Posted: 17.05.2024 10:58:16

Success through learning and teaching

Who are they, creators of victories? The brightest Belarusian coaches in team sports

Great victories of athletes come from years of hard work by their coaches. Although a mentor in sports is a mainstream profession, a talented and successful mentor is a rarity and always worth its weight in gold. Belarus is rich in wonderful sports teachers and the Belarusian coaching school has a deep history, including in team sports. The names of Eduard Malofeyev and Spartak Mironovich are known all over the world for being pioneers, innovators and leaders, specialists who were ahead of their time and worthy of monuments during their lifetime for the remarkable achievements in their profession. Who sets the main trends and directions in Belarusian team sports now? Who is the most fashionable, successful and decorated? Let us look at those whose names dominate the news, and the mere mention of whom makes trainees shiver.

Dmitry Kravchenko — harsh enough to tie hockey skates with reinforcing rods


For the last three years, HC Metallurg Zhlobin knows no equal and keeps winning the President’s Cup in brilliant style, under the management of Dmitry Kravchenko. They say that each team acquires the personality traits of its coach, and the ‘Wolves’ [nickname for Metallurg hockey players] from Zhlobin are a vivid confirmation of this. The core of steel, the ability to put pressure on the opponent, sporting craftiness, boldness and anger are somehow miraculously intertwined with poetic lightness, self-confidence and positive energy, with which the coach and his team look forward regardless of the circumstances.
Dmitry Kravchenko’s name has been in the top of the best hockey specialists in the country for ten years. It is even strange that he has not yet received a serious offer to work as a head coach at the KHL level or to lead the national team, at least a junior one. After all, both his results and authority make Kravchenko a worthy candidate for such a post. What is important is the fact that Dmitry Aleksandrovich has gone all the way from the very basics, without missing a single step. He began working with children and young men, after which moved to the adult level and now continues to hone his skills and enrich himself with knowledge year by year.
After winning the 2023 President's Cup, the players 
shaved their coach's head right in the locker room

Kravchenko is not a local — he was born in Novokuznetsk, Russia. In 1993, he relocated to Grodno, Belarus together with his coach who was invited to work at HC Neman. The guy was 17 years old at that time, and the main incentive for him was not really hockey but studying at a local university. “Back in Novokuznetsk, hockey players tie their skates with reinforcing rods,” the mentor smiled. “It is a city of metallurgical production, a harsh one. So my character corresponded to the surrounding conditions.” Kravchenko’s career as a player did not work out, though. At the age of 21, he had to hang his skates on the wall and put the stick in the closet. “I dislocated my shoulder,” he recalled. “I thought it was okay, but it turned out to be relapsing dislocation. Any careless movement made the shoulder pop out again. I underwent one operation, the second, the third... It was the year 1996. I was left without money. I left the university, but I did not leave Grodno. I had got married by that time, and got an offer to work with children. So, I took groups with children of different ages and moved forward by trial and error. As a result, I found a second homeland here, which has now become the first. It turned out the way God had disposed, and I am happy to have ended up here. All my children are Belarusians and I consider myself a Belarusian, too.”
The coach calls diligence one of the secrets behind his successful results. “I followed this principle when I was on the ice. When everyone ran fast, I tried to run even faster; when everyone jumped 20 times, I jumped 40. Sometimes I did drills not just better but more. This is hard work and diligence, and it still helps me now.” 
In addition to direct coaching talents, Dmitry Kravchenko has a poetic one — his comments are always figurative and scintillating, and his style is metaphorical. The phrase, ‘I looked at the stands and saw one big heart’ became a meme and people’s favourite. Bright, charismatic, unhackneyed — a figure that makes Belarusian hockey clearly better and livelier.

Dmitry Nikulenkov — a hot heart and a cool head, or vice versa

Aleksandr Kulevsky

Nikulya, as handball fans affectionately called him, has been a leader and a fighter throughout his life. He was the captain of almost all the teams he played for — in Minsk clubs Arkatron and Dinamo, Meshkov Brest, in the Belarusian national team and SKA Minsk. After finishing his career, Nikulenkov remained true to himself and at the helm as he took the post of head coach of the legendary handball squad, in which he finished his career. 
Aleksandr Budai

Nikulya has increased in status by becoming Dmitry Olegovich, but he has not changed a lot — he is still the same restless and emotional leader who does not recognise any other results except for the maximum. He has a rich and very eventful career behind him, including European and World Championships, as well as Champions League matches, and knows almost everything about handball. Most importantly, when playing, he was simultaneously preparing himself to become a coach. Nikulenkov started working with young men but did not stay long at this level, taking over the reins of the young and daring SKA Minsk. The Belarusian national handball team could not do without him, either. Nikulenkov is an assistant to Yuri Shevtsov, and this is not just a prestigious and honourable mission for him now, but a real storehouse of prospects and opportunities. Working alongside such a master as legendary Shevtsov is like studying unique folios with secrets of the coaching profession and craft, and Dmitry Olegovich surely absorbs new knowledge like a sponge. If we have to speculate about who is capable of replacing Yuri Shevtsov as coach of the Belarusian national team in the near future, we could bet this is going to be Dmitry Nikulenkov. There are almost no other options. However, this is a future that we are not destined to know. What is known is that Dmitry Nikulenkov today is one of the most prominent figures in Belarus’ team sports. 

Igor Kovalevich — sincere and uncompromising


In Guy Ritchie’s film, Igor Kovalevich could well be given one of the main roles. It is a pity that the iconic film director who made Vinnie Jones, the main bully of British football, a movie star simply did not see what tricks with the ball Belarusian Igor Kovalevich was doing on the field when he was a player. If Kovalevich and Vinnie Jones had happened to cross paths on the field, it would have definitely resulted in some amazing football thriller.
Kovalevich has always stood out from the rest. He can hardly be called an intellectual coach or an expert in millions of tactical schemes, or a master of the strategic part. He is one of those who put a stake on strength of character and fighting spirit of the team — he is like a battery commander. At the
same time, Kovalevich as a coach has not lost his individuality over the years of practice and has not unlearnt how to surprise. 
The mentor who led FC Neman Grodno to the silver medal of the Belarusian Premier League last year has called Eduard Malofeyev (‘No one can see the soul of a football player like him’) and Yuri Kurnenin, who passed away before time (‘It was very interesting to work under his leadership in Brest’) his role models in the art of coaching. Igor Kovalevich will undoubtedly become a role model for young coaches, too.

By Sergei Kanashits