then you have a problem. If you have a lot of experience in lifting, you can see and feel what the athlete is feeling. Then you can tell the athlete after the second rep to put the bar away and it’s done. So I think that’s one of the things, that I would give to younger aspiring S&C coach “Train a lot yourself.” And besides that, go to S&C coaches, who have worked a long time with high-level athletes, who got medals at European Championships, World Championships, and the Olympics, and ask them, just ask, ask, ask as many questions as you have. I think that’s one of the best ways that you can learn. From an education, this is one of the main points, and you have to read a lot, you have to go to seminars or to clinics.

Christian: I’ve known you for a few years now, and I know you have heavily invested in continuing education, in time and financial resources as well. Would you recommend that as well to young coaches?

Jorden:  Yes, I haven’t finished learning yet and still continue my education. In the beginning, it’s really going to cost you a lot of money, but if you do it well then it will pay off.

But that’s what I mean, outside the work in the field, you have to invest in yourself because if you don’t you will stand still. And if you stand still, it’s not going to bring you anything. As you said, I have always invested in myself, and this is what I still do. As an example, two months ago I went to Canada for a seminar for 3 days to continue investing and to keep educating myself. Also, my athletes will demand that from the staff around them. It doesn’t matter; whatever aspect of performance you’re talking about, it’s about continually growing.

You have to invest in yourself because if you don’t you will stand still. And if you stand still, it’s not going to bring you anything, it’s about continually growing.

More countries are coming to the high-performance sport, and it’s going to be difficult to be at the highest level. So as an S&C coach you always have to keep educating yourself.

Christian: I think that’s a good point, that you always want to be up-to-date with the latest developments.

Jorden’s coaching philosophy

Christian: What’s your coaching philosophy?

Jorden: I have some philosophies, one of my coaching philosophy is to do the basics well. That’s where it all starts, the basics should be right, and from that, you’re going to build and you’re going to continue.

You need to do the basics well, that’s where it all starts.

Another coaching philosophy is, that you need to get the job done. You need to do what’s on the paper. That doesn’t mean, that sometimes you need to adjust an exercise or you have to skip a set or you have to skip some reps, you always have to be able to adjust, but the job needs to get done.

You need to get the job done.

We also spoke about the field of S&C, and how we see ourselves. We see ourselves more as artists, not as scientists. There’s a lot of scientific research and we keep ourselves up-to-date with the latest research. But if you look at what happens in our field, sometimes it doesn’t match with the scientific research, and that’s what I like about our field and that’s why we sometimes call ourselves artists. You have to jump in on what’s happening in the gym and you have to be creative and flexible to find solutions at the moment. That’s one of the important things.

We see ourselves more as artists, not as scientists. If you look at what happens in our field, sometimes it doesn’t match with the scientific research, sometimes you have to be creative and flexible to find solutions at the moment.

Christian: And when you say get the basics right, what would you say are the basics?

Jorden: First, you need to move right. If you don’t move right and there’s a big change, you cannot progress to the next level. I don’t want an athlete to get injured in my session, because of something I didn’t do well. For example, if I didn’t screen the movement patterns well.

So first, look at how they move and ask yourself, “Are they capable to do some of the basic lifts? Are they capable to do a regular Back Squat?” If they don’t then look for regression forms and that’s the same for all the exercises. So that’s what I mean with basics.

Jorden’s core values

Christian: What are your core values as a coach?

Jorden: Yes, I have a few points. You have to be on time. You have to have all your clothing done. Rules are rules. The program is the program, again as I mentioned before, that doesn’t mean that we can’t adjust some things, but in the grand scheme of things, the program has to be done and the athlete has to get the job done.

You have to be on time, you have to have all your clothing done, rules are rules and the program is the program.

As an example from my current work with Judokas, in the end, they have to go on the Tatami,  the judo mat, I don’t have to go on the mat, therefore I have to prepare them. So ultimately they have to do the job, therefore we’re going to talk about the program and if they think maybe it’s better to change this or a change that, then we discuss it and I might do that. But with younger athletes, it’s more directive and I tell them “You have to do this or that. Don’t do this.” I’m very clear about what needs to get done.

Which person has influenced Jorden Bres most 

Christian: Which person has influenced you the most and why?

Jorden: That’s a good one. I’ve seen many people in the past 10, 12 years but I think one of the most influential persons is my girlfriend. She doesn’t know s*** about the field of S&C. She can train herself. I write programs for her, but this is more kind of personal training. She has always motivated me and has stimulated me to follow my passion. She really showed me, that this was my passion and helped me to understand, that this was and is what I wanted to do. She always said “No, travel. Although it’s going to cost us money, just do it. If this is what you want, just follow your heart.” She has always stimulated me even up until this day. So yes, she’s very important for me.

One of the most influential persons is my girlfriend, she has always motivated me and has stimulated me to follow my passion.

And besides that, if we’re talking about S&C coaches, I still think it’s Charles Poliquin. Sadly, he passed away a few months ago. I’ve met him a few times, and I’ve got a lot of thanks to him because he got me to think about a lot of things. Although there are things I don’t agree with from him, he showed me, that hard work pays off with him. If you want to get a gold medal at the Olympics, you have to work your ass off. It’s that simple, he had me thinking about a lot of things.

If you want to get a gold medal at the Olympics, you have to work your ass off. It’s that simple.

In all those years you meet a lot of people, and if we are talking about our field and then I think we could talk for a day. And I think that’s, one of the most important things, that you learn from each other. So yes, in all of those years, you meet a lot of people. And in the beginning when you start you meet one person and then you think “Okay, that’s it.” You’ve got a tunnel vision, but over the years you see, there are other people with good ideas and then your tunnel vision gets broader and you start to develop your own philosophy.

Christian: That’s really what I’ve seen with you over the years. When you started your education with Charles Poliquin, you were pretty much “That’s how it has to be.” Over the years, you have gained a lot of respect from me, when you started to developed your own coaching philosophy. Even though I think you’ve taken a lot of things from him, you are very different now than 6 years ago when you were just learning from him. I think a lot of things, Charles Poliquin did were good, however, I believe it’s important to have your own coaching philosophy.

Jorden: Exactly. That’s what you need to ask, and that’s what I mentioned previously when we spoke about when we talked about the young, aspiring S&C coaches. Don’t just look at one person, there are a lot of good S&C coaches; there are a lot of good trainers. So from all of these coaches, pick something to learn and develop your own coaching philosophy.

Don’t just look at one person, there are a lot of good S&C coaches, so from all of these coaches, pick something to learn and develop your own coaching philosophy.

Christian: Yes, I agree with that.

How to convince your athletes

Christian: When we’re talking about coaching athletes. Many times an athlete has an idea of what’s best for them, but that’s not always what the coach thinks is best for the athlete. You want to bring across what you think is best, but the athlete might have a different opinion. How do you deal with that?

Jorden: That’s what I like because it means the athlete is thinking about his own program. And if the athlete wants to develop himself [or herself], then he [or she] needs to think about their own projects.

I see myself as an employee of the athlete, my job is to get the athlete better.

Secondly, I see myself as an employee of the athlete, my job is to get the athlete better. So I don’t see me as their boss, but much rather see the athlete as a boss, because the athlete has to do the job. So, if an athlete disagrees with something, I start talking to the athlete, “Why do you think that? Tell me more. Explain to me, what you think, I want to learn from you.” And that gives me an option to give my philosophy.

I’m not a coach who’s going to say we’re going to do it my way, because that’s not going to work. But if I think that my philosophy is better for the athlete, I’m going to try to convince him [or her]. If he still just does not want to do some of the things, then I’m not going to say I’m not going to do that, no, because he still has to do the job. So I think it’s about cooperation. We need to cooperate and try to get the best for the athlete, and talking a lot with the athlete is a really important thing.

How to deal with decisions you don’t agree with

Christian: In a team, most of the times, we are more people than just coaches, athletes, and S&C coaches. Everyone has his own opinion on things, and sometimes there are conflicting opinions. How do you deal with that? What’s your thought process if a decision is taken and you’re not in full agreement? What do you do?

Jorden: I think it’s the same as you would do with an athlete. First, you’re going to talk and try to convince, in this case, the head coach. You’re going to try to convince him, why his meaning might not be the correct meaning. I try to convince him, and if he doesn’t want to change, then I am still there for the athlete. And I’m not going to talk with the athlete about it, I’m not going to tell the athlete “Your coach is thinking this and I’m thinking that, and I don’t think it’s good for you, etc.” Because then I think you’re going to create trouble, which is the last thing you want. That’s not our profession and we need to stay away from that.

I try to convince him, and if he doesn’t want to change, then I am still there for the athlete.

So let us be clear,  I had these difficulties in the past with a few coaches, and then you try to convince them and if you can’t convince them, you have to adjust little things and be flexible. But I still keep in mind that I am there for the athlete, to make him better. Do not involve the athlete, let the athletes stay out of it, so they can focus on their jobs.

Do not involve the athlete, let the athletes stay out of it, so they can focus on their jobs.

Christian: Yes, I agree with that. I think one of the core philosophies or core values, for me, is the athlete needs to be confident in that what we’re doing is the best for them, and if there is any conflict somewhere, we need to sort it out ourselves and not involve the athlete.

Jorden: Well, you see it many times, when we as staff and the athletes enter a big tournament, they’re going to get nervous, Because there’s more tension and then some coaches are starting to get doubtful. And then sometimes you hear “We have to change this and we have to change that?” In these moments I say “Keep calm, trust the process and continue.” but it’s difficult sometimes.

A typical day in the life of a strength & conditioning coach

Christian: In the life as an S&C coach, how does a typical training day look like?

Jorden: As I told you before, it’s a 24/7 job and in my job, I start at 7:15, so my alarm goes off at 5:15, I step in the car by 6:00 and I’ve been doing that for many years so I’ve gotten used to it. I start early with training and then I think my sessions go straight until noon. Then I take a break for myself for 30 minutes or an hour, because mentally you need to have some rest.

You have so many athletes and you need to stay focused for the athletes, so it costs a lot of energy. And after 1:00, it depends. I’ve got a session with the staff, a physiotherapist, with a coach or whatever, talking about the athletes, the training, that can be different topics.

And when I write programs, I do that in the afternoon. We’ve spoken many times before about it, I think we are artists, writing programs is a creative process. Writing programs is one of the most important things, and I want to time and silence for that. Most often I will do it at home, and I sit upstairs in the office, close the door to completely shut off and then writing programs.

And sometimes my girlfriend comes upstairs and says, “What the f*** are you doing? It’s a mess over here. All papers and…”, etc. And I would say, “Yes, I have to make a program for this and this athlete.” And then she starts to smile and says, “Okay. I know what you’re doing. I go downstairs again. See you in a few hours.”

All in all, not every day is the same.

How to design a training program

Christian: If you design the training program for the athlete, how do you do that? Take us through the thought process.

Jorden: I try to keep it basic, if we’re talking about high-level athletes who prepare for the World Championships, for example, what I do is to count backward. Start with the most important moment, so let’s say the World Championships in 2019 and then we’re going to count back until the event.

In steps, we count back from the main event to where we’re starting now, we to look at how many months we have, how many weeks we have and then we look at what kind of tournaments we are going to do work up to the main event and where are the training camps.

We divide that into pieces, we make macrocycle, and within those macrocycles, we divide them into mesocycles and micro cycles, all working up to the main event. In the process, we always have to be able to adjust. And I always make it visual for the athlete to understand and showcase what we are going to do.

And again, you always have to be flexible and make adjustments. Maybe there’s going to be an injury, maybe we have to go to a next tournament to try out new techniques, maybe we have to skip a tournament and we have a longer preparation period. These are all things, you might have to adjust, but in big lines, we’re going to work it out and then divide it into smaller periods from macrocycles to mesocycles to micro cycles.

Jorden’s interview nomination

Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Jorden: I think it’s very interesting to nominate Epke. I think it’s very nice to get an interview with him. He is a very interesting person and has a lot of things to tell. I think a lot of athletes can learn from him; how he devotes his time to be a high-level athlete for so long. I think it ’s terrific, what he has achieved. And he is such a nice person.

Christian: Thanks, Jorden.

Jorden: Thanks.

Where can you find Jorden Bres

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