It is never easy to change your routine, especially for professional athletes. The pandemic has forced everyone to live differently. How to maintain physical and mental balance? How to keep enthusiasm and avoid depression? The sensei's responsibility is much greater than usual. They have solutions and have been generous, as is the remit of the coach, to answer our questions. In this tenth episode we talk with Ruslan Mashurenko, Azerbaijan Judo Team Head Coach.
Ruslan Mashurenko with Azerbaijan Judo Federation Vice President Sadiq Sadiqov

- How has nutrition been managed during this time? How did it change?

Azerbaijani cuisine is famous all over the world and the guys from our team try not to change their cuisine preferences. Of course, everyone loves homemade food, but an athlete's lifestyle involves constant travels around the world, so no matter where we go for competition our guys are looking for cuisine close to their traditional Azerbaijani cuisine. Our diet, in connection with the pandemic, did not change much, however, those judokas who had a boundary weight had to follow a selective diet. In general, we can say that the quarantine did not affect our meals.

- How important is the psychological aspect for keeping judoka focused in such a difficult period?

A good question! In fact, highly qualified judokas who had a high Olympic rating at the time of the quarantine announcement, were focused on their possible performances at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo. Everyone took the news courageously, that the Olympic Games would be postponed. We adjusted the preparation plans and even at a time when the possible re-opening date of the tournaments was not known, we conditionally put our plans in place - we concentrated all our forces on September.

Of course, even today the situation with the start of the tournaments is not completely clear, but the guys, of course, understand everything! They have a very strong desire to compete, to show their strengths and abilities. Therefore, they keep themselves in good shape. Depending on the weight category and level of the athlete, we try to adjust the training process so that when the tournaments open, we can immediately enter the competitive process fully.

- What did you tell them to encourage continued training and to not lose hope?

The entire coaching staff and I had a meeting with the guys at which we discussed the situation. After such tight training schedules and tournaments, which have been fast-paced for more than one year, we found ourselves in a new situation. In a sense, this is a challenge! In principle, the team did not need a special approach as there was no need to tune, persuade or beg someone. Everyone took the situation as a team should and without worry. The coaching staff proposed a plan and outlined prospects. Everything was accepted unanimously. Our challenge is to strive for future success. In this unforeseen situation, the team rallied and continues to work smoothly!

- How about you? What did you tell yourself?

In connection with such cascading information, keeping us away from the Olympic Games and other planned performances, we had to, as they say, “cook in the kitchen with a knife,” that is, constantly adjust plans, motivating the guys so that none of them lost interest in training. The coaching staff and the Azerbaijan Judo Federation tried to maintain the fighting climate in the team.

 I personally stayed in Azerbaijan for this period with the team.

Ruslan Mashurenko with Azerbaijan Judo Federation President Rovnag Abdullayev

Are you staying together to train continuously? If not together, how do you keep contact?

There was a very strict quarantine in Azerbaijan and when we faced its realities, in the first days, both the coaching staff and the athletes, of course, began to look for a way out of this situation. In the first phase, for a very small quantity athletes, we organised a training plan and used the time allotted for walking and training in the open air. Of course we followed all the quarantine recommendations. Due to the fact that there were different quarantine regimes, we tried our best to adapt to the situation, looked for time for training, wrote out certain plans so that we could work with the main team.

The coaching staff maintains constant contact with the judoka, controlling the work process. It should be noted that all the recommendations and plans of the coaching staff have been implemented well, to date. In my opinion the team is in good condition today.

- Personally  how do you handle your time now? Is it different? Time at home versus time at work?

I can say all my life has been spent in this sport, in training and now it’s the same; for me nothing significant has changed.

- What is your personal feeling/thought about the global situation and how do you see the future of judo?

We are, of course, faced with an extraordinary situation that has radically changed communications and relationships in society. Unfortunately humanity had to face this problem and today we all live in new and unusual conditions, but progress in this situation will certainly come!

I think that such a sport as judo will not only survive, it will rise to a higher level in the sports ranking! Perhaps there will be some adjustments, but this should not affect the entertainment and popularity of judo.

- Have you modified the specific judo techniques used in training for the team at this time?

Yes, indeed, in a tight schedule of tournaments it is not always possible to focus on practising techniques and analysing tactical moments. Therefore, we decided not to waste time and tried to use this period of time for maximum benefit for our team. We focused on working out new techniques, working on mistakes, improving the tactics of struggle. If you look globally, then judo is a constant improvement of technology, knowledge and spiritual development. I think that we have used the time given to us correctly and will be able to show good results as soon as the competitions begin again.

- What training equipment do you like judoka to use when training alone/in isolation? (Such as Uchi-Komi bands, kettlebells, rowing machine, Bulgarian bag, wobble board, Swiss ball or many others)

In order not to be in a state of monotonous training all the time, we tried to work in different directions and included some new techniques in training. We tried to make training more interesting and productive, useful for keeping athletes in shape. The team took it with enthusiasm and the guys really liked our innovations.

Ruslan Mashurenko with Azerbaijan Judo Team

- Do you think there are some positives to take from this challenging global situation? Which positives apply to you, your life or your work?

Of course, the pandemic has changed the usual way of life and work for everyone, including our judo athletes and the coaching staff. We are accustomed to a different rhythm of life; a tight and tense schedule of preparation and competition, which forces athletes to be in a constant high sports tone. The geography of tournaments is broad, with constant travel and performances. The current situation is good only in that it made it possible for us to stop a little, perhaps to re-evaluate some points. Actually, I think that we should return to the mode of our activity that we had before the start of this ill-fated pandemic.

- Which judoka really impresses you at the moment and why?

I have to say that all the members of the national team train hard. All the guys try to work efficiently and give their best.

You found Aladdin’s lamp and were granted 3 wishes. What would you wish for?

1. Like everyone else on our planet, I would like the fastest resolution of the pandemic issue.

2. I would like the Azerbaijani and Ukrainian peoples to realise their desires, so that peace reigns throughout the region and many people can live under a peaceful sky and return to their homes.

3. Finally, for all my relatives and friends to be healthy and have many reasons for joy and happiness.

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