Interview: Didier Poppe

Didier Poppe is the coach of the World Junior Champion, shot putter Jacko Gill- who holds several youth and junior world records- and the Olympic Champion in the women´s shot put Valerie Vili. Throwholics had an interview with Didier.

Didier, could you first just introduce yourself, how did you get involved with the throwing events and coaching?

I am now 67+ and I have always been involved in throwing events since I remember , throwing self made tree branches for javelins when I was a child. Then I did Javelin throwing at French national level , making the French junior and -23 teams several times with a PB of 70,50m. But I was also playing a lot of handball at national level. I got my physical education teacher diploma in 1967 , then was really involved in the teaching and coaching side for athletics and hand ball. I spent 6 years in Tunisia as a PE teacher , also developing athletics , handball and Judo there. Then went back to France to be recruited as professional coach by the French athletics federation and sent to the Pacific former colonies , New Caledonia , Wallis Futuna , Tahiti , where I have been head coach during nearly 30 years , producing many national and world class athletes out of the Pacific islanders , especially in the javelin . I was also recruited by the IAAF coaching development program in 1996 to become the throws material producer for IAAF coaching courses all over the world. Then I retired in 2003 and decided to come to New Zealand where I was as soon offered a role as throws consultant at the IAAF high level training center Auckland , then head coach at the Northsport Academy Auckland and just now been nominated as national throws coach for New Zealand .

What is your philosophy of throwing practice and development?

My coaching philosophy is contained in 2 sayings :

1- Adapt your knowledge to the athlete and not the athlete to your
2-If you throw with your muscles , you may achieve performances ...If
you throw with your guts , you may win competitions ....If you can
also use your brain , you may become a champion ... but if you throw
using your heart and passion .... you can become a coach !

There are some coaches that put the cards on weight training, of course, thrower has to be strong but how would you collate the elements speed, strength and technique?
This is the guideline of any training and this is the most difficult thing to achieve as you have to navigate and find compromises and it   is not written in the books . I have been studying and doing experiences on the neuro muscular facilitation and effects of training
not only on the muscular fiber development but also on the improvement of the nervous stimulation of the fibers. On the practical coaching   side , it just means that permanent variation of stimulations is the   best way to produce the expected adaptation of the fibers and that the classical strength developing methods (pyramidal , eccentric/
concentric , isometric etc...etc...) are an insufficient answer to the problem . The coach has to produce combinations of stimulations in every session and every drill with a close monitoring (with adapted tests) of the effects of the training.
Strength - Speed and Technique are not only the 3 summits of a triangle but they are closely inter depending (positively or ... negatively!)

New Zealand does not have any world class throwers except Valerie Vili, Jacko Gill and Stuart Farquhar in the javelin. You see any changes coming in the next few years?

I do not agree with you . New Zealand is relatively a little country (4 millions) but has consistently produced great athletes ... and
especially throwers . In the moment , Valerie , Jacko and Stuart are the leaders , but we have also Tom Walsh (19,86m Shot junior) , some good -16 discus girls . Last year Beatrice FAUMUINA (ex discus world champion) retired and there was also only some years ago Gavin LOVEGROVE (88m javelin). I think that New Zealand is doing really better than many bigger countries .... and could even do more if most of the male talents and best athletes would not be recruited by the professional rugby and the All blacks mirage !

Your most famous athlete is Valerie Vili, but Jacko Gill is coming close to that, how did you find Jacko?

He was 14 when his dad approached me for technical help as it was getting too difficult for him to look after his son. We had soon a   good contact with Jacko in spite of the difference of age and background and we could find a way to get together which is really very open minded and cooperative.

There are some rumours about him, of course, with such performances it´s so common, people are sceptic about his future, can he continue with his quick development?

I can understand that people can be sceptic about his future . Who do really knows about our futures anyways ? One thing is sure , Jacko is different from all the athletes I have approached . On the matter of shot put , he cannot be considered as a 16 years , he is more mature and has a more professional approach than many senior athletes . He knows what he wants and he is ready to do everything in his power to achieve his goals . He absolutely do not care about comments or rumours about him training too hard , he does not accept any limits or usual standards , he just keeps going ...! This means that he will go for the Olympic qualification next year.

Randy Barnes, the world record holder in shot put threw 21.88m at 20 years of age. Jacko is just 16 now, you think he can go for the Record at 20? (23.12 m)

I am pretty sure that he has already set this goal for himself and set the steps to achieve it.

How would you descirbe Vili and Gill as a person?

I do not like to talk about what I think about athletes as most of it belongs to the private relationships between athletes and coaches.
Concerning Valerie , she is a great person and she deserves her achievements . She has a star status here in New Zealand and a lot is   expected from her . It is not always easy to deal with celebrity as it may affect your behavior with others . She is a typical islands girl
with a warrior spirit !

How many throwers you got in your group?

As head throw coach , I have quite a large group to look after, actually around 25 . But I am only coaching directly and individually   about 10 of them.

How often you go to training camps and what are your favorite destinations?

We don't do any training camps . No money for it . We train in Auckland everyday , anytime , depending of when people can come and train.

Do you see any talented throwers that you would like to coach?

There are talented throwers everywhere indeed and you see some in every competition . But I am a bit suspicious about talented people . Most of them will never be able to do anything out of their talent. They rely too much on it . Talent sometimes sounds like facility . It is more and more obvious that the best athletes in the world are not necessarily the most talented , they are the one's who WANT TO BECOME THE BEST ATHLETES OF THE WORLD !!!

Thank you for your time Didier!

Replies 1

  • Great insight into the Athlete Didier has a fantastic ability to see and Annalise the movement and technical requirements in high performance throwing events.
    His specific drills developed for the throwing events are used and revered by a multitude of athletes and coaches around the world.
    Thanks Didier
    Mike Edwards.

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