Coaches' Corner: Vegard Bitnes’ Plan for the Austrian Women’s Team
Despite a much stronger tradition in alpine skiing, Austria has always produced quality biathletes, especially on the men's side. Austrian Women’s Coach Vegard Bitnes is working to change that and bring success and recognition to his young women's team. His formula is a mix of hard work and positive atmosphere, where motivation comes from team spirit, rather than pressure or expectations.
The Olympic Winter Games seem more of a step towards a future goal rather than a defining moment point for his young team. Despite this, it does not rule out the medal hopes for the upcoming star Lisa-Theresa Hauser, who hopes to be in top form at Pyeongchang.
A Special Olympic Season
“Normally, training in this sport follows the rhythm of the Olympics and the last season before them is quite special,” Bitnes, commented on the topic of preparing for Pyeongchang. “Because of this, you want to play it safe and make few changes from the year before. Everyone is very focused on this season and you don't want to try anything risky.”
Although this is true for most teams, he feels that things are a little different for his Austrian squad. “We have a young team and for most of them it will be their first Olympics. Therefore, we will use the competitions before that to qualify for the team. Obviously, we will try to get to Pyeongchang at a physical and mental peak, but the World Cup stages ahead of it will be very important too.”
No Special Recipe
With the summer finally over and the first leaves turning yellow and red, Bitnes evaluated some of the most important parts of training plan and the signals are good. He admits that even with a slightly different goal than many other teams, their preparation is likely parallel. “In general, I think our preparation is similar to most other teams. During the summer we worked on volume and now we are heading towards more intensity training, and competing in some internal and open test competitions. I think it's the same recipe you find in other teams, nothing special, I guess.”
One of the characteristics that made Austrians so successful over the years is their ability to shoot fast and accurately. Coming from Norway, Bitnes had always studied the Austrian’s shooting; things changed a bit once he started working with them. “Everybody can shoot fast; the problem is that not everybody can hit the targets while doing so. The Austrians are famous for their shooting skills. I can tell you that, coming from another nation, we have always admired them for their shooting: their ability to shoot both fast and accurately.”
Because of this, he had to make some adjustments to work style and initial training plan. “Everybody comes in with a plan when you start working with a team and so did I. Still, we have to be flexible and change it depending on the athletes we have and who we work for. We changed the plan, but I still have the same goal as when I arrived.”
Balancing Goals and Expectations
“The goal is to build a good basic training plan for the team and, especially for the girls, try to get more Austrians into biathlon, because it is a small nation when it comes to biathlon,” he admitted while discussing the long term goals for his young team. “Austria has always had good teams with good results, but it is still a small sport in this country.”
Yet, when it came to concrete short-terms goals, the real core of his coaching philosophy came up. “I think that putting expectations on athletes is the worst thing you can do. The only one I have is that they do the best that they can, work hard, and show what they can do. I think it's a boring answer, but it is what I believe in. The thing is that often people in sport put a lot of pressure on the athletes; some coaches do it with the idea this will motivate the athletes. But to me, all you can do is all you can do. Athletes already want and try to do more than they can, constantly. There is no need for a coach to demand even more, because then they try to over-perform and this is not good, especially on the long run.”
What is the Coach's Job then?
“The coach has to put the athletes in the position to perform the best of they can.”