– You have to be not only a coach and strategist but also a psychologist, a teacher, a father – said Slobodan Kovač. The Olympic champion and legendary Serbian volleyball player talked also about how he feel as a coach, as well as about his team’s goals.
Did you follow the European Championships? How would you assess the performance of your countrymen?
Slobodan Kovač: – At the beginning of the ECh Serbs didn’t play good, but during the tournament they changed that. It seems to me that these young players fiest of all changed their mentality. Especially Jovović and Atanasijević started to play better, to play as they can. In result they won another medal, very important for all of us. It is important as we have a young team and such success only motivates for further work.
Coach Heynen recently said that in two years is not Russia, Italy and Poland will win medals but only the young teams like France, Belgium and Germany. Do you agree with this?
– (Laughs) Well, of course, the important thing is what will happen in the future, in a few years, but the most important is what is happening now. In Serbia we have very talented young players, but if they’re not going to work on this, to grow up and become better and better, they will stay in the same place. They need to continue their work on themselves and improve themselves. Perhaps we could have one more good receiver playing at a high level to get more medals in the future. I believe that at this moment, with these volleyball players, we reached a maximum.
After many years as a player, you’ve been a coach. How do you feel in this role?
– It’s been six years since I become a coach… I have to admit that I believe that it is better to be a player than a coach (laughs). If you’re a player, you don’t have to think for others, to worry about the dozen of players. As a volleyball player you focus only onto work and play well, at the good level and if you do that, no one will tell you a bad word. But if you’re a coach and your players don’t play good, no one mentions that it might be their fault. Everyone wonder why this is happening, why they play badly, why the team loses and most of all blame on the coach. It’s hard work because you have to be not only a coach and strategist but also a psychologist, a teacher, a father.
However, you seem to be very patient person. Anyway, do you think sometimes that in that action you would play better than your players?
– No, never. Now I’m the coach and I don’t want, I can’t think like a player. In addition, outside the court you can see much more, you can see the mistakes that players make during the match. I have lived my life as a player and now I want to share this experience with my team, to make a difference and help him grow up. I want to teach my players what is good and what is bad, what to do to become better. While being on the other side of the court, I know how it all works, I’m richer in the experience that I want to share with my players. I’m here to help them, to tell them what they need to do to play better and better.
And was that difficult to you to decide to become a coach?
– The hardest part was to “switch” from thinking typical for the player to the thinking of the coach. At the beginning I was thinking that I could play better than my volleyball players, but it was very bad. At the moment, I do not know how to will look like in the future, I believe that my career as a coach is going very goo for me. I made my first steps in Serbia and there, with Radnicki Kragujevac, I won two championships. When I arrived to Italy, I had team playing in Serie A2 and after one year we won the league championship and promotion to Serie A1. From experienced players I had only Goran Vujevic, rest of the players were young. One year later we took sixth place in the league. I believe that now we have a really strong team and I believe that we can achieve even a better result. Indeed, it will not be easy, but I am a very ambitious man and my ambitions are big. I want my team achieved something great.
How would you compare work in Serbia and in Italy?
– In Serbia there is lot of young players: the older ones prefer to go abroad, to the clubs where they will receive better pay, in our country and stay only the youngest. In Kragujevac I worked with Čupkovic, as well as many others then unknown players. In Italy the working conditions are better, it is easier because you have available more older, experienced volleyball players, professionals. Because of that also the level of competition is higher. In Italy coach has more abilities than in Serbia where the league is not as strong and it is hard to change, to teach the young who, after a time, also will go abroad. Working in Italy is unique.
And do you have a coach from who you learned?
– For me Velasco , Anastasi, Gajić or Di Pinto are the best in this profession. They are very important figures in the volleyball, as well as in my life. However, if I want to be a good coach I have to learn and take the best from all of them. In addition, I should learn from my mistakes to not repeat them in the future.
You said that you want to achieve a better result than last year and this is connected with winning a promotion to the European Cups.
– This is not such a simple thing because in Italy we have a lot, about eight, very good teams so the struggle to find the top five will be tough. It won’t be easy to repeat last year’s result. Of course, I’d like tto do that but these are only my wishes. It’s hard to predict anything, all depends on how my team will play. We want to be better, to be in the top five but a lot of work in front of us to do that.