Christian: In this interview, it is my utmost honor to be joined by Vladimir Grbić. Vladimir is Olympic Champion at the 2000 Olympic Games; bronze medalist at the 1996 Olympic Games; volleyball Hall of Famer; two times honored as Best Sportsman by the Yugoslav Olympic Committee and two times Best athlete of Yugoslavia.
Vladimir: You’re welcome.
His amazing feat of athleticism and determination in the crunch time during the Olympic final
Christian: Vladimir, you’ve probably done one of the most amazing feats of athleticism, skill, and determination to win an Olympic final. How did you come up with that and how did you execute?
Vladimir: I believe you are the 6-millionth to ask me that question. I’m becoming a little bit angry because people don’t recognize anything else except that moment. So it was the Olympic final, third sets, 15-12 moment when the set and the game was breaking, so yes, it was not just a point.
What I always trying to mention is, that through my education since childhood, giving up was never the option. This is something that in volleyball, you learn very well, that if you want to win, you have to stick and fight till the end, or even if you are losing, you don’t have to give up because actually, your loss is only when you give up.
Throughout my education since childhood, giving up was never the option.
It’s a matter of choice, not of result. And at that very moment, I didn’t think about anything else but saving the ball, no matter where I would fall. I did not think if I would injure myself or not, it was just to save the ball and give my team a chance not to lose the point.
When I fell, I was just thinking to come back as soon as possible. And actually, even if this is an advantage, I believe Yakovlev didn’t even think that I would be there. So he didn’t think a lot about it; he just hit the ball.
I realized that I would not have time to swing and jump very high. So I just waited, I watched his direction and I caught the direction of the ball. I was lucky because, at this moment, emotions could drive you out of the goal, and actually, I believe I was focusing on what I have to do, which is the most important thing to do generally.
Check out How to do ‘the Grbic’
His darkest moment
Christian: In your life as an athlete, what was your darkest moment?
Vladimir: I believe that dark moments are part of the game like it is a part of life. I had a lot of them and I believe that is why I succeed. The first very dark moment was when I became a professional Volleyball player.
After my first year, I was forced to sign and I was blackmailed that if I don’t sign that they will stop my career. For a 19-year-old player and being my first time signing a professional contract, it was pretty terrible. My reaction was not conscience. It was pretty animalistic and it was capricious.
I was forced to sign and I was blackmailed that if I don’t sign that they will stop my career.
As they told me to sign, I said that I will not sign and I went to another club. My fortune was that I went for one year in the military because it was an obligation in Yugoslavia. It was easier for me to handle everything, so the two clubs had arrived at an agreement and everything was fine.
That was the first moment. But emotionally I was really pretty much depressed. Second thing, because my career was developing during the war [in former Yugoslavia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yugoslav_Wars ], we were under constant pressure without causing anything, but we were given the nickname bad guys.
So throughout all my career while I was playing in Italy, they called me “baby eater” or “assassin”. It’s not very pleasant when you are playing the game, you have to focus on the game and a half of the gym is singing to you this kind of words or stuff like that coming to the bench, behind your back, trying to provoke you.
Because my career was developing during the war, we were under constant pressure without causing anything. So throughout all my career, they called me “baby eater” or “assassin”.
In school they call you a bastard; they tell you to go home and to go to your assassin. It’s not pleasant because this is when politics matches sports, which has nothing to do with sports.
It may also be when people are culturally inside of the box without a real understanding of what that really means, with the prejudice that thinks that everybody is the same and everybody is this way. It was terrible.
Then one of the most difficult moments in my career was when we lost the Scudetto finals against Sisley Treviso. We were leading 2-1 and we lost home fourth game. It was very difficult.
We had a coach who is very good and analytical because he would teach you the techniques perfectly. He was great for younger players, but since the playoffs came in, he never won the Championship, which says that he was not very capable of understanding mostly tactical periodization.
So we were done for the cup finals. We were like machines, but afterward, we were like all lemons with no juice inside. There was absolutely no emotion. We were just mechanically there. And, of course, somebody was to blame, of course, and that was me. I was always typically recognized as the guilty guy.
Then we had the second difficult moment. As you know very well, in Apeldoorn during the finals against Holland, in the first set we felt a lot of bad on our back because of the referee from Norway. I believe that yes, as a result, we were silver medalists, but as a game, we were not very happy with how it went.
After that, I went to Brazil to play there and the Championship was absolutely the worst year of my career. I came back from Brazil with my stomach problem with gastritis, with two erosions, two holes inside of the stomach, with serious damage.
I was thinking to give up on volleyball because my health was the first issue I was thinking of. It was just like hell. Then I came back to Rome. It was very nice and everything was perfect.
We went to the World Championship in 1998. As you know, we played the finals with Italy. There was a big disappointment regarding the organization, movement, and recognition because in the finals we lost 3-0 against Italy who played the game 3-2 against Brazil finishing after us and the players were between 32 and 34 years.
Some of them were found doped, but never anyone has run any recourse because we were asked not to do that. Yugoslavia then was under bomb attack. After four months, NATO started with bombing Serbia. So I came back to Rome and I had to play in this condition.
So imagine all Serbian cities under bomb attack and you’re playing in Italy. Your family is there, you are emotionally destroyed. The voice from one of the main people in Serbia told us to stay there and that we have to be our word because people know what is going on there.
I came back to Rome and NATO started with bombing Serbia, and I had to play in this condition. So imagine all Serbian cities under bomb attack and you’re playing in Italy. Your family is there, you are destroyed emotionally.
So, we were not only athletes. We were also ambassadors judged by origins that we are, but in reality, not by our values or what we have to say. So let’s say these have finished in 1999. We played semifinals of the European Championship in Vienna.
There was a memorable serve I made where the Bulgarian referee said he touched the net. In reality, it wasn’t, so we lost three points in a row because of that with a point for Italy and not for us.
Check out Vladimir Grbic’s memorable serve
Then what happened is that all that was repaid on the 2000 Olympics of Sydney. Then I had an injury. I had to operate on my knee and from that trauma, I’ve learned what it means to be inside the sport. I also learned how people very quickly forget about you and how they eliminate you from their surroundings.
So I had to regain trust in myself and the trust of everybody after. At the 2004 Olympic Games, we had the quarterfinals against Russia. There were big rumors about Brazil giving a game to USA. Probably you know about that and that was another big disappointment.
So Italy, Russia, and Serbia were in the same pool. For Brazil, it was very easy to do everything until the finals. We had a loss in the quarterfinals against Russia. We had big problems with the flu and a couple of other players were sick in the hospital.
I was changed by the coach because of a lack of confidence in me. He wanted to cover his ass and that was the one of the most difficult national team games in my life. The other was in 2003, when the same thing happened in the finals of Madrid, in the worldly and for the rest, everything was pretty small.
I say it could be like very long, dark moments, but dark moments help you to understand the value of what you are doing and to think about how strongly you want to gain what you want to win. Otherwise, everything is easy. You know how they say still sea doesn’t make an experienced sailor. It’s always like that.
Dark moments help you to understand the value of what you are doing and to think about how strongly you want to win.
Christian: You know, when I listened to your story, it reminds me of when I read the biography of Novak Djokovic. In his book, he describes very similar things.
Vladimir: It’s the same thing. I will tell you something about Novak. A lot of people in the world hate him because they don’t understand what he had to pass through. Why?
Because living in an organized society where everything is served on a plate; where the system goes perfectly; where you don’t have any kind of organizational problems, people don’t understand how life in Serbia was and is. For Americans, for example, they have American style of life. That’s it! Everything else is aliens. No, it’s not.
Because living in an organized society where everything is served on a plate; where the system goes perfectly; where you don’t have any kind of organizational problems, people don’t understand how life in Serbia was and is.
Novak had strong health issues. They didn’t have money. They had to invest everything in him. Everything! His desire was to succeed and to become number one since he was a child.
So imagine all odds that he had to fight against since he was a child. All the prejudices, which were a hundred times bigger than all of us other athletes had because he’s the one and he was under the big lights.
So most of the questions and most of the prejudices of the people was not towards his tennis, but against his origins, which is very bad, especially English and Americans. Of course, competition with Rafa [Nadal] or with [Roger] Federer, which are the icons of the tennis, because he is Serbian, he’s that and he’s this.
I have played in six countries in the world. I have lived in six countries in the world – Brazil, Japan, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Italy. I played in Croatia, which was still Yugoslavia, and I played in Novi Sad, so I can say I played in eight countries.
What I’ve learned is that people are the same. The problems are the same. You have only two kinds of people. Those who are more difficult to collaborate with, and those who are easier to collaborate with. That’s it! Nothing else!
Not the color of the skin, not a nationality, not a religion, not anything. That’s just bs. Absolutely! No! In Brazil, I had more friends with blacks than whites. They called me their white brother.
When I was going out of Japan, the entire team was international. I still have connections with them. This is something that doesn’t say anything about them. This is something that says about you.
I can say I played in eight countries. What I’ve learned is that people are the same, and problems are the same. You have only two kinds of people. Those who are more difficult to collaborate with, and those who are easier to collaborate with. That’s it! Nothing else! Not the color of the skin, not a nationality, not a religion, not anything.
You can make the change if you understand and take people how they are. That’s the beauty of the sport, the only field is the volleyball field, the football field or the basketball field and there we are all the same.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Vladimir: The best moment for sure are the Olympic Games 2000. There is no doubt about that. But now when I’m watching, my entire career was the best moment. I was doing what I really loved, playing Volleyball.
My entire career was the best moment. I was doing what I really loved, playing Volleyball.
I tried other sports, like basketball, football, tennis, handball. When I was 15 years, my father told me that I can play whatever I want, but I will be a volleyball player. This was not because he wanted to impose that on me.
But he was seeing me how I was in the field and Volleyball really taught me everything, like character and person. It taught me to be generous, to collaborate, to socialize, how not to give up, and how to be a motivation for others.
Even when others give up, I was not to give up. I was to be the last to give up or not to give up at all. So I was happy to do what I want and what I love. And I also find the people who were ready to pay for that, which is fantastic.
Volleyball really taught me everything, character, to be generous, to collaborate, to socialize, how not to give up and how to be a motivation for others.
Christian: You were also selected as the flag bearer to bring the flag of your country during the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games.
Vladimir: That’s the biggest honor you can have. Absolutely! To walk in the Olympic stadium in front of billions of people and raise your flag. Actually, I had an inflammation day after because I was carrying the flag as high as I could but never mind.
Christian: Yes, I believe that.
His advice to a younger Vladimir Grbić
Christian: If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give a younger you.
Vladimir: I would do the same things. And I say, follow your heart and live like every single day as if it is the last day of your life. Do the things that you can be proud of yourself and not become big in the eyes of the others. That will not make you happy.
Likes on social networks, or to be like chic on social networks or in society, doesn’t feed you or your family. Do what you really love to make your life sensible and to have a mission in life and to understand who you are. That is a life worth living and not surviving.
Do what you really love, have a mission in life, and to understand who you are. That is a life worth living.
There are two different categories. And as I always say, Olympic Champion is not the one who had the medal, who is on the podium and he’s watching his flag and crying and listening to National Anthem. No, it’s not.
In our team, there were two players who never entered the Games on the Olympic list. They are also Olympic champions. But also if your behavior, your mentality, your psychology, and your philosophy of life, which is the point of the break, it’s not in line with Olympic philosophy, then you are not the Olympic Champion.
Now, I will try to understand and I’m pretty honest and very strict and direct when I’m speaking. The Olympic Champion, which is different, is not a state. It’s a philosophy. It’s like when you wake up every single morning with the idea that you have is to be 1% better than you were yesterday – 101 percent of yesterday.
So when you are every day 1% over your 100%, you will understand what I am talking about. The Olympic medal alone doesn’t mean anything in reality. Your medal or Olympic Champions carry on their medal inside of them.
Why being an Olympic champion is a philosophy and not a status
Christian: Yes. I’ve actually noted that down as a question, but you’ve answered that, that your inspirational message is that the Olympic champion is something that is more of a philosophy rather than a status.
Vladimir: There is a clear difference between Olympic Champions, which are really on the field and out of the field, with their actions, behavior, and everything are inspiring other people with their commitments. They’re sharing their sacrifice every single day.
You have Olympic Champions who are selling their medals and their status for certain interests. Real Olympic champions, the real champions, is a very small number.
Real Olympic champions are real champions on the field and out of the field, they are inspiring others with their actions, behavior, and their commitments. They’re sharing their sacrifice every single day.
It’s not just a sports result. It’s everything inside because even now when I’m working with the kids at my camp, I’m not working with them on volleyball. Volleyball is just an instrument to bring kids together around the same game.
This game has to be nice, which makes kids happy, so they are sharing together. They’re sharing their experience together, so also the training is made and in the way to be done as a game.
The most important thing has to be inspiring, where we are developing 360 degrees of the potential and personality of the kids. This is not only volleyball. These days we have now brought on kids from the top of the sport, which is the highest level.
We brought this to the kids’ level, so they are not enjoying the game anymore. They’re competing at age 12, 13, and 14, so they’re finishing with 15 and 16 years. They say that they have five and six gold medals. They see themselves as successful athletes.
I won the first medal when I was 19 years. I joined the National team when I was 21 years, and it took us 9 years to finally win our first international competition, before that we have only been second or third.
I joined the National team when I was 21 years, and it took us 9 years to finally win our first international competition, before that we have only been second or third.
If you enter too early, you’re burned. You will not understand the meaning. You can drive Ferrari at 14 years as you shouldn’t drive it at 65 with a very beautiful girl beside you.
Every time has his time and everything has his time. Everything at his time. So, when I stopped my career, I went to the University of Sports and Physical Education where I’m judging and I’m going for my Ph.D., where I’m a professor anyway. This is to understand phases and how to transfer the culture of physical activity to kids in the healthiest way.
On behalf of those or their necessities, this is becoming a number one topic. It’s not about results. It’s about kids’ health. Sport should become a universal good to prevent diseases and give shelter to people. It should bring them together, give them social maturation, and prepare them for future life.
For those which are addicted to professional sport, of course, they should continue. Then at 16 and 17, they start to orient themselves towards a professional career. But it’s a very small number.
His view on kids specializing too early for high-performance Volleyball
Christian: Yes, I’ve actually taken that as a note for later that in a long-term athlete development outline, I think it’s the fast volleyball podcast I listened to, where you were a guest, where you said that too early we are specializing with the kids on high performance.
Vladimir: Yes, Early Specialization can not only damage your body, it can damage also damage your mind, which is much more dangerous.
Early Specialization can not only damage your body, it can damage also damage your mind, which is much more dangerous.
Christian: Yes. There are a couple of reported cases in the sport of tennis, where children were number one in the world as juniors and ended up retiring before they became professional because they couldn’t cope anymore.
Vladimir: Yes, because they burned. They were burned before they started.
The story of former Yugoslavia from an athletes’ perspective
Christian: Vladimir, please let me ask the following because I’m really interested. You mentioned the situation in Yugoslavia. In 1991, the civil war started. Until that moment, it was Yugoslavia at the Olympics, 1996. Your team participated as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, but that was Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Slovenia were individual nations.
How was that? You were a team before, but then later you were separate teams.
Vladimir: There is an interesting situation because for example, in 1991, I was playing for Mladost from Zagreb in Croatia. And already then some barricades were starting in Croatia with the zone where the Serbs were living.
I went to collect the salaries that they owed me and they didn’t give it to me, so I had to ask my friends to borrow me money so I could go back to Belgrade. I went to the train station, took the train and came back to Belgrade.
There the General Secretary of Serbia Volleyball Federation waited for me, we went into the airport and I went to the Mediterranean Games. I arrived there at three o’clock in the morning, at eight o’clock when I came to the Olympic village in 1992, I found out that the war in Croatia had started.
So I was literally on the last train which was operating on the lines out of Zagreb to Belgrade. I was lucky because I could have been clenched in Zagreb for the war.
When I came to the Olympic village in 1992, I found out that the war in Croatia had started. I was literally on the last train which was operating on the lines out of Zagreb to Belgrade. I was lucky because I could have been clenched in Zagreb for the war.
We athletes saw each other at the championships in Italy or other cups. In 1996 there were then separate countries competing, like Croatia and Slovenia.
But athletes generally don’t have problems. Only if they are a-holes, then they have problems, but normally a-holes are not lasting very long.
What I wanted to say is that athletes on all levels, don’t have national belongings. They’re playing for the national team, but I don’t have anyone that I can say, I don’t like you because you’re this or that. Absolutely, not.
Everybody who knows me knows that I’m like that. We don’t have any kind of problem with this side. I go regularly to Croatia for fishing, I go regularly to Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia, or Montenegro.
It’s always about people, not nationality. I believe that athletes are the best of people that can be. They are selected and oriented towards achieving their goals. They are not like dogs when one bark, the other dog stops to bark back.
They are oriented only towards the goal and they are ready to accept anyone in all differences in this matter. We never had any problem with any one of the former Yugoslavia, I have a very good relationship with all athletes. We speak with each other, we collaborate and we see each other many times.
It’s always about people, not nationality. I have a very good relationship with all athletes.
In the last two years, I play with Tomislav Čošković, who played for Croatia National team and we are big friends. I have friends in Montenegro, Slovenia, in Macedonia. I have been invited to run seminars in these countries as well.
Only in Serbia, I am not good enough here. But anyway, it doesn’t matter. They say here the most difficult is to be the patriarch in your own village. So, it’s always up to people.
Why Serbian athletes are so good and the ‘warrior gene’
Christian: That leads almost perfectly into the next question. I have a question in my head for years. If I look at the former Yugoslavian countries, for such a small country, you are so good. You are good at volleyball, handball, water polo, basketball, and many more.
And I heard you spoke about that ‘warrior gene’ on a podcast, that I have listened to. What I want to ask, for such a small country to produce so many good athletes, how’s it possible?
Vladimir: For example, if you have a system like Ajax, or how they do football in Holland generally. They take an entire generation and they select them to the top. This is the most expensive investment you can have.
So behind this generation, there is nothing and this is exactly what happened with Dutch volleyball. For example, there was nothing behind. So how it goes in Serbia, there is no system. It’s very simple.
Djokovic has built himself alone. Anna Ivanovich or Monica Seles, they have built themselves alone. Absolutely! Even Ivana Španović as a long jumper built herself alone.
What I want to say, when you speak about warrior gene, I will tell you one more thing about my thoughts about why we are good in this, and this, and this. If we were to make an insight math analysis about which cities or what regions these athletes are coming from, then you would see.
Do you know that there are more Olympic champions from my village of 2,500 people than from Belgrade? My village has 2,500 and Belgrade has two and a half million. The biggest possibility to become an Olympic champion is if you’re born in my village. Now, funny, I know.
The biggest possibility to become an Olympic champion is if you’re born in my village.
What I want to say is a very simple thing. Just empty your head. No prejudice, no nothing. Commodity makes genes lazy.
If you have shoes, if you have uniforms, if you have perfect balls, if you have a perfect gym, if you have fantastic coaches, this will not make you an Olympic champion. Hunger will. It’s emotional nature and motivation. It’s not material.
I start with a T-shirt with no sleeves, with very bad quality shorts with the shoes that my mother bought in Romania, which were gum and tissue combination with the gummy balls. This was outside on concrete in between two iron columns, with a net with entire holes and two sticks.
I had two rods for fishing for one week because somebody still needs them to go fishing. I trained outside because I had no gym. We spent most of the time playing in between two trees in a garden, in a park or in a public place.
So what was driving us was not commodity, but desire and hardship. Hardship and difficulty make you mature more and desire more.
Commodity makes genes lazy. What was driving us was not commodity, but desire and hardship. Hardship and difficulty make you mature more and desire more.
The problem with the kids with early specialization and many medals are that they are not satisfied anymore. They don’t feel satisfied. To renounce and prolong satisfaction is the best carrot for the jackass. It always was and always will be.
This is a poor and hungry country, but very proud. For 2000 years, all conquerors that were coming were leaving something and they were taking something. So we had for 2000 years to defend, never to attack because we are on the crossing of, from East to the West and vice versa.
We are speaking about the Romans. We are speaking about Turks. We are speaking about French, Austrians, Germans, and Italians. So if we were leading the fight against opponents and the others, we were fighting in between us and it was always improving ourselves to be better.
One of the main problems here is that this doesn’t last very long. So continuity is the main problem and continuity you will achieve with the system. But this is not very good now. So we had a big problem and a big crisis in sport and it will only be bigger, unfortunately. So we will see.
This is a poor and hungry country, but very proud. For 2000 years we had to defend ourselves, never to attack.
Christian: What you described with the hardship and hunger and that good athletes come from situations where it’s more difficult, that’s actually also what Daniel Coyle describes in his book, “The Talent Code.” He also says that if you are in the, let’s say, more modern society, you have to find ways to make it harder for your athletes in order to bring out that hunger and hardship.
Vladimir: I’m not saying it’s impossible, but a lot of things depend on our authority that is guiding these kids or these athletes to create and put them in the situation that they become hungry.
See, what our coach was doing, he was making competition between me and my brother, and in the end, they hated us and we split completely. But this is life.
When you find a mechanism, everything is valuable to achieve the result. You just have to understand how. What personalities do you have and in which way to use them.
His success habits
Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful athlete and/or person?
Vladimir: What I got from my father and my mother is to never to give up no matter what. Fight what you believe in, fight for what you have faith in, and what you love.
Fight and believe that much, that you are ready to give your life for it. That’s a life worth sacrificing. Otherwise, you’ll be just one of many. And it’s not about, yes, but you are addicted or you’re talented.
Fight and believe that much, that you are ready to give your life for it.
What is talented? All of us are talented for something. And every one of us has something special and specific that nobody else can do. The only matter is, do you really have the guts to find out what it is because many people live in fear to understand who they are.
You have to understand who you are. You have to find yourself; to push yourself 100 percent. When you understand who you are, you will be disappointed because we all believe that we are much better, but that is the starting point that you have to improve yourself every single day, 1% more, 1% more.
Do you know what that is? Happiness. This is when you become happy because if you do something you don’t believe in, you will be unhappy all your life.
If you do something you don’t believe in, you will be unhappy all your life.
Be happy with your commitment. Be captive in your passion and with your dedication. Find something inside, achieve the goal that you have put to yourself, but to put the goal well, you have to understand how much you can do.
Not everybody is 10 out of ten. Maybe you are three out of ten. Try to give every single day three. That’s your only goal. And in this way you are becoming a role model. It doesn’t matter if you have people around you five, seven, or nine because what they are watching is your commitment, not your achievement.
His innate leadership qualities
Christian: If I watch the videos, I can see some strong leadership qualities in you. Is that something you were born with or is it something that you developed?
Vladimir: That was deep inside me, I wanted to push myself towards the limits, always give 100 percent. I simply understand what I want to be and who I am. I understood that if I’m doing that, not only I can give and do whatever I want, but also I can motivate people around me.
I wanted to push myself towards the limits, always give 100 percent, and I understood that if I’m doing that, not only I can give and do whatever I want, but also I can motivate people around me.
They started to believe in me and they started to follow me. You have to be born with it, but if you don’t develop it, it will stay only on potential. Talent is developed potential.
I know many players, for example, in basketball, from my village, they were much more talented than I was. At age 19, this guy was the best player in the world, but afterward, because of drugs, drink, and girls, he disappeared. As I said, it is about continuity.
His morning routine
Christian: Do you have a morning routine?
Vladimir: When I wake up, I try to be first and to have my half an hour to prepare coffee. I turn on TV, not to watch, but just to have it on and drink my coffee in silence. As my wife said, it is that Indian routine the first one hour is complete silence and not talking.
Christian: I can relate to that. I like being the first in the morning and do my coffee on my terms, in my pace, then the day is good.
How to prepare for important moments
Christian: How do you prepare for important moments?
Vladimir: I believe that you, in every single day, in every training you are preparing for that. You just go through your mind on very important points that you have to go through.
There is some kind of visualizations where you can close your eyes and you imagine, for example, for volleyball, your position, the ball coming, the position of your body, and put the ball exactly on the head of the center.
Many athletes do that, but I believe the preparation is not just a moment before you have to do something. It’s a process much longer and finalization is just, let’s say like a strawberry on the cup of the fruit. Nothing else.
I believe the preparation is not just a moment before, every single day, in every training you are preparing for that.
Christian: You guys lost the semifinal at the 1996 Olympics to Italy. You lost the final of the World Championships in 1998 to Italy. In the semi-final, 2000 you faced Italy again. Were there doubts you’re going to lose again?
Vladimir: No. You know why? Because I believe that the real final was against Holland. Because in that game Holland played with nothing to lose. They really desire to win and I came back in the team after the injury.
So we start to play and we didn’t start well. But then we start to play well, and the Dutch team helped us to come on war temperature; not warm, not hot, but war temperature. And actually, I believe that the final was in the quarterfinals against Holland.
So when we came in with Italy, we knew we wanted to win the gold. Italy was in the way and we just make them payback for what we have lost in the years before, especially in the 1998 World Games.
Christian: That match against Holland, I mentioned to you that I spoke to Bas van de Goor before and Reinder Nummerdor. So I think the fourth set when something like 30-32 or something. Did you guys have a match point in the fourth set?
Vladimir: I don’t remember, I think we had a match point. But there was one moment that we had in the fourth set, but I believe there was one more moment which was more intense, 9-7 for Holland in the tie break and counter-attack from Richard Schuil, and he spiked the ball outside.
Christian: I heard about that.
Vladimir: It was 9-8 and if he had spiked inside, I think Holland would have won, but he spiked outside, so 9-8, we won the set and the match. As I told you, that was real final, for sure.
– Check out the interview ‘I can be satisfied with a loss and dissatisfied with a win.’ With the 1996 Olympic champion and Volleyball Hall of Famer Bas van de Goor and the interview ‘I always want to improve.’ With 5-time Olympian Reinder Nummerdor, who competed in Indoor Volleyball and Beach Volleyball.
Christian: Prior to the London Olympic Games 2012, I worked with the Beach Volleyball and I worked with Reinder Nummerdor and Richard Schuil and Richard told me about that. He still remembers that.
Vladimir: Yes, of course. That is something that leaves you with a lot of emotions. Athletes are not clenched for the medals. They are clenched to emotions.
My brother and I have like a prize room and the medals room in our house, in our village. I never looked at the medals. Only three times when they asked us to show them, that’s it. But the emotions that we are carrying inside, are the most beautiful thing of all.
Athletes are clenched to emotions, not medals. My brother and I have a room full of medals in our house, in our village. I never looked at the medals. But the emotions we are carrying inside.
Christian: Yes, I believe that.
How to overcome setbacks
Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?
Vladimir: When you win, it’s easy. You feel happy, proud, big, and invincible. You are aware of the mistakes and the limits, but you tell yourself that you can do it.
But when you lose, there is the only critical analysis of yourself and your teammates and you are aware of your possible progress and what you have to do to be better.
It’s devastating because it’s emotionally a big trauma because your pride, your self-confidence, and your trust in your teammates and yourself is destroyed, but it’s necessary to mature and to go on. Victory is good for self-confidence, but it’s bad for learning. When you lose, you are much humbler when you learn and when you improve yourself, for sure.
When you win, you feel happy, proud, big, and invincible. Victory is good for self-confidence, but it’s bad for learning.
Now, if 1996, Italy was supposed to win the Olympic Games, which was the only thing they were missing, the Olympic title. But imagine Holland losing the 1994 and 1995 finals and winning 1996 because everybody was saying that Italy will win. Not even Dutch players were believing they would win, but they won.
So imagine what emotion, how big pleasure it was for the Dutch players. Do you know why they won? Not because they play better. Everybody plays better. No, they desire much more.
Olympic Games are won by those who desire more than the others. They are ready to die for it and they were like this. I was there. I was watching the game. I know what I’m talking about.
It was not only the last point. It was all the points. It was that simple. Italy was playing like they wanted it to be given to them.
Also in the semi-finals with us, it was the same thing. They wanted it to be given to them. They thought that they were the best, so they were supposed to be the first.
Olympic Games are won by those who desire more than the others. The one who is ready to die for it.
You want to win, you have to beat me, but I will make your life like hell, so you won’t. Same thing as Argentina and Brazil in the quarter-finals in Sydney. If you’re afraid to win or you’re under pressure, you have no chances at the Olympic Games.
So to come back to your question. Setbacks make our successes much more desirable. You mature much more, and they are necessary to grow emotionally and as persons. They are not easy to overcome. They are difficult.
But one of the darkest moments now to come back when you were mentioning before about the darkest moment, two darkest moments that were not connected to sport directly. The first one was when we won the Olympic gold at the Sydney Olympics.
We came back and there was a revolution in Serbia. We couldn’t come and share our success with our people. We were expecting about 1 million people in the military. There were barricades everywhere. So we couldn’t come to the street. We were emotionally destroyed.
We won the Olympic gold at the Sydney Olympics. We came back and there was a revolution in Serbia. We couldn’t come and share our success with our people. There were barricades everywhere. We were emotionally destroyed.
The second one in 2016, I tried to run for election for the President of the Serbian Volleyball Federation without the real intention to become one but to try to protect sport from politics. I was expelled from politics outside of the world of sport or outside of the world of volleyball in Serbia.
I was also expelled not only from politics but from my teammates and from the people that I was calling my brothers. That I can call the darkest moment in my career, for sure.
I was expelled from my teammates and from the people that I was calling my brothers. I can call the darkest moment in my career.
As I say, there are not many people that are real personalities and athletes, but also it’s a matter of choice. I believe that sport and politics shouldn’t go together. Politics should help the sport to promote the country more and better.
But when politics enter into the sport, those which were politics inside of a sport, they become politics again. So, that was sad and very dark, but life goes on. I wouldn’t do my camp if everything was like that, for sure.
His role model
Christian: Who’s your role model and why?
Vladimir: My father. Probably you were expecting more time to answer, but no, it is my father. I had a superhero in my house with no special suit, no special powers, but the super principles.
I had a superhero in my house with no special suit, no special powers, but the super principles.
He was our general. We were like in the military as everything was on command. He always says things once, never twice. Obedience was understandable.
So to prove to him that we are good and that we deserve his respect, we were ready to do everything; absolutely everything. He was a former athlete. One of the best in Europe in volleyball.
He won the bronze at the European Championship in 1975. He had impressive strength and technique and he was learning everything by himself. He was pushing that bar every single day, more and more, and he was competing with himself. So it was much easier for us to understand the principle.
In everything he did, he was very successful. No matter if it was school if it was in the community if it was hunter, house or whatever, he was very successful because of the principles he was practicing, he was doing like in Bushido. It was 100% commitment in everything he did. It was not superficial ever. It was just simple.
The relation with his younger brother, Nikola Grbić, who is also an Olympic Champion and Volleyball Hall of Famer, were they rivals or did they support each other
Christian: You mentioned your younger brother [Nikola Grbić] before. He’s also an Olympic Champion and volleyball Hall of Famer. When you were young, were you rivals or did you support each other?
Vladimir: No, we were always supporting each other. We were playing in the front of the house, one against one and for him, that was like trying to improve himself. Because older brother for me, that was funny, but never rivals. Absolutely never.
We were always supporting each other. Never rivals. Absolutely never.
The best advice he has received
Christian: What is the best advice you received and who gave it to you?
Vladimir: There are so many. One of them was an interesting one from an actor. He told me that when money can resolve the problem, that is not the problem, which was very wise.
The other one was from my father but this was not actually advice. This was a philosophy that helped me to understand who I am. And it’s not very simple; it’s long.
He brought me to the line of the volleyball field and he said, “You see my son, this is not just a simple line. This is the barrier between the two worlds. On this side, there is the world of normal commune people who go to their work and they don’t know what they go for.
They don’t know what is commitment, dedication, and passion. They just go to receive their salaries. They don’t have any objective in their life. But on the other side, it’s the world of Knights and Samurais.
It is a world of the people ready and committed to giving everything they have and thanks to the opportunity to represent their country, their team, and their people. That respectable that they are ready to die for it. So if you want to do in every single step 100% of what you do, go inside and die with honor, or don’t waste my time.”
Check out Vladimir’s message and the concept of the two lines
So he explained to me exactly what it means if you really want to become one, or if you don’t. It’s not a matter of potential or talent. It’s a matter of choice and personal decision, every one of us. And that definitely was the most important lesson I can get.
His motivation to give back to the younger generations through his volleyball camps
Christian: And that is something you want to give back to the younger generations with your volleyball camps.
Vladimir: Absolutely. This is something I’m trying to transfer to the younger generation because I believe volleyball should not stop with us. We are just one ring in a long chain of those before us that we have to repay by giving back to those after us. It’s very simple.
I believe volleyball should not stop with us. We have to repay by giving back to those after us.
Christian: And this camp happens how many times in a year?
Vladimir: The camp is only once a year in the summer. I’m thinking about enlarging this and make it also in winter. It’s 42 days and it’s five shifts. This year is supposed to be also the seminar for special Olympics in Serbia for now.
Here we work with regular kids from the mass population and kids with intellectual disability on inclusive and unified sports and also regular program selected by classes, which means eight, 10, to 18 year-olds, and of course, 19 plus.
Classes are divided by gender and classes are divided by capabilities and necessities. This means those who are abler in volleyball, will be in one class, but also regarding motor development, they will also be in class.
We normally have between 10 and 12 groups in between 150 and 170 kids. We have two coaches per group, which normally has 16 kids per group. We use work with balloons, balloon work is analytic to understand the movement.
We also have a lot of polygons and a lot of elementary games, which help motor development and coordination. After that, we also have Beach Volleyball.
This is also the only camp in the world that includes volleyball and beach volleyball. The kids learn beach volleyball basics, but also development on the sand, which is on the proprioceptive base.
This is very important for the prevention of distortions, so for the ankles and for knees, and also very pleasurable for kids because they like to fall. They like to make jokes and games inside of the sand, which is fantastic.
We do work in a swimming pool, we use exercises of prevention and reinforcement. So we do multiple developments.
There are four-parts which involve entertainment through cinema, other games, and presentations. These are the most important thing about the camp, I believe, where we speak about fear, how to prevent fear, and how to motivate yourself. We also speak generally about the values, about the differences, and my personal experience.
We do seminars for the coaches regarding ages and specific stages of work with the kids. The most important work with the kids is not only analytics and methods, but also, number one, semantic emotional development of the kids and number two, how and in which way to transfer to them what we want to transfer.
So it’s much more 360 degrees then all is strictly volleyball. So 15% of the kids that come for the camp never play volleyball before, and they become volleyball players. We have 35 countries from all continents, including Africa.
Coaches also come. It’s free of charge for the coaches who want to come to learn and volunteer without any problem. It’s absolutely possible to follow that life because we have live streaming from the training and from the activities that we have.
We prepare analytics of the tests. We have orthopedic tests because the orthopedic doctor checks the postural status of the kids and give suggestions of exercises to correct postural status. Also, we do motor development, which means if the kids are more, they will miss something or under developing something. We give them suggestions about what of the exercises they have to do.
So from this year, we will do the first half an hour, these exercises as an integral part of the training as prevention and warming up. So they will learn what they have to do when they get back home.
So it’s going to be very useful for them from you have both health and volleyball, which I believe completely gives 360 degrees of our mission and our intentions. Of course, we have the team who is registering everything and they make videos so kids can see where they are or where they were.
Christian: Where can we find more information about the camp?
Vladimir: It’s on my website, it’s Kamp Vanje Grbica. All information is there. The camp is international, which means the official language is English. It’s not all Serbian and all coaches speak fluent English.
There are also coaches who speak Italian and Spanish. There are also coaches from Iceland, Germany, Greece, Portugal, France, and a lot more, something for everyone.
Christian: And it would be good for the parents as well because I’ve been to the Balkan a few times. I believe it’s one of the best places in the world just for holidays.
Vladimir: Sixteen kids came from Iceland and eleven of the parents came with them. They wanted to stay two more weeks. Parents went to all restaurants and all mountains around.
They went to the restaurant to try the food. They did walk and climb the mountains. They said that it was fantastic. We had a guide who was also guiding them before coming to the camp and afterward.
For them, it was a really amazing experience. That part of Serbia is fantastic. Between two mountains is air spot. There are natural swimming pools of clear water, and there are also thermal waters. So whoever wants, they can come and enjoy the party.
Christian: I’ve been there in 1989, it was still Yugoslavia, and it’s more the Croatian side now, but I’ve never seen an ocean or a sea, like the Adriatic Sea in the sense of color of the sea.
I’ve not seen anything like that again. I’ve been to Sri Lanka and other fantastic places, but there is nothing like the Adriatic sea.
Vladimir: I will tell you what is specific for the Adriatic Sea and many people don’t know that. When Napoleon was coming and going in direction of Greece, they pass through the Alps. So they took the seamen of Alpines and they brought them in Dalmatia.
So all originally Pines in Dalmatia is from the Alps. That’s why the smell is very specific. It’s fantastic. Who has never been to Croatia, has to go there.
A typical training day in the life of a Volleyball Hall of Famer
Christian: Back in the days, how did a typical training day look like?
Vladimir: My days nowadays are, first coffee in the morning, then breakfast with everyone. Nowadays, when I’m not in isolation, I go with my wife in the weight training gym, so we have a morning session.
We have lunch, rest, and then the kids come from school and do homework. The older ones go for training. And we stayed with the younger ones.
Now in isolation, what we do is in the morning we wake up, we organize the school because we are following their entire school program that they have on television. So three of them are following this program and we are with them. We have lunch. Then we rest a little bit. And then we started with training.
So my wife does training with two younger ones with me. So normally we do our body combat because she’s the instructor of body combat which is very good. And then I’m working with two older ones, which is mainly prevention and some exercises that they can do volleyball inside of the home, mainly with the balloon.
Or let’s say resistance for the legs, which are the main concern and exercises for the shoulders. This is to maintain and prevent the articulations, which is the most important thing. It is difficult because volleyball request the ball, but also the movement itself is the most important thing. That’s why we use balloons.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Vladimir: I would like to give you my brother, Nikola Grbić . He could be quite good. Giba also could be very good.
Christian: Two other greats of the sport of volleyball.
Vladimir: Yes, two Hall of Famers. With Giba, I work in the Athletes’ Commission and Meppelink. You probably know her.
Christian: I used to work with her.
Vladimir: I’m trying to improve the conditions of athletes, and to give them a really strong position inside of FIVB. I think we have achieved a lot of good things like the foundation or fund of FIVB in assisting athletes regarding their education, legal assistance after trauma recovery, or all other aspects that athletes’ needs, like an after career program.
It’s not the small amount of the money that FIVB had decided to give and it’s worldwide. This money is from the players oriented towards the players and that’s the most important thing. I believe this is the biggest achievement we have.
Also, there is a big problem regarding contracts. Players are not paid, so with standardization of the contracts under the umbrella of FIVB, I believe that we could control everything. So all the clubs must pay players, which essentially is the most important thing.
And all the kind of questions that players have regarding transfers regarding personal issues, school, or whatever. So I can tell you Giba can also talk about this.
My brother may be more like a coach because he’s a coach in Poland now. They won the Super Cup, their first. They, unfortunately, had to finish because of the coronavirus, but he had a very, very good season need in that in Poland.
What is going on in the life of Vladimir Grbić at this moment in time
Christian: What else is going on in the life of Vladimir Grbić at this moment in time? You will run camps, you are doing your PhD. what else?
Vladimir: Actually, this moment, I finish my Ph.D. I am finishing my dissertation. It should be done, and I should defend it by the end of this year. So to become the only Ph.D. with Olympic gold and member of the Volleyball Hall of Fame.
The second thing is to start with my NGO about funding volleyball in between countries. This means using the connection and support and health prevention to reconnect countries that were in a conflict before, for example, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, or Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, Bulgaria, or Romania.
Or to give you something much closer to you, for example, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, for example, or I don’t know what else could be. For example, Holland, Belgium, and Germany.
My NGO is about funding volleyball in-between countries, using the connection, support, and health prevention to reconnect countries that were in a conflict before. I want to try to break this hate and prejudice in the countries that were in conflict.
So essentially how it works is that under my advisement, under my program, for kids, everything is free of charge. They don’t pay for anything. All kids get uniforms, shoes, everything, so they can have under my custody, the program, which is appropriate for them for their age.
It’s a healthy program, guided by doctors and experts in the field. So the coaches are monitored by experts and me and the program is towards kids’ health and development of 360 degrees. They start with nine years and they finished with 18 years. So they are 10 years inside of my program.
Kids exchange, so for example, kids from Holland and Belgium and Germany are going every two weekends to Germany or to Belgium or Holland and they play games with kids from other countries. They have presentations, they meet other people and they understand also other people.
I want to try to break this hate and prejudice in the countries that were in conflict. This is fundamental. So this program, of course, is protected. And we have the software program also that is following entire groups or you can imagine data, how important it is.
Where can you find Vladimir Grbić
Christian: Where can people find you?
Vladimir: People can find me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, the University for Sport and Physical Education in Belgrade. I’m here. I’m not running anywhere. I’m not hiding. I’m open, very married.
Vladimir Grbić’s social profiles
Christian: Vladimir, you’ve been very generous with your time. Thanks a lot for that. Thanks for sharing your unique experiences.
Vladimir: Thank you very much.