Interview: “No one can turn a plough horse into a race horse”

The time between two matches is especially important for coaches. In the games following the restart last season, Hertha demonstrated their athletic prowess out on the grass - Bruno Labbadia’s team covered more ground on the pitch than almost any other Bundesliga side. Hertha’s coach has Henrik Kuchno’s home training programme to thank for this. He and Hendrik Vieth have now been joined by Günter Kern. The trio gave the Blue-Whites added support and are now facing further challenges. What unites all three is that they themselves set a good example. New arrival Kern is not only fit thanks to his job: "I make sure that I do something every day - usually a combination of endurance and strength training," says the wiry 62-year-old, who founded a sprinting club in Munich and also had a spell in charge of the Japanese club, Cerezo Osaka. In this interview, the Berchtesgadener spoke about good values after the corona break, the challenges of the seven week pre-season period for the 2020/21 season, and the importance of talent, desire and diligence.

Günter, the statistics following the restart last season certainly speak in your favour. How pleased are you with the running performance of the team?

Kern: Looking at the running data, I’m really pleased. But of course it cannot be viewed in isolation from the overall training process.

In view of the physical capabilities of the players, what relationship do you see between talent, attitude in training, and desire?

Kern: Without a certain level of talent, you’re going nowhere. The difference then is from the neck upwards. I’ve seen many talents who never went on to make it, even though they wanted to. The most important part is your mentality and attitude, and how hard you work in training. That’s indispensible, because you can’t make it with talent alone.

In this context, is Vladimir Darida the prime example of a player where all of this fits together?

Kern: You only have to look at our training sessions to see it. Vladimir is always at the front and pulling his weight in the team. He benefits from that, as his physique is his great strength.

Darida has set several records for total distance covered in games since the restart. What makes him so strong in this regard?

Kern: It’s unbelievable. What really sets him apart though, is that these figures are not outliers on the top, but his consistent levels of performance. Vladi has taken a big step forward in these past weeks.

Speed is a difficult skill to learn, but you founded a sprinting club in Munich. What is the idea behind it?

Kern: At the end of the day, you’re either fast or you’re not. No one can turn a plough horse into a race horse. But to make it in the Bundesliga you have to already have a certain level of speed. If you can hone that ability, and several factors play a part in this, it can be exactly what you need to beat the competition.

Performance is one thing, and preventing injuries is something different. Do you see a connection between the two?

Kern: The most important thing is the ability of repetition. What this means is that as an athlete, you are able to repeatedly do an exercise as intensive as sprints over and over, without constantly being in the red zone. It’s just as important that you recover quickly after the exertion and reach your normal level again. This is crucial for injury prophylaxis, because muscular injuries occur less often if you can cope with the strain better.

The disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic has presented almost everyone with special challenges, including you as an athletics coach. How did you deal with it?

Kern: Henrik Kuchno did an outstanding job with the boys during lockdown, and the players came back to training afterwards at a very good level. Afterwards, we had to deal with the difficulty of only being allowed to train in small groups, but we compensated for the lack of intensity through special programmes off the pitch, for example with intensive running exercises.

You yourself have already experienced quite a bit in your career. How important was it to be able to draw on a wealth of experience?

Kern: No one has experienced anything like this before. However, we’re all experienced coaches here and were able to deal with the situation well, and perhaps get more out of it than coaches who have less experience.

What would you say characterises your work, and what is your recipe for success?

Kern: I think empathy is the most important thing. How I am around the players, how I motivate them. When it’s my turn to train them, its tiring work and there is rarely any use of a football. That’s actually really bad conditions (grins). But if I’m empathetic with the players and can convince them, if I am honest and sincere, and if the players knw why they are doing what they’re doing, the will go along with it. In reality, I have a sh** job (laughs), but ideally I do my job well and the players don’t hate me. I’ve got a lot of experience in my area, and it doesn’t matter whether I’m working with a van Nistelrooy, a Ze Roberto, a Dzeko or someone who has just come out of the U19s, I treat everyone the same. The players realise that they can rely on what I say.

Football is a team game. What do you make of your work alongside Henrik Kuchno and Hendrik Vieth?

Kern: The cooperation with both of them is simply outstanding; I’m pleased to be able to work with them. Henrik Kuchno is the best of the best when it comes to testing and objectifying but he also has great drills. Whether it's bodyweight sessions or warming up and strength and speed endurance - you can be sure that everything makes sense. Hendrik Vieth is also extremely valuable as a rehab trainer due to his background holder of an ‘A-Trainerschein’ coaching qualification. When he goes out with the players do some work with the ball, everything works perfectly. We can rely on his judgment.

How difficult was it to plan pre-season when it wasn’t clear when the new season would begin?

Kern: We only had a rough idea of when the new season would start, but we also knew that our players needed a break, and also that they deserved one. We could plan the pre-season to within a few days, but it would have helped if we’d have been given specific dates as early as possible – that would have made detailed planning easier. Nevertheless, we’ve got through it well so far and got the team to a good level.