Chatting to Coach of Belgium Open U24s Valerio Iani about the Belgian’s Hopes at the World Championships

Valerio Iani is a coach who has developed youth ultimate around the World, most notably in the USA founding Oakland Ultimate and coaching their U17 and U20 boys teams to medals at YCCs. Valerio has coached in Italy, Spain, and now Belgium. Valerio wrote “Hexagon, the Bestagon: A Look Inside the Hex Offense” the most viewed article on Ultiworlds website in 2021. A proponent of motion offense – Valerio has run hex workshops for many teams. I sat down with Valerio to talk about his role as the co-coach of the Belgium U24 open team, learn more about the Belgians in the video below. Coming soon.

How did you get involved with the team and what is your role? 

Coach Ine Lanckriet and I have known each other for almost twenty years and we connected professionally during my time in California while I was working in the San Francisco Bay Area and she was leading Ghent’s youth programming. More recently, after I moved back to Italy, she asked me to collaborate and run a Hex workshop for the Gentle Club. When I learned she was appointed as the head coach for Belgium U24 Open I asked if she could use some extra help, and that’s how everything started. Ine has been coaching and developing the majority of these players in the past five years in the U20 division – some of them she knows since they were teens and started to play. We work together in almost every aspect but when it comes to the game, she is focusing on the D points while I’m focusing on offense.

How has it been working with the talented young Belgians and the rest of the coaching staff?

Staff includes a Team Manager, a physio, and us two as coaches. The new generation from Belgium are really talented and the increasing amount of investment by several Belgian clubs in youth players will produce wave after wave of incredible athletes. The U24 open team of this edition of Worlds is young (average age 20-21) but very experienced: the majority of them have 8-10 years of ultimate under their belts. Coaching has been very interesting and stimulating. Not being from Belgium gives me some trouble understanding the nuances of their cultural dichotomy of Walloon-French vs. Flemish-Dutch, but also allows me to bring a different and distinctive perspective to the team, like an emphasis on game and emotional intelligence and the importance of training mental strength. We’ve made great progress on mental toughness and, as we showed at Tom’s Tourney during the semifinal against la Fotta Bologna, this team is resilient and is capable of making amazing comebacks.

What’s the status of the injured players? Ben Jonkers wasn’t playing at London Invite and we’ve heard Sofien Bontemps picked up an injury at Windmill, will everyone be ready to play in Nottingham? 

We’ll assess, with the help of our physio, each player’s situation on Saturday. It was an intense season for the majority of our players, especially those from Mooncatchers (Bruxelles) that competed in and won all major tournaments in Europe this year. That said, we anticipate everyone will be ready to crush in Nottingham. 

With your role of offensive coach what sort of things are you looking out for to tweak and improve during the week? 

As the coach responsible for the offense I’m looking to support the players emotionally and mentally, challenging them to play in motion using their creativity and game intelligence as a guide. We’re offering players freedom and we expect them to commit and own it. The pressure will climb every day at Worlds and we’ll prevail only by finding ways to enjoy the competition and embrace the challenges as a unified squad. 

With the talent in the side can the Belgians win the gold medal and beat the US?

We are ready to make it all the way into the “big game” but we will take it one step at a time, one game at a time, knowing there are so many factors we cannot control. At the knockout stage we can take down anyone, US included. Adapt and improve… I suspect there will be some surprises in Nottingham!

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