Anastasiya Merkushyna: “I see only the benefits of training with my father”
Sports dynasties are quite common in the biathlon world and we know many of them. Anastasiya Merkushyna is a representative of one of these dynasties: a young, ambitious athlete continues the business of her parents Irina and Oleh Merkushyn, who are her coaches today.
Nine years separate her from the first international podium at the YJWCH in Nove Mesto na Morave. After that, she continued to work hard and persistently, which saw her joining the national team and becoming almost a constant member of the women’s relay line-up. The 25-year old Ukrainian already has three WCH medals in relays and a few top 10 individual finishes, however, both the athlete herself and her coach - father Oleh Merkushyn believe that this is not enough and they need to move forward.
Two coaches in the house
“My dad is not the only coach, my mom, who used to be a biathlete, is now a coach too. After finishing her sports career it was she who took the first steps with me and gave me a solid base,” says Anastasiya. “So today we have two coaches in one house with the title ‘Honored Coach of Ukraine’. It is great when your parents not only understand you, but also support, put their heart and soul, as well as the money, which they never spared on me doing sports.
I remember when we were buying my prom dress, my dad looked at the price tag and exclaimed: ‘For this money, we can buy a barbell for training.’ Even when there was a choice: the important things for a family or me going to the competitions, they chose the second option.”
Joint work with parents can be very comfortable and productive for an athlete, however, what does a father-coach think about the process of raising a daughter-biathlete: “I think it is easier to train your child because they have more understanding, you know them better. After all, I had other athletes and I can compare. It happens that an athlete reaches a certain level and changes his coach because mutual understanding disappears. Nevertheless, when you work with someone, you train him, this person already becomes almost your own kid; but whatever happens, your child will forgive you everything and will go come back even if he leaves. Besides, you live with him 24 hours a day; you know almost everything about him.”
“Believe in what we do”
Knowing almost everything about the child is good for the father, but how does the daughter relate to this? Anastasiya believes that with some disadvantages, the benefits of the process of such a “home” training are still greater: “Everything goes well, and I see only the pros from training with dad,” the athlete says. “After all, your coach is always there. It also happens that at 12 o'clock in the night, some question torments me, it does not let me fall asleep, so I go to my parents and ask for help, which I immediately receive. As for the training system and approach, I believe in what we are doing at 100%, I am sure that everything is right, and only effort and time are needed.”
It is very important when the coach and his athlete entirely trust each other. “Nastya and I are working together. I tell her how it should be and why, and sometimes she adjusts her working methods, feeling what is good for her at the moment and what is needed to achieve the results. I trust her,” says Oleh Merkushyn.
“Used to trust my father”
Anastasiya also notes that they do not have any conflicts; father and daughter are used to discussing all the nuances of work: “I am a hot-tempered, explosive person, I want to achieve results faster. I like to get ahead of myself. But dad usually restrains me, he is much more experienced than me. He knows what kind of work and when better to give, he thinks things through, he plans everything three steps ahead. With my temper, I want everything at once. Nevertheless, in most cases, dad is right, so I'm used to trusting him in everything.
For a sufficiently long period of work, we have created such a balance: I trust him when he gives me an assignment, and he trusts me when I tell him about my feelings. If something does not suit me or a controversial situation arises, then I go to my mother, she will make a judgement of the situation and, if I'm wrong, she will point out my mistakes.”
“I teach athletes to think”
No doubt, that trust is important, but biathlon is a difficult and tough sport, there can be no concessions. How coach Merkushyn is looking for a “middle ground” between demanding and the desire to feel sorry for his child: “I don’t know where this balance is. Sometimes, of course, you need to ask in full, and sometimes just be gentle. But it turned out that my daughters: the eldest, Nastya, and the youngest, Alexandra, should rather be slowed down than strained. I always try to instill a training culture to all the athletes I work with, including my daughters, and teach them to think. If you want the preparation to be productive and successful, it is impossible to go out and do something without a plan, immediately forgetting about that after the training. You need to understand what and why you do today, tomorrow, and in 4 years.”
There are two daughters in Merkushyna’s family. And if the eldest has already announced herself, then the youngest, 15-year old Alexandra, is just starting her way in biathlon. Of course, Anastasiya, in the best traditions of sports dynasties, shares her experience with a junior: “My sister takes a big place in my life and heart. All that I have achieved, what I learned, what I myself have come to, all this, I try to pass on to the maximum, so that she does not make a mistake where I made a mistake, so that her path is much less thorny and with fewer mistakes. I try to protect her from many things. I try to support her when something does not work out and to calm her excessive joy a little when something works out. Basically, I tell Sasha about my experience. She is a great incentive for me. But you can talk as much as you like, what you really have to do – is to show everything with a personal example… which I am trying to do!”
Photos: Anastasiya Merkushyna, IBU/Christian Manzoni, Mariya Osolodkina, Evgeny Tumashov