Scandinavian Coaches – Mats Björkman 🎤

🇩🇰 🇸🇪

Mats Björkman, called Bjöcke in Sweden is a coach with a long experience with Scandinavian Volleyball. He started in Sweden and was part of the Junior National Team before he moved to Denmark. In Denmark Mats has become a power in the youth and junior programs in the Danish Federation and with him coaching the youth National Teams for years and at the Volleyball School in Ikast
We are happy that Mats wanted to share little of his experience and thoughts

Who is Mats Björkman?
– I am 58 years old, I live in Ikast, Denmark together with my wife Else and we have a grown up daughter Emma, who soon will be done with her aim to be a Midwife

Where did you get your volleyball interest from?
-I started as a schoolboy back in 1976 in Örnsköldsvik. We got a new teacher from Gothenburg who started a volley group and it seems to be fun. We where a bunch of friends that started together – pretty much like everyone else in this sport 😊

Why did you move to Denmark?
– In the beginning of the 90’s I worked at the YMCA in Norrköping and in 1992 we arrange the YMCA Sports Game. I was guide for the Danish delegation and they convinced me to start talking to the volley club in Ikast, where they was searching for a new women’s coach – I got a one year leave from my work to try it out. Some people never get on, I have now been coaching in the same town and the same club for 28 years – maybe a record of its own 😊 

Mats, längst till höger, med ett av ungdomslandslagen från Danmark

What is your background as player?
– I played my first official game in 1976 and my last in 2004 maybe. First in KFUM Örnsköldsvik (76-80), then Änget VBK (80-89), on to KFUM Norrköping (89-93) and finally Ikast KFUM (93-04). In Änget we played in what was called “Allsvenskan” and we tried a couple of times to reach the top league without any luck. A stabile meatball setter with good hands and no block!

And what is your background as coach?
– I started coaching women in 1977 in Ö-vik and have coached women and girls ever since. 1980 we started with youth practice in Änget and of course also kept on doing that ever since. Men’s coaching has not been that much – 4 years in Änget, 3 years in Norrköping, 1 year in Jönköping and 2 years in Ikast. 1990-1992 I was assisting coach for Swedens National Boys Youth Team and from 1996 I have been working with developing Denmarks National Girls Youth Teams and the talentwork behind that and again I am still doing that 😊

Which Teams and you coaching right now?
– Right now I am assistant in Ikast for our 1st division team. I am coaching our local youth girls under 17 and under 20 years. I am one of the coaches in the Talentcenter Vest, where we do camps in holliday periods. In October I was with the U19 NEVZA Team to Finland, in December it was the U17 CEV Qualification Team in Denmark and in May I am going to Serbia with the U20 to try to qualify for the CEV Championship. I also work at the Ikast Sport School (, a boarding school for 9th and 10th grade. We train four times a week in the scheme plus the practice in the club – close to a professional environment together with their education

You are also working with a company that import whisky and rum to Denmark?
– Back in 1996 we had a visit from the YMCA of Scotland. They was of course introduced to the range of whisky we had in Denmark and they told us, that everything here is exported because they wouldn’t drink it themselves back home! This was a trigger for me and 3 of my volley friends. We started an import business in 1996 and have developed it every year since. We were lucky to just slip into the whisky wave with Deerstalker and Ben Nevis. After a couple of year we introduced Denmark to premium rum, Ron Zacapa and Ron Millonario, which became a new lucky wave for us – this rum wave hasn’t stopped yet! Late 00’s we fall into the gin which was growing very fast. We like to say that we started the pink gin wave with Warner’s Rhubarb Gin! Now we have 20 employees and are selling about 600 different products and a total of 300.000 bottles every year! We have our own rum brand – Rum Nation and are selling that worldwide. Feel free everyone – come and visit us if you are in Denmark 😊  

Are there any big differences between the Swedish and the Danish Federations regarding how they work with youth and juniors?
– When I came in 1993 there were many differences. Today there’s not many left. I think one is that in Sweden you always will be more disciplined and somehow more believe in authority than here.
When starting in Denmark I found out that the Swedish structure in technique and tactic could hide less talented players in the team by letting them do few things when played. But at the same time I experienced the Danish learning by playing produced some very competitive and complete players whom was very diverse in their play. During the years I believe both sides have developed the other side and that we at the moment work similar with the youth development

What is important for you as coach to implement in the Team year after year?
– Internal motivation – motivation to learn – embrace challenges – it is all about the effort – learn how to train (kids) – learn how to compete (youth) – learn how to win (adults)

What is your coaching philosophy?
I do not want to make the decision about how good a player can be – therefore I have to provide options for everyone to reach their full potential – means learning effective techniques and develop good tactical knowhow – not working for the moment – Work on Long Term Development (LTD).
Always value  the effort more than the results

If you look at yourself as coach, what do you think your biggest strengths are?
– I do believe that I am capable to go for the win but still maintain the focus in learning. In that way I can coach them in a constructive way and have them build up an internal motivation that they want to learn to get better and to learn new things. I think one of my strengths are holding on to the Growth Mindset Theory in every aspect of coaching

If you have to choose one or two of your biggest wins over the years, which ones?
– A game I often think about is a final in U17 NEVZA back in 2012, were we beat the home team Finland 3-2 (doesn’t happen that often). An other great moment of victory was when we as the first Danish Girls Youth Team ever qualified for the CEV Championship in 2018 by beating Latvia 3-0 in Copenhagen

For younger coacher that is early in their career, what advice would you give them?
– Being consistent and constructive in your coaching approach – you are in this world to help your players and your team: do that all the time, no matter what (inspired by Carl McGown).
Teach your players to see the situation (Read) – to take good decisions (Decide) – to perform the skill at their best (Do it) – teach them in this order and keep your focus on this all the time (inspired by John Kessel).
Read “Growth Mindset” by Carol Dweck and “GRIT” by Angela Duckworth – they are mind changing inspiration (inspired by Fred Sturm).

What do you think is the Danish Volleyballs biggest strengths right now?
A good system for long-term developing of volleyball players outside the clubs and open for everyone to participate in – starts with local activities in “The School of Volley”, then regional in Talent Center East & Vest and finally national in Talent Center Danmark.
The combination of experienced leaders and trainers and young enthusiastic coaches.
Continuously participating in CEV and NEVZA tournaments, will allow us to work strategic with the long-term developing of our players

Thank you Mats for your time and good luck with the volleyball season

Mats längst till höger, med Ikast Volley


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