The Best Never Give Up
We live in difficult times, with a dilapidated value system. Banal and stupid nakedness is proclaimed an attraction and the fourth place in the world a failure. Criteria, education, morality, taste, are downgraded. We are a demographically old nation, children are left to themselves, they are growingly overweight, the percentage of deformities among them is more than disturbing. Recovery must begin from the foundation, from the family. The state has its own important tasks. One can learn a lot from sports. It doesn’t forgive repeating weaknesses, but indicates how to overcome them

By: Dejan Bulajić
Photo: Guest’s Archive, Dragan Bosnić

After he had retired from water polo, many claimed that it was too early, most of all because of the national team he was an important part of. Only a few, besides himself, anticipated that the departure will be painless. Today, as a minister, as well as a fan, he has enough reasons to admire the work, whose foundation he is also part of.
– Talking with my friends, I emphasized that our national team will be better than when I played. They thought I was joking, but, as someone who was living with those boys for years, I was deeply convinced of it. When I was leaving, I wished them to be better than they think they are. They achieved it and I stumbled upon a big problem. I cannot stay calm while watching them play. I simply cannot be a minister then, I am a fan, more passionate than anyone else in Serbia. It’s normal while adapting to new living conditions, because you cannot just become indifferent towards something that has been the basis of your life for such a long time. By the way, I am convinced that they are just about to begin a series of good results and that they confirmed to themselves how much they can really do. They matured and became aware of it, and the championship in Kazan is only the beginning of their domination.
The phenomenon of Serbian water polo?
– We don’t have such a high quality league as other countries do, but it is very important that it is uniform and we don’t know in advance who will win the championship. It’s good for young players and we keep recruiting new supreme aces among them. The basis of everything is the system, which appeared more than twenty years ago, with a crucial contribution of the coaches who, both in the national team and in clubs, introduced certain novelties, thus enhancing it and making it part of contemporary trends. System in sports is of crucial importance. It’s not an imaginary unit, but a way you keep creating champions and great people. At a time full of everyday scandals, water polo players are not part of all this. They are accomplished, highly educated people, most of them leading a normal life. The standard was once established by Sandić, Perišić and those who came after them. When someone challenges you with the fact that he graduated from one or two faculties, was the best player in the world, won medals and set records, you cannot go below it if you want to be among the best in your generation. People keep telling me that it’s impossible to coordinate sports and education, although I graduated from the Belgrade University. That is what makes water polo different and that is why it lasts so long. Coaches of best clubs not only follow the development of boys as players, but also their character and education. If they are not on the requested level, they go to smaller clubs. Only the best remain.


Features of a champion – lots of work, sacrifice, undoubted talent, great will…
– Stubbornness is rarely mentioned, but it is a very important factor in creating a champion. When you scan the best sportsmen, you will definitely notice their stubbornness, because it’s impossible to persist in your intention if you’re not tenacious. Of course, it’s foolish to speak about supreme results without hard work. You must have persistence, wish and readiness to sacrifice and work much more than anyone can even imagine. The water polo national team training lasts seven hours, perhaps an hour less in clubs. Such a daily rhythm doesn’t exist in any other sports. That is why persistence is of crucial importance, the wish to overcome all difficult moments. I watched players feeling sick of exertion, who returned again and trained out even more. However bad you feel, you must have an objective. The best never give up on it.
Have those objectives preserved the importance they used to have?
– We can talk about whether objectives and values were downgraded in the past ten years. We live in such times and know how the media create the image of quality, how much the general value system among people has dilapidated. Not only in our country. All over the world. The biggest task I placed before myself as minister is to regain trust, especially of young people, and make them change their attitude towards realistic evaluation of things in Serbia. Similar steps are necessary in sports as well. It cannot survive isolated for a long time, but it’s still defending itself well.
Maturing and questioning.
– Every child questions his or her wishes. It happened to me as well, especially when I, besides regular school, traveled for an hour to Banjica twice a day from Čukarička Padina, to a training lasting three or four hours. It was a daily routine to leave the house before seven and return home a bit before midnight after all my obligations. Children are cruelly sincere and cannot hide feelings and intentions, so in such situations many find an easier way in something else. During my maturing, I tried other things as well, from music to languages, but then I realized that I’m satisfying someone else. Not myself. It is very hard today to focus a young person on sports, with so many available choices. Also because young people know well what they don’t want, but still don’t know what they do want.


Does that bring parents before a more difficult challenge?
– Parents are the pillars of ideals a child places before oneself, and I owe my parents gratitude for my persistence and the results I had achieved. Without correct guidance and principles one brings from the family, it is impossible to reach your ideals. Unfortunately, family has lost its importance today, because, due to the way we live, we hardly have time for ourselves, let alone people around us. That is why we are becoming a demographically old nation, our children are left to themselves, the number of overweight children is growing and the percentage of deformities among them is more than disturbing. However, not many parents want to speak about this, nor want to change anything. It is an indicator how little we take care of ourselves. Today it is a bigger challenge to be a parent and lead your child to the right path than it used to be. Parents unwillingly let children play alone in front of buildings, there is no clamor of children, playgrounds are desolated. It is easier to give a child a videogame to be quiet, than to think what might happen to him or her if they go out.
Sports can help a lot in that aspect.
– Parents must motivate their children. Recent successes are a good opportunity to have children become interested in sports and everything positive it brings. It is a sanctuary for all who want to live a healthy life and gives what no one else can give you, if you didn’t gain it in the family – manners and culture. In time, a coach also becomes a teacher and the club a second family. If you don’t gain correct attitudes in sports or in the family, failure is certain and perhaps hopeless. One must get a chance to choose in order to opt for the right things. When you look at the tabloidization of Serbia and everything the media offer, it is clear that today we cannot choose between positive and negative things, because there is only a few of the former. And creating ideals and positive examples is a way to make things easier for children. Sportsmen are very useful in that aspect, because they serve as a positive example and an attainable objective. I will never forget the present national coach Dejan Savić, who used to come to the pool on Wednesdays, when the national team did not have trainings, to train alone. My parents used to tell me about it and emphasized it as something special and worthy. It gives birth to a wish and desire in young boys to become something similar. A child needs to have an idol during growing up and someone he would identify with, in order to start towards that example and then set their own.


It is imposed as a generation problem?
– When my friends asked me what I expect from my mandate as minister, I said that I want to support sports, to have water polo get its national center and, before all, to make a museum of sports. I am ready to invest myself in this, not only as a minister, because Serbia needs to have it, as a testimony of great achievements and recognition to those who invested themselves in creating a healthy nation. Making a positive ambiance through positive characters is something that is lost and difficult to return overnight. The system has been dilapidating for such a long time and criteria fell very low. We cannot return children to courts overnight and make them respect and preserve common values. Finally, we, grown-ups, are those who give bad examples, from personal hygiene to the general attitude towards ourselves and our environment. Respecting and understanding our identity has become pervert, since we are witnesses of glorification of negative things and doubtful idols. It is a difficult period and it’s easiest to say no, I cannot, I don’t want to. It’s easiest not to give a little of your free time to those who expect it most and means a lot to them.
What to do, how to initiate the first changes?
– There are often questions raised whether a league or a youth organization has received enough money. However, the obligation of the state is to check whether the means have reached the intended users. Watching youth organizations function, you see that it is an endless series of ”educations”. Enough with that! Let’s see what exactly can be done. We have to set a control point: if someone is educated, let’s see what for and what we get from it. What objectives have been set and what has been realized? There are still people who think that working in sports is a privilege, without responsibility. They were holding onto their positions for years, letting time pass. They are ready to do anything except to change. The energy of people who manage sports is very important, from the coach to the head of the league. Unfortunately, we still don’t have the working culture and real attitude towards work in many segments, and this needs to be changed, from the individual to the entire society. It is important to find a system which would enable directly reaching sportsmen who need support and finding them before they have matured. Scholarships and awards they get show that the society is seriously counting on them and most of them return it with good results. After all, aren’t athletes, kayakers, shooters and many others examples of it?


Vanja Udovičić (Belgrade, 1982) graduated at the Belgrade University Faculty of Organizational Sciences. He was team captain of the Serbian national water polo team, played 284 games and scored 330 goals. He was multiple winner of highest medals at the World and European Championship, World League and International Games. He played for ”Partizan”, ”Jadran”, ”Posillipo”, ”Pro Recco”, ”Mladost” and ”Radnički”. Officially the best water polo player in the world in 2010. Minister of youth and sports in the Serbian government since 2013.


Training for Minister
– I think it was easier to train sports, even though it lasted eight hours a day, than to be a minister. This position carries a much bigger responsibility, but I was given a chance to do something and didn’t want to miss it. I am now able to support sports and young people from a higher level. I must admit sports helped me in it a lot. Sports gave me foundations, which I can use today. It didn’t teach me ambiguity, fickleness, because if you are such, you cannot succeed. Besides, in sports you see results of hard work much sooner, while the effects of the invested efforts come much slower now, which puts my patience to test. That is why I dedicated myself to building sports infrastructure, because it is something visible and will remain after us.


Disorder and Solutions
– As a nation, we are longing to have a chance to really choose, to get at least one more possibility next to the pond we are all in together. And everything revolves around the same thing: in order to make positive examples, we must start from our own home. The essence we carry within is given in the family. We can expand theories, but the key is in working on those foundations. As a society, we have a problem with a wrong value system, however much we try to disguise it. Thus we came to the point where banal eroticism became an attraction, while fourth place in a world championship is considered a failure. Sports are the right example of how to get out of it stronger and better. It doesn’t forgive repeating weaknesses, but shows ways to overcome them.


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