Lexington, Ky. – After a year of unprecedented success for the U.S. Para Dressage team, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has recognized Para Dressage Chef d’Equipe Michel Assouline as its Paralympic Coach of the Year for 2020. Assouline was one of eight coaches from across all Olympic and Paralympic sports recognized by the USOPC in its annual Coach of the Year program.
Assouline joined US Equestrian as Head of Para Equestrian Coach Development and High Performance Consultant in 2017, bringing with him 12 years of experience as head coach for the highly successful British para dressage program. With Assouline’s guidance, the Adequan® U.S. Para Dressage Team has flourished and in 2020 became the top team on the FEI’s ranking list for the first time in the program’s history. Additionally, U.S. athlete Roxanne Trunnell is the top-ranked individual FEI para dressage athlete across all grades.
“The USOPC’s Paralympic Coach of the Year award is a huge honor not only for me but also U.S. Para Dressage,” said Assouline. “It truly reflects on everyone’s efforts and successes: a team effort! It is also a notable recognition of the equestrian discipline among all Olympic and Paralympic sports. This could never have been achieved without the drive, involvement, and vision of every single athlete, groom, owner, sponsor, and our USEF support staff. In other words, it takes the whole team. Thank you, USPOC, and thank you to the entire U.S. Para Dressage community. Let’s continue the journey and propagate our coaching excellence!”
“Behind athlete success and wellbeing are the dedicated and passionate coaches that guide Team USA athletes in sport and in life,” said USOPC Chief Executive Officer Sarah Hirshland. "In 2020, we watched so many coaches adapt and create innovative ways to support their athletes. It’s an honor to recognize these individuals and showcase their achievements in this especially challenging year.”
We spoke to Assouline about the current success and future goals of the U.S. Para Dressage program.
The U.S. Para Dressage program has reached an unprecedented level of success over the past year or so. To what do you attribute this improvement? What are the program’s strengths?
Michel Assouline: I had to develop more technology and focus on greater communications on various platforms to ensure athlete preparation and confidence. Emotions run high in sport! The integration of online judging and virtual coaching have also played a huge role, not only because of the pandemic and its logistical challenges, but for athletes to have regular access to high-profile professionals’ feedback and input. Social media group chats have equally given our athletes a voice and also a sense of belonging, being team players, and able to reach out to teammates and peers at the touch of a button.
The U.S. Para Dressage Coach Certificate Program, which I developed over the course of three years, is probably the most important factor in dressage/para dressage integration. There are now 32 certified coaches. These coaches are our satellites, talent spotters, and scouts and are supporting all emerging, developing, and elite athletes on their journey.
What is your most important long-term goal for the program?
MA: The ultimate dream is to get these athletes on the podium at Paralympic games and World Championships. They have already shown their ability as a team to place themselves at the very top of the FEI World rankings. What we need now is consistency and to aim for team and individual medals.
What is your primary area of focus for the team and the program for this year?
MA: Right now, of course, all eyes are on athletes in Tokyo Games contention. The whole team is involved, and that includes everyone: grooms, coaches, owners, sponsors, and all of our USEF staff. We have international shows on the table all the way up to June 2021 to enable our selectors to choose the Tokyo team.
What do you enjoy most about coaching para dressage?
MA: First and foremost is to help athletes achieve entry [into the competitive sport], and my dream is also their dream. I have been coaching teams in both able-bodied dressage and para dressage, but helping an athlete with an additional physical challenge, such as a disability, gives you a sense of helping that person live a better life and achieving a sense of normalcy and belonging.
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The USEF International High Performance Programs are generously supported by the USET Foundation, USOPC, and USEF sponsors and members.