One of the big staff recruitments of 2022 was in Brazil, their new Head Coach, Juan Moreno, is a three-time Olympian (1988, 1992, 2000) and two-time Olympic silver medalist (1988 and 1992). He is an Olympic Coach since 2008.
In this episode, Coaches César Valentim and Juan Moreno talk about Brazilian Taekwondo and their strategies for this Olympic cycle.
Listen to his insights on the new rules and learn more about his well-known "Peak Performance" system.
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Have you been looking for a Taekwondo Podcast with qualified people, who know what they're talking about, who help you keep up with everything going on in the Taekwondo World? Well you found it. This is the Taekwondo Podcast. Taekwondo news, competitions and other events, training and sports science, keeping the fans, coaches and high performance athletes up to date with the latest news and trends in Olympic Taekwondo. Let’s do this! This is the Taekwondo Podcast. And now your hosts Coach César Valentim and Peter Nestler.
Coach César Valentim(01:07):
Hello and welcome to the Taekwondo Podcast. We are a Podcast based out of Austria in English language for everyone out there who likes Taekwondo. In this episode we talk with Juan Moreno, Olympic coach and head trainer for the Brazilian national team. Welcome to the Podcast I am coach César Valentim and with me is coach Juan Moreno. Hi Juan, how are you?
Coach Juan Moreno(01:13):
I’m doing great. Happy to be here. Good to see you again.
Coach César Valentim (01:16):
Yeah, we see each other on competitions, now we are together on this podcast. For those who are listening and don’t know who you are, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
Coach Juan Moreno (01:26):
Sure, like you mentioned, my name is Juan Miguel Moreno. I’m based here in the United States, in Miami, Florida. I’ve been involved in martial arts since 1979, when I first began and my specialty obviously is Taekwondo, I mean I love all martial arts, I’ve been able to practise different martial arts, but obviously Taekwondo has been my mainstream focus for many years. I was lucky enough to go to the Olympic games three times as an athlete. My first time was at 17 years old and that was Seoul, Korea in 1992, Barcelona in 2000 and Sydney, Australia. That was as an athlete. Two medals, at the time not so happy with, but now very proud of, because I know any medal at the Olympic games is a great accomplishment, so very proud of that and I have coached since 2008 at the olympic games, 2012, 2016, 2020. Currently I am with the Brazilian national team. I worked as a consultant for them for the last three years and then I signed a contract to work for the next Olympic games in Paris. So it’s a big challenge, but also a great opportunity.
Coach César Valentim(02:38):
Well one of your big announcements of the year was your appointment as a head coach for Brazil. You have been involved with them, as you said, quite a while as a consultant. Can you tell us what the changes and big plans are for the powerhouse that is Brazil?
Coach Juan Moreno(02:52):
You know, I think first and foremost it’s leadership. I do, people always use the term motivational speaking, I don’t like that, I like leadership speaking and the great thing right now with the Brazilian federation is their leadership. The president Junior Maciel. was the former Olympic team coach and he’s moved up the ranks in the political world and became president last term and just got reelected. And of course everybody has their own challenges and difficulties, but I think his leadership style was important for the Brazilian federation. It’s a huge country, as you know, it has a very rich tradition of individual success within the country, meaning that there’s pockets of successful athletes or successful coaches, but I think as a program, as a system they could do better. I think that’s what he wants his administration, he’s had Natalia work with him as a technical director, she’s since moved down to the Olympic committee, but he’s put in place certain people, like myself, that are kind of forward thinking people, that are looking at this as a program versus an individual athlete or an individual coach success model. And that’s hard to do with a big country, it’s hard to do with a country that has been, I’ll use the word dysfunctional, for many years and I don’t mean that as a negative standpoint, but when you look at here they’re at right now, that’s been the biggest challenge. How do we come together, how do we work together for the benefit of all Brazilians, not just who’s there right now. And that’s a challenge for me, but we are working, we are taking steps to make that a possibility.
Coach César Valentim (04:34):
Dysfunctional is a nice way of putting it. Taekwondo had a few decades with a very traditional administration. The last decade, a little over a decade, into national members of Brazil being in charge, that’s when Junior Maciel showed up as a national trainer. As you know I was involved with them for many years. You were there as a consultant trying to get some stuff done in the previous administrations and since Natalia came on board as a technical director and now followed by Henrique, they have some changes, but as you mentioned it’s a big country with individual talent with some nucleus here and there where the athletes are focused and have high performance training, but there was not a real national team training program until now, is there?
Coach Juan Moreno(05:20):
No, you’re right. We still don’t have a centralized training system, as you know, and that is one of the biggest problems. Just recently we have a facility at the Olympic center in Rio and it’s a place that is dedicated just for Taekwondo, so we are starting to try to have selective camps, where we bring people in, we can work with them and let them go home. I think our goal would definitely be to have a full-time resident program, maybe not with the national team just yet, but with developmental athletes. And again it is a challenge, there’s budgetary challenges, there’s getting the right coach and the right fit challenge and then getting people to understand the benefit of being there. Ultimately, we can debate if having centralized training with the national team all the time, full-time is the best or are we better served working with individual coaches pockets, bringing them together periodically and working with them. I think probably for Brazil it’s a hybrid, I really do. And you could look around at some world powers and they have centralized training and they do well, but there are some new models with some individualized training applications and they’re being successful as well. So we are going to see what we can do in Brazil. I personally would like to have a bit of a more concentrated effort right now, just because I think from there you can span to maybe some individual ……? trainings. ( 6:53)
Coach César Valentim (06:54):
I know the Maria Lenk water park in Brazil. I know it was made for a temporary training facility, not a residency program. Do you see yourself moving into Maria Lenk’s water park and actually having a small resident team?
Coach Juan Moreno (07:09):
Well, I think that’s exactly where it is right now, now we’re mentioning Maria Lenk. We have a dedicated area now, they have given us that. We looked at having a domestic coach or having an international coach go there and use it as not, again, not the national team athletes, but maybe a step below, U20, some Juniors having a resident program and again building from there with the hope of some of those athletes pushing the top athletes and making that center relevant.
Coach César Valentim (07:45):
I guess in Brazil it’s a problem with the pipeline, since you do have so many sources, where the athletes come as Cadets and Juniors and then they find it difficult to integrate into the national team as Seniors, some of the Seniors being there for many, many years without actually any opposition in a country with 200 million inhabitants. And you see that, that kind of academy project, where you have the platform, the pipeline to actually jump into the big league, is that something that should actually be managed by the national team or something that should actually be managed by someone like you?
Coach Juan Moreno (08:19):
Great question, I mean I think it’s, from a preference standpoint, somebody domestic would be the best person. If that person is qualified, if that person understands how to do some of those projects that we’re talking about. Unfortunately, something that I noticed recently, I just got back from the grand slam and I was able to watch a number of days of the Cadets, Juniors and Seniors and I noticed that there was a very good high quality of a certain number of coaches and then the drop off was huge. There just seemed to be a big disconnect in some of those coaches. For example, on the Senior national team 14 out of 16 of the athletes came from three programs in Brazil. If you want to look at the positive you could say: “ wow, these programs must be out of control good”, or you could look at the flip side. For me as a big picture guy going: “wow, that should happen”. Three coaches, three programs that dominate the whole country. There’s a big disconnect. There’s a big drop off, so to answer your question, unless it was one of those coaches working there, we probably wouldn’t have a domestic coach that could serve the purpose that we need. So we might have to look for somebody on the outside, who could fill that role for us. It’s very complicated, as you know, it’s very complex. I think that person has to be the right person. The person that has to understand the people, understand the temperament, understand the landscape, understand the economic standpoint, where people come from. There’s just a lot of variables that are unique to Brazil, different than if I went to Germany, different than if you went to Belgium, different than if you went to Austria, where I would say the style, the temperament of the people is not such a huge variety, it’s a little bit more mainstream. But in a country like Brazil, as you know even better than me, from A to Z is huge. There’s a huge difference in people, education and culture and economic resources, just a lot of different things that you have to take into consideration to be a coach in the Brazilian atmosphere. (10:34)
Coach César Valentim (10:35):
Well for those who are listening and don’t know about it, the Grand Slam is what the Brazilians call the national team trials. It’s an event that qualifies the athletes that will compete the rest of the year as the national team. As you mentioned, there are three centers that bring 14 out of the 16 weight divisions in Seniors. These centers exist, in my opinion, because there was no central structure before and the local clubs started creating their own performance centers, their own academies. And of course the players that were isolated, if they were, in the city or the region they lived, the only player in that weight division that had some kind of results, they would look into moving into these centers for some financial support, logistics, sparring partners, better coaching systems, traveling possibilities and of course a bunch of other reasons that will motivate a player to search for this or that coach. But now that these centers exist, it might be counterproductive for them or even a threat to their subsistence if the national federation starts to replace them. So I do understand that having a full time program is probably not advantageous to an institution that already has years of time and money and experience and I find it quite interesting that you want to focus on the development phases.
Coach Juan Moreno (11:53):
So actually that is a good point, because I can see how other people would resist having this program. It affects their business, it affects their reputation, because maybe some athletes would move to this facility versus going with them. I understand the push and pull but my job is not to be emotionally connected, my job is to look at it from a big picture and help what’s good for all Brazil, not what’s good for you or the individual athlete, but what’s good for all of Brazil. And I think that’s what the president brought me in for, because he knew that I wasn’t emotionally connected to individual athletes or individual programs, that I can look at this and just speak plainly and very bluntly and criticize or give credit when things are going well or not well. So it is a little bit of a long term process and one of the things that is a challenge for me specifically is that I know that the federation is being looked at by the olympic committee and we’re being judged on the highest level. But in order to change the mindset in this system, I have to go through probably the lowest level, the cadets and the juniors. That’s going to take some time. You are not going to bear fruit in three years, I mean realistically. I know there’s some exceptions, I mean look at other countries, look at Spain with their young ladies, look at Uzbekistan with their young men, look at Tunisia with their young men at these last Olympic games. But I’m going to say those are isolated scenarios, that it was not the big result of the program, that it’s special, unique individuals. So again my challenge will be to produce at the top, but develop from the bottom. But again, it’s a challenge and I’m super excited to take on that challenge. You know I have another big challenge, the language. I’m doing my little Portuguese classes a couple of times a day to try to pick up some words here and there and some phrases here and there. Although some of them speak english, not all of them speak english, so another challenge that I will have to work through.
Coach César Valentim (14:06):
<laugh> I can relate to that, being a portuguese in Brazil. Ok, it’s time for a little break for our sponsors and we’ll be right back.
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You're listening to the Taekwondo podcast. Now back to your hosts, coach César, Valentim, and Peter Nestler.
Coach César Valentim (17:10)
Ok, welcome back. We’ve been here talking with coach Juan Moreno about his new development programs in Brazil. Talking about the development in the sports, the rules are changing, making the game slightly different in the second semester. What are your thoughts about these new changes?
Coach Juan Moreno (17:28)
Yeah, if there is one thing I do not like about our sport it is the constant change in rules. You know, I do a lot of presentations and I always tell people: when - not if - when the rules change. I don’t have a problem saying the bad and negative and disappointing and embarrassing parts of our sport, because if you look at football, baseball, basketball, hockey, the rules are, I mean if you watched a game a long time ago you can still understand the rules. Sure, the speed is different, the height is different, but our sport keeps changing and it makes it difficult for trainers, for athletes, for programs to have any kind of consistency. Right now everyone’s scrambling, what’s the next new drill, what do we do with our hands now? So I think the intentions are good, I know the intentions are good. The interpretation and the implementation of these new rules, these changes are going to be - again I don’t want to be a negative guy - I’m gonna say challenging. When I look at the rules it seems like it’s for activity, it’s to avoid close range fighting and this ability to kind of trick the system with kicks and manipulations of the legs. It seems like the game is going to look like it could be a little bit further apart, a little bit more direct striking, a little bit cleaner, so to speak. I’m not saying that’s better or worse, but that’s my impression. If you think about it, they don’t want you to clinch, so to speak, they don’t want you to attack in the clinch. So that’s going to make everything spread out a little bit more. You can only move a certain amount of steps back, they’re only going to give you four deductions if you’re fighting the two out of three rounds system. So it looks like you’re going to have to be a lot more active. Your endurance is going to have to be better, your kick output is going to have to be better, ring management is going to have to be better. I think it’s going to change the style of athlete that we have. I don’t think the static standing there, you know, canceling or getting in the way is going to be as productive or effective and if they call the leg block or the interference of kicking from the defensive person to the letter of the law, that’s gonna change a lot, a lot, a lot.
Coach César Valentim (20:02):
I think that rule already existed and it was a matter of interpretation and who’s in charge of the competition as a referee chairman, in this case a referee chairwoman. But as you mentioned, you look at soccer and they have the same goals, more or less, maybe instead of iron they have aluminum, but it’s still the same goals, the same distance. In our case in 2012 at the Olympics we had a different game, we had the electronic vests and then later on the electronic helmets. Especially now, with the referees having too little to do, the punches became even more important to a point that in private I even discuss if we should have punches or not, if they are so subjective. So it is actually a new game. The moment we introduced electronic sensors, we moved into a different sport. I can compare it to fencing. Fencing before it became electronic and being just touching the sensors on the protectors of the opponent, it was a totally different field. It used to be fought in a circle not in a line, because they introduced the cables to connect the sensors, they needed the electric cables, they had no bluetooth technology back then. It moved the sport from fighting like gladiators in a circle to just touching each other with the tip of the florette. So all of these situations came into Taekwondo and we are trying to change it by changing the rules instead of changing the technology. So I think that’s something we are going to see coming for a long time is changing and changing, adapting to the new rules to limit the creativity of the players instead of actually improving on the technology.
Coach Juan Moreno (21:34):
I agree with you and going back to the problem, I think the technology is good. You know you and me, we’ve talked many times in different chats and old school, new school, I love them both. I have fought in both styles. I fought in that era, I fought in this era, I’ve coached in both eras and I’m a progressive person. I like moving forward and people can say whatever they want, but the athletes nowadays - I’ll say it - they’re better. No one wants to hear it, they’re better. Why are they better? They lift weights better, they have better nutrition, they have better psychology, they have better tactics. They have videos like this that you can get on a dime and in my days the best athletes, you might get a VHS tape on them if you were lucky. I was literally telling my wife yesterday, I picked up a juice and I said: “when I used to lose weight, this is all I had”. And I didn’t know how to eat, I didn’t know how to hydrate, I didn’t know how to do any of that stuff. The athletes are better prepared nowadays. The rules and the system have changed the way they fight and I’m all for that. But if we want to get to the root of this problem, we have to fix the technology and it’s gonna cost money, I get it, but we have to fix that. Because you’re trying to make the athletes conform to the technology, it shouldn’t be that way, the technology should conform to the athletes. Let us train and develop athletically, intellectually, strategically. Why should we have to change for the rules? The system works like this and we should kick like that. That doesn’t seem right and you kick the ball in the same goal, you shoot the ball in the same goal. The athletes have developed their foot work or their hand dribbling skills and their kicking skills, to make the ball curve and stuff like that, but they’ve developed that because they want to get better. Not because, well, we shrunk the basket, we tilted the goal at a little bit of an angle, you know, to make it a little more difficult. That shouldn’t be the case.
Coach César Valentim (23:52):
Going through the rules deserves not a podcast but a whole scientific seminar. <laugh> Probably a coach general assembly and I’m pretty sure that we are gonna spend many, many more hours in competitions between coaches at the end of the day talking about this, talking about the technology. That’s our life offline and that’s actually one of the things we like to discuss is, of course, our sport. It is something that is very common among Taekwondo trainers. We only talk about Taekwondo. But talking about Taekwondo - and this is probably a question that many of our listeners have - what is the philosophy behind your peak performance program and what lessons have you learned from these decades of experience?
Coach Juan Moreno (24:31):
I’m proud, or arrogant, or however you want to say it, but I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do at Peak Performance. Peak Performance has been around since I stopped competing in 2000/01, that is when I started the Peak Performance. I started it out very organically, just my club, my own little group of people here in Miami, very Miami based athletes and it grew into something. It grew into something domestically, where we’ve been able to expand with clubs and teams and coaches and of course we have some recognition worldwide now from some of the successes that we’ve had. But really it was a grassroots model, a model for development to try to get to the top of the mountain, so to speak, to get to the Olympic games. And I say that we’ve been doing this for 20 years because we’ve just talked about a short evolution of the sport. Now quadruple that for 20 years, so I feel like what we’ve been able to do is change with the times consistently. Is it easy? No. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Do I have all the answers? Absolutely not. But I’m proud that I’ve been able to change my mentality for the benefit of the athletes and even more proud to take it down to the coaches, where now some of the coaches I’ve worked with are literally at my level. Some of them are having even more success from time to time and I think that’s the sign of a good program. If the boss is always the boss and no one is able to catch them or surpass them, I don’t think that’s a successful model. A model should always be trying to make people better than us and I haven’t been afraid to do that and that’s been one of the successes of Peak Performance. So much so that people want to come and work with us now. Before we were always searching and now we are getting international teams and international coaches that want to come and say: “What are you guys doing? How have you been able to do this so long?”
Coach César Valentim (26:42):
That is one of the things I should probably have asked you before, since I know you for 20 years, I’ve known your programs, I’ve known all this but for the listeners out there. What is Peak Performance? What is Peak Performance today and what kind of programs do you develop?
Coach Juan Moreno (27:02)
Well, Peak Performance is a sport Taekwondo based program, different to maybe other places in the world. In the United States Taekwondo is a martial art business. It’s a business first and foremost. It’s a self development business and of course it produces some athletes, but the focus, for sure, is not to develop athletes, it’s to develop a business model. Peak Performance, based here in Miami, started out as only a sport development program. So what does that mean? I don’t have beginners, I don’t have white belts, I don’t teach anybody from the beginning. I like a professional sports team, where the soccer player comes and they get developed by Manchester United, they get developed by Real Madrid, they get developed by Barcelona. That’s the kind of process and mindset that we started withPeak Performance here in Miami.So people came to us as black belts or at least they wanted to achieve something else. Through that model we started to branch out domestically. Right now we have 14 programs around the country that are under our Peak Performance brand, which means I work with the coaches and develop the coaches. That local coach works with the local team and periodically 3 to 4 times a year I visit those clubs, work with the coaches, work with the athletes, so that we are all on the same training program, same schedules. In 2022 we are a little bit of a more international program now, like I told you obviously now I work with the Brazilian federation, but in the past I worked with the Mexicans, I worked with the Guatemalans, I worked with the Chileans, I worked with the Costa Ricans. Obviously a little bit more dominant over here. I have a good relationship with a coach in Denmark, a couple in Sweden and Canada as well, but for the most part we are based here in the Pan American region, but we are always looking to expand and get away to other places. One of the best compliments I’ve ever had was, I had a gentleman come over to my gym and he’d heard about Peak Performance and he came in and he looked around and after about two or three day’s he’s like: “ I can’t believe how much you have done with how little you have.” And some people might take that as a negative thing but I’m proud that we, you know, we don’t have government funding, we don’t have sports scientists at our beckoning call. Everything we do, we kind of had to put together by ourselves, that’s the American way. That’s how things build up and Taekwondo is not a huge sport in America as compared to baseball, basketball,football, tennis, hockey. So we don’t have people beating down our doors to give us resources, we have to do everything on our own so we’re kind of proud of that. That’s the competition we have. For example in Europe, you know that it’s very professional in sport and in amateur sport and the resources that sometimes you guys have are much greater than what we have, so we have to work a little bit differently to achieve the success that we have.
Coach César Valentim (30:23):
Success is always a part of the brand Juan Moreno. Besides success, what is your vision for the next Olympic cycle, both in terms of Peak Performance and as a coach?
Coach Juan Moreno(30:36):
You know, when I became the head coach of Brazil, I didn’t do any more domestic coaching. When I talk about coaching, like, me sitting in the ring, to do training camps and stuff like that, of course, I mean that’s my business. But my focus right now is 100% on Brazil, you know we’re long-shot aims. We have the Pan American championships coming up and the World championships coming up. I’d like to do very well in those. Long term for Brazil, we would like to get a medal, we need to get a medal at the Olympic games, that’s kind of my personal mission. I’m not sure if I would stay longer in Brazil or if I move on to something else, but really I think it’s time for Juan Moreno to move up the ladder in the world of Taekwondo. I mean I don’t think a person should always stay as a coach. I think they should move up to administration, move up to leadership. Again, I mean there’s time for new coaches, new energy, new vision, just new - we use this term in America - just new blood. And I think that the Peak Performance program has produced a lot of good athletes and some good coaches and I think it’s time for me to still lead, still guide, but not necessarily to be the day-to-day person. I think that’s a smart evolution as a human being and to try and stay on one thing forever, I just don’t think that’s a positive thing. I try to look at my other mentors, when I say mentors they don’t know they’re my mentors, but other people in sport that are really successful and see how they develop, how they move on to the next stage of their lives. I’m going to be a Taekwondo person. I love Taekowndo and I don’t see myself ever getting out of it, but I definitely need to play a different role and I don’t know if that’s with the WT, if that’s with another world federation, I don’t know even me stepping back and saying: you know what, I would like to create, I would like to take Peak Performance the brand and the model to even a higher level, but more from an administrative part. One of my favorite men in the world is Ireno Fargas. He was a successful coach, he moved into a business where he put people into place and he’s still doing it. He’s quiet about it, but he still has a camp, he still has a facility and he has a great thing he’s done with his life. And I think that’s a great evolution as a man and as a Taekwondo person. So I look at some of those kind of things and I should’ve mentioned it: my wife was a former Mexican national athlete and former Mexican world medalist and national team coach. She’s here with me in Miami. I have four daughters. My oldest is turning 21, she’S looking to go to law school. My youngest is 8, so I’d like to have a lifetime with them. As you know we spend a lot of time on the road, traveling. It’s to provide a life for them but I’d also like to spend some time with them as well, you know, enjoy their journeys and their successes. As a family person I would like to do that.
Coach César Valentim (33:47):
Thank you Juan. I’m sure I’ll see you many times before you retire your coaching suit. It was a pleasure being here with you and everyone who’s listening out there. This was the Taekwondo Podcast. If you haven’t already listened to our other episodes, they are available online, wherever you listen to your podcasts. We are releasing new episodes every tuesday. Stay tuned, subscribe to our podcast, leave us a positive review and share it with your friends. See you next time!
You've been listening to the Taekwondo podcast, keeping the fans, coaches, and high performance athletes up to date with the latest news and trends on Olympic Taekwondo your host coach César Valentim has all almost 20 years of experience with high performance Taekwondo and has worked all around the world. As a Taekwondo trainer. Peter Nestler has been teaching Taekwondo for more than 20 years, and he's currently one of the top referees in Europe. We hope you enjoyed the show, make sure to like, rate and review and we'll be back soon. But in the meantime, find us on instagram @taekwondopodcast on Facebook @taekwondocast and the website taekwondopodcast.com. See you next time.