Ben Urban interview

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We had a pleasure to interview coach Ben Urban, coach of Uruguay´s National Team! The results of our work are here:

  1. First, tell us about you, your life as a competitor and as a coach and how that happened? 

My competitive career was difficult, as I struggled with major injuries, while training full time in a high performance environment. My coach and former Great Britain men’s coach, Chris Bowles, mentored me through the transition from athlete to coach. I kept training at a good level while coaching with a regional cadet team. Then in 2017 I extended my coaching commitment and took on a full time position with my club, Tonbridge Judo Club, working with our performance athletes, at cadet and junior levels. I have been exposed to working with high performance athletes on an international stage from very early in my coaching career. Our club works with athletes towards inclusion on the British Olympic and Paralympic pathways. 

During my transition period there has been so much to learn. One of the most important aspects I’ve found is that it is paramount to begin to understand and teach judo which isn’t your own and develop a way of progressing personal plans for individual athletes, teaching them to own their own judo and training programmes. I am becoming a coach who gives athletes autonomy to become the best version of themselves through the tools we develop in collaboration. 

2. What are your projects now? Tell us about your collaboration with Uruguay and your club in Great Britain? 

Currently I am working out how to exist as a coach without a full time paid position. My passion is coaching and so I am building a strategy that will enable me to continue to be involved with elite Judo. I am working with Fighting Films on the International Judo Federation World Tour, as part of the media team; which is really helping me to devote time to developing my best practice as a coach. As you mentioned, I am working with the Uruguay Olympic Judo team, specifically with Alain & Pablo Aprahamian. I have an amazing relationship with the team and we are learning to work with each other well. It is fantastic to be working with athletes who are so hungry to change the way their country is represented on the global judo circuit. Mika (Alain) is a dedicated athlete and he has made my transition to the international level as a coach really enjoyable. We are working closely with Sugoi Uriate and Laura Gomez in Valencia, to provide a really unique team and programme, which is supporting us to really grow together. Since the COVID-19 lockdown began, Mika has been training regularly with me and the performance athletes at my club, to ensure we maintain the best physical condition during this period.

3. What kind of work is done in Great Britain?  Is it a system of high performance clubs, centres or does the national team always train together?

There is a centralised system in Great Britain, meaning the British World Class Performance Team are based in Walsall, at the Centre of Excellence. However, in parallel to this there are numerous high performance clubs and training centres whom work as part of the entire performance pathway system. In my opinion there should always be alternative options, as not everything suits every athlete. A system needs to be adaptable and to allow for different types of athletes. The athletes I work with are prepared so that they are capable to react and adjust to new conditions and situations in their programme.

4. What style of coach do you consider yourself to be?

I believe in a ‘person first, athlete second’ approach to coaching. If an athlete’s wellbeing is looked after outside of their training and competition, then they will be more likely to feel prepared to perform. I think being a coach is way more than just being on the tatami at training. I believe in making people feel good and being a coach requires knowing how to relate to a person, to help them feel like they are supported in every move they make. I can be over enthusiastic, but I insist that comes down to passion! As a young coach I still feel good in my body and so I am very hands on with the athletes. I like to feel their movement so that I completely understand through my body what they are going to do when they are on the competition tatami. I try to have fun with the athletes too. Of course there is time to be serious and focussed, but it is important to enjoy sport. I have learned from my own experiences, especially reflecting on when I didn’t see the bigger picture as an athlete. It’s important to always find the positives in situations. Elite sport is such a small window of time and you should always take the time to enjoy the top of the mountain and take it all in. ‘Love the process’ is my motto.

5. What are the qualities that a good athlete must have?

An athlete should try to ‘love the process’ of training. Of course there are times when things are tough, however It’s important to enjoy, or at least respect, all modes of training. I think a good life balance outside of Judo is important, having a good outlet outside of sport, such as education or hobbies, then you are able to compartmentalise your day so that you can have the best focus when you are on the tatami. A clear mind is really important! Mika and I have been working a lot on his psychology of the through line, from training and on to the competition day. Having a good relationship with your mental health is really important. As a coach it is important to equip athletes with tools to deal with difficult situations so that the best outcome is achieved.

6. What is your favourite type of training? 

My favourite type of training changes depending on the level of athlete I am working with. With the cadets, I love working on their mobility and stability in order to develop brilliant technical foundations for their future career. Then with the older athletes I enjoy being on training camps; I think we make our biggest improvements through randori. I also use visualisation techniques with all athletes, through mindfulness and meditation. My coach and I have always used this technique to work through technical development, as thinking about how to apply a technique is sometimes just as useful as physically practising it. Having the internal belief that you can do something is really valuable for an athlete’s training programme. 

7. Do you work alone in your coaching? Do you belong to a professional team of coaches?

I work in many different coaching situations. The most important coaching partnership is with my coach, Chris. He is a mentor to me and is probably still my biggest critic, but this is really important as it means I am always assessing my effectiveness. I also work with former GBR International Sophie Johnstone, who I have been coaching with for 7 years through regional teams and club environments. My most recent collaboration though is really exciting, with the coaches in Valencia. Sugoi is a great person to work with and we also have a shared love for social media, so that is something we speak about a lot.

8. What are your goals after this period of quarantine and after the Olympics?

I want to learn Spanish. I ask the athletes I work with to speak in Spanish to me sometimes so that I can slowly pick it up, although languages are not my strong point! I am also writing my Masters thesis in Coaching Psychology, which is my focus for after quarantine. I am really looking forward to examining the importance of wellbeing and the ‘person first’ approach, through this thesis. Right now my main focus is the Olympics and preparing my team in the best way possible. Who knows what will come next?! I am making sure I stay open to new collaborations and I am always learning; I think this is the best way to be at the top of my game.

David Fernández Rodríguez

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