‘Better people make better athletes.’ Victor Anfiloff – Olympic coaches interviewed Episode 20
Victor Anfiloff shares the story of how he wanted to pursue his childhood dream of qualifying for the Olympic Games. This childhood dream didn’t come true, as an athlete, but years later as a coach, where he coached an athlete to 2 Olympic Games. Victor describes how he believes, that the fear of failure is a detriment to finding one’s highest potential.
In this interview we discuss
- His darkest moment
- His best moment
- What advice would he give his younger self
- His coaching philosophy
- How he extracts the maximum out of someone
- His core values
- What does innovation means for him
- Which person has influenced and impacted him most as a coach and why
- How he manages a team
- How to create alignment
- Has been an athlete helped him as a coach
- His view on motivation vs. discipline
- How he chooses his support staff
- How does a typical day in the life of a technical director look like
- His view on the impact of digitalization in high-performance sports
- Who he nominates to be interviewed
Christian: Today I’m joined by Victor Anfiloff. Victor has been nominated by David Jones in a previous interview. Victor has missed the Olympic Games as an athlete in beach volleyball. After that moved on to become Head Coach of the Dutch Women’s Beach Volleyball team in the Olympic cycle towards the London 2012 Olympics, later Performance Manager for the Dutch Beach Volleyball Team, Technical Director of Beach Volleyball Australia, and now Technical Director Badminton Netherlands. Before his role as a Head Coach for the Dutch Women’s Beach Volleyball Team, he has led his own Beach Volleyball school in Australia.
Victor: Thank you, Christian. It’s great to be here.
Victor’s darkest moment
Christian: In your life as an athlete or coach, what was your darkest moment?
Victor: I think that every coach and athlete probably has a long list of dark moments.
Sometimes in sports, you’ll have a fantastic experience but you also have a lot of deep holes. In the year 2000, I was trying to qualify for the Sydney Olympics. I had played International volleyball for 4 years and we had spent the last 2 years trying to qualify for the Sydney Olympics 2000. We played 25 events in two years, traveled all around the world and we actually had a chance to be in the Olympic Games up until the last event, event number 25. After two years of playing as hard as possible, we missed it by 10 points out of a thousand points.
After two years of playing as hard as possible, we missed it by 10 points out of a thousand points.
I wouldn’t you say it was a really dark moment because actually, I gave everything that I possibly could give. I couldn’t give any more, therefore I didn’t feel like I hadn’t done enough. But certainly, it’s a moment that I reflect on a lot. I was never actually able to have the chance to play in the Olympics but I do remember in the process of having some dark moments as an athlete, where I was afraid to fail.
I gave everything that I possibly could give, and I couldn’t give any more, therefore I didn’t feel like I hadn’t done enough.
I remember trying to sleep before a tournament and I could hear my heartbeat. That’s when you know that you actually have fear of failure and so I remember pretty much being at the bottom of that fear. And one day I remember that it just broke down, and the whole fear just went away and after that I started to play my very best Beach Volleyball. So it was a story of a dark moment that turned into a turning point to find my very best level and so I managed in my qualification, for at least the last year, to play beyond the level that I thought I could ever play at.
One day I the whole fear just went away and after that, I started to play my very best Beach Volleyball.
Christian: And the fear broke away by itself or did you deliberately work on that?
Victor: It’s a good question. I was aware of it, a coach challenged me and that pushed me over the edge where I let go. And that coach at that time, when he did that, I did what I see a lot of athletes are doing now. When a coach pushes them that they feel uncomfortable and they start to dislike the coach.
What I see a lot in athletes when a coach pushes them, they feel uncomfortable and they start to dislike the coach.
I disliked him and after those two years, I realized what he’d done for me. He changed my whole life by pushing me to a place that I needed to go to and after that, I’ve had a very good relationship with him for the next 18 years. He became my mentor as well and yes, that’s how it happened.
I disliked him, but after two years I realized what he’d done for me. He changed my whole life by pushing me to a place that I needed to go to.
Christian: What did you learn from that moment? How has it shaped your life until now?
Victor: Actually that’s another great question. I actually changed the way I look at failure. I realized that I had nothing to lose. I was healthy, and while I was healthy, I actually had nothing to lose and it was just a game.
Before that, I thought that my results defined who I was. So if I lost the game, I thought that I was a loser. I had attached myself to my results, and when I realized that I myself, as an individual, was so much more valuable than just being a volleyball player. This gave me a sense of freedom to do things.
I changed the way I look at failure, this gave me a sense of freedom to do things.
That happened also after the Olympic Games 2000 in Sydney when I started a business. I didn’t have that fear of failure anymore and that propagates through your whole life actually, to be honest.
That’s something that I try to bring across now to athletes too. What do you really have to lose on the court? A match? When one can let go of that fear of failure, that’s when the athletes really start to be able to play freely and they can reach their highest level and that is a beautiful feeling.
When athletes can let go of that fear of failure, that’s when the athletes really start to play freely and they are able to reach their highest level.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Victor: My best moment, there are two moments. One moment was when I became the National Coach of the Beach Volleyball team of Netherlands for the women. There’s a continental process where in Europe you can win the one spot for the Olympic Games, and we ended up getting into the last phase of this and it was in Russia. This was my first time as a national coach for a national team and I remember how we had to make some difficult decisions in the tournament about how we would play it and we took some very large risks.
I spoke about the fear of failure thing, and as a coach, it enabled me to empower the athletes to also have that absence of fear of failure at a moment in time where it was critical. This was the moment, if we win, we were in the Olympics. If we don’t, we were not in the Olympics.
As a coach, it enabled me to empower the athletes to also have that absence of fear of failure at a moment in time where it was critical.
We got the team together, we discussed how we were going to do it, everyone acknowledged there were risks, we took the risks and then we won, and we won a spot in the Olympics. We had already had one spot in the Olympics but won a second spot.
So it was just glorious because it was a difficult decision. And in addition to that, there was one team of girls, that knew they couldn’t get to the Olympics because they didn’t have enough world ranking points. But in the Continental System, you need two teams and so the second team that went to this tournament said we’re going to play our asses off to try to get a spot for our country, knowing that the other team would go to the Olympics and they wouldn’t. And they went out there, they battled against a team that was better than them and they won. I am getting goose bumps just talking about it.
We discussed how we were going to do it, everyone acknowledged there were risks, we took the risks and then we won the spot in the Olympics.
Victor: Yes, and that actually happened again in 2016. It was almost the same way seeing an individual performance from one athlete who had the courage in one moment to play in a way that was free and win another Olympic spot for the Netherlands.
What makes it so special is, that this player actually had quite a large fear of failure for many years. After 8 years of working with her, and getting her to this moment to where she was able to let go of that fear was an absolute highlight, really amazing.
What advice would he give a younger Victor Anfiloff
Christian: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self, with all the knowledge and experiences you now have, not only knowledge but also experiences?
Victor: Yes, that’s quite a big question. I would say spend more time listening, really listening and the second one is to not be afraid to show vulnerability. I think that in leadership, that’s an underestimated quality. Most leaders want to assume a position of strength but what I’ve learned is, that there is actually a lot of strength in being able to show your people that you’re also human. It took me a long time to get there.
Christian: Yes, listening is powerful. I think also that there is a saying from Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change “Listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to answer.”
Victor: That’s what I’m talking about and I’m still practicing that.
Christian: I guess it’s an ongoing process, never to be perfect.
Victor: No. It starts with awareness.
Victor’s coaching philosophy
Christian: As a coach what is your coaching philosophy?
Victor: I have quite a list of coaching philosophies but I will say that one of the things on the top of that list is that better people make better athletes. And that’s something that I’ve learned the hard way when I was only focused on the athletic performance and not focused on the whole person.
One thing on the top of that list is that better people make better athletes.
If there are qualities that the athlete needs to perform, the person needs these qualities as well, and those qualities are not independent of each other. So if we’re talking about having an athlete that is resilient, that means that the source also has to be a resilient person, and that resilience makes that person also stronger in their life.
So I now look and ask questions about the person, not just about the sport itself and that sometimes often starts with “How are you? How’s it going?” I didn’t ask that question probably for the first 6 years of my coaching career.
The other thing is, that there is nothing more powerful outside of trying to find the highest level of a player, than a player that believes they can. And so my role as a coach is actually to sell that belief to them as well. If they believe it and I believe it, then we’re going in the right direction. So people ask me what I do. I don’t coach, I sell belief.
There is nothing more powerful than a player that believes they can. And my role as a coach is to sell that belief to them. So if people ask me what I do. I don’t coach, I sell belief.
Christian: And now the big question is how do you do that?
Victor: You’re asking some very good questions. How do I do it? When I’m having a discussion with an athlete, I’m not judging the person. If I start to judge the person that they’re not good enough then they think I don’t believe in them.
If I start to judge the person, then they think I don’t believe in them. First I have to get the trust.
First I have to get the trust. I have to be able to get to a point, where I can push them, so that they trust me, that I can push them in a safe way. I have to mean what I say. I show my emotions to the player. If they lose then I feel the pain as well. It’s about forming the relationship and the trust. That’s the foundation of selling belief.
I have to mean what I say, it’s about forming the relationship and the trust. That’s the foundation of selling belief.
And I think that I do often see good coaches do everything on paper. They have nice plans and they have a good technical vision, they have all of these things, but they’re not able to sell their message to the players. And I can’t honestly sit here and tell you how to do that. It’s a quality that distinguishes good coaches from great coaches, I think, and that’s why it’s difficult to find great coaches. Everyone’s looking for that because that is the quality of a talented coach.
How he extracts the maximum out of someone
Christian: I’ve seen on your profile, and I might be paraphrasing but “extracting the maximum from our resources and capabilities to achieve our goals is my definition of performance.” How do you extract the maximum out of the person or an athlete? We’ve partly answered that in the previous question but I would like to dig deeper into that. So how do you extract the maximum out of someone?
Victor: If I believe I can, then I can. At least, if I believe I can, I’m going to be behaving and acting in a particular way going towards my goal.
If I believe I can, then I can. At least, if I believe I can, I’m going to be behaving and acting in a particular way going towards my goal.
But it is actually a question of my definition of performance. Extracting the most out of who we mean understanding that we’re here to become as good as we can become. ‘As good as I can become’ is different from being better than you. What does it mean for me to become as good as I can become? And then for my players that have the same philosophy, that means that it’s a daily process of can I do something today that will make me two or three percent better?
We are here to become as good as we can become. ‘As good as I can become’ is different from being better than you.
So extracting that from the players and the staff is actually answering your next question but it’s about our purpose. What is our purpose? If our purpose is becoming as good as we can become, then that doesn’t have any limitations.
If I say I want to win a gold medal, that’s already actually limiting me. My best might be winning multiple gold medals. It’s hard for me to explain it, but we don’t know where the top is and if we’re aiming just to find our best, then we will find it and we will perform. It’s always getting philosophical.
If our purpose is becoming as good as we can become, then that doesn’t have any limitations. We don’t know where the top is, and if we are aiming to find our best, then we will find it and we will perform.
Christian: That’s what makes it interesting.
Victor: Yes, the stride is one’s best self.
Christian: Interesting, to follow up on that, I won’t let you off the hook here. The follow-up on that is, that you brought two teams to the Olympic Games 2012, which was a major achievement looking back at the time. However, these two teams you had coached were fairly different personalities and characters – their approach to training, their approach to lifestyle. If you have to extract the best out of everyone, it can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach. So how did you do it with these teams who were very different?
Victor: Yes. No, I didn’t do it well, because I actually had a one-size-fits-all approach and that’s where I learned that one of my coaching philosophy is to treat the whole person.
And in high-performance sports, you get a lot of different personalities. Sometimes the most difficult players to manage, are the ones with the highest talent, they’re special. If we only have a one-size-fits-all approach, then that means that the ‘special’ athletes, that are difficult to manage, are kept out of the program because they don’t fit. This is what happens and it still happens,
Sometimes the most difficult players to manage, are the ones with the highest talent, they’re special.
Now we have values and you need to make sure, that the team sticks within that. You need to share those values, but these athletes are often a management challenge. And that means, as managers or even coaches, we need to be equipped with the tools to be able to deal with different types of people. And that’s where we often fail, that’s where we lose.
As coaches, we need to be equipped with the tools to be able to deal with different types of people. And that’s where we often fail, that’s where we lose.
I think we do lose. I’m not saying it always happens, but I still do see that. ’If you don’t fit us, you are out.’, instead of saying, ’What do we need to become, to be able to get the most out of those people, that don’t fit in our system?’
I’m not talking about people, that are doing crazy things to depreciate the value of our team but the one-size-fits-all does not work in top sports. We need to get better at having more leadership tools, more management tools, be more flexible and if it doesn’t fit us.
We need to get better at having more leadership tools, more management tools, be more flexible.
For example, if I’m coaching this team and it doesn’t work, I need to be brave enough to say, ’Well, maybe you should go to another coach.’ instead of saying ‘You should be out of the program.’ That’s actually me doing the best thing for us and that team. But often the coach will hang on to the team.
If I’m coaching a team and it doesn’t work, I need to be brave enough to say, ’Well, maybe you should go to another coach.’ instead of saying ‘You should be out of the program.’
Christian: I think that is also something, that I have learned a little bit later. The turning point for me was the Rio 2016 Olympics, where some of my athletes had performed really, really well, however, leading up to the Olympic Games 2016, there were a few doubts about the athletes. And later I asked myself ‘Maybe I should change?’
Ultimately, the athlete did perform, and you can’t say that the athlete is… whatever the athlete was questioned for. Clearly, the athlete showed performance, and I need to go back to myself and say, that I should be able to support that athlete to bring out these performances. Rather than say, ‘Look at these 10 guys, do it like this,’ and that one athlete does it differently. It is exactly what you talked about.
Victor: And the athletes are actually teaching us, in that regard, to become better ourselves.
The athletes are teaching us, to become better ourselves.
His core values
Christian: What are your core values?
Victor: Core values? There’s one core value we’ve already talked about, which is performance. And performance is difficult to describe because it’s not something that I learned from anyone in particular. It’s just if we’re here, let’s maximize what we can do and if we’re lucky enough we can produce that in one moment. That’s how I define performance now. Did you reach her highest level at the right moment?
I define performance by ‘Did you reach her highest level at the right moment?’
So performance is important to me; even throughout the whole organization, everyone’s striving to do what they do at a high level. I tend to struggle when I see people that are underachieving, to be honest.
I tend to struggle when I see people that are underachieving, to be honest.
I value ambition. When I meet people that are ambitious, I value that. I’m also ambitious myself.
There’s another one, and some people misinterpret this, but I value fun. When I say fun, I don’t mean mucking-around fun. But we’re not here for a long time and we need to enjoy what we do. I believe that if you enjoy what you’re doing, that’s a key to performance. So it’s not just I like to have fun. I do like to have fun, but I believe it also makes us better able to perform when we enjoy what we do.
I believe, that if you enjoy what you do, you perform better. That’s a key to performance.
I value team. Team to me is important. In all of my positions, as a coach, I’ve experienced the power of the team. I know that there are a million things on YouTube and online, that talk about team-building and I get it. But when you really experience it – the power of a team that’s aligned for a single purpose and how they support each other, it’s not only powerful in terms of reaching the goal, but it feels good. It’s not just about me, it’s about us.
There’s a million things, that talk about team-building, but when you really experience the power of a team, that is aligned for a single purpose, and how they support each other, it’s not only powerful in terms of reaching the goal, but it feels good. It’s not just about me, it’s about us.
Yes, so that’s four of my core values.
Victor’s take on innovation
Christian: I think I had jotted down one of your core values to be innovation. What does innovation mean for you?
Victor: Innovation means looking at things differently. If I walk on the same path that everybody else is walking on, then I’m sure to get the results that everybody else is getting. Someone has to be the first to break ground and to me, this is about creating a competitive advantage.
Innovation means looking at things differently. If I walk on the same path that everybody else is walking on, I am sure to get the results that everybody else is getting.
The way my brain works is I’m always looking for these advantages in the way we do things. Whether it’s our structure, our process, our tactics or the way we do things physically. When you look in history a lot of performances started with something that people laughed at. So it’s about getting there before anyone else does. And that’s the way I am as well, but I also see that innovation is a part of enhancing the possibilities to perform.
When you look in history a lot of performances started with something that people laughed at.
I have an example which is -the latest and the nicest example for me. During my last function in Australia as a technical director for the beach volleyball national team, we acknowledged that volleyball in Australia is not a very big sport and we asked ourselves how we can do things differently.
So we did not compete against the countries that have a lot of players but competed in the way we do things. And so we made a decision to change the way we play the game, and that was what we called ‘the one-two game’ or ‘the no-block system’. That means, that in volleyball you normally have a ‘pass’, a ‘setup’ and a ‘smash’. We said, that if we could turn the first ‘pass’ into a ‘set up’ and we’d go ‘pass’ and ‘smash’, that would take time away from the blocker in getting to create a block.
We asked ourselves how we can do things differently, and decided to compete in the way we do things. We made a decision to change the way we play the game.
When we started that process, we realized that it’ll take time and that we have to invest time in this process to create this. It’s difficult to do but in one moment in time, if everything works, that’s our chance to win something at the right moment, whether or not it will be an Olympic medal.
Then everyone else will follow us and the advantage will be closed again. And that thing about innovation is something I link it to that fear of failure. If you’re not afraid to fall on your face, then that gives you the freedom to try to be innovative. Yes, I do value innovation and I’m always looking for how we can do things in a way that gives us an advantage.
Innovation is linked to fear of failure. If you are not afraid to fail, then that gives you the freedom to be innovative.
The person that most influenced and impacted Victor
Christian: Which person has influenced and impacted you most as a coach and why?
Victor: Good question. I had to think about this for a while, because, I actually don’t know why, but I haven’t really found that trait as an adult, but the most impactful person for me was my uncle. Not that I knew him very well at all, but he was a basketball player. He played in the 1972 Olympic Games and the 1976 Olympic Games and he was one of the top scorers.
In fact, he held the world record for the most points scored in a match. I think it was in Montreal. So in Montreal in 1976, I was 3 years old. I wasn’t there, he was there. We had a black and white TV and the black and white TV was about 20 cm by 20 cm. I’m 3 years old and it’s my earliest memory where my mother, who is my uncle’s sister, says, ‘Hey, that’s your uncle on TV.’ and I looked at it and I just said, ‘That’s my uncle on TV.’ I was done, I was hooked for life. I must go to the Olympics and then I was hooked on basketball.
I was hooked for life. I must go to the Olympics.
You know, I was sleeping with my basketball, I was going to school with my basketball, shooting my basketball all day and it was done for me. That shaped the rest of my life and why we’re having this discussion now was because of that one moment; not because of the man that I met. Just some moment of link, that’s my family, that’s my uncle, I’m proud, I’m going to be that.
And as it turned out I didn’t get to the Olympics as a player, but actually, I ended up going as a coach in 2012 and when I was at the London Olympics 2012, I was taking a moment to reflect that ‘You’re actually a part of the Olympic team now. You’re a coach but still, you did it.’ So, that was a very powerful moment, and since that time I believe in the power of heroes and role models and the effect that it can have on a sport. That’s why we do what we do, we try to perform so we can trigger the people to become heroes and play the sport. That’s what it’s all about and that’s what the impact means. You use your performance to inspire people to play.
I believe in the power of heroes and role models, and the effect that it can have on a sport. That’s why we do what we do, we perform so we can trigger people to become heroes and play the sport. That’s what the impact means, use your performance to inspire people to play.
How to manage a team
Christian: How do you manage the team?
Victory: How do I manage the team? The first question to ask ‘Is there a team?’ Because if there is no team, then you’re just managing individuals. That is a lot more difficult than managing a group of people. Team means often that you share the same purpose.
Managing individuals is a lot more difficult than managing a group of people. Team means that you share the same purpose.
Some of the first things that I will do in an organization,is to get alignment and share purpose, we call it vision as well, create a vision that everybody shares. ‘Management’ is not a word that I like to use but that makes managing that much easier. So first thing is create alignment, which is purpose or vision, then you have a team and that to me is the foundation. From there on the rest is peripheral.
How to create alignment when expectations are different
Christian: Interesting. My next follow-up question, if you are working in high-performance sport, you have team expectations, but also individual expectations of the athletes. Often these expectations are not always aligned. In these circumstances what do you do to align them?
Victor: Yes, that’s a good question and you know, that sometimes they can’t be aligned and that’s when it gets difficult. Then you have to start making choices. Because a lack of alignment, if this group of people has a completely different purpose or different goal then this group, it could be staff or players or you could be players within the group, then it’s almost not workable.
If one group has a completely different purpose or a different goal than another group, then it’s almost not workable. Then you have to start making choices.
The first thing, I do everything to make sure that everyone is on the same page. How do I manage when the expectations are different? I haven’t come across that situation yet. Normally everyone is on the same page, and I’ve been lucky enough to work in environments, where people want to become as good as they can be.
Often it is about winning a medal or a gold medal, and the alignment is been quite easy to find. However, I’m not looking forward to the situation, where you reach a stalemate where actually within a group there’s a standoff between different stakeholders or people within the team.
But I will say, that the success of creating that alignment; when you give it over to the people to create it, you have a much better chance of them finding common ground.
The success of creating alignment, when you give it over to the people to create it, you have a much better chance of them finding common ground.
I don’t have to get everyone to share everything, but I have to find some piece somewhere that is common ground. That might only be a small piece, but if it’s only a small piece that’s where we are going to focus on and the rest, we just accept. But without that small piece, I don’t believe it’s possible.
Christian: This is the importance of shared ownership.
Victor: Yes, ownership is everything. I believe, that freedom, if we’re talking about managing a team, you have to create a structure where the people inside of this structure have the freedom to make their own decisions and take ownership of their own decisions. The other option is micromanagement. Micromanagement is because I don’t have a structure or a system.
Ownership is everything, you have to create a structure where the people inside of this structure have the freedom to make their own decisions and take ownership of their own decisions.
So let us build a structure and a system and then you go for it. And because there is that feeling of autonomy or ownership, people can reach their best level of performance.
Has being an athlete helped him as a coach
Christian: Has being an athlete helped you as a coach?
Victor: Not really, in a way, perhaps. When I’m making decisions, I think through the eyes of what an athlete needs or an athlete wants.
When I’m making decisions, I think through the eyes of what an athlete needs or an athlete wants.
As an athlete myself, I was probably the worst version of myself. I was so driven to win that I didn’t really care too much about other people. And so that’s where there was a really big empathy hole and I think that as an athlete it’s a struggle. You just want to crush your opponents and crush them at all costs. So that was me as an athlete and I don’t think that that approach would help me as a manager.
But see through the eyes of an athlete, just to look through the eyes of an athlete, that is what is needed in the training environment. That perspective definitely does help me.
Victor’s take on motivation vs discipline
Christian: We’ve discussed motivation vs. discipline, what is your view on motivation?
Victor: The easiest way to increase motivation is to get rid of all the people that are not motivated then you automatically have a high motivation. I read that quote somewhere.
Christian: That’s a quote?
Victor: I came across it somewhere, that the best way to increase it is to get rid of those unmotivated.
Actually, the thing is we have to be careful here because there have been several times that I’ve come across situations where there are highly motivated people that don’t actually know what they need to do to get to their goal. So that means, if you don’t know what you need, it can appear to be that you don’t have any discipline. But it’s not that you don’t have any discipline, it’s because you just don’t know.
I have come across highly motivated people, that don’t know what they need to do to get to their goal. If they don’t know what they need, it can appear to be that they don’t have any discipline. But it’s not that they don’t have any discipline, it’s because they just don’t know.
Do I need to be there at training when it starts at 8? So I’ll be there at 8 o’clock. But everyone else is preparing their bodies at 7:30 or 7:45. They’re getting their water, they’re getting their stuff ready, and they are getting ready to practice.
If I don’t really know what I need to do, I’m highly motivated, but I don’t know what I need to do, it looks like I lack discipline. And I think that’s our responsibility as a program to be able to say, ‘Okay, this is what it looks like, this is the cost. You have this goal, you have the motivation but there is a cost. And the cost is the way you do things or the way you behave, the way you organize yourself, discipline the way you eat, discipline the way you take care of your body, how much sleep do you get, etc.’
If you don’t know about those things, you can be highly motivated and not do them and then the coach says you lack discipline. But I think that you should give them the knowledge first. If they have the knowledge and the motivation and then they don’t do it, then they don’t have the discipline. But not before getting the knowledge.
How to chose your support staff
Christian: How do you choose your support staff? What are the qualities that you want to see in your support staff?
Victor: Choosing your support staff is a luxury, and I’ve never had a situation yet. As a new technical director, normally you arrive and you inherit performance staff, that have already been there. But what’s important for me is that the performance staff shares the vision and that the performance staff shares the purpose, that they feel accountable for the athletes.
I have seen situations, where there are support staff that is linked to several programs and if the team wins or doesn’t win, especially when they don’t win, that support staff actually has other programs. They don’t really feel ownership over the program that’s not winning.
I need full ownership, accountability for the performances; meaning if that athlete’s injured, we need you, the physio or doctor, to get that athlete back. It’s not just our problem as the Federation, it’s also the support staff’s problem. Get this person to their highest level. That’s very different from having a job. High-performance is not a job. Anyone that’s in high-performance that’s doing it for a job doesn’t survive.
High-performance is not a job. Anyone that’s in high-performance that’s doing it for a job doesn’t survive.
You’re in it; you’ve got skin in the game. Once I can see that the support staff has that, I know we’re in the right place. If they don’t have that, then it’s difficult and then sometimes you need to make choices. Shared purpose, have skin in the game, be accountable and it’s not a job.
And I wish I could choose them but it never happens that way yet. Normally you arrive and you have them and that’s fine, and also here I’ve been very lucky because I’ve worked with some very good performance staff. So I’ve ‘inherited’ some very good performance staff.
How does a typical day in the life of a technical director look like
Christian: How does a typical day in the life of a technical director look like?
Victor: Running around and around and around and around and around and around. It’s basically, in this situation now, it’s about setting up a structure. There are still a lot of organizations, that don’t fully understand what they need in terms of structure to run a high-performance program, but mostly it’s about managing expectations.
There are still a lot of organizations, that don’t fully understand what they need in terms of structure to run a high-performance program.
That means communicating because I think the biggest risk is, when people get surprised by things that they didn’t know were coming. I personally want to keep in contact with as many people as possible throughout the whole organization, not just in the top sport program but also in the development programs and leisure sport. I actually try to share our vision on a daily basis with everybody, and to align everybody to get out a successful system.
The biggest risk is, when people get surprised by things that they didn’t know were coming.
We need the high performance program to have some influence on the development program, leisure sport and club sports. It’s actually a cycle and we are all related, so that model of ‘we are the top sport program, we are here and we have nothing to do with the recreational sport or the club sport.’ is a lost chance.
Because if you and me talked about inspiring or having an impact, we need as the high-performance program to actually be more often visible in the recreational sport, which means we need to go back to the clubs more often and say, ‘Here we are. Here are the heroes. Here we are to inspire the kids to play badminton or to play whatever sport it is.’ So in that respect, it’s quite a lot to do, to be honest, but that’s okay, because there is a purpose.
How to manage expectations
Christian: One bonus question because you touched on it just now, how do you manage expectations?
Victor: It’s a process, and you have to look ahead, because that’s where the surprise for people lies; in the future. You have to look into the future for what’s coming and then go back into the now, and sow the seed by informing people about what might be coming, is possibly coming, what is actually coming. That’s very different than I don’t know anything, here’s the change and there is the expectation gap.
You have to look into the future for what’s coming and then inform people about what might be coming, is possibly coming, what is actually coming.
If you see something in the future that looks to be quite different from what the staff or the players know, you need to start that process while advancing to slowly decrease that expectation gap. It’s about looking into the future, and bring it back to the staff and the players, and getting them to have time to think about it. Especially in Holland, if you surprise someone there, that’s something that, in my experience, don’t go down very well. So do it well in advance in terms of managing expectations, get to that thing out as early in the process as possible. You have to look into the future and sometimes it’s hard to see the future.
If you see something in the future, that looks to be quite different from what the staff or the players know, you need to start that process while advancing to slowly decrease that expectation gap.
Christian: You were talking about the future and also innovation, if we are trying to look into the future, what do you see in the future? And especially, what do you see, as the impact of digitalization on the high-performance sport?
To explain myself, if you look at other industries, you see a big trend of digitalization and it’s rapidly growing. How do you see the impact on the sporting world in the future?
Victor: The thing is we’re talking about digitalization is a very difficult question. Digitalization in my world anyway, whether it’s right or wrong, is collecting data. First off, in the last few years, everyone’s been busy collecting data and I’ve gone through this process as well. ‘Let’s collect data. How do you feel? How many jumps did you do? How far did you run?’ Everyone’s collecting the data. People are busy doing this and they spend a lot of time doing it. I haven’t really seen, in the positions that I’ve been in, the information that came out of the data collection has given us a competitive advantage.
Everyone’s collecting the data, people are busy doing this and spend a lot of time doing it. I haven’t really seen, that the information that came out of the data collection has given us a competitive advantage.
So from what I see, the return on the investment of the time we spent collecting data is we didn’t get the results out. But now we’re talking about algorithms, that can actually interpret the data and see patterns in the data. I’m much more interested in the advantages that come from seeing patterns.
So for example, if we can pull out of these numbers and say every time I serve the shuttle short to the left side of my opponent, and this system, that I have has analyzed ten of their matches, tells me that there is a 40% chance that I’ll get this return. That to me is useful. If I serve high, deep left, on 40% or 50% I’ll get this response. That’s what I find interesting, how you can find an advantage in the numbers. Can I actually use this information to win.
That’s what I find interesting, how you can find an advantage in the numbers. Can I actually use this information to win.
I guess otherwise, hopefully, there is a way that we can condition athletes by interpreting data. Another example, if we’re collecting all the data, interpreting it, putting it through an algorithm and then we say, “Oh, hang on, it is better to train 6 times in a day for 30 minutes and only do that three times a week than it is to train 5 times a week for 2 hours.” This is what I find interesting.
But the collection of data itself without extracting these conclusions, I’ve seen a lot of time wasted in doing this. I also question if it’s possible that a one-size-fits-all approach is being used; meaning that you have collected data in one system; is one system able to cater to the needs of different types of sports? I don’t know, I think that’s possibly something that might be too big. You maybe need to do a more customized approach, but that hasn’t seemed to work either. However, I love the idea of finding advantages through other data or technology or innovation and materials. I think it’s fascinating. So I hope that answered your question.
Christian: I guess it’s a difficult question to answer, especially if you’re intending to look into the future.
Victor: We’re currently struggling to just get people to tournaments. So to think about investing in digitalization, for example, for us for badminton is a bit far-fetched.
Victor’s interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Victor: I will nominate Reinder Nummerdor, but you have to find him. And the reason I nominate him is because he has been a very high-level player and he’s now a coach, and I think that will be a very interesting discussion, but then you’ll have to go to Scheveningen [The Hague, Netherlands] to find him.
Christian: Well people have been nominated from the other end of the globe, so just going across that small country is not a big deal.
Thanks for your time Victor, that was awesome.
Victor: Classic, thank you.