John Shepherd catches up with the Brazilian jumps maestro
Nelio Moura (pictured above, right) is one of the world’s top jumps coaches. His position as such was cemented into place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he coached both long jump event winners – Maurren Higa Maggi of Brazil and Panama’s Irving Saladino.
Athletics Weekly: How did you originally get started in coaching?
Nelio Moura: I was pretty young, 19 years old, and I had just finished college studying physical education. My former coach told me about a job opportunity four hours by bus from my home in São Paulo. I didn’t think twice.
Every Friday night I would take the bus, coach a young group of athletes on the Saturday and Sunday, leave a programme for the week and come back home. That routine repeated for a year, until other opportunities appeared in São Paulo.
AW: Were you an athlete yourself?
NM: Yes, I used to be a triple jumper but I wasn’t very good, though! I was an age group national team member, but as an adult I realised my progress would not be enough to reach elite level so I decided to study and invest in a coaching career very early on.
AW: Have you always coached the jumping events?
NM: As a former jumper myself, my main interest has always been in the jumping events. However, at the beginning, I used to coach everything, from sprints to race walking. As I matured as a coach, I was able to focus on a smaller number of events. Nowadays, I work mainly with horizontal jumpers and a few sprinters and hurdlers.
AW: Where are you based and what’s athletics like as a sport in Brazil?
NM: My base is in São Paulo. I work at Ibirapuera track which belongs to São Paulo state government and for a private club, E.C. Pinheiros.
Athletics is not so popular in Brazil and lately we are facing a lot of institutional problems at both the state and national federation level. We are seeing traditional sponsors leaving the sport and it has been very difficult to replace them. Government support has also reduced drastically since the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
AW: Brazil has had many talented jumpers – is there any specific reason for this?
NM: It is difficult to say. Tradition, for sure, but there’s not really a “school” of horizontal jumps. Probably the likes of Adhemar Ferreira da Silva, Nelson Prudencio, João Carlos de Oliveira and, more recently, Maurren Maggi, make Brazilians believe they can be good jumpers.
AW: I guess football and volleyball are far more popular Brazilian sports but how ‘big’ is athletics?
NM: Yes, football is the No.1 sport in Brazil and although athletics has increased its popularity (particularly road races) we are far from where we could be even in this context. The potential is huge, but we lost a giant opportunity in the years leading up to Rio 2016 to consolidate a National Sports Policy in the country.
AW: How has your approach to coaching developed over the years?
NM: Even though I was an athlete myself, I didn’t have any kind of mentor when I started my coaching career, so I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning. The positive side is that I was forced to learn how to get the right information, this was far more difficult in the 1980s than today. I grew up as a coach trying to find a balance between practical experience and the application of evidence-based knowledge. Actually, I keep trying!
AW: Are there significant things that you do differently now, compared to the past?
NM: Certainly, many things but I am not able to identify a specific one. Maybe now I recognise more clearly the value of doing less in practice.
AW: Tell us about being an IAAF coach.
NM: The IAAF has a Coaches Education and Certification Programme. I used to be a lecturer at the courses in South America (at all levels). I am not involved in it anymore as it is too time-demanding.
AW: How do you become a coach in Brazil and are there enough coaches at the clubs?
NM: First of all, we have to graduate in physical education. This is far from enough to become a proficient coach, so the federation offers some basic courses and the possibility to enter the IAAF system. We don’t have many clubs with athletics programmes in Brazil but, considering the size of the population, there aren’t enough coaches.
AW: Do you work with other coaches?
NM: Yes, we are a team of three coaches working together – myself, my wife Tania and our daughter Larissa. It is like a family enterprise, isn’t it? I have been working with Tania for more than 25 years and Larissa (who is only 24) has just boarded the ship. I am a full-time coach, so I am at the track every day.
AW: What advice have you for someone wanting to become a jumps coach?
NM: Be as good as you can at the basics of the events. Do not over-complicate. Enjoy teaching the jumping events and teach the athletes to enjoy jumping themselves.
AW: You enjoyed great success in 2008 coaching both Maurren Higgi Maggi and Irving Salahdino to Olympic gold. Was this your greatest achievement?
NM: Yes, definitely, what a week, unforgettable! But more important than the medals was the journey we had together and the respect we developed for each other. Maurren still does everything she can to help the athletes from our group, so much so that we nicknamed it “Maurren Maggi’s Team”. Irving is back in Panama, but we always chat.
AW: Any other athletes or occasions you are proud of?
NM: There are many, for different reasons. Irving’s final at the World Championships in Osaka in 2007 obviously stands high (where he won a back-and-forth competition with Italy’s Andrew Howe) – however, I am proud of not only each medal
at world level, but also of each final.
We know how difficult it is to advance to the finals at World Championships and Olympic Games.
AW: Who are you coaching at the moment, anyone that we should be looking out for?
NM: Emiliano Lasa, Uruguayan national record-holder with 8.26m and an Olympic finalist, Eliane Martins, the best Brazilian long jumper in the last few years with 6.72m and a world championship finalist. I believe both still have their best seasons ahead of them.
Among other Brazilians, I have great confidence in the triple jumpers Kauam Kamal Bento and Gabriele Sousa Santos and long jumper Lucas Marcelino dos Santos will soon emerge among the best.
I also coach a small group of Chinese athletes with very good possibilities. Among them are long jumper Xinglong Gao and triple jumper Ruiting Wu.
AW: What do you think of the current state of men’s and women’s long and triple jump? Are the world records in danger?
NM: Those records are huge! In 2007-2009 I thought Saladino could break the world record. Then we had a few lacklustre seasons, and then (Luvo) Manyonga appeared. Last year Juan Miguel Echevarria joined as another possible nine-metre jumper, so who knows?
If I had to bet, I would say Mike Powell’s record will remain for a while. The women’s record is far more difficult and I don’t see anybody jumping that far.
In the triple jump I believe we are closer to seeing a new world record-holder, particularly among the men.
AW: Following on, what’s required to break the men’s long jump world record?
NM: That’s a difficult one. World records are for exceptional athletes, extremely well prepared athletes, competing with a high degree of motivation and under exceptional conditions, but this is true for every event and we don’t see world records at the long jump very often!
AW: You are known for your use of assisted plyometrics. Where did you get the idea from and how do you incorporate them into your training? Do you place more importance on plyometrics than weights?
NM: The idea came from the sprinter’s assisted running, even though we now know it works differently. I began using it at the end of the 1990s. I found some Japanese studies talking about it and I wanted to try. The results have been good so far.
The core of my programme is the strength training. Plyometrics develop strength in a very specific way, so I consider it extremely important. However, I also use weights (mostly free weights), whenever possible combining it with plyos.
AW: Please describe a couple of assisted plyo exercises?
NM: The most discussed and studied is the double-leg assisted vertical jump. We use elastic ropes to “reduce” the weight (of the athlete) by around 20% and do sets of reactive vertical jumps.
One obvious progression is to do single-leg vertical jumps, but this is pretty intense and only for very advanced athletes.
AW: What are your key 5-6 exercises for a long jumper?
NM: Running (sprinting) skills are a top priority for long jumpers (and triple jumpers as well). I like running over small hurdles to teach them form and rhythm.
Preparation for the take-off and the take-off itself are probably the two most important phases in the long jump so the other exercises I use the most are related to these phases:
1: combinations of three consecutive take-offs, with one step between them.
2: combinations of three consecutive take-offs, with three steps between them.
3: long jumps with medium approach with a take-off from a 5cm high box.
4: long jumps with a medium approach, step onto the 5cm box at the penultimate support and take off from the board.
AW: If you were coaching a young, developing long jumper, what are the key things you would focus on?
NM: Sprinting mechanics, approach run take-off transition and the take-off itself. Board accuracy is also a big concern early on.
AW: You have written a book Plyometrics Jumping Farther with Plyometric Training: A Practical Guide. How long did this take and can you give us a brief overview of its contents?
NM: From the moment I decided to write the book it took almost two years to get it printed, but the preparation actually began far before that.
I have been collecting material and studying plyometrics since the early 1980s in order to better apply its concepts into training. It is a huge amount of knowledge, both theoretical and practical, and I had to sit and organise it, otherwise I would get lost. Then I thought, if I am organising this information, why not write a book? It is a completely independent publication, but the process was fun.
I tried to reach the coaches, using a language familiar to us and, at the same time, I tried maintain a minimum of scientific rigour.
AW: What type of periodisation model do you use, for example, for training a mature long jumper?
NM: I do not follow a specific periodisation model, but I try to apply a few concepts:
• Skill progression throughout the season.
• Specificity all over the year.
• Short cycles.
• Monitoring (training load and the athlete’s training, health and recovery status).
AW: Do you train male and female athletes differently?
NM: Not really. As I mentioned previously, monitoring is a fundamental aspect of my programme. It is as important as planning (if not more). Good monitoring allows us to adjust individually the training load, regardless of the gender.
AW: What are your plans for the future?
NM: I feel I still have a few Olympic cycles ahead of me working with athletes. This is my focus right now. Maybe in the future I will change a little bit of this focus, to work more closely with the coaches.
» Follow Nelio Moura on Instagram: neliomoura.mmatletismo