SportsEdTV Interviewed Coach Dimitra Palavratzi

Published: 2021-03-08
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On a cloudy Monday afternoon two weeks ago, I came across to some volleyball videos that Greek coach Dimitra Palavratzi had posted on her Instagram. Since it was the beginning of a hectic week, I looked at the videos, and felt nostalgia running through my veins.

“Why so?”, you might ask. The answer is simple.

Watching these short videos of Dimitra and her “kids”, as she calls them, training in the sports hall, enjoying the volleyball drills, I just wanted to become 11 again and go back to the roots. Back to the times when I first started trainings.

Volleyball gives you a lot, when you are growing up. It gives you even more if you become a professional athlete, that’s for sure.  However, in my eyes, the most special moments are the ones when you start. These are the purest memories that you will bring with you wherever you go.

This is, of course, if you have the luck to have by your side a coach who inspires you in the beginning of the road. After my conversation with Dimitra, I am more than sure that the kids at Peiramatiko V.C. in Thessaloniki, Greece, will have the memories that will warm them up on some distant Monday afternoon in the future when they are the adults.

While we learn from the greatest and talk sports with world-renowned experts, we also need to stop for a while and give our attention to the coaches who are working not in the Star Leagues, but with our most precious diamonds – the kids. The same kids that someday, maybe, will become the next big names in volleyball.

Get a grasp of how popular volleyball in Greece is, what the pros and cons of working with teenagers are, and what the mission of a coach is.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s move to the Balkans and talk to Dimitra Palavratzi.

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SportsEdTV: Is Volleyball famous in Greece? Maybe beach volleyball is more popular than the indoor one, having in mind all the wonderful Greek beaches.

Dimitra Palavratzi: Volleyball is a famous sport in Greece, especially for girls. It is the sport with most female participants in the country. Beach volleyball is also famous but I haven’t done this for a while so I don’t have a full overview right now. The Men’s League is professional, too, and we have very good teams. The national team is also one of the good ones in Europe, but it is not that much popular.

SportsEdTV: How did you decide to become a coach?

Dimitra Palavratzi: I’ve played professionally for three years only. I decided early that I wanted to become a coach. After my teen years, it was something that happened naturally. I have never said, “I want to be a coach”. I said, “I want to be happy with what I do”. I remember before applying to the college, I said to myself that I had to do some serious thinking. I asked myself what is that one thing I will never get bored with. The answer came naturally. Four years later, I started coaching and there isn’t a single day when I say “I don’t want to go to work today”, “I need a day off”. I just followed my instincts, it was a dream come true and the best decision that I could have ever taken.

SportsEdTV: Why volleyball? Why not another sport?

Dimitra Palavratzi: I just love it! It was a love at first touch. In the beginning, I liked more the beach volleyball. By that time, I didn’t even know what volleyball was. I just saw it and I liked it. I saw the passion of the athletes, the moves, the dives, everything. I said to myself that I would try this and it just happened!

SportsEdTV:Tell us more about your first steps as a volleyball coach.

Dimitra Palavratzi: I started immediately after university. I went to Aris, one of the biggest clubs here in Thessalonki, and I worked there for three years. By that time, they had a team in the first division. After that, I went to Iraklis V.C., also a big local team, spent there four years. I’ve coached also in other teams, now I am Peiramatiko V.C.

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SportsEdTV:How many kids are training in Peiramatiko?

Dimitra Palavratzi: We have almost 150 kids, most of them girls. Apart from coaching my teams, I am also the technical coordinator of the club, responsible for the program of every team. As a coach, I work with kids around the age of 11. In the current situation, we don’t work out, we lost the season but I hope that from next season on, things will get better.

SportsEdTV: Greece is in lockdown again. How often do you talk to your athletes? How do you help them to stay in shape in this period?

Dimitra Palavratzi: The only thing I can do now, is to keep them away from the sofa. I am regularly sending them weekly workouts.

SportsEdTV: At some point, we will be back in the gyms. In this light, how do you see the future? How do you imagine the coming back?

Dimitra Palavratzi: It is going to be really difficult. We, coaches, will have to be prepared for what we are going to face. It’s not like that we will have new athletes to work with; we will have our old athletes in a new situation. Let’s say, we have an athlete who wants to play big again. But if this kid has been on the sofa for four months, we have to be extremely careful; we have to try preventing injuries. We need to start from the drills, taking it slowly. It’s going to be difficult for them because kids would like to start ASAP – they want to play, to hit the ball, to serve.  But we have to take it slow.

SportsEdTV: That would be your advice to your colleagues, too.

Dimitra Palavratzi: Yes, let’s take things slowly once back on the court because when talking about these young ages, the athletes are still not professionals. They have to enjoy the game and to achieve that, they have to be healthy. Ok, we lost once season. It happened, we cannot change this. Our role now will be to help them to adjust again safely, so that they don’t lose another one because of an injury, for example.

SportsEdTV: You mentioned about enjoying the game. Let’s talk about the videos you are making and your approach to the training process. How did you start these videos? They are really interesting, with interesting exercises.

Dimitra Palavratzi: I am really glad because people like my videos. This means they actually like my work. It all started during a practice about one year and a half ago. I recorded an exercise because I wanted to show my players their mistakes. After a few times practising, I recorded them again because they did it right. I showed the video to them and congratulated them on the good work. I told them I will upload the video on Instagram but it wasn’t my real intention. The girls, however, got super excited. “Of course, coach, let’s do that. Let’s upload the video!”. So, I uploaded it. Then I did one more and one more. By the time I had uploaded 10-15 videos, I realized there were so many people liking and sharing them, without giving me the credit. I deleted everything and uploaded them again. This is how people got to know me and my work better.

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SportsEdTV: I suppose that the girls are very happy with the Instagram videos. It’s their star moment, becoming famous on social media. Do you believe that this helps in the trainings? Not only from the technical perspective, but also for creating a better environment for your athletes, for them to have fun.

Dimitra Palavratzi: Having fun during a practice is the most important thing when it comes to those ages. Through the drills and the warming up games, I try to keep them interested in the action. I believe that when kids come to practice, they shouldn’t know what they are going to do. They should come to the practices and be excited of the unknown that lies ahead. I hate routine practices and I don’t want my kids to have that. I always plan my drills, my practices, completely different one day from another.

SportsEdTV: How do you find the inspiration for the new drills?

Dimitra Palavratzi: This is something I thank my athletes for. Every exercise and every drill that I come up with, has to do with their mistakes that need to be corrected. I see the mistake; I come back the next day, to the court, with a new drill. It is important to mention that you may have done one mistake, but it doesn’t mean that you have to do only one exercise to correct it. Sometimes it is the sum of many different exercises.

SportsEdTV: Without them even realizing it, they are giving you a feedback and helping you to create your training sessions based on this.

Dimitra Palavratzi: Yes. My target group are the teenage girls. This is the time when you “educatе” their minds, when you show them how to behave, how to think. This is the age when they learn the right technique. I don’t want to work with a woman who is 25 years old, and has the wrong technique because at this age I cannot correct it.

SportsEdTV: On the other hand, it is probably very much challenging to work with kids at this age. Puberty is usually considered a delicate period.

Dimitra Palavratzi: It is difficult sometimes, yes. However, I know how to treat these kids. I know the way they think, what they go through in school, what is happening in their families, with friends etc. It is easier for me to talk to these kids, they are like my little sisters.

SportsEdTV: Then it’s about creating kind of a friendship with these kids but also keeping the authority of the coach. You have to balance between both things. In my eyes, this is a pretty big challenge, too.

Dimitra Palavratzi: If kids trust you, no matter of their age, they will be open to you. Kids at any age, they don’t have any second thoughts. If they see that you are trying hard for them, that you want them to be the best and you work for them every day, taking care of them, they will be open to you and will listen. You need to be there when they need you. Not only for volleyball, but for everything else. Creating trust is the foundation of everything. Only from this point on, you can start building up on the other elements.

SportsEdTV: You mention that you often ask them how they are doing in school. Have you had a situation with kids that are having it difficult to balance between trainings and school? What do you advise them?

Dimitra Palavratzi: In a country like Greece, with a bad educational system, it is extremely difficult to do both things as good as you would like to. Kids here spend almost 12 hours per day studying. Been there, done that. There is a way to combine them though. It’s all about prioritizing things and making sure both activities are on the same level. If you want to play volleyball, and be a good student, you need to organize your time correctly. And I must tell you, kids are the most working people.

SportsEdTV: You seem like you really feel your young athletes as part of your family. Do you help them also by giving any nutrition tips?

Dimitra Palavratzi: Nutrition is one of the three most important factors in the professional sports world. If a player eats right, they will always have the energy that the body demands, to perform better, to recover after practices. It’s really important that players plan their meals and start learning how to do this from a young age.

I give my kids general pieces of advice on what is healthy, what is not. But I believe also that everyone is an expert in their own field and if I actually see a problem, like an overweight, for example, I will address the key to the nutritionist of the club.

SportsEdTV: You are also a consultant in the Block-Out Volleyball Academy, that is based in the USA. Tell us a little bit more about your work there.

Dimitra Palavratzi: The Block-Out academy is based in Alabama, yes. It’s not a club, it is more like a volleyball school where you can get private lessons. I started around year and a half ago and I was going to travel there, but … COVID happened. Right now, the only thing that I can do, is to talk with the coach there, to exchange ideas, thoughts. Knowledge sharing.

SportsEdTV: I read that the activities of the Block-Out Academy are focused only on helping female players. Do you believe female players need a special confidence boost?

Dimitra Palavratzi: I don’t think female athletes need a special boost. Or to explain it better, it might happen that men players also lack confidence occasionally. I just think both genders express it in a different way and it is not something that women lack, it is the way how we express it.

SportsEdTV: One of the principles of the Academy is educating work ethic. Can you tell us more about that?

Dimitra Palavratzi: Educating work ethic is the most difficult part of the training because you don’t have any written guidelines, for example, to give them to the kids. It takes time and you have to lead by example. I have some rules: be on time, stay focused, always show up, and be disciplined. But I cannot demand my players to be on time, if I am not on time. You lead by example. On the other hand, players will go through some difficult situations. They will have a bad time, they will lose a game, and they will even face an injury. How we handle these situations, will form their mindsets. 

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SportsEdTV: What do you advise them? How to act when they lose a game that is very important to them?

Dimitra Palavratzi: If you lose a game because the opponent was better, you have to go back and work harder, so the next day you face them, you are the one who wins the game. If you lose a match because you didn’t play well but you were better than the opponent…Then you have to go back the next day, on the court, and try harder.

SportsEdTV: To sum up, go back on the court.

Dimitra Palavratzi: Yes, this is my philosophy. Always go back and try hard to correct the mistakes and to become better.

SportsEdTV: Do you believe that the harder you work, the more your confidence boosts, so that when you show up on the day of the official match, you are able to reach your limits?

Dimitra Palavratzi: Sometimes it’s not about “the harder you work”… It’s about the quality that you put on the work. One might go to the court and stay there for four hours, talking to their teammates, having fun. Then there will be the other player who enters the court, practices for two hours, and actually does the work.

SportsEdTV: How do you face the moments of delegating roles on the court? Are kids happy when you tell them “go be the opposite hitter”, while they want to be the libero, for example?

Dimitra Palavratzi: All kids understand what they are good at, and what they are not good at.  At least, this is my case. And I always explain that it is not about what we like but what we are good at. I also give them “the freedom” to decide – if they want to be a setter, but I believe they won’t reach certain high level, I tell them. From that point on, it is their choice. 

I should mention also that I always work with my players in every position. I am not a magician; I don’t know what you are going to be in the future. I take my players in every position, and use them as outside hitters, opposites, setters, in the middle, as liberos. Actually, the libero is the easiest position for me because most of the kids who don’t seem to get taller, they work on this position and they never complain.

SportsEdTV: Can we say that your approach to the players in this case is that you see them as adults? It’s not just the teenager that you are talking to…

Dimitra Palavratzi: Yes, yes, exactly. Other thing that happens is that there are many parents that come to my way and say that they want their kid to become, let’s say, a setter. Ok, I don’t have a problem with that but as a professional, I have to tell you that your kid is better as an outside hitter.

SportsEdTV: I hope that more parents will understand that and they won’t have such “sick” ambitions.

To finish our conversation, I would like to ask you if you believe that it is difficult to be a female coach in a mainly male world?

Dimitra Palavratzi: I think we have broken this stereotype long time ago. One of the best coaches in the world now is a woman – Jenny Lang Ping. Female coaches are equally able to lead a high-level team as men do. Knowledge is not about a gender, it is about how willing you are to try.

The only obstacle, in my opinion, for achieving this, is that most of the times, female coaches change their priorities around a certain age.  This is the only reason why there are more male coaches in high-level divisions.