Fernando Rivas: ‘I’m Not a Slave of Data’

At the TotalEnergies BWF World Championships 2022, renowned coach Fernando Rivas was seen in a unique double role – with Carolina Marin and also the French team, perhaps the first instance of a coach formally working with players from two countries at the same event. How exactly does Rivas manage his twin roles? And what does he make of his famous protégé’s form following her comeback from a second serious injury?

Part 1 of a two-part interview:

You might possibly be the first coach to formally work with players from two countries at the same World Championships…

It’s kind of weird, I understand. But when I quit the Spanish federation and started to coach Carolina alone on a professional basis, I was approached by the French federation. I had been approached in the past several times, but never agreed to the conditions. This time, the technical director on the board was pushing a lot and giving me all the conditions to start building a project, a long-term project. Of course, I had already agreed with Carolina (to see her career through), and it was not ethical to let her down in the middle of injury recovery. So I had to accept a part time job, although, to be honest, I’m doing a full time job. I’m not 100 per cent over there, I’m not based in Paris, I’m based in Madrid. I go back and forth, and I share my time in tournaments. But it’s honestly like having almost two full-time jobs.

Fernando Rivas with star pupil Carolina Marin.

Having to manage players in two countries, what’s your typical week like?

It depends if I have my daughter or not. The weeks that I have my daughter, I can’t be in Paris. I have made some arrangements, but not on a regular basis. So this week, I’m mostly coaching the coaches, through video calls and following up the progress on the goals, and developing the video analysis and data analysis project — there’s a whole project around that, setting up the methodology with all the experts at INSEP (National Institute of Sport, Expertise and Performance, in Paris) that I can do online. It’s always better to be present, but we do the follow-up via email or video calls.

Also, part of my time is devoted to understanding and developing the system in terms of performance, in terms of coach application and player pathway development. So this is mainly what I do. When I’m there, I’m going for meetings with the experts at the national centre. I always say that when I’m there and I’m calling my family they see me with a big smile. I’m happy there, it’s like Disneyland, I have everything I need for a high performance centre: physiology experts, biomechanics and mental coaches. All the external services we have at the INSEP are the best I’ve ever had. That was one of the reasons I thought it was a strong project, because I could get the support of all the experts beside the coaching team. With the performance director, we had a common methodology, a common idea of what performance is and how to achieve results. So it’s busy but fulfilling. I’ve been working for Spain for 16-17 years. I think it was about time to refresh, and it’s like a fresh start. I feel all the excitement I had at the beginning, but with the knowledge I have now, so it’s a completely fresh start.

Spain has a strong sports tradition and institutions. Having seen that, you’re still impressed with INSEP?

The support they give the federations is so much stronger. It’s a completely different thing.

To me, a scientific-based approach is truly important to individualise the training, load and recovery. If we talk about video analysis, the playing styles, the development of the player, everything based on the different fields, but with data. Intuition is okay. I mean, when I talk to the sport scientists, the data scientists, it’s useful that you give me the data, you give me the information and I make an informed decision. But I don’t want to rely too much on the data, I’m not a slave of the data. No, I decide. But I need to make an informed decision and now we have the means and the technology to have that.

Plotting his next move.

Coming to Carolina Marin – where does she stand now and how much further do you see her going?

Well, you saw the World Championships, she was actually in shape. She was peaking, we were measuring her performance in training, and it was the same as in January 2020. So she’s back at her physical level. I think in the World Championships and the Japan Open she lost to bad choices. We have been going through all the videos and we have been debriefing all the videos and seeing what the problems were, trying to find out why she was taking those bad choices. Still she was very competitive with Yamaguchi who is the best in the world at the moment, and also with An Se Young, who is a very tough opponent.

Carolina still has some pain in the knee. It was a complicated surgery. She’s coping with that. This is something that’s going to be her reality. She’s not getting younger, she has pain in the knee. That’s the way it is. But this is nothing that would prevent her from performing. Some coaches thought that she couldn’t come to this aggressive playing style, but she can. Of course we have to still develop some of the areas, especially to the frontcourt, we have a lot of room for improvement, and getting acquainted with traveling and competing again, but I’m confident that if her health is all right, she’ll be back. This season when she was not even fully recovered, she was European Champion… but we want more.

Part 2 of the interview to follow

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