ARGENTINA TO MOVE UP A GEAR
With the Argentine Hockey Federation ( CAH) recent announcement that Alejandro Labonia has been appointed the new physical fitness trainer of the World champions, it is clear that the national team, who dazzled us in Rosario, intend to raise the bar still further by 2012 with this exciting choice being made to fill the role. A team that is already celebrated for taking dedication and training to new levels is going to prove even tougher to take on in the future as his new regime begins to pay dividends over the coming year.
On the official CAH website , details of Labonia’s impressive credentials and relevant background were presented and an insight into what plans he has to help prepare the current World Champions up to 2012. In an in depth interview, published in full here, Labonia outlines a vigorous highly professional whole player fitness regime he intends to implement , in collaboration with Coach Carlos Retegui , making it abundantly clear that there will be no resting on their laurels. Labonia has extensive parallel experience of training top level hockey and men’s rugby and will expect from two women’s squads, a new ,even higher level of professionalism and to embrace what he calls a very modern concept of fitness. He intends to add an experienced nutritionist to augment the current background staff, a role which he sees as vital to achieve maximum performance.
His ideas include individualised training plans , the expectation of players under taking self- initiated additional training outside of squad work outs. He sees there is not substitute too for synthetic pitch surface fitness because of the way it’s softness can be so energy draining. Having seen the squad in practice training he sees an immediate need for players to work on further developing leg strength in order to be able to initiate more effective rhythm changes in bursts of accelerated pace, The buzz word he brings with him from professional rugby is what he calls “playing power” and this is to be developed by working, amongst other areas, on strengthening play-specific muscle groups. Currently the aim is to prepare the squad for the vital Pan American games . What becomes clear here, hearing Alejandro’s articulate his doctrine so impressively is that he expects all players to buy into the philosophy of giving your best and that winning is everything and to win means preparation and training to be the best and earning it the hard way in a carefully structured programme.
As an interesting aside, it remains to be seen whether this new regime will impact on Luciana Aymar, who is currently on long term authorised leave of absence, following the World Cup, and how it can accommodate her- she may well have to now to return to regular training with the squad early to remain eligible as a player where increasing fitnes demands are being made on all the other players.
My translation of the CAH full report reads as follows:-
"I hope to be useful to Las Leonas" Alejandro Labonia
At about ten o'clock on Tuesday, 28th November, the coaching staff of Las Leonas, led by Head Coach Carlos Retegui and Alfredo Castro, introduced Alejandro to first team seniors and under 21 players as their new trainer , taking over from the recently retired Luis Barrioneuvo. Born January 25, 1964, in Buenos Aires, the new physical fitness coach for the World Champions is recognized for having worked with the Pumas for seven years (between 1996 and 2002), helping oversee a stage in which the national Rugby squad made a major breakthrough in world rugby.
"I was the Pueyrredón Club trainer for 20 years. Basically I was in the business of fitness training of amateur rugby players who wanted to become professionals, "said Labonia, who coached Patricio Albacete, Juan Hernández, among other world renowned rugby players.
But the sport of the oval ball is not the only area where he worked but also in hockey. "My beginnings in physical preparation of players are in this sport. I trained and learned a lot from the great hockey trainers, such as Mario Ranalli and Luis Barrionuevo, who were professors of mine . I worked in this field for 20 years with Belgrano Athletic and aslo at City of Buenos Aires, who were national champions champion in 1988, with players like Carlos Geneyro and Pablo Lombi, among others. I worked with several of those national technical bodies”, he added , “ and also coached Argentina's renowned pole vaulter Alejandra García.”
CAH-How did you take the call from Carlos Retegui to be the new trainer of Las Leoanas ?
"Firstly, I did not believe him ! (laughs) But then I knew it was very serious, because I knew he was consulting Luis Barrett, who I have great respect for. His achievement with the World Cup was very good, but everything is a process that has an end and we must continue to evolve, otherwise you don’t grow. We are world champion now and then we're not. You have to keep working on it day to day, because that is the most important thing : you have to train hard to be the best. One day you go out champions and one day may you may not , but you always have to be looking for the best. The same is true in the coaching staff. We must strive to be the best in our field , so that players will also seek to grow that way.
CAH How did the dialogue go before final acceptance of your appointment ?
"I asked to be able to work in a different way perhaps. The preparation of Luis Barrett was very good, but I work differently. I might take a while to adapt to the team to this form of training, but it is one thing that I have created and a plan is under preparation based on the parameters of high performance. I also asked the Confederation to support me in the purchase of materials we need urgently to prepare the players. I wanted the technical staff structure to include a nutritionist, which I see as very important.
CAH. Before you begin, did you discuss about how they had been working with the or did you prefer to start from scratch with your project?
"In particular, in my life I knew a lot about the current set up already, so I was well informed. I already knew about how Louis (Barrett) worked as I have known him for many years . The best way to train includes athletics which I see as very important for the formation of an all round sportsman.
CAH-You say that you were a student of Luis Barrionuevo, what you learn from him at the time?
"I was his student many years ago , my teacher in high school. For 15 years he was a revolutionary in the physical preparation of National squad and is currently is the only face of fitness in hockey today. Everything is in steps and you learn a lot from day to day. Physical preparation training has evolved a lot and now is global. It is no longer just for the hockey player. You have to work for the welfare of the player, things that will serve their health and their game in collaboration with the coach. With highly competitive players you prepare them to play and win. In their clubs there are other types of preparations, more training. In a national squad you have to seek results. It's like a famous phrase from an American university: "The important thing is not to win, it is everything “ and , he continued “you have to prepare to win.”
CAH-- Tuesday was your first day in the job . How will you remember that day?
"Like a day I was eager to start working. I hope to be useful. I believe that your life can be no better when you can be useful. What I look for every day is to strive to be useful for Las Leonids. One aim is to step up the current to be where I want them to be within the next two years. The important thing is to reach a point when they say "Alejandro Labonia was useful in this process." “We must not believe you are the best just because you are in Las Leonas ; it has to be worked for and earned.”
CAH- Do you feel in tune with coach Carlos Retegui’s mentality?
"I know a lot about him . He trained as a young man in San Fernando and I can assure you he really sacrificed a lot. The truth is when I was a fitness trainer I never complained because I was very loyal. I saw him driving groups. I saw him driving them through difficult times. Being with him I had to work in a very complicated situation of San Fernando, when he lost the category. He was adept at managing the team really well and pulled them forwards, driving its momentum, With his policy of not neglecting core values, he took the team forward. It's like life: you're the same inside and outside a stadium, that's what you model.
CAH -In your presentation, you took things steadily at first we heard from the group, how did that go?
"It was a basic presentation, logic ... Yes I saw they watched me as a stranger. That will happen until I win the group over. I felt I had a big responsibility for Argentine sports. To do things right. They must be convinced that there is something more to give and not settle for what they have. To be professional is not necessary to charge, must be from the mindset. One has to reach high performance with a professional head. "A Professional Head " means completion of training, implementing the plan of Nutritionist supplementation, respect the rest, doing individual work in the gym and not to rely only on what is done in squad training. Our famous individual training programmes you also have to do ; it's where you focus and what you need to improve certain parts of you. I also want to incoporate computerized after training into the Las Leonas.arsenal.
CAH -"With respect to equipment," were you following the campaign for Las Leonas?
"Yes, I always like to ask myself what they do and what not. I had not quite internalized the physical preparation of the Leonids. But watching the team soon realized. I have a lot experience in hockey and I can tell you that when you run around a lot on the synthetic pitch in the women's it needs a great workout . Synthetic pitch hockey is a sport that is unforgiving if you not engaged a lot of training on that surface area. You can train hard on a track, but if you do not on the actual pitch much physically you fall off , because the soft surface generates more tiredness. I saw a great deal of pitch play and the specific movements of the players were well oiled and prepared.
CAH-"The group i achieved peak performance in the World Cup. There was a layoff and now they are returning to the activity in the first international games. Given these factors, how are you thinking of addressing them?
"Las Leonas have had two high points in their physical performance during the Champions Trophy in Nottingham and during the World Cup in Rosario. What to look for now is to lower the engine and keep a level of "stand by", then go see what each player needs now and aim to work to that point. Then you have to do a special preparation period, because it is a very important year with the Pan American Games, which is everything. The Champions Trophy is very important, but the Pan American Games are crucial. We must bring them on a little, because the tournament is almost at the year’s end and half the girls have other commitments such as league commitments for their clubs. Look for peaks, but the highest peak in what you have to prepare for is the Pan Games . The idea is for me to see what I have from the physical condition of each player and the mental part, which to me is very important.
CAH-What was your analysis of the players in this first practice?
"In the first practice I saw, maybe, I liked the rhythm changes, but some changes had no acceleration and that is lack of leg strength, fine for the stage they are now but an area to improve. I also think they need to work on other muscle training, which is what I mean when I mention the concept of very modern fitness. I noted the lack of change of pace and that worries me, because change of pace has a lot to do with the type of game you want to implement. Retegui, related it to takeoff. If you have a predictable pace and your rival resets quickly, you can not implement this system of play and pass and depending on individuals. This is a very difficult work. I have made it clear that hockey is a sport like rugby, working power. In this discipline you must be very careful with individual skills and fine motor coordination.
The orginal article in Spanish can be found here
photo Getty Images
photo Getty Images