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“No one can make a racehorse out of a farm horse”

Fitness coach Günter Kern on his first few weeks at Hertha BSC, the challenges he faced during the Corona break and the difficulties involved in planning for the new season.

Berlin – The period of time between the end of the season and the beginning of the new season is an important one for fitness coaches. Players, coaches and staff go on a well-deserved holiday, but pre-season is edging ever closer. Even in the games since the restart, the Hertha players already proved their athletic ability out on the pitch: Bruno Labbadia’s side were one of the fittest teams in the league. This was also partly down to Henrik Kuchno’s home training program. Günter Kern joined both Kuchno and Hendrik Vieth on the fitness team after the change of management. The trio have breathed new life into Blue-White legs, and their services are now once again required.

What really unites the three coaches, is that they all like to set a good example. New signing Kern doesn’t just stay fit for his role as an instructor, “I try to do something every day – usually a combination of strength and conditioning training,” said the 61-year-old, who has previously founded a speed centre in Munich, as well as working for Japanese club Cerezo Osaka. herthabsc.de spoke to the man from Berchtesgaden about the good results since the restart, the challenges surrounding the ambiguity regarding the start of the new season and the importance of talent, determination and hard work.

herthabsc.de: Günter, the statistics speak for themselves since the restart. How pleased are you with the fitness of the team in particular?
Kern: Looking at the running statistics, I’m really happy. But of course this cannot be looked in isolation from the overall training process.

herthabsc.de: Do you see a correlation with the number of injuries?
Kern: We have lots of injuries, but they have been concussions, metatarsal fractures due to being stepped on – this has nothing to do with fatigue. The same applies to Maxi Mittelstädt for example, who has contracted glandular fever. Unfortunately, that was just bad luck. We only had two muscular injuries, which could have something to do with the workload. In fact, our work showed that even at the end of a double gameweek, the team still recorded the league’s best running statistics. That is impressive.

herthabsc.de: Looking at the players’ physical attributes, what correlation do you see between talent, training attitude and determination?
Kern: You always need a certain level of talent. But the key difference is the talent from the neck up. I have seen lots of players, who people thought would never make it. But they were desperate for it. The last step they took was through their mentality and their attitude, putting in the work in training. That’s absolutely vital because talent alone isn’t enough.

herthabsc.de: Is Vladimir Darida the prime example in this context, where everything fits together?
Kern: You just have to look at the training sessions: Vladi is always first to arrive and always gives it his all. He really benefits from this: his physique is his biggest strength.

herthabsc.de: Darida has set several records for total distance ran per game in the matches since the restart. What makes him so fit?
Kern: It’s incredible. It speaks volumes about him that these figures aren’t anomalies, but that he consistently performs at this level. Vladi has certainly taken another step forward over the past few weeks.

herthabsc.de: Speed isn’t something that you can learn, you previously set up a speed centre in Munich yourself. What was the idea behind it?
Kern: You’re either fast, or you’re not. No one can make a racehorse out of a farm horse. But if you make it to the Bundesliga, you already have a certain level of speed. If you manage to optimise this, often several factors play a role, it can be the exact advantage you need to give yourself the edge over your opponent.

herthabsc.de: Performing well is one thing, preventing injury is another. What connection do you see between the two?
Kern: The most important thing is consistency. This means that, as an athlete, you can repeatedly complete sprints and intense runs, without constantly getting out of breath. It’s just as important that you recover quickly after the workload. This is crucial for preventing injury because muscular injuries occur less frequently if you can cope with the load better.

herthabsc.de: The break in play due to the Coronavirus has been a challenge for almost everyone, including you as fitness coaches. How did you deal with it?
Kern: Henrik Kuchno did an outstanding job with the boys during quarantine. Because of that, they all came back to training at a very good level. Afterwards we had to deal with the difficulties of only being allowed to train in small groups. We compensated for the lack of intensity through special fitness programs off the pitch, such as sprints.

herthabsc.de: You have already experienced a lot in your career. How important was it to be able to draw on such a wealth of experience?
Kern: No one has experienced anything like this before. However, we are all experienced coaches and were perhaps able to handle the situation better and get more out of it than coaches who don’t have much experience.

herthabsc.de: How would you characterise your work and your recipe for success?
Kern: I think empathy is one of the most important things: How do I deal with players, interact with them? When I take a session, it’s normally tiring and without the ball. These are bad conditions (smiles). But if I’m empathetic, if I convince the players and I’m honest and sincere with them, if they know why they’re doing it, then they’ll go along with it. Actually I’ve done a bad job (laughs). But ideally, I do my job well and the players don’t hate me. I have gained these experiences throughout my previous jobs. And it doesn’t matter if I’m working with a van Nistelrooy, a Ze Roberto, a Dzeko or someone, or if I’ working with someone who’s just come out of the U19s – I treat everyone the same. The players know that they can rely on my word.

herthabsc.de: Football is a team game. How do you assess your work with your colleagues Henrik Kuchno and Hendrik Vieth?
Kern: Our work together is simply excellent. I’m happy to be working with them. Henrik Kuchno is A1 when it comes to testing and evaluating. At the same time, he runs some great drills. Whether it’s strength training using your own body weight, or warming up, or strength and conditioning training, you can be sure that it will all work well. Hendrik Vieth is also extremely valuable for rehabilitation due to his background as a level one coach. When he takes players out to start working with the ball again, it’s always the right time. You can trust his judgement.

herthabsc.de: Before the final Bundesliga match of the season against Mönchengladbach, all the players were put through their paces. What was the reason for this?
Kern: The tests were about agility and a workout on the treadmill. We can use the results from these tests to draw up personalised plans for each individual player over the summer break. This also helps us in regard to pre-season, so that we know what level to start at. It gives us a point of comparison between the end and start of the season.

herthabsc.de: What can the players look forward to during their holidays?
Kern: Roughly speaking, the players will do 60 to 90 minutes of work about four times a week, which can be done anywhere in the world.

herthabsc.de: How difficult has it been to plan pre-season, without knowing exactly when the new season will begin?
Kern: We only know roughly when it will start up again. But we also know that our players need a deserved vacation. We can plan our pre-season with a few days’ leeway, but it would be nice to have an exact date. Then we could plan in more detail.

herthabsc.de: What sort of attitude should the players have in pre-season? Will there be blood, sweat and tears?
Kern: They can expect to sweat by the litre, but hopefully there won’t be any tears (laughs). In any case, it will certainly be very intense.

Teams, 04.07.2020
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