The Man Inside
Srdjan Miljanic, BA, MS


Training Fundamentals and an Interview with Water Polo Legend

Education and training of the players in water polo requires a systematic and continuous work throughout the whole year. Concerning the specific characteristics of water polo as a game played in water, along with learning different elements of the technique, tactics and basic theory of the game the special concern must be given to the teaching of special body movements. Development of the psychomotoric abilities is equally important because they really have a huge importance during the game. Today’s water polo needs a complete sport persona, so the early specialization is recommended. That is why there exist junior and juvenile water polo schools where all the players receive basic knowledge in technique, tactics and water polo theory, through a planned, systematic and competent work. This represents the first condition for the youngsters to be involved successfully in the process of sport training.

Regarding the physiological and anthropometric characteristics of the children’s organism, with the specific requirements of the game of water polo, the basic technique is mastered through a series of simple exercises. Some of the technique elements are firstly described and demonstrated completely, and then practiced afterwards on the training. In the element teaching the primary method should be the synthetic method. This method means that the movement should be demonstrated completely. It is especially useful in the phases of differentiation and automatisation. The role of the coach in the process of learning is really important for spotting out the errors and correcting them. When pointing out the mistakes coaches usually use the analytical method. This method means to analytically dismember the movement to its comprising elements. It is especially important for the beginners to adopt the basic movements in the game – water polo crawl, basic ball handling elements: swimming with the ball, picking the ball up from the water, catching the ball and basic shot movements. Basic elements should be practiced separated firstly and then together in more complex exercises. At the beginning the moves should be practiced without the opponents participation, and after with the semi active opponent. In the next phase of the training process these elements should be practiced through different elementary games, together with one goal and two goal plays, therefore by the method of the situation practicing.

For the purpose of education and development of the young water polo players, most European countries regularly organize winter and summer open tournaments, along with the national championships. When developing the yearly cycle, there must be a special care for the competition calendar. Concerning that there are organized competitions in the winter as well as in the summer periods, one competitive season is divided into two separate cycles. Each cycle contains preparatory, competitive and transitory period. The planning should be focused on achieving the top sport form of a team for the most important competitions, and then trying to retain that level of form. Improving the athletes form and its retaining it can be achieved through different styles and methods of sport training. Functional abilities development is planned for the preparatory period, through methods of continuous swimming and with the methods of interval trainings.

According to the phase and the state of readiness of the players the quantity, intensity, number of repetition and the time of rest should be modeled. Through interval trainings we can especially develop the psychometric abilities of the players and influence the improvement of speed stamina, the factor which is predominant in the modern water polo. These psychometric abilities are achieved with short sprints with maximum intensity, with pauses between series. This method is also good for keeping the obtained form during the competitive period, when the intensity and the volume of the interval training is significantly reduced, and more short sprints of maximum intensity are introduced. Like in other sports, where the factor of strength is crucial, water polo players should use the accessories such as weights, medicine balls, elastic rubbers for stretching, weight belts, etc… which help to develop the strength of the shoulders and arms, back and abs and leg power.

The transitory period is intended for the full recovery of the players and to prepare them for the next preparatory phase through series of activities with minimum intensity.

News brief

European Swimming Federation (Len) announced that the Italian city of Naples, will be the host of the Final 4 tournament of this years Euroleague edition. Announcing this decision to the clubs, LEN stated that the city of Naples, Italianclub Pro Recco (which is from the northern city of Genoa, by the way) and the Italian swimming federation showed the interest to receive four best European clubs in the city that was already the host of this tournament in 2005.

01 This represents a relatively expected decision of the LEN. Of the last 13 Final 4 tournaments, equal to 5 of them was held in Italian cities (three times in Naples, once in Genoa and Milano). Croats organized this event four times (twice in Dubrovnik, and once in Zagreb and Rijeka), Hungarians two times and Spain and Serbia only once (Barcelona and Becej in 2000). It is an interesting fact that the Italian teams didn’t win the European title only once when the tournament was held in Italy (in Naples 1999, when the title went to Splitska Banka from Croatia). The other four titles went to Pro Recco and Posilipo (from the city of Naples). Until three years ago, Len organization was delegating the host for this tournament by choosing between the four participating teams. Now they choose the venue in advance, in order to improve the competitiveness of the games, and to avoid giving somebody the home advantage (because usually the team who hosted, was winning the title at the end). This may lead to more competitive games, but sometimes, the venues are not really best suited for such a classy event (which was the case of an unsatisfactory outdoor pool in the Milano Final 4, few years ago), but the idea of promoting the game more widely is generally good.

02The official FINA magazine “FINA Aquatic”, organized a pool choosing the best players in all water sport disciplines (water polo, swimming etc). With 43% of the votes Hungarian Tamas Kasas was voted number 1.  Second best was another Hungarian Peter Biros with 19,6%  and third Serbian Aleksandar Sapic with 15,7% of the votes. Fans also voted for Hinic (CRO), Azevedo (USA), Benedek (HUN), Chomakidze (RUS). I am sure that many water polo supporters would agree that there are a lot of other big players who deserve to be in this list also like Vujasinovic, Estiarte, Bukic, Milanovic, Sostar…

Interview with Igor Milanovic, coach of Partizan (abstract taken from “Wine style”)

03 When seeing that Partizan from Belgrade represents the only team in Europe with all victories in all competitions, we can’t neglect the influence of the person who sits on the bench outside the pool. If we can name someone with the biggest sense and motivation for victory in the sport of water polo, the name of Igor Milanovic introduces itself. In a very serious opinion pool, he was pronounced to be among the 20 best athletes of all times. He was two times Olumpic champion, two times World champion, two times European champion and two times FINA Cup champion. But, what makes him great is that in each team (Partizan, Mladost, Cataluna, Roma, Budva) he was the leader, dominant fighter in the center position, who created his success heroically, physically and by scoring decisive goals. When he stopped playing, he was the president of the Partizan, then its managing director and now the head coach.

Why would anyone want to play the hole set in water polo? That’s the position like any other, only with two men on your back…

Yes, but being on a center position, you are nearer to the goal. Other players can only shoot from the full swing, but as a center playing on 3 to 4m from the goal, I have a whole range of possibilities to score. Left, right…Says Milanovic.

Water polo players train extremely long and hard. How come we have such an intensive training culture and studious approach to water polo in Serbia?

Well, that’s not just the case here, it like that in all of the countries which are in the top of world water polo. The water is an unnatural surrounding for human. All the support and basis for the shot and movement are completely different than on dry land. Therefore the adaptation period of the body to water last long, and the water polo player must train more than a footballer or basketball player. A water polo player who isn’t in training  two or three days has big problems to play a game, while I think, that  for instance, the soccer players have less problems in that situation.

04You once stated that water polo is in fact played by your legs?

Definitively, as I can say now that tennis is also played by your legs, although I keep my racquet in the hand. The power of shot in water polo starts from the tip of your toes. The position and the strength of the legs determine the static position, speed and the power of the arm movement.

How many times have you played for the national team before the LA Olympics in 1984?

Maybe for one season, two tournaments actually. Coach of the national team was changed, Ratko Rudic was appointed, and he had to bring the young players in the team. I also had some luck because the old centers Polic, Lozica and Zlokovic, were leaving water polo and the space opened for me. But maybe I also deserved to play with my quality. I entered the A team…Now when I recall – I was the best scorer on the first tournament I played for the national selection.

And so, being very young, you went straight to the LA Olympics. How did you find those Games? Exciting?

Well sure. Firstly, I had 18 years and it was my first time to fly over the Atlantic. The America itself and the LA, were really attiring back in ’84. But first of all there was the Olympic Games. That is not an everyday thing for a player. It is a dream only to go there.

And you also had good result there?

Our role was nice on that tournament – we came as outsiders. The Americans, Italians, Dutch and Germans were the favorites. The Russian were boycotting the Games. We started with an idea to win a game at a time and managed to get to the final in which we needed to draw in order to get the gold. That was a fantastic team with excellent individuals, among who I can point out Bebic, who was certainly the best player in the World at that time, than Krivokapic…Roje was the capitain. But I think that the American team was better. That final was really amazing. We were trailing by 5-2, they just played better water polo. But we were fighters. We started gaining on them playing with our hearts, with…I don’t know how to express that? On the “basketball from the hood” style! “Two on two”, “three on three” we somehow managed to get to 5-4, thanks to the shifty ability and the wish of the individuals. At the end, Bebic scored the equalizing goal, and we took the gold.

Maybe because of that game, the rules of water polo tournament were changed and the result of the final game was deciding the winner. On the next Olympics final in Seoul, you were trailing 5-2 to the Americans once again…

Seoul was much different than LA. This time we came as favorites, the center pair Paskvalin-Milanovic was well known, Sostar was on goal, and we had players like Andric, Radjenovic, Djuho, Lusic… We played the Americans in the final again (they beat us in the group stage 7-6). After their 5-2, we turned the score to 6-5 in our favor, I scored the sixth goal, but they score also and we went to the overtime. How did we play those overtimes? It was like playing chess. We won the first attack, took the ball, played until we got the man-up, shot, got a corner, their player comes in, we play on calmly, get an another man-up and realize it. Surgeon’s precision. That was definitively one of the best teams ever.

I watched the recording of your famous victory goal from the World Championship in Madrid ’86 in the last second of the eight overtime. You were faking for so long, then locked back also. Why?

I was watching the scoreboard, to see how much time left.

I thought somebody was yelling to you, searching for the ball or something like that.

That goal changed my life. It has orbited me into another, higher sphere…It echoed throughout the whole old Yugoslavia. Looking from this distance, now when I work as a coach I see that there were a lot of peculiar things. First of all, I was given a ball from Simenc, who was at that time  the player with the strongest shot in the world, and who is at 5,6  from the goal. And what does he do? He passes to me, and I’m covered. In front of me stands Alessandro Campagna, one of the greatest Italian players, who attacks me, and once again you can see that their tactic is not to let me shoot. In this situation I return the ball to Simenc, he swings it once, and…Now when I look that recording again, I see that it was completely logical that he goes into realization, but instead, he gives it back to me again! Then a strange thing happens – Campagna makes a big mistake. He attacked me with a wrong hand. That’s in water polo like someone spread the legs in soccer – you just have to pass the ball through his legs and go around him! By his mistake he practically forced me to go by him (he never forgive himself for doing that, we were playing together in Roma so we spoke of it a lot). I did it automatically, it was a mechanic reaction. Everything after Campagna’s mistake was easy. I looked at the time, I had good control, clear perception, I faked and scored like I did a thousand times before that. And that was a sensation.And the night before this game I scored the last goal in the semifinal against Russian, which nobody mentioned never again, and it was the first time that somebody won that Russian generation! Before that game we played against the Italians in the group stage and there were big rumors, because who lost he was facing the USA in the semi-final, and who win the Russians. We won but we felt during the game that they were letting us win. They were afraid of the Russian. We weren’t. We faced the Russians and won them, but why am I speaking about this? I was proud on the two goals I scored against that Russia – one with a backshot and that last one – from the same position where I scored the famous goal in the final.

You say that you scored this legendary goal “easy”. Even after eight overtimes? You had the strength?

From my perception – not only did I have the strength – I could have played three more games. Those are specific states of mind. It has nothing to with the physical preparation; all the best world teams are completely physically prepared. When being faced with that effort, the level of mental strength is just bursting up. Those are interesting things. Maybe the sportsmen are in that sense in an advantage compared to regular folks whose business doesn’t need that – you need a different level of mental strength only to endure the training session – two times a day. Those higher levels are achieved also in music, art, when praying…Water polo game with 8 overtimes, is the biggest feast I could offer to my conscious. That was my prayer.

What did you say to Campagna after that?

05I teased him a little all the time, of course. He is really a good man and a great player, but because of the importance of the moment, he snapped and made a mistake. He also had no explanation, why he did it.

But the more interesting fact – why did Simenc passed the ball?

There lays the answer somewhere…on some important questions. On that game I become an important player of that generation and maybe…It’s not really polite to say this in the first person singular, it is a little embarrassing, but it is definite that this moment promotes me for a leader of that team which wins ’88 Seoul,’91 EC in Athens, ’91 WC in Perth, plus two FINA cups. The year after Madrid, on the FINA Cup in Thessalonica I was named the best in the World. Back then I might have thought because of the arrogance and ruggedness that I am I-don’t-know-what, but in fact, it is the team that promotes the leader. The ball gets connected like a magnet to the player who the team chooses to shoot. In the important moments, the group consciousness of great teams decides who will be the leader. And the leader is the one who gave the most. To what? To the team. That’s why the team believes him the most. This topic is never simple to be simplified.

Leadership is an exhausting thing, isn’t it?

06You know what’s exhausting? To give you self up completely, honestly. Honestly wanting for your team to win, not adding your ego to the equation. When this uncompromised, unreserved honesty to provide your teammate with a quality play, then it is possible for you to be the one to whom the teams returns everything back, the one who decides and to be the scorer when it is important. The real example is soccer legend Maradona.  He passed perfectly to all players, and did he ever complained to the teammate “Why didn’t you pass me right?”.  Did he ever started a fight with his teammate? Never. That’s why his team pushed him into all sorts of peculiar situations which he managed to solve in wizard like ways. In order to play on this level at the first place, to develop the quality communication in the team, an unreserved thrust must be achieved.

The coaches you worked with were not only big coaches, but an amazing person also. Rudic, Stamenic…

Vlaho Orlic on the first place. He is the coaching father of all these others, also fantastic trainers. I do a lot of thinking about this area. I have an opportunity to express myself through formation of young players in Partizan . My water polo father was Vlaho Orlic, who I think is still unequalled in water polo doctrine, the complete idea about it. After him, I had luck to have Ratko Rudic as a coach, to who I owe most of my medals, and after him, really as a desert, Nikola Stamenic, who went the furthest regarding the technical elements of the shot and many many more. Nowin the last few years, I have luck to work also as a head coach along side Nenad Manojlovic, who has enormous experience and knowledge. That means a lot for me. Imagine the luck when you can work with the currently biggest expert on world! That honor represents both commitment and responsibility, to acquire all that knowledge and to transform it into mine, to give them maybe my own touch, and to present water polo to the children in the simplest possible way. 

You didn’t play a lot abroad. Why?

07I got fed up. And also, after the games I didn’t feel good. I used to loose 3-4kg during the games, I felt it was hard for me and I couldn’t stand the efforts. Don’t forget that I entered the first team of Partizan with 15 years and played with Belamaric, Rudic, Manojlovic…They could have been my fathers. Somebody exhaust himself from 19 to 35, I did from 16 to 30. That was the period I could devote to the sport. Besides, at the time I was making the decision, I thought that the winning the champions cup with Catalunya from Barcelona would be the fantastic way to finish the career. I was brought to win the Champions Cup for the first time in their history, and we took it. I played then maybe my best games, and I still have perfect relations with that club.

How do you, with all gathered experience, look at the kids you train, when they have problems with training, matches, some elements of the game?

Well, it’s hard for them to fool me, hahaha! But I don’t compare them to me. I always try to understand them. I watch them with a warm and honest relation, which I also demand from them, and I focus them where I think they should go. They must finish school, and it needs to be on the first place until they get into seniors and start the studies. And then, at the end, it’s theirs to choose how they would go through life and sport.

[Click the photo of Srdjan to learn more about his water polo experiences .]