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05.11.2013, 13:03
Popovic: 'The Danes changed my approach towards the game'
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FEATURE: In a new book the Montenegrin handball legend reveals how her war-torn childhood and the experiences she made at a later stage in Denmark turned her into the player and role model she eventually became
 

Popovic: The Danes changed my approach towards the game

In a new Danish book, Montenegro's women's handball legend Bojana Popovic tells about how the war in former Yugoslavia affected her and how she is using the experiences she gained in Denmark with the clubs she played for, Slagelse and Viborg (2002 to 2010), to change the players' approach towards the game in Budocnost where she is working as sports director these days.

Popovic opens up her heart in the book called "Indspark Udefra" written by the author of this feature together with Jesper Harborg in which numerous international sports profiles who have all made a name for themselves in Denmark are put on the spot.

Popovic initially reveals how the war failed to affect her handball career but instead turned her into a survivor:

"I began playing handball when I was ten, and since then handball has been everything to me.

"Of course, a lot of things happened when the war began. A bomb exploded 50 metres from my home but we stayed in the arena and practised even though bombs were dropping close to us.

"So we survived and because of it we grew stronger. We are a nation where people say: 'Ok, there's a war, we have to live with it, there's a financial crisis but we have to live with it.

"No matter what problems arise, we find a way to live with it, this is the way we are in Montenegro. We don´t give up," says Popovic.

Complete shock

On the back of her experiences in war-torn former Yugoslavia, it was a complete culture shock for the 33-year-old to move to Denmark where affluence and social security goes side by side to guarantee a comfortable living for the general public.

But for her it was also a shock to see how the existence of a well-structured social safety net certainly did not contribute to making the Danish women better handballers.

"The Danes grow up in a country where everything is provided for them because there are no financial problems for them. So if they fail as a handballer, then they can just get a job.

"This is completely the opposite to Montenegro. If you get the chance to have a career in sports in Montenegro, you'll fight until you bleed to pursue it.

"The Danes don´t have that attitude but you cannot blame them because they live under completely different conditions than what I was used to," says Popovic and provides an example from the initial stages of her career in Slagelse.

"I was completely in shock after a match where we had lost and five minutes after we came back to the bus, my teammates were sitting in the bus smiling and happy.

"This happened four or five times and then I said to them: 'Stop, you cannot party after a defeat.' Then you have to discuss what you did wrong. You cannot just dismiss it. In Budocnost if we have lost a match, nobody talks in the bus," reveals Popovic in "Indspark Udefra".

But just as Popovic was able to teach her teammates a thing or two about how to tackle defeats, they inspired Popovic to develop an entirely new and different approach towards handball – an approach she used upon the her return to Montenegro trying to turn Budocnost from great into fantastic.

"I have learned so many things in Denmark that I can use today. In Montenegro we often see handball as hard work.

"The Danes see it as play due to the culture they have grown up in. They have a very relaxed attitude towards handball and this is both good and bad.

"Of course, you should not be too relaxed but if Danish players fail to score going face-to-face with the goalkeeper, their whole world doesn't collapse. They just go on and don´t think about it too much.

"In Montenegro we would often become very stressed in those situations and constantly look up on the scoreboard.

"In that way we sometimes become our own worst enemy," says Popovic who underlines that she has tried to get the players in Budocnost to understand the Danish philosophy.

Formidable partnership

Bojana Popovic formed a formidable partnership with the coach of Slagelse, Danish handball legend Anja Andersen during her time in Denmark.

Popovic admits, that Andersen made her change her perspective of handball.

"One thing that the Danes don't like is extremely hard dicipline. They don't like when somebody shouts at them.

"Instead Anja operated with a system she called 'freedom under responsibility'.

"It basically means that the team shouldn't function as robots but everyone should look out for how everyone in the team can contribute to make yourself better.

"At the same time you should seek to control yourself during a game. So if you are behind, you can try to have fun while you are doing everything you can to regain what you have lost.

"This is something I now try to pass on to the players at Budocnost," says Popovic.

The charismatic sports director claims that more than anything, her stay in Denmark taught her how to 'think handball':

"When you play, there's a lot of players who don't think about what they are doing. Its just: 'If you do this, then I do that.'

"Anja taught me how to become my own coach when I was playing. 'Now we should do this and this, now our defense is playing poor, now I can outjump that girl because she is small, now I can make a great pass between those players because they give me too much room, now I can make a dummy and score because she is covering her position very poor'," says Popovic.

"This is how you become your own coach on the floor and that is how you can begin to control matches because you are thinking handball. And all that is what players at  Budocnost gradually have to learn," says Popovic as she looks back on her active career in Denmark.


Seeking female leaders to shape handball in the feature

Having been an exceptional player in her active career, Bojana Popovic now continues to share her experience as sports director for Montenegrin club, Budocnost - a role she took after she won the last EHF Champions League title of her career in May 2012.

The European Handball Federation is actively encouraging more women to take on leadership roles in handball and provides female coaches, referees, delegates and sports managers to continuously develep their professional skills.

The aim of the new initiative from the Women’s Handball Board is to increase the number of competent and knowledgeable women in key positions in the sport.

On offer for those registering their interest is the chance to take part in a large number of courses organised in conjunction with the EHF Methods Commission and Competence Academy & Network (CAN) during 2014/15.

A limited number of subsidised places will be made available with up to 75% of course fees and accommodation costs paid by the EHF.

Online registration for the initiative is now open and will run until Thursday, 7 November 2013.


TEXT: Svend Bertil Frandsen / ts
 
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