A town in Dalmatia, a Small Town, as you would say down here. Stone houses, pine forests, rosemary, lavender, cicadas, white rocks and the blue sea; a deep blue that fills the soul.
Here, amongst all these, four lanes made with white buoys stand out, two goal posts, floating like children’s dreams.
A waterpolo field, as you can find anywhere along the Croatian coast. The kids arrive around nine o’clock in the morning, the first ones are young, about five years old, they start training, then the older ones take the measurements with the ball. They keep going so, until the oldest kids arrive and the match starts. It feels strange calling this ‘training’, it’s more a school of life. Rather, it is space, sea, competition and respect, it is ekipa, team.
Everyone plays, there are no set roles, the goal is to have fun, while respecting the discipline and rules, the aim is to create and be together, the results and victories will come later.
The children give their all, they don’t give up, they have fun because there’s a place for everyone on the team, no one is left out: the more talented and the less talented, the stout ones and the puny ones.
The champions will emerge later on, at the threshold of puberty, now is time for freedom and school and that blue sea, that becomes home, kinship, happiness and sadness, it becomes essential.
The great inclination for sports these countries have has always impressed me. I’ve often been asked why Croatians, Serbs, Slovenes, Montenegrins are so few but so strong in sports. No, it is not genetics, nor they strive for redemption, it is just an inclination they’ve got.
There is no time to stop someone’s childhood, putting the kid under contract, demanding results, loading him with responsibility. There’s time, however, to let him grow free of such constraints, time for him to learn the technique and magic of the game, to have fun, smile, to find joy in the sport. This is how you become strong after.
Practicing a sport and then making it your profession means facing a privileged but hard life: training, pressure, fear of failure and injury, relationships with the public and the media. It’s a cruel world, impossible to face without joy.
Everything starts right there, in that deep blue sea, where you spend the summer with your companions and mentors, when parents keep away, without interfering with the dynamics of the game. You get to the beach on your own, dump your bike on the shore and dive in, sometimes you take a beating, sometimes you drown, but you always have fun.
You grow up.
And then one day you find yourself matured, free and strong. And perhaps, with a medal around your neck too.