BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil – An almost perfect decade.
Since 2001, he has earned 23 titles in 31 competitions coaching the Brazilian men’s volleyball team – a 74% success rate – including a gold medal at the Athens Olympics (2004), three World Championships (2002, 2006 and 2010) and eight World Leagues, the most recent being in July, in Argentina.
At 51, Bernardo Rocha de Rezende – Bernardinho – is considered the most successful coach in Brazilian sports – and he certainly is among the best in the world.
Bernardinho’s insistence on excellence is a major reason why Brazil is atop the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) world rankings.
But Bernardinho, who has been coaching the men’s squad since 2001 and the Unilever women’s team since 1997, said Brazil’s dominating run will end.
“No one can be a champion forever,” he says. “But we have a duty to be competitive and among the best.”
For Sheilla Castro, a 27-year-old outside hitter for Unilever and the women’s national team, Bernardinho is a wonderful teacher.
“He always wants the best from an athlete, and he knows what can be improved,” she said.
“Bernardinho looks after all the players as if they were his children,” said Unilever setter Ratzke Roberta, 20.
On the eve of being named the country’s best coach by the Brazilian Olympic Committee on Dec. 20, Bernardinho spoke exclusively with Infosurhoy.com.
Infosurhoy.com: What motivates you?
Bernardinho: What motivates me is the process. There are always new players, new challenges. I come to the court today as I did 15 years ago. If you were to ask me what is the perfect day for me, I would tell you it isn’t the day of the victory. The perfect [day] is a good training day. To me, it’s an irreplaceable feeling.
Infosurhoy.com: Do you know how important you are to the country’s athletic image?
Bernardinho: Sometimes people talk about numbers and achievements, but my life has not changed at all. My values are the same. The most important thing for us all, each in his or her area, is to do our best. Being coach of the Brazilian squad has much greater repercussions, but I don’t see myself as more important than anyone else.
Infosurhoy.com: Can you see the end of your career as coach?
Bernardinho: I don’t think about it. Of course, there is stress. The hardest, perhaps, is dealing with rising expectations. The fact that we have won so much gives us no advantage in the next tournament. The only thing we have is people’s huge expectation regarding our work, which is to say second place might be seen as a failure. And this is very complicated because instead of happiness after a win, there’s a sense of relief.
Infosurhoy.com: Do you set a deadline for putting an end to this “sense of relief”?
Bernardinho: I don’t see this [deadline] today. What I’m thinking of, for the near future, is no longer having this double workload [of reconciling the men’s squad with the Unilever team]. Although it’s very satisfying for me, it’s a high price to pay in terms of family. But I don’t know how it would be to spend five months without going into a court. I don’t know how I’ll react emotionally and physically.
Infosurhoy.com: Are you thinking about leaving Unilever?
Bernardinho: It depends on the opportunity. If there’s any issue with the squad, and the confederation thinks it’s a good idea to replace me, then I’ll just coach [Unilever]. If a smaller team calls me tomorrow and I don’t have another opportunity, I’ll gladly go. I don’t have that vanity.
Infosurhoy.com: If you were asked to coach another team in a different sport, such as soccer, would you follow in the footsteps of other volleyball coaches? Bebeto de Freitas became the head coach of club Botafogo, in Rio de Janeiro, and Atlético Mineiro, in Minas Gerais, or José Roberto Guimarães, who coached São Paulo’s Corinthians?
Bernardinho: Well, I’ve already had several tentative enquiries. And, financially speaking, the market is crazy. The salaries are at least 10 times more than what I earn.
Infosurhoy.com: And the salaries don’t excite you?
Bernardinho: It’s not that they don’t excite me: It’s that I have more knowledge in this area where I work. If you were to ask me whether I would be a soccer coach, I would say ‘no.’ I just don’t pretend to be a Muricy [Ramalho, a soccer coach who recently won his fourth Brazilian Championship in five years].
Infosurhoy.com: You’ve been married to former volleyball player Fernanda Venturini since 1999. Does she give you volleyball advice?
Bernardinho: Always. There’s no way around it. This isn’t our main subject today, but with her being passionate about and having lived the sport, she doesn’t shy away from giving an opinion. On the contrary, she’s always contributing.
Infosurhoy.com: On court, you are quite demanding. And at home, who’s the boss?
Bernardinho: Fernanda is the one who runs things. I’m the provider, but she controls everything. I make my contribution by working, and when I’m at home, I’m helping Júlia (nine-year-old daughter) study and participating in the life of Vitória (one-year-old daughter).
Infosurhoy.com: What is it like being away from the family for so long?
Bernardinho: Everything in life has a price. In my case, it’s the time I lose with the family. But these are choices. I think I have to replace the amount of time with quality.
Infosurhoy.com: What legacy do you hope to leave?
Bernardinho: First, I want people to develop a habit of collective consciousness. I want people to understand they are part of a team, be it on court or in society. You’re part of something bigger than just your personal ambitions. Secondly is the importance of preparation: Nobody gets anywhere without being prepared. All this has to be done by respecting ethical and moral values, because no one is better than anyone. And however good you are, you will never be a champion alone. You can win a game almost single-handedly, but you will never win a title.
Infosurhoy.com: Will you be with the men’s volleyball squad in the 2016 Rio Olympics?
Bernardinho: Who knows? I am Brazilian, born in Rio de Janeiro, and of course I would like to be present. But it’s too early for me to say. We’ll be working on a group B, so when there is a renewal we will already have players ready, and Brazil won’t lose its competitiveness. One thing is important to say: No one will be champion forever.
Infosurhoy.com: What does the government have to do for Brazil to become an Olympic power?
Bernardinho: I think the incentives for high-performance sports are good, but there is a lack of a sporting culture in schools. Without physical education teachers trained and committed to the cause, we’re not going anywhere. We need teachers who can scout the public schools for young talent.
Fast Facts: Bernardinho
• A professional volleyball player from 1979 to 1986, he was on the team that won the silver medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and a three-time South American champion (1981, 1983 and 1985).
• He was assistant coach to Bebeto de Freitas at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. From 1990 to 1992, he led Italian volleyball teams.
• From 1994 to 2000, he led the Brazilian women’s volleyball squad. Among the main titles are three Grand Prix (1994, 1996 and 1998), three South American (1995, 1997 and 1999), the Pan American Games in Winnipeg (1999) and two Olympic bronze medals (Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000).
• Since 2001, as coach of the Brazilian men’s squad, he has guided the team to victories in 23 of 31 tournaments, in addition to six second-place finishes, a third-place showing and a fourth-place finish.
• With the Unilever women’s team, which he has been coaching since 1997, he is a six-time winner of the Women’s Volleyball Super League.
• He is author of the books Bernardinho – Letters to a young athlete: Determination and talent: The path to victory and Turning Sweat into Gold.