Q&A with… Hennie Kriel


Country: South Africa

Profession: Coach

With a coaching career spanning over 33 years, Hennie has produced 2 world records, 42 national champs, 12 national records. Hennie specializes in sprints and hurdles – his list of athletes includes South African record holders Clarence Munyai (200m) and Rikenette Steenkamp (100m Hurdles), Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Wenda Nel and World U20 Championships silver medallist Gift Leotlela. He is the head coach of the Grigora Training Group based in Pretoria. Hennie was also coach of the South African team at the 2016 CAA African Championships.

How would you define success?

Setting goals and achieving those goals makes one successful. This is not only about achieving big lifetime goals, but also smaller daily goals.

What are the two essential resources that coaches require?

Essential resources for a coach are largely dependent on the athletes they work with. In my case I work more with professional and high-performance athletes, I would say firstly it is important to join up with an agent or manager to look at the financial and business side of the athletes’ careers. It is very important for the agent/manager to be on the same page with the athlete and coach, forming a team and using a collective approach. And secondly, the athletes need to have access to reliable and dependable medical professionals because it is important for athletes to stay healthy. This is important for all level of athletes, but especially for professional athletes whose income is dependent on them training and performing regularly.

Do you find it more challenging to coach junior or senior athletes?

Coaching junior and senior athletes brings different challenges for a coach. I tend to find it a bit more challenging to work with junior athletes; the reason being that senior athletes tend to be more self-motivated and self-driven which makes it easier. I like athletes who take responsibility. Junior athletes, they still need to learn this whole process.

What is most challenging about coaching Track and Field athletes?

The most challenging part of coaching Track and Field athletes (or any athlete) is understanding that they are all different individuals with different needs. Not only on a personal and emotional level, but also on a physical level when one introduces them to training programs. What works for one athlete may not work for another.

How do you use technology to improve your coaching strategies?

I was brought up as a coach in a time where there was limited technology available and so I tend to rely more on my instinct and observations. But there is some very good technology available, and for me, what I use a lot nowadays, is filming athletes on slow motion video. I like it because it is easily accessible and available on cellphones, and one can see close ups and slow motions of how athletes execute certain elements in their sprint and hurdles.

However, I would say the best technology for me is the internet; it allows me to search for new information and new ways of doing things.

What do you feel contributes to the lack of female coaches at a professional level?

Although there are a few world class female coaches, it is still definitely not enough. I would say the root cause of the lack of female coaches at a professional level is largely a societal/cultural problem which affects girl’s participation in sport. In schools you find that girls are not as well represented as the boys in Track & Field, and that carries over into senior levels, and eventually, into coaching (because most of the time, T&F coaches have participated in the sport themselves). The male leadership in Track & Field also play a role – they must be willing to engage with this issue and have open discussions with women to see how to change the current situation.