Vital and I met in "De Spuye" at the university of Leuven (Belgium), 3 days before his return to Germany to prepare for the European Championship. What makes Vital Heynen so successful? I wondered if there's an answer to that question, so I just asked him? It seems Vital has no secrets. He likes to share his ideas and help people if possible. I believe that makes him a very generous man! But Vital corrects: "Geert, I just like to make my mark."
Howcome you have such a strong belief in yourself, Vital?
"It's true that I've always had quite a lot of confidence. It helped me as a player to score aces and win championships. As a coach as well I can rely on a big dose of confidence. But I realize that there is also a great deal of luck involved. Circumstances were surely more decisive than my coaching skills. As a coach you are as good as your results. 10 years ago, in Maaseik, I still had to convince a great many people of my way of working. By now, in some parts of Europe my status of 'success coach' is growing out of proportion. The more games and prizes my team wins the easier it becomes for me to convince people of my approach. A winning coach is always right, right? But I realize that this flow can brake down just as fast if I don't keep up the good results. So that's why, as a coach, I also try to bring a decent story. You need some kind of masterplan, not directly related to results. If you stay true to this masterplan and to yourself, your path will be very clear.
So what is the story you told the board of the German Volleyball Federation which made them pick you as a new head coach?
"My story is easy. Jaques Rogge once said: 'Your plan has to fit on one page. If it doesn't fit the page, it's not clear.' I agree, so the first time I spoke to the German board, it was very briefly. I told them how I work with people and what kind of volleyball I like to play. I am convinced that a coach needs to invite his players to determine their goals together. I am not talking about democracy because in the end I will decide. But I am always looking for team participation. When I spoke to the federation, the national team just had had a coach that worked in the exact opposite way. Players complained about bad communication and they lost their trust in him, with lack of involvement as a consequence. So when I came with my participation-story, that did half the job already. Volleyball-wise the story is even more simple: I believe in avoiding mistakes. If my team does not give away the easy points, we will have a better chance of winning the game. That's the philosophy!"
Do you ever doubt yourself?
"All the time! I have many doubts but they don't scare me. I embrace them and I try to rely on my intuition. As a student and a player I was a man of numbers. But through the years I learned to trust my feelings. Sometimes I make a decision with no reason and afterwards I realize: 'Ah, that's why I did it!'. Until now, my feeling never let me down. I still like numbers but somehow they are in my feeling. Tactical decisions for example: I can debate with my staff and players for days. Sometimes I want to watch 18 games just to let my intuition grow. At the same time my team gets the feeling of being involved. But at a certain point I wil make the decision. From that point on we will all stick to the plan and I will defend it with every drop of energy I've got. This is crucial! I never show hesitation before or during a game. They need to be able to trust me. That way their belief grows and I can expect them to play at their very best."
You might expect them to win a medal that way?
"I will tell you a story to show you how true that is. The day of the match for the bronze medal in Poland I addressed the players in the dressing room right before the start. I could sense the tension. A full house. Germany had not won a medal for more than 40 years. We already played great matches but this was our chance for a real price. I was going over our tactics in a very calm voice. Once more, in a Maslow way, I wanted to make clear for everyone that in defense no tips could fall in a certain zone. But one player stood up and interrupted me. With a loud, deep and firm voice he spoke: 'Today this ball will not fall on the floor, guys. You hear me? We will defend the field with our lives! We will fucking kill them and win this medal!' My team turned into true warriors. I still get goose bumps when I speak about it. This team was ready for victory."
9 to 18 octobre you play the European Championship. Is it realistic to win another medal?
We will see. The only thing I know is that as yet my team is not as ready as they were last year. After winning a gold medal in Baku I sense some satisfaction in the team. That is, of course, natural but it is also a very dangerous state of mind for a team. I want them to be hungry again and I will make sure that they are."