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Interview with Jerrad "Coach Kona" Guenther, Head of Performance

Interview with Jerrad "Coach Kona" Guenther, Head of Performance
Written by: Yoann

Yoann: Hey, hello everyone! Today I’m with Coach Kona, personal coach, and director of performance! How would you introduce yourself?


Coach Kona: Hello, nice to meet you! My name is Jerrad, I specialize in performance and health for gamers. I used to compete in Halo 2 and 3, Overwatch, and Call Of Duty, but it wasn’t supported by my family back in the day when I was 15. I’ve always been a natural competitor, I also played soccer at a high level, and then I decided to prioritize my academia!

Yoann: That’s cool! When and how did you get into coaching?


Coach Kona: I’ve always been involved in coaching from the very beginning, my dad was a coach! He coached me in soccer when I grew up, I was always around him, seeing how he would coach, that always was a part of my life! 

I got into training athletes around 11 years ago, at the start, it was more around the physical side, helping them become faster, stronger, and more resilient, and then, I transitioned to mental, physical, and emotional support for my athletes! 

Yoann: That’s amazing! What's your role as a Director of Performance? How can you help the talents you are working with?


Coach Kona: Good question! You do everything, I schedule the sessions, I look for talents, and I help players develop a vast skill set outside of their in-game mechanics. I work with players on their mental side, especially building mental resilience, self-confidence, and consistency with their habits, and then bring consistency within the game.

It’s also optimizing routines, driving leadership and team building for organizations and teams I work with, giving them tools to communicate better, and it often helps with conflict. Having these challenging conversations to push through adversity.

Yoann: Which teams or players did you work with so far on Valorant?


Coach Kona: In Valorant, Version 1 was one of my first esports orgs that I was a part of. Back then, they had a male team and a Game Changers team, I worked with both of them.

I also worked with QOR Gaming, a Tier 2 team, their main goal was to qualify for the North American Challengers, and we accomplished that this year, shoutout to the staff and the players for committing to performance coaching to help them gain that edge. That was a big accomplishment! I also worked with some European teams as well! Last year, I worked with the Excel Game Changers team, and Turtle troop in the NA Challengers, they’re a free agents team. This year, I’m working with another free agents team called Passion Project, they’ll be competing in the Game Changers circuit, and I’m hoping they get an org as well! I’m helping them with team sessions, and individual coaching as well! 


When it comes to the players, I’ve been working with Zekken, from Sentinels for over a year and a half now! We meet about once a week, he’s one of my most prolific clients, he’s a great player and a great kid! I’ve recently been working with Yay, from Bleed, we have a great relationship, and I hope we get him back to a point where he’s truly happy with his performance. I’ve been working with Jake from Cloud 9, he’s currently on the bench, but he has a lot of talent and skills. I think he’ll be back in Tier 1 in no time!

The other players in Tier 2 would be QueenBob and Redux, and there are a few more! 

Yoann: Wow that’s amazing! Do you travel with your players when they are competing in tournaments?


Coach Kona: Most of the work that I do is online, we reflect on their performance, what is going well, what isn’t, and what we want to change or work on for that week. My job is to give them the tools and the skills to take action on that. I don’t often travel, I’d love to travel more, but it’s financially challenging as I’m a solo entrepreneur, and I don’t have the budget to go to all these tournaments. The last tournament I supported Zekken at, was in Sao Paulo in Brazil last year for the Lock//In event, it was great to meet all the players and teams! Traveling more with the teams and players is one of my goals! When the performance coach is a part of the team, when you can create these human connections in person, that’s where you find the most success! 

Yoann: How would you explain the importance of physical and mental health for performance in esports?


Coach Kona: Great question! That’s part of why I do this job, I find that uplevelling gamers’ physical and mental health, brings me a lot of purpose! Back then I was competing, there wasn’t a lot of staff, you were lucky if you had a coach! To me, these are cognitive athletes who can do tasks and process information at a very high level. We spend a lot of time on foundational wellness, and have those pillars in check, things like sunlight, movement, nutrition, social connections, and sleep! Even gut and oral health, are the foundational things that aren’t as fun or sexy to talk about, but they lay the foundation to build the mental and physical skills to build on top of!


Last year, I got my certification in mental health first aid, which was very important for me, a lot of gamers have unique challenges, spending a lot of time in toxic social dynamics, traumas, and past experiences. I wanted to uplevel myself to best support them! 

Yoann: For sure, we’ve seen the real impact of mental health with Twisten last year for example. I think especially today, players and teams understand better the importance of mental well-being in esports. 


Coach Kona: Exactly, it’s sad that oftentimes something like that has to happen before people prioritize the awareness behind that. To me, it should start with the game developers, for example when Riot Games creates a league in esports, there should be a structure, a foundation, and a minimal level of training that people have to be aware of and support these individuals that are going through it. There are a lot more people that have mental and health challenges than we are aware of. 

Yoann: That’s for sure! Let’s now move on to the Quick Questions part, I’ll ask you 10 quick questions, and you'll have to answer as fast as possible, ready?


Coach Kona: Yeah!

Yoann: Phantom or Vandal?


Coach Kona: Vandal when I’m feeling it!

Yoann: What's your favorite map?


Coach Kona: Haven!

Yoann: What's your favorite agent?


Coach Kona: Raze!

Yoann: What's your favorite skin collection?


Coach Kona: The knife I have for Lock//In! That was the first Valorant international event I was present at!

Yoann: What's your best memory as a coach?


Coach Kona: This might not be a short answer! When I was working at a Halo LAN event, I was working with a team, and one of the players forgot their controller at the hotel. The player was stressed because the match was about to start. We grabbed the controller and jumped in the Uber, in that car I realized the power of the mind and how mental skills training could support an athlete. We focused on calming him down with breathing exercises, I talked to him to reduce his stress. We then visualized the first map of the game, we went through a lot of mental skill practice. He got there and ran up on stage, but we didn’t make it in time, they had forfeited the first map! And he had no chance to warm up for the second map. But on the server, he played incredibly! He had something like 40 kills, with incredible multi-kills moments, and they ended up winning the series!

After the series, he thanked me and told me that he felt so ready to compete, his mind was primed to perform based up from the work we did in the car on our way there! That’s a very cool memory!

Yoann: Can you name the eight teams that won an international event?


Coach Kona: Sentinels, Acend, Loud, Optic, EG, Fnatic, FPX, and Gambit!

Yoann: Great job! Which player or team would you like to work with in the future?


Coach Kona: My favorite players are players who are hungry! I really like working with players from different regions, but I don’t have specific names in mind!

Yoann: What kind of music do you listen to to get in the zone?


Coach Kona: Good question! If I’m writing, I like music with no lyrics, some type of lofi. But if I’m trying to up my mental intensity, I find EDM like Zedd’s, or Martin Garrix’s help me get going!

Yoann: Can you quote a voice line from your favorite agent?


Coach Kona: Here comes the party! 

Yoann: Amazing! Let’s now go back to the standard questions! What are your hobbies or passions aside from coaching?


Coach Kona: I think it changed through the years, many years ago it was sports like soccer, ultimate, basketball… Now, I enjoy the social and competitiveness of gaming, playing games is one of my hobbies, it can be Call Of Duty, Rocket League, Valorant, or Fortnite!

Yoann: What would you change to Valorant if you were a developer?


Coach Kona: I’d love to see more minigames, where you could simulate game scenarios! When we get more agents, I think having agent bans would add depth to the competition!

Yoann: What advice would you give someone willing to become a mentor or a coach?


Coach Kona: That’s a great question! Try to uplevel yourself as much as possible with things you’re really interested in. What has made me the coach I am today is just starting; working with people! I have learned more on the job working with players and coaches than I have during my master's degree. Put yourself out there, and make yourself uncomfortable, when you choose discomfort, and you push through it, that gives your brain evidence that you can do it, and that’s oftentimes what we need!

Yoann: That’s amazing! What are your ambitions as a coach?


Coach Kona: That’s always evolving, I’d love to work for an org in a leadership role, such as head of esports and performance. With all the experience I have within esports and outside of that, I’ve managed teams, coaches, and interns, and I’ve done hiring and leadership meetings. I’d love to bring those skills and elements to an esports org! 

Yoann: Great! Thank you so much for your time! I wish you the best in the future! 


Coach Kona: Thank you!

Coach Kona’s socials:

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