First time I met Gregor Sobocan; 2009 WKC Champion, Master of Sports and Kettlebell Lifting Coach; was in a friend’s opening Crossfit Box, he was accompanied by his sister and another athletes under his tutelage. I noticed his focused personality, very quite and strong man. Three years later we met again, he agreed to do the interview for the blog. I was so happy to hear that. Once more our friend put us together after his Kettlebell Lifting Sportcamp last months at Triller Crossfit Box Viena.
AF: Please present yourself.
GS: Hi, my name is Gregor Sobocan, before getting involved myself with kettlebells, I was a professional handball player for 16 years, national level. Due to lack of talent in handball I was searching for new ways to develop my skills, I found kettlebells in 2004. I was first introduced to hardstyle kettlebells from Pavel Tsatsouline, afterwards my journey started, slowly I found new teachers, new mentors, I got myself into Amateur World Champion and Professional Champion twice. I changed handball for kettlebells, my new love sport.
AF: So you started with hardstyle kettlebell…
GS: I met Pavel in Saint Paul, MN, USA, in 2004, I did Level 1 RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) certification, I was very active, sending him videos and he invited me to do the master coach, so we did together the certification in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2006, I was already a coach from RKC, at that time I already knew more about kettlebell lifting as an sport and hardstyle gave not really the results that were promised. At that time all the good coaches from RKC left; Steve Maxwell, Mike Mahler, Jeff Martone, Steve Cotter and myself; I decided to leave and to search the better way to train kettlebell lifting.
AF: How was the transition?
GS: Well when I bought Pavel’s book it said; Master of Sports, and I really wanted to have this title, I didn’t know what it means, but I want to have it! “Master of Sports” it sounded so good. When I found out that Pavel is not master of sports in kettlebell lifting I was kinda disappointed, I started to search for someone who could help me and I found Valery Fedorenko. I went to Greece to attend this certification WKC (World Kettlebell Club) and then I trained under Valery’s guidance for one year and I managed to reach the title of Master of Sport. When I got it I realized that it was just the beginning of a journey. Just the first step in kettlebell lifting. I realized that with Valery’s protocols, Valery’s way of training I won’t be able to do anymore progress so I started to search for even better athletes, better coaches so I found Ivan Denisov and Anton Anasenko, which are still my mentors, they help me every week with my trainings I invited them to Slovenia, they have been to Slovenia three times now.
AF: Where are they located?
GS: Russia, both are russian, master of sports world class, both are world record, each one in their category, eleven times world champion. The best of the best, my mentors, I was at their place, at the University where I did my kettlebell lifting exam, its a university level.
AF: What are the projects with the EGSA (EGSA, European Girevoy Sport Association)
GS: When I finished with RKC I was a master trainer for World Kettlebell Club but their qualities were not really working in Europe, they wanted to have the World but not work in Europe. They said Europe is out of money and they didn’t want loose certifications and I didn’t want to travel to the USA all the time. So, I asked them if they wanted to have a sister organization and they said no. And one day my friend and I were sitting in a dinner talking in what I should do and we said ok, we will organize an European Girevoy Sports Association. Europe was somewhere in between. They have lots of organizations in the United States and then you have those Russian organizations, which they don’t hear what european people want. People want to compete in a highest level and be compared to Russia, but there is no chance, it’s like taking a few athletes from Switzerland and compare it to Jamaica sprinters.
We had 140 people, competing at the same time, it was the biggest kettlebell lifting competition in history at the time.
At the time I saw that wanted to compete in their own and against themselves. and we had no organizations for, if you invited Russia organizations or someone else the fees to enter the competitions were 50€ per participant, which is steeling money from people, so we decided we were going to have a very small fee, just to cover the cost of travels and banners, and one day, a think it was in our third competition, we had 140 people, competing at the same time, it was the biggest kettlebell lifting competition in history at the time.
AF: that means it was needed, it was wanted…
GS: Yeah, and people started to ask me if I would do certifications. It was not my plan at first but I said well if you wanted, so I produced the whole menu, I asked Anton & Valery to help me a little bit, I was reading russian books at the time, I was going thru history so…
AF: You speak russian?
GS: Well, when I talk about sports, there is no problem, if you ask me to talk about politics or other topics, it might. I even speak russian on the phone with my coaches, but we talk about sport, nothing else, maybe girls sometimes…
So the certification was successful we organized certifications in Croatia, in Germany, in UK, Netherlands, Portugal. So we had a lot of coaches, but at some point Russia started also to work in Europe, they learned to speak english, the people that was in EGSA started to join russian associations, which is good, the sport has grown now, so if we look on the world championships now, three years ago was maybe 90 competitors, in 2014 in Hamburg was about 500, so I think is good because I introduced kettlebells to many people, specially kettlebell lifting, they only knew about kettlebells hardstyle, had no idea about sports, how to train correctly, so now a lot of people are training the way I introduced it at the time.
In 2013 my son was born, I own a gym, and I have EGSA, I got to choose between my gym or EGSA because my son is now in first place. So I said; social life in the gym, meeting people everyday means more community as EGS meeting people every three months. I decided to keep my gym and I wanted someone else to take care of EGSA; I tried with few people, but no one worked with the heart. So if you work only for money in an organization where there is no money, there is no work.
The organization is sleeping at the moment, maybe I will try to bring it up again but, I am waiting for my second child, that means another year (busy) maybe work for Slovenia, I was able to organized the official association of Kettlebell Lifting in Slovenia, I hope this year will be approved by the Minister of Sports and by Olympic Commitee in Slovenia, if I manage to do this I will just focus in Slovenia and work in Slovenia. And, still do workshops around but not doing certifications.
AF: How hard it is for the Kettlebell Lifting Sport to have a place in Slovenia?
GS: I ts very hard for Kettlebell Lifting in Slovenia because now Crossfit is growing, and kettlebells are used in Crossfit. Crossfit brings money, Kettlebell Lifting doesn’t.
I educated 71 coaches in Slovenia, in the last 3 years, I think only 2 are doing Kettlebell Lifting, everybody else did the certification and continue with crossfit because they see it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of patience, it takes a lot of programming, and you get very little money for doing sport.
The people that come to me are already personal trainer and their goal is to keep clients interested in coming back and you get better results with kettlebells. Of course this is normal if you want to survive.
I think I will change strategy to bring Kettebell Sport in a high level in Slovenia.
I introduced Kettlebell Lifting to Croatia and they have already five clubs now. We only have one. Maybe the culture, we are not so competitive, no so hungry for been recognized from results, so many this is a problem, maybe because I am the only one in Slovenia, nobody else wants to do it. I will have to think about it.
AF: Now, do you have any personal project?
GS: One of my goals is to develop sport around and to finish the book about Kettlebell Lifting that I am writing, but every time I visit my coaches, go to Russia, I learn something new, I add a new chapter and a new chapter so, the book is still writing itself, I still have to add the nutrition part. My girlfriend is certified nutritionist. She helps me with this. I hope this book will be successful after is finished. A way to introduce the Kettlebell Lifting, another way to have respect for the sport.
AF: What is your opining on the kettebell sizes from the Kettebell Sport, regarding small woman like me? I read something about changing the size.
GS: Yes there was a discussion in Russia about this, they should change because, look, in Volleyball the net is lower for girls, in basketball the ball is smaller, in handball the ball is smaller, in weight lifting the bar is thinner, so in Kettlebells the balls are big. The people that are leading the organization do not want to adjust, avoid changes because changes will bring new people, they just want to keep their positions, if they do not bring up any changes, nothing else will change, young people cannot come in because the rules are old. Change has to happen, in the big sport like soccer the rules are changing, every year because the want to make it more interesting. In Kettlebell Lifting which is not interesting to watch , they are not changing anything. They don’t like to promote, let’s say they don’t want to give Long Cycle to girls. Why not?
It will bring more people to the sport, more interest, more girls, russian girls are not even looking for it like men. So I think when the rules start to change, the sport will grow.
AF: Changing a bit the subject, I would like to ask you how do you deal with stress?
GS: I train like crazy, I might have this issue called “athletic anorexia”. If I eat to much I have to train, if I am under stress, I have to train, if I feeI like I am missing something I have to train. or I go running very far.
Also I ride my bicycle, I love to do road bike, in the mountains in Slovenia, so I go to the fields until my legs are burning. It is always hard, Endurance Training. I really release myself, it relaxes me, it’s like meditation to me. Very hard training, not with Kettlebells, with Kettlebells you have to be smart and train with caution; with bicycle you ride, literally you ride your mind all the way so this is my meditation.
I tried with Vegan Diet but I realized that it was not a diet but a lifestyle
AF: How your nutrition looks like?
GS: I was raised on a home grown food basically; my grandparents had a garden, I was always eating vegetables and fruits. They were my favorite. I tried with Vegan Diet but I realized that it was not about diet it was about lifestyle so…It happened two years ago since then 90% of my nutrition are fruits and vegetables, 90%.
I do eat meat but I tried to avoid it as much as possible; I don’t buy meat but if it is on the table of course I eat it. I try to eat fish, I try to eat clean as much as possible.
For my sport, for Kettlebell Lifting, carbs are crucial, so a lots of fruits and vegetables it is a must if you want to perform good in Kettlebells you cannot go with any low-carb diet or any fancy paleo diet
I got lucky because my metabolic system is fast so, I don’t have to worry about it. I don’t care about the looks so the muscle mass or the body percent fat age. I just want to perform good so…in nutrition if I have fruits and vegetables I am happy.
I don’t want them to like me I want them to respect me
AF: How do you deal with leadership?
GS: In the gym I have the athletes following me, I have to be a leader.
AF: What does that mean to you?
GS: More a role model than the leader, (small laugh)…my sister is doing her master degree now about leadership, there are many of types of been a leader, since I work with young, old, male and female athletes, which are good and not so good, you have to be different with everybody. I want to make a good leader and don’t want to make any barrier between me and them. I don’t want them to like me I want them to respect me; inside the gym, outside it is completely different. Outside we are all equal, at least I want to be equal, but inside the gym; I try to have this rule: They must respect me by been on time, by not talking back by respect and following my orders. When they communicate to me or to others, it has to be respectful.
At my gym it’s ok, of course if someone has a bad day and I know, it’s ok, I let him/her, I won’t send anybody home, if I sense that someone want to find an argument I try to avoid it, they might realized they had a bad day they have called me and said, I am sorry it was a bad day. Problem with love, problem with money; we try to solve the problems but if there is a problematic guy in the gym for some period of time I just ask him to leave the gym. I don’t care if he brings money or not to the gym. I just kindly ask to leave.
Gregor Sobocan; athlete, coach, father, brother, partner, leader, has walked these years with passion for life, both in his private life as in his professional. His passion and hard work has brought him the Master of Sports title as well as Kettlebell Lifting master coach; Gregor Sobocan definitely has opened the world of this great Sport to Europe. He has fought for it with love and passion.
You can contact him via his webpage: http://www.kb-center.si
or his facebook fan page as Kettlebell Center
Photos: Gregor’s web and personal facebookpage