My guest today is one of the best volleyball players I have ever seen. For sure one of the best middle blockers ever. She has medals at the European Championships, she won the Champions League four times, she is always smiling and now doing an amazing job at CEV. If you don’t know her yet, let me introduce you, one of the most spectacular players in the volleyball history: MAJA POLJAK!
Hello Maja and welcome to vladpop.com. It is an honor and a pleasure having you here. I am a huge fan of volleyball and I must admit that you were one of the players I watched with great pleasure every time you played. So, the first question is a simple one: what is volleyball to you?
Volleyball has been initially for me just one of the many sports I enjoyed playing as a child. Having grew up in a sport family, surrounded by sport I watched live or on TV, my way of having fun was just doing some of the numerous sports with my friends or family.
After I started going to volleyball practices, my coaches soon realized the athleticism I fortunately got from my parents and the determination and discipline I had even though I was very young. Very soon I started collecting the fruits of hard work and really enjoyed the outcome. The harder I worked, the results were getting better and volleyball very quickly became my passion and stayed until now.
That is the reason why I chose to stay in volleyball even after retiring from playing it.
You had an amazing career as a player, winning the silver medal at the European Championships and also winning the Champions League for a total of four times with three different teams. Also a lot of national championships won with various teams. Still, which is the dearest win to your heart?
My dearest competition was always the Champions League, but to say which one is the dearest is hard. Most probably the first one I ever won, in Tenerife, since no one could expect that kind of achievement at the age of 20, while also being in the starting 6. My parents flew there just to support me, and since then we never abandoned this practice for the finals.
Another amazing feeling was in Istanbul. Fenerbahce had an incredible budget that year and they created a dream team. We fought so hard against them in the past years but never managed to win. And then it finally happened in the best possible moment, semi-finals of the Champions League Final Four. We fought like lions and managed to win a practically already lost tie-break.
The hall was crowded with Fenerbahce fans, around 7000 people supporting them that suddenly became silent. The feeling of winning someone that was so dominant in that period was incredible.
What does it mean to be a professional player? From the outside everybody sees the fame, the money and the glory. How is it from the inside?
The feelings were most of the time very positive, specially if you reach the high levels and achieve great results. Then everything you “invested” suddenly pays off.
However what people don’t understand is the sacrifices one does on the road in achieving that. Missing your family, friends, constant changes (whether it’s the new team mates or staff you get, or you completely changing the club and needing to get used to new colleagues and city/country).
The pain and the sweat you go through, the injuries that unfortunately can happen. It is not a pleasant feeling when the first thing you feel when you wake up in the morning is the pain cause you’re injured.
What I mostly see around me is the not knowing what to do once your sport career is over. Many athletes have absolutely no time to study, because of the demanding schedules. In one moment they realize that the career is over and then for some of them the real struggle begins.
How did you ended up in playing volleyball?
My dad took me to see the CL Final that was held in Zagreb. I saw straight away the highest possible level of volleyball I could possibly see. I said ok, let’s give it a try with this sport, looks like fun.
You had a lot of coaches throughout your career. Could you name some of them, mainly those who influenced your career in a decisive way?
Giovanni Guidetti, Lorenzo Micelli , Giovanni Caprara, Marco Fenoglio…all of them gave something to me, each of them something different. But I also believe that with the dedication and fighting spirit I had, I also gave them in return.
As you know, this blog is about sports but it is also about music. So there will be a couple of musical questions too. One of them is about the music you have in your phone. What kind of music does Maja listens to?
I listen to all sorts of music, depending on the mood. But I am a true rock junkie.
Was there a special song that you used in order to get in the mood for the matches?
Oh yeah, I had a playlist from my favourite band, Muse. Music was a must for me before the matches. A great motivational tool.
Can we compare a volleyball match to a symphony? Why?
Honestly, my perception of a symphony is gracious and elegant. With volleyball being so physical I can compare it more to a rock concert. It probably has to do also with my music taste, so I can’t really give you an objective answer to this one.
If you would describe yourself using only song titles, what would they be?
Please don’t stop the music
Butterflies and hurricanes
Let’s pretend that you get an offer to form a musical rock group and you have to choose another four members, all of them being former teammates of yours. Whom would they be and what instrument would they play? What name would the group have?
Neslihan Demir (lead singer), Jenny Barazza (guitar), Jordan Larson (guitar), Francesca Piccinini (backing vocal), Jelena Nikolic (backing vocal), Nataliya Goncharova (backing vocal). I would play the drums. I always aimed high, can’t stop at 4, sorry ☺
After retiring last year from your professional playing career, you started working for the CEV. How did you handle the difference from being always on the road and always in training or playing and now sitting behind a desk?
Well, in the beginning I was sitting a lot at the desk, but I was just thinking the other day how very little time I spent in the office lately…A lot of events and preparation meetings so a lot of travelling. I have to say I feel way better at events then at the desk ☺
What is your job for the CEV?
As you’ve already told me, you have a lot to travel with this CEV job too. But is it all work, work, work or now you have time to visit some more in the cities you travel to?
Not really a lot of time to visit. Only if it happens that my hotel is in the city center, then I‘ll always try to have a nice walk before going to sleep, if time allows me.
The most beautiful city you played in?
Istanbul probably. It is indeed a beautiful city, but it also has its flaws. The traffic really takes a lot of time and energy.
Who is the best player you’ve ever played with?
Liuba Sokolova when we played together in Bergamo.
Who is the player you’ve ever wanted to play with in the same team but you didn’t have the chance?
Kim Yeon – Koung.
What is more successful? A group full of high-rated superstars playing as individuals or a team full of hard working player, playing as a team? Who is more successful, the money or the spirit?
A team full of hard working player that play as a team, and my teams have often been a proof of this statement.
What was your favourite drill in volleyball? What was your least favourite?
My favourite was anything related to the block, and my least favourite was serve. Even though I was aware that it has to be trained, there was never rhythm in it and I found it super boring.
The Champions League format will change starting this year with no more Final Four tournament. Do you think this could favour the bigger and more powerful teams? I mean, a team like Alba Blaj for example, will no longer have the chance (probably) to play a semifinal or final in this competition in this new way this competition is organized.
I believe that playing with home and away matches gives a real picture of quality between opponents. And the strongest teams should be the ones playing the Finals, wouldn’t you agree?
If you’d summarize your first year at CEV, how would you do it?
It has been very challenging and difficult in certain moments, but also surprisingly fulfilling.
Maja, thank you for all your answers and for your availability and I hope I will see you soon.
*photos taken from Maja’s FB page.