Coaches Corner: Russia’s Andrey Kryuchkov
The coach’s talent is revealed in the success of his athletes. Every coach tries to do everything so his athletes have the best possible results. Coaches are in constant search for the right mix of training methods that will bring out the best in every athlete. At the same time, the athletes also try to find what works best whether in a team environment or training solo. Eminent Russian biathletes Anton Shipulin and Alexey Volkov are an example of such athletes; after the Olympic Games in Sochi, trading the team environment for individual training under the guidance of Andrey Kryuchkov.
Small Group Specifics
Working in a small group differs from a large one and has its own specifics. The training process is approached differentially; controlling the effort of each athlete very carefully. In a small group, much depends on the coach, who sees each athlete’s reaction to certain volumes of work. Kryuchkov admitted, "This is an experience that allows you to better quantify training tasks for an athlete, predict in advance how his conditioning will change and therefore make fewer mistakes. In a small group, with planning, it is possible to better quantify the effort, while considering the athlete’s weaknesses and correcting them."
According to Kryuchkov, while developing the training system and workload for the season, the coach starts from the goals that he and the athlete wish to reach. "When a concept is being developed, we look at the athlete and decide on the big goal. We know in advance where we will compete, what are the requirements on a certain track and its profile. With that, we view if the athlete lacks a power component the certain track demands. Then we make an emphasis on strength. And the other hand, for example, if he lacks speed and explosiveness, we focus on that." Kryuchkov is sure that it is useless to train without a concept because then both athlete and the coach have no idea of the final goal, "It's like the spine, which holds everything, it's the pivot. Initially, we look, what the output should be, then we rewind back and start to work. We do only what we have planned."
In this offseason, unlike the previous one, they have planned a bit different preparation, with an emphasis on intensity. Shipulin, for example, almost did not have a rest and trained a lot, but this approach was agreed in the group initially. "Last season was devoted to a power component. This season, we are lifting the aerobic component. There are good cycling trails in the south, so Anton worked a lot there. Alexey stayed at home at that time. This year, in terms of orientation, the preparation has changed. We are working on speed."
Quicker Shooting Speed plus More Hits
Russian specialist Andrey Gerbulov, a former national team coach who knows Shipulin and Volkov well, recently joined the group. Kryuchkov notes that Gerbulov came with a clear understanding what can be done for adding efficiency. "The idea of Andrey Alexandrovich is that last year we raised the shooting speed, and this year, while maintaining this shooting speed, we want to improve the quality, hit more targets. I think that last year it worked perfectly; we would not have peaked at the World Championships without that. Shooting speed is very important; it is easy to gain 10 seconds on the shooting range and then not have to work so hard on the tracks. Gerbulov played a tremendous role in this. Last season, because of shooting speed, and not track speed, we saved the athlete’s energy, which helped them reach the February peak."
Competition in Training
Shipulin, the Russian team leader enjoys working with Kryuchkov and Gerbulov. He is comfortable in preparing with an individual plan. However, even with its advantages and strengths, there are shortcomings in individual training, like the lack of competition in training. Despite missing this, their mentor said, "Work in a small group has both positive and negative aspects. One of the negative ones is that the pursuit, mass start, and relays are head-to-head competitions. When athlete trains alone, he misses that pressure and tension in daily training, which would come naturally in a larger group."
Kryuchkov admits this can be a problem. "If they are juniors, then the problem is enormous. For athletes at the Volkov/Shipulin level, the question is whether the November team camp will be enough for them to acquire that mental focus, strength, and consistency necessary in those events. It is not about increasing the physical training, but more about building mental strength and reliable shooting in pressure situations. This season, we specifically decided to compete at the IBU Summer World Championships and Russian Championships, so the athletes could train in these high-pressure situations."
Communication with National Team Coaches
Although working individually away from the main team, Kryuchkov communicates with the National Team coaches. He stays in touch with Andrey Padin and creates joint training models with Ricco Gross. "Usually, in May we have an expert council. Ricco, as senior coach, has his own ideas and training concepts. I have my own approach, which I'm talking about. He has his own ideas and certain wishes. For example, he asked Volkov improve by at least 5 seconds on each loop in the relay. Gross stressed that Alexey is needed in the relay. Taking this into account, we worked on the task. This year, I told him how we would prepare for the Olympic Games; drawing a diagram on the board substantiated the idea. He agreed with me on this, admitting that this is a good plan."
Emotions and Motivation
Kryuchkov noted that the Olympic Winter Games are a priority, but is not ignoring the rest of the season. "There is one very important nuance for us. If an athlete is finishing around 25th or 30th in the World Cups and you want him to peak and win at the OWG, you will not be successful. During the season, the athlete must have successful starts, he needs positive emotions and motivation; getting on the podium provides that.” The coach is convinced that without a positive attitude, there will be no good results. "Our muscles depend on our mind, and how they will run depends on what the mind says if it wants to compete or not. Emotions and motivation are most important in sports. Without their positive input, you will not go anywhere."
Pictures: Andrey Anosov, RBU