Last September I started an interview with Mark Lebedew, the head coach of German Champion BR Volleys in Berlin. I wanted to know from Mark how he planed to approach the upcoming season on the mental side. My theory was that there should be motivational problems after his team won the championship the past year.
What was planed as a quick interview turned out to be a longterm project because both of us had problems asking and answering in time. For example: my first question to Mark reached him when new season was already on its way. It also turned out that the problem I saw was never in Mark’s mind, which he explains in the following interview. Although it took us until now to finish it, it’s also a short one. But I think it’s still worth publishing it here. Mark comes up with some really interesting points.
To help you with some orientation I added the dates of my question and Mark’s answers.
Question (24.10.2012): By winning the championship last season the team reached the ultimate national goal. Did you experience any difficulties in getting the players focused on the next season and how did your focus on the upcoming season changed?
Mark (26.11.2012): I had no difficulties getting the players focussed on this season. Quite the opposite, the players arrived highly motivated for the challenges ahead and ready to work.
The first difference was a change in the weight training program, firstly to prevent the players in their third year with me from getting stale and to keep providing a new stimulus and secondly to change the focus a little bit onto functional type work, away from ‚traditional‘ weight training. The second difference was, we wanted to focus more on the first part of the season. Part of that was because of the draw for the league (Haching, Friedrichshafen + cup in the first month) and part of that was because of Champions League beginning almost at the beginning of the season.
Question (10.12.2012): Can you talk about the teams goals? If yes: What are they? And can you provide any personal goals of the players and how they changed from last season to this one?
Mark (26.12.2012): The team goals are very simple and we were very open in the press about them. We wanted to repeat as Champions, to reach the Cup final in Halle and to reach the second round of Champions League. At Christmas we have achieved one goal (CL), lost one (Cup) and are in the best position for the last.
I can’t speak directly about (the personal goals of my players) but I think I can make one or two generalisations. I think this season players are more comfortable with high goals than before. In years past, the players were reluctant to talk about winning the championship as they had no experience of it and in a sense were afraid of failure. Now that we have won it once, the path to that goal is much easier to see and players embrace it. I think you can see that in some of our performances this season, for example how we have played when the matches have been close. Apart from that, the players have their same personal goals as every year; to improve, to reach the first six, to be an important player, etc, etc.
Question (13.3.2013): What made you so sure, when we talked first, that there would be no problem in focus and commitment? Other coaches in minor leagues told me, and I had the same experience, that after a successful season, players lost focus.
Mark (23.3.2013): I think that when I answered your question we had already started training and I could tell very quickly that motivation would not be a problem. Especially because of the new players in the team. It was clear from the first days that the new players were very motivated and would become leaders in the team. And it was also clear that the group was not finished and had gained confidence from the success of the previous season. We also had the new attraction of Champions League, which is an extra motivation that we didn’t have before.
So the individuals in the team had new goals to aim for. They never felt like they had reached their ‚end‘. I also made some changes with the training program etc. so to prevent some of the possible problems.