Coach Dennis White has been running a successful Taekwondo Program in Florida. He has had several athletes in the National Team and trained Junior World Champion and Olympic winner Anastasija Zolotic.
In this episode, Coaches César Valentim and Dennis White talk about the challenges of developing Olympic Level athletes in the USA.
Listen to his insights on the development pathways and how he runs his programs in Florida.
This podcast is supported by Hawkin Dynamics, Firstbeat Sports and Athlete Analyzer!
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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 (00:43):
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 coach Dennis White from Florida, Taekwondo trainer, coach of several top athletes and Olympians.
Welcome to our podcast I am coach César Valentim and with me is coach Dennis White. Hi Dennis, how are you?
Coach Dennis White (01:15):
Hi César, how are you? I’m doing good here in Florida.
Coach César Valentim (01:20):
Yeah, me too. Well, very busy with the Taekwondo season. For those who are listening and don’t know who you are, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Coach Dennis White (01:30):
OK. I am a club owner and I have been a club with USA Taekwondo for over 20 years and in time I’ve been a part of USAT’s coaching staff, at cadet, junior and senior level and even world championships and youth Olympic Games. So I’ve been doing this for a while now.
Coach César Valentim (02:03):
We have known each other for quite a while, did countless camps together and our athletes had the opportunity of developing friendships together, almost as strong as the two of us as coaches. Most of the time we meet, it has been on this side of the pond. Why is traveling to Europe so natural for American athletes, but the opposite is not true for Europeans?
Coach Dennis White (02:22):
In my opinion it has to do with the fact that European Taekwondo in general is a step ahead of what we have available here in the US, so we don’t get opportunities so easily to go to international competitions within driving distance, we don’t have international athletes that we can train with on a regular basis. As a coach myself, I knew that if I wanted to help my athletes be the best that they could be, they needed to go to Europe.
Coach César Valentim (03:03):
You as a black belt have been in Korea when you were young, but you’ve been coming to Europe for quite a while. How was it, that you got the idea of coming to Europe, and who did you talk to first, and what was your introduction to European Taekwondo?
Coach Dennis White (03:18)
Yeah, I trained in Korea, when I was in the military as an 18 year old and that was a great experience for me. When I became a club owner I hosted some competitions here and I was very fortunate to have a good friend of mine named Jesus Ramal come to Florida with his athletes and participate in our competition. That was an eye-opener for me, because he has many great athletes and that kind of planted a seed in me. That was way back, maybe in 2003/2004. And from that point on I started getting more active and trying to help my athletes making it to the national team level, realizing that making the national team shouldn’t be the end goal, but thinking at a higher level. So I reconnected with Jesus and with his winter training camp, so I had the opportunity to take a group of my athletes to that camp, and it helped me make a lot of changes in the way I run my program and push my athletes.
Coach César Valentim (04:48):
Ramal is someone who has influenced many of us, me included as one of my best friends, and he has recently come into the spotlight with the medal from Adriana at this Olympics. Most people outside the US don’t know this, but you have coached Anastasija from white belt all the way to youth Olympic medal, her world championship title, so your formula must be a little different. How can you bring the development all the way from the grassroots level to the big stage.
Coach Dennis White (05:20):
Yeah, I mean it was a long road, but it really starts with seeing possibilities within a child and then developing that. So in Anastasija’s case, she was very competitive as a young child, so I tried to nurture that and bring her to many local competitions and from a young age she was doing well at competitions. As soon as she became of age as a cadet we started traveling internationally to Jesus’ camp, to the Austrian Open and we kept working in this kind of direction, trying to find new challenges and competitions, camps. So it was a very long road, I would say, but we had a lot of fun along the way.
Coach César Valentim (06:22):
I’ve been following your work. We met at the camp, I don't know, 10 years ago almost, and you’ve been to Austria, we met here. Anastasija has been here alone, when she was visiting family, and she is maybe the most famous athlete you have now, but you do have quite an amount of players. I remember Ara White, your own daughter, and many others in your team that were quite good. Did they start with you in your special program? When did you notice they had competition level?
Coach Dennis White (06:54):
Yeah, so at my club I have a program where children come directly from their school to my program , and they have about three hours with me each day. So it’s an after school program, we call it, and fortunately I would get to interact with a large number of children, and I’m constantly looking for that diamond in the raw when I meet new students, and fortunately it’s worked out for me, that I’ve been able to help a lot of athletes have some really great success, my daughter Ara included. She was 6 times USAT team member, and she’s now a great young woman working on her education.
Coach César Valentim (07:55):
Well, we will talk a little bit about your program in the second half. We need to go for a short commercial break.
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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 (11:42):
Welcome back. We are here with coach Dennis White from Florida. We’ve been talking about his programs, the development of an athlete all the way to an Olympic medal. And now we have the opportunity to talk a little bit about his secret. So Dennis, I have a couple of questions for you that probably other people also have and that’s: what is the role of a club trainer, and what is the role in high performance? How involved should the club coaches be in the athlete’s program once they join the national programs?
Coach Dennis White (12:12):
Well, it’s a good question. In my opinion it has to start with the club coach, obviously, but the club coach should really work to help the athletes get to the point where they can excel with the national team. So as a club coach, we have to make sure they know the techniques that they are going to be using with the national coaching staff. We also have to get them to the point where they can handle the working load, because that is a common problem when many US athletes go to our athlete academy. They may be talented, but the workload is more than they are used to, and it can be a real problem. I think that our USAT coaching staff loves to work with home coaches to help them develop within their club, and then that makes it a much easier transition for an athlete when they do get into the athlete academy.
Coach César Valentim (13:37):
We had the opportunity to talk to Gareth Brown a few episodes ago, and he does have the academy where he invites the clubs. Do the athletes stay in touch with the clubs after they join the national program, because in Belgium, I know there’s a mandatory percentage of time they should give back to the clubs. Of course, the geographic barriers aren’t the same as in US. If you are in the national excellence center, you are 2 to 4 hours away by plane to your local clubs. But do you still have the opportunity to keep in touch with the athletes and have them come back to the club?
Coach Dennis White (14:18):
It depends on the athlete. Not all of the athletes that train with the national team are full time residents. Some of them go out for periods of time, a week or two weeks, and then return to the club, but in Anastasija’s case, she is a full time resident athlete at the academy so her whole family has relocated there. So unfortunately I don’t get to see her as much as I would like, but I know she is working very hard where she is.
Coach César Valentim (15:00):
I guess when the family is relocated, there are not many issues in spending thanksgiving or holidays with the family, when they are already there with you. There’s probably a question that many people in Europe have, because the system over there is so different from what we have in the different European countries, it’s: how can you run a Taekwondo business and still have the time and resources to produce competition athletes?
Coach Dennis White (15:29):
Well that is a challenge for all club owners in the US as well, because you have to have a balance of doing business, of keeping the doors open and paying the bills and at the same time you’ve got to be able to devote time to those elite level athletes. In my case I devote a period of time later in the day from 7pm to 8:30pm three to four days a week and that way I’ll have my elite level athletes return and focusing on their needs at that point, but my day starts much earlier than that, as I mentioned, with my after-school-program and our traditional Taekwondo classes, and we still have some Zoom classes, so my days are pretty busy, but I try to do my best to make sure my athletes can succeed.
Coach César Valentim (16:38):
My centre in Vienna is a little bit like yours. We have traditional kids training classes and then the adults and teenagers, just the base athletes. And then we have, right in the evening even later than you, the high level elite athletes. Of course, they get training plans, they get strength and conditioning plans in different hours, and they also have the possibility of using the venue in the morning for their competition training. But all of this comes to elite athletes at club level. My athletes are not professional athletes, they don’t get paid, they don’t have a salary, they have to find a source of income or if they still live with their parents and are studying they have to go to high school or university. How is it over there?
Coach Dennis White (17:25):
Very similar. The majority of my team are cadets and juniors. I have a few senior athletes, and they are all self funded. They are balancing, just like yours are, between college and work. It’s a struggle for everybody. There are very few people in the United States Taekwondo that are fully funded like Anastasija and a few other athletes are, so for most of the athletes families it’s a struggle to get by and to still be able to invest their time and money to help their children to get to the level of success that they would like.
Coach César Valentim (18:25)
One of the peculiarities of American sport, when we talk about American we mean of course USA, is the college sport. Do you have a college program for Taekwondo over there?
Coach Dennis White (18:37):
We really do not. In most cases for us, when one of my students goes to university, usually that’s the end of their Taekwondo career. There is a collegiate program, but it includes a lot of colored belts, it is not really elite, so there’s not really a program here for these athletes.
Coach César Valentim (19:02)
Well for the elite that are in university, do you get them to the university world games or do you have a continental university championship or even a national university championship
Coach Dennis White (19:12)
Yes, we have a collegiate national championship, and we also have, you know, the world universiade championships, but for most of the US athletes to go to collegiate nationals they’re not usually the elite athletes. They’re recreational athletes for the most part.
Coach César Valentim (19:46)
Yeah, I guess that’s pretty much the same here, where the countries that have national university championships, you get some of the elite, because they go and represent the universities and are trying to qualify for recognized events like the universiade or the university world games, but then you also have lots of others who only compete once a year at the university championship. That’s more a collegiate environment, and it’s not so high level. One of the things that are interesting is that sports science in the USA is really, really big in terms of university, in terms of research and development, partnerships between universities and college sports with high performance centers and with the professional teams. Does Taekwondo have, maybe not in your case but anywhere in the USA, that kind of connection in terms of research, scientific university research with S&C or athletic development of the athletes?
Coach Dennis White (20:47):
To my knowledge, no, I am not aware of any researchers who are working specifically with the sport of Taekwondo or the Taekwondo athletes. That would be great if that were to occur, but to my knowledge it has not.
Coach César Valentim (21:10)
Well the a little segway to one of our sponsors Hawkin dynamics. They have an amazing team for their force plate development. They help the teams with some of their testing, if you don't have access to university, if you don’t have access to your force plate systems, your RSI, your rate of force development, because the club coaches don't have that kind of equipment with some exceptions, so it is quite interesting for us in Europe who need to get all the equipment from the US and I have some equipment from US and Canada. I remember my first velocity based wireless equipment was from Canada, my cable pulls, the portable ones are from US, my force plates come from over there and yet you guys over there do not get access to this. Should it be a club initiative, or do you think that the national governing body should try and sync this approach of sports science tech and sports science universities?
Coach Dennis White (22:26)
I think it would be great if our national staff was working in that direction and I know they do some sports science work with their athletes, but I haven’t seen a big push to capitalize on the possibilities of sports science in Taekwondo. But I also know that a lot of club owners are interested and, you know, are very curious about how they could help their athletes through sports science and listening to your previous podcasts, I myself am very interested in what Hawkin dynamics has to offer and how it might help my athletes.
Coach César valentim (23:17)
Yeah, I think I really honestly stand behind athlete analyzer as an athlete management system, it is very, very good and very affordable. And then the Hawkin dynamics force plates, I always say they are my favorite toy, it is not a toy it’s a very important tool, and you can use it in very creative ways. I don’t only use it for the regular testing and development stages, but I also use it for sports specific because you can do the contact times, you can do a lot of kicking power, you can do all of it. So, yes there is an opportunity to develop sports science over there, and I hope that US gets the lead on that, because you are, as a country in terms of sports science, the source of most of the good research, the source of most of the good technology and I hope that the Taekwondo clubs will have access on the systems.
Coach Dennis White (24:16)
Yeah, me too.
Coach César Valentim (24:18)
Thank you, Dennis. It was a pleasure being here with you and everyone that is listening. 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.