Other Pointers

Aiming Artists: Zorana Arunović and Jelena Arunović

Živa Dvoršak

Mar 3, 2023

Join us for the second interview in the Aiming Artists series. This time, you will get two amazing Aiming Artists for the price of one! After pistol shooter Zorana Arunović won silver in 10 m air pistol at the WC Cairo 2023, we talked with her and her sister and coach Jelena Arunović. This power duo has long been present at the top of the shooting scene and can provide valuable insight into setting up a season and the importance of routines. We also asked them if there are moments where sisterhood ends.

First, Zorana, congratulations on your success today! I’m going to ask you the most predictable question; how was your match today?

Zorana: Thank you! It was difficult, it was very hard and it was such a physical and emotional roller coaster. I feel like I gave birth to at least 100 babies today.

Are you saying that, after all these years, you still have stressful moments during a competition? How do you overcome them?

Zorana: Yes, of course I do! If you want to succeed in anything and care about being the best, if you care about yourself and this sport, you’re always going to feel stressful moments. The moment I no longer feel any stress, I will know that that’s the end of my career, that this is no longer for me. I’ve been shooting for 22 years, and there were many moments when I felt this was no longer for me. Many times, even today, I wonder what I am doing here and why I am doing this to myself, but you know, as long as I still care and have the desire to be the best, I know that this is still the place for me.

I agree with you that we need a little bit of pressure. But what if this pressure gets too high? How do you cope with it? Do you have an SOS exit?

Zorana: I do have routines that I follow. I use the same ways for each training and every competition, regardless of the level of competition. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Serbian cup, the European Championships, or the Olympic Games, the routine is always the same. This is the correct way of mentally preparing for the match when it comes to me. I have a specific list of exercises that I do, and I always do them in the same order because this is how I warm up and this is how I prepare myself when getting into an activity. I do it every day, and I know I’m going to repeat it in the competition. Sometimes my SOS exit is to step out, chill and talk to Jelena, and then go back and start all over, which in the end still comes down to following my routines.

Jelena, would you like to add anything about routines?

Jelena: As we get older and more experienced, we like some things more. At the moment, we are isolating ourselves before the most important competitions of the season: we are isolated from everyone and prepare for the upcoming challenge. So that’s been our routine for some time now, complete isolation before the big competition.

We have other routines, too, and they help us focus on the important things. You know when the training starts, when it’s a day off, how you work after the competition, when we do fitness trainings, when we take longer breaks … The routine preserves energy, but you also need to critically review and assess when the time is right for a change to challenge new adaptations.

Zorana: One more thing. I hate it when someone interrupts me during my warm-up, and, for some reason, this happens so often. I don’t know why, but shooters have this urge to talk to me every time when I warm up. So if any of my shooting friends are reading this: please do not interrupt me while I’m warming up, please just don’t do that anymore. I will be polite and tell you we could carry on some other time, but I would rather see if this doesn’t even happen.

Do you also have a cool-down routine?

Zorana: Yes,  I do. I have some back issues, so I like to stretch a lot. Then I would analyze my performance with my coach, regardless of whether the performance is good or not. We need to sit down and talk about it. As soon as I finish the match, I like to do a short analysis and give her all the information about where we did well and where we could have been better, so that she knows how to incorporate all that into future training sessions.

Zorana and Jelena Arunović in celebratory poses

Jelena what do you do when you see your shooter having difficult moments?

Jelena: I regret not interrupting the shooter when I see signs of crisis, which is always visible a few shots or minutes before the eruption! As a young coach, I did not know how to predict this, but now the situation has changed. I claim that I won some medals for Zorana with my timeouts, as much as I lost some because I didn’t believe in myself to stop the match when it was clear that the situation was not going in the desired direction.

If we follow an athlete, we can determine his or her weak points based on the training that preceded the performance, up to 7 training sessions earlier. Generally, when we see weak points during training, i.e. something that is constantly repeating, there is a high chance that it will also happen in the competition. In relation to that, we design or model the athlete’s competitive tactics, and as coaches, we are ready to ask for a break at the hint of a problem before it escalates.

Therefore, the role of the coach is far from negligible! I send my athletes to the line with the sentence:

IF I SEE SOMETHING GOING IN A BAD DIRECTION,

I WILL INTERRUPT YOU!

This tells them that they are not alone, that there is someone who reads their situation and will prevent a negative escalation. I always remember that the competition is the hardest for athletes, and I encourage them and give short and clear advice. Of course, none of them forgets the basic technique, but in moments where psychological pressure is extremely prominent, various errors and problems occur. To approach the athlete correctly and most productively, I am doing various formations myself. Only a calm and patient athlete can perform at a high level.

When we see that an athlete goes through difficult periods and that they string bad trainings, which are characterized by a lack of discipline, motivation, dedication, and focus, we have to take responsibility and return the training to the zone where the athlete manages to establish some decent level of precision. I wouldn’t say that it’s a step back, but a return to focusing on the technique and to sharpening the basic elements that sometimes go to the second or third plan … When we adapt the training to the current capabilities of the athlete, we show maturity in thinking and adaptation to the current state and level of precision. We can plan for further progress only when we control the objective parameters.

Jelena, how do you cope with competition stress? Do you think a shooter can sense you’re nervous?

Jelena: I am sure that the athlete feels the stress of the people around them. That’s why the same rules apply to me and the athlete. The phone goes off, social networks go into oblivion, and the only focus is on the athlete and the performance. That’s the mode from which we enter competitions.

I maintain my health because I know that I am most helpful when I am completely healthy and able to cope with performance challenges. I introduce a little humour when it gets tough, but everything is within acceptable limits. I experience myself as a leader, and I do my job accordingly.

When the stress skyrockets, I find a way to separate myself from the athlete and not transfer any tension. For example, at the last Olympic Games, I asked not to share the room with Zorana, we weren’t even on the same floor, and we only saw each other at the shooting range because I didn’t want to burden her with my energy. Although you can’t see it from the result, Tokyo was our best prepared competition.

Zorana Arunović crying after her sports performance in Tokyo2020 Olympic Games and her sister and coach Jelena comforting her

And now for a very important question: writing notes: yes or no?

Jelena: Of course! You must always record and analyse each training session or competition. I have all the documentation from Zorana’s first training to this last competition. Parameters not solely related to results are very important because they define the athlete’s performance more closely. I’m sure many will understand or remember matches during which the result was far better than how they performed. Or vice versa. That’s why it’s important to have a complete picture, which we are putting together like a puzzle that includes all of the elements that are not just the result.

Zorana: If you ask Jelena, she will tell you this is one of my most challenging things. I have at least 15 notebooks that I will start writing on January 1st. It’s almost like a new year’s resolution. Unfortunately, they also end like such resolutions mostly do – after three weeks or so, I would just stop. However, I’ve finally overcome this curse in the past two years and started writing detailed notebooks about my training sessions. I have every single training session written down. Before training, I write down the plan for that day, which helps me go through all the tasks I’m about to do and make a strategy on how I will handle training because the context of each task is changing. By doing so, you have to adapt and think in advance. This is one of the good sides of writing down all the notes for training.

What about setting goals? Do you have them? Would you write them down?

Zorana: No, not really. Jelena is more about that. I would tell her what I think should be the goals for the season, and then we work that through. But I don’t have any specific goals written down. I just like to win, and that’s it!

Jelena: If we do not have a goal, then we do not know what we are striving for, and we have no parameters for evaluating our achievements. In that case, every performance can be both successful and unsuccessful, and everything depends on the subjective experience.

When setting goals, we must distinguish between short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. Likewise, we must be realistic in assessing the current abilities of the athlete that we are coaching and be aware of his or her weakest points. Finally, the goals must align with the time needed to modify a specific characteristic through training and then reflect on the competition result.

Setting goals at the beginning of each season is common practice, but even these must be in line with the ultimate career goal. In other words, the whole process must have a logical sequence, and the stages through which we lead the athlete must build on each other together with a discreet and patient change of the training context as a career growth on the way to the ultimate goal.

Do you set up the season together or is Jelena the one making the plans?

Jelena: In theory, we have three periods: preparation, competition, and transition period. If we participate in all ISSF competitions, we soon see that this is making less and less sense and has little practical applicability. So, the first task when setting up an athlete’s calendar is to include only those competitions that have a purpose, and the athlete will attend during the competition period. Then, in relation to the main competitions of the season, we determine the second- and third-priority competitions. They serve as a checkpoint on the athlete’s level of precision and the effectiveness of the training. After that, things align easily because the whole process is logical – including all types of preparation and the share of each of them in relation to the period of the season.

When the athlete goes on a break, the coach continues with the analysis and draws conclusions that represent the basis for the creation of the next period. We must also not neglect the role of collaborators who are in charge of certain aspects of preparation, and we must have, in real time, information about the athlete’s condition.

Zorana: Jelena is the brain, the alpha person of our micro team. We go through the entire calendar to see what we want to achieve in the year, and then she creates training plans and does all the cycles and everything. So I’m there to fulfill everything she says and to be the best.

If she’s the alpha, who are you?

Zorana: I’m alpha one! We are both alphas in our own fields, but Jelena is definitely the brain of the team. She’s the one who’s grounded, she’s the one who has more common sense. 99% of the time, I am led by my emotions, and she’s the one who is led by reason. In our small team, I always like to consult with her about shooting things and things in general. I like comparing my opinions to her opinions and getting her perspective to determine if I’m on a good path.

Pistol shooter Zorana Arunović with three medals around her neck and her sister and coach Jelena Arunović with her arm around Zorana's shoulders

Is there a line where sisterhood ends and you switch to business?

Zorana: Oh yes, every time we enter the shooting range, it’s the end of sisterhood and the beginning of strictly business. A shooting range is no place for me to call her Sis or vice versa. She’s the coach, and I do everything she says. We consult, I give her feedback, we make new strategies, new plans, and prepare trainings. We do everything necessary for us as a team to be the best. Of course, it wasn’t always like that. When we were younger, our sisterhood was more present on the range and not in a good way. I wanted to avoid my older sister bossing me around on the range. Then we grew up and had more than one conversation until we realized we had to become professional if we want to succeed. It took us some time, but we managed to be very professional, and now we can even be too professional because sometimes this professional becomes 99% of our time, and we sometimes forget what it is like just to be sisters.

Jelena: In the beginning, that line was not there, but then it became very clear, and now it is discreet because we both know when we take on which role. If I’m the sister and it’s difficult for her on the line, I’m of no use … But as her coach, I immediately take control and lead the match. When it’s all over, we celebrate our shared achievements as people who have given a lot and appreciate each other’s contributions!

What is your advice for shooters and for coaches?

Jelena: I wish that young athletes, beginners have a coach whom they trust and whose vision they can follow. This is the way to having a winning combination. Along with the athlete, the coach should improve and follow the new trends in the world of sports. Such a coach, a proactive and inventive one, can create a miracle!

Zorana: My advice for shooters is to write down notes. I can say how essential that is from my own experience. I didn’t do it in time, but now I see how important it is to keep track of all your trainings. Not only numbers. Numbers can be irrelevant, even though we are ultimately judged by the score we achieve in the competition. But when it comes to trainings, what matters more is to have strong feedback about what you think was good and where to pay more attention next time.

As for coaches, I would definitely recommend that they listen to their shooters more. Don’t be very strict, don’t just tell them “you need to do this and this and this and nothing else”. Instead, let shooters guide you from time to time because having that kind of feedback is necessary. I know that there is an entire science behind a coaching job and sports that coaches need to know, and that there are so many formulas on how to prepare for trainings and everything. But sometimes what matters more is to pay attention to what your shooter tells you and how they feel and incorporate all that into training, and I can guarantee that it will be much, much better.

Zorana Arunović (1986) is a pistol shooter stringing successes since she was a junior. Her biggest breakthrough happened in 2010 when she won the individual gold medal in the 10 m air pistol and both individual and team silver in the 25 m pistol, alongside her sister Jelena and legendary sport shooter Jasna Šekarić, at the 2010 World Shooting Championships in Munich. Her collection currently holds 50 medals from the biggest competitions.

Jelena Arunović facing the camera with her arms crossed

Jelena Arunović (1981) is a former pistol shooter, winner of team silver in the 25 m pistol at the 2010 World Shooting Championships alongside Zorana Arunović and Jasna Šekarić. With substantial shooting experience, she has always been more drawn to coaching. Fully diving in and developing herself in various areas as a coach (she is also the holder of the ISSF Coach Pro licence), she has been Zorana’s personal coach since 2010.

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