First steps as a goalball coach

Jarkko Pokkinen is a new Finnish men’s goalball national team head coach who had no previous experience on goalball. Instead he has strong background on basketball.

"We started our preparation towards the Pajulahti European Championships with our new coaching staff on February. Assistant coach Jarno Peltovako who was also part of the previous coaching staff has been an invaluable help for me from the beginning.

My first live contact with goalball was in the Super European Goalball League tournament in Malmö on February. The best part of the tournament was getting former national team captain Petri Posio to join our coaching staff. He has brought huge amount of experience and vision to our staff. Once we got Oskari Nyström to join our services as well our staff was good to go.

Finnish Research Institute for Olympic Sports (KIHU) adds a valuable extra effort to our coaching staff helping us out in part of the training camps and during tournaments. KIHU provides us video materials, statistics and scouting reports of our opponents. KIHU has been a big help for me during my goalball orientation period. As Mikko Häyrinen has concentrated on the Finnish men’s volleyball team lately we have had a pleasure to work with Juuso Konttinen from KIHU.

Jarkko Pokkinen & Jarno Peltovako

We have tried to improve our daily work as we get closer to the European Championships. The team has had 1–2 training camps in the Pajulahti Sports Institute every month and the amount of camp days increases as we are heading towards September. Also we have focused on developing the daily training – volume, quality and conditions. Nine of our ten national team players lives in the Finnish metropolitan area. Petteri Peitso has personal responsibility to keep up the quality of his training in Seinäjoki. We have concentrated on training conditions mainly in the metropolitan area. We have increased the good cooperation with the Metropolitan Sports Academy Urhea. This cooperation has given us the possibility to train in the venues of the Helsinki based school named Pohjois-Haagan Yhteiskoulu during summer. The conditions are now better than what the team has used to in previous summers.

Of course one part of prepartation is playing. We have already been in Malmö and we are heading to Lithuania and Belgium before the Euros. Our new coaching staff learned some valuable lessons in the Malmö Men Intercup on May. We played five matches, won Great Britain and Belgium and lost to Lithuania, Ukraine and Japan. The first match day was – how would I put it – full of learning and wondering this whole new ball game for me. Our performance in the second day of the tournament instead was very promising as we improved vastly. Well, the final day was again learning how important it is to do small things well and how those small things can influence your playing when done half-heartedly.

I have come to this sport as an outsider and I have been surprised how versatile this sport is. How many tactical options there is – which is something I’m just started to learn – and how many things you must take into account. One of these things is the condition of the ball. In the major championships one ball is used in three matches. Playing with a brand new and still hard ball is essentially different than playing with ball that is in its third and final match and has gotten shot. Another factor is the court material: is it a wooden court or a taraflex. Ball bounces differently in different courts. And of course the echoes of the venue influence on hearing. We have different echoes in Finnish venues than abroad. The divisive factor in this are insulation materials in sport halls. Players’ heart rates goes from 150 to 180. They shouldn’t lose their breath because that makes hearing more difficult which effects on defence. And above all we must remember that players must orientate without seeing anything. It is something that a person who can see can never really understand. Goalball is also mentally hard. The ball storms towards you at 70 km/h. It takes some commitment to throw yourself to the way a time after time. Players are also trying to get under each other skin with thrash talking. It takes a hard guy to be able to handle all this.

We are still in the beginning of our story but I can already tell that the players as well as other staff members have showed commitment, willing to train hard, willing to get better and succeed in the Euros.

With these thoughts our team is getting ready for the home games. Goalball is best live so see you in Pajulahti!"

There will be total of 22 blog texts published in the Pajulahti 2017 blog, one text every week until the 2017 IBSA Goalball European Championships on 18–22 of September. Each week there will be a different writer. New blog text will be published every Wednesday.