The Winner

Return of proven Principles
In sports, children are no longer asked whether they go to school, let alone what grades they have. Clubs are full of uneducated players. And later, whet else, they want to be coaches. And it is difficult to make educated coaches from uneducated players. This is where the fall and disintegration begin. In handball, there is obviously a problem of the Association, because some others, like volleyball and water polo players, achieved much better results in equally difficult conditions. Restoration must go from top to the bottom. National team is something that must be created, not assembled. Great people are nurtured, you cannot buy them per kilo  

By: Dejan Bulajić
Photographs: Archive of the Interlocutor

He dedicated his life to handball. He was a great player, very successful coach and exceptional pedagogue. Each of these three areas took a good chunk of his life, but also helped him to advance, both in sports and in life.
Plying career of Branislav Pokrajac is filled with striking moments.
– It is certainly the first game with the national team. In December 1965, before I turned 19, I debited in my hometown of Belgrade, in front of my parents and friends, in a game with Western Germany: the coach even introduced me into the game a few minutes before the end. I will never forget the moment when I scored the goal, my first goal for the national team. It is as if this detail is engraved into my memory much deeper than the Olympic gold medal that we won in 1972 in Munich, and which was the crown of all previously achieved results. A special place in my career also has the fact that I played in world representation, in Ljubljana and Dortmund. Based on the strength of the impression, one of my most striking memories is about the last game for the national team, in 1976, at the Olympic Games in Montreal. After all the joys, the parting was sad.
Being a national team player, at that time, was truly a remarkable recognition.
– Then it all seemed ordinary and spontaneous to me, but today I see that we cannot reach that level. I remember that we had five years of preparations before we won that Olympic gold  medal, the team had been created and had been maturing. Previously, at the World Championship in France, we won bronze medal, which was a signal that we were coming as a true handball force. Today you cannot bring together either club or national team players to work with them for five years. In some countries, which are better organized, it is still being nurtured, and their results are also good. Unfortunately, in our country it is no longer the case, and coaches have a big problem because they have a new group of people every year, although under the same name.
Coach’s story about the national team.
– I have always tried to accept the national team as a club. When someone from a certain club today tells me that they make national team players, it sounds a little funny to me, because clubs can’t do that. They only provide good material, of which the national team would create an international class and would return him back to the club as such.  Players complain that they are tired because they play two games per week, which is nonsense. A national team coach must adapt such players and prepare them for a competition that brings seven or eight games within ten days. It means that he must also create players and the entire team, and not choose them to play what they play in the clubs. It is not a problem to assemble a team, the problem is to create a team. National team is a good example – it is something that must be created, not assembled, according to club matrices. From the quality it has at hand, the coach must create a strong team, completely different and authentic, which breathes as a single unit.


Current Serbian handball story.
– Already a few years ago I thought that we reached the bottom, but it turned out t hat I didn’t know how deep the bottom could be. I see that placement in a competition or success in qualifications is today singled out as some great result, and not so long ago we thought that placement below the fifth or sixth place in greatest world competitions would be a failure. Current management in the Handball Association often uses, as an alibi, the alleged fact that Serbia does not have much of a tradition in this sport, thus downplaying decades of great work and exceptional achievements of many players and coaches. The former national team of Yugoslavia was comprised largely by players from Serbia, and it was for the most part giving shape exactly by our coaches. I point out that handball used to have excellent foundations and great tradition at the time when we became an independent country unlike, for example, volleyball, which until that moment could not be compared. Where are these two sports today? Volleyball players are among the strongest teams in the world, and handball players? Who is responsible for the success of volleyball? Of course, primarily players and coaches, but nothing would have happened without the serious and long term work of the Volley Ball Association. In handball we have a league that is too big, poor work in clubs, but still it is the association management who is on the top, who can most directly influence the functioning of a sport and its results. When you take a statute of one association, you can easily see everything that such an organization must be involved with. At the end of the year, when a report on activities is prepared, you see that none of that is included in that document.
It seems that it is the same situation in all our sports.
– We now have selectors in different sports. If at the Ministry of Sport you take the nomenclature of sports jobs, you will find sports doctors, physical therapists, managers, coaches of different formats, but you will not find a selector. Therefore, there are no criteria for their election. When somebody is choosing a selector, they choose a man, without any criteria being established for such election, except for personal affinities of certain people who are allegedly in charge for that type of work. Long time ago, on the level of SOFK Yugoslavia, there were criteria established for federal coach, from the level of school and players’ education, through experience as a coach, to foreign language skills. Those levels had to be fulfilled, by anyone nominated for that position. Now nobody pays attention to this. Simply, the president of the association, based on his own criteria, proposes federal coaches, and when it turns out that they are inadequate, they would replace them and start a new cycle based on the same principle. When such a person proposes several candidates, and they always turn out to be inadequate, how many times should he be allowed to do the same thing? Finally, the problem is that we do not have a roof structure. It is unclear who has the last word, whether the Ministry of Youth and Sports, or Sports Association of Serbia? In the old times, as a coach of the national team, I had to send every annual report, plan and program also to the address of SOFK Yugoslavia. Whether someone there was reading it or not, I don’t know, but it was my obligation to submit it. Associations reported to the SOFK Yugoslavia, and now all associations are working as private companies.


Current condition in Serbian sports.
– It is difficult to talk about this. We need a system in which everyone should know who the first is and to whom the associations are reporting, starting from the president to the national team coach. The example of handball national team we can see the harmfulness of the lack of a clear system of work. We cannot have selectors for all national team levels, from cadets, through juniors, to seniors, with different systems of playing and working. It is a concept that obscures itself. We need a federal coach who is leading the senior team, but who would also have jurisdiction over the coaches of juniors and cadets.
Next is the issue of professionalization. I don’t see that current teams are training more seriously in comparison to the practice of thirty years ago, and then we didn’t have professionals, but fellows. At that time, a junior, if he had poor grades at school, would not be able to play. Today nobody asks children whether they go to school at all, and our clubs are full of uneducated children. When such players end their career one day, they ask themselves what they could do in life. Clearly, what comes to mind is that they could work as coaches, which means that we should be making educated coaches from uneducated children.
The story about our sports associations is also unclear. The biggest clubs in the world are also organized on the level of sports societies, in which football has the dominant place for the most part, as an independent subject, while all the others comprise the second group. President of such an association is the president of all clubs within it, with all administration and the same rules for all. Now look at “Zvezda” and “Partizan”. The football sector goes in it direction, basketball has its own, volleyball its own, handball also. Where is the sports association in this? What has been launched by the Ministry of Youth and Sports must come to life, it is only necessary to find a good model, which can survive. To determine whether we have professional sports and what that means. If “professional” should mean that nobody goes to school any more but everybody is kicking the ball, that is not good. If you are under a contract, and the club is cheating you and not paying your fees, that is not good either. Then it is better to go back to fellowships. Let us finally determine what the solution is that this society can pursue to the end, but which would also enable young people to be involved in sports in a decent manner, and those who cross the line should prove themselves in it, and those who don’ts should become an educated sports audience, which is also a great problem for us at this moment.


Practice and Theory
– Playing career, job as a coach and pedagogical work represent a single unit that I could not separate. In the Fifth Belgrade Gymnasium, I had an excellent professor, Duško Stefanović, who was giving us directions in a good way. We had wide sports education, which inspired me to enroll in the Faculty of Physical Dedication. And although I began to practice sports actively, I didn’t want to neglect my education. I was on the good road to stay in volleyball. It was my friends who brought me to handball training rooms, first in RK “Beograd”, and then in “Zvezda”. I had a great desire to go back to the Fifth Belgrade Gymnasium as a professor, but they kept me at the Faculty as an assistant. Later I finished my masters and doctoral studies. In this way, my maturing as a player and a pedagogue went in parallel.


Limits and Desires
– When, as a coach, I would find players who were pleased with what they had accomplished, without a wish to advance themselves further, I could not understand that. At the moment when, as a player, coach or professor, I think that I have reached the final level and that I don’t have to advance any more, that would mean that I have actually reached the limit of ,my abilities and what comes after is the fall. I have never accepted this. Even today. I know that there are always details, or entire areas, that I have not met yet.


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