Marija Lojanica. Doing her job as a conditioning coach for 22 years. In her career, she worked with two major handball clubs – Vardar 1961 and Telekom Veszprem where she is currently doing her dream job alongside Momir Ilic. Always up for the new challenges, Marija also worked with Ana Ivanovic, former world No 1. tennis player, and her work was recognized by many other famous athletes. Besides the professional part, she has a dynamic private life as well. Telekom Veszprem’s conditioning coach is the first guest of the series of interviews powered by Namman Muay. Now it’s the right time to meet her.
How does the typical Marija Lojanica’s day look like?
I get up very early, around 7:00 or 7:30 AM. The first thing on my to-do list is to drink coffee with a lot of milk and two cookies aside. Without that, I can’t leave the house. Then it’s time for my work. Usually, when I have training with the team in the morning, I do my workout before. After the team training, it’s time for a lunch break, after which I am going home. When I am home I always prepare for the next training. The end of my working day is around 7 PM. Sometimes, I go out for dinner or drink after work, but mostly I am rushing home to prepare for the next day. It’s not that exciting, but it is my everyday routine. When I have a rest day, then it’s different.
Among all of your obligations, do you have some free time for yourself?
Everything depends on the match schedule. Usually, on the day the team is playing EHF Champions League, we come home around 4 or 5 AM. After, it’s usually a free day for the players, but not me, since I have to do my job at the Veszprem Academy for younger selections, while Saturdays and Sundays are usually reserved for the national championship.
What do you like to do in your free time when you are not in the gym or hall?
When I have some free time, I like to spend it outside of my apartment walking around Veszprem. I have a really good company and that is Dimitar Manevski, a physiotherapist who was also working with me in Vardar. We have some pretty serious tours, not under 10 or 15 kilometers, so basically we are hiking around Veszprem investigating the city. My trips in nature actually bring the best out of me, it fills me up with energy. I am interested in photography as well. Also, I like to spend my free time with my friends. I really like it here, the air is much better than in Belgrade and Skopje. Veszprem is a small and peaceful town that has its own charm.
You mentioned you’re working for the Veszprem Academy. Can you tell us something more about it?
The main goal of this program is to prepare young players for the A-team. The Academy is structured really well and I think that regional clubs should implement this idea in their handball schools. The goal is to educate all the young players, so once they become a part of the A-team, they can continue to develop. They have to be familiar with all the training basics, how to do the warm-up, as well as to work in the gym. They have to know everything that the A team is doing. Of course, everything is organized according to their age, strength, etc. This year two players from the Academy joined the A team and that transition went very smoothly. In Hungary, they are doing a great job when it comes to that. There is an extremely good financial state support and they really take care of their younger selections. I can say that working for the Academy is a pleasure.
Have you ever played any sport? If yes, which one?
I played handball in my hometown, Kraljevo, but then I moved to Belgrade because of college. I began my studies in the Faculty of sport and physical education, and due to the obligations, I didn’t manage to coordinate the classes and trainings. Also, I was in athletics for some time, I played a little bit of basketball, volleyball…I like sports.
How long are you performing your job as a conditioning coach?
I am a conditioning coach for 22 years. Immediately after I finished my studies, I started working in a school as a teacher. I worked there for 12 years, and during that time I also was a handball coach to the younger selections. Then I realized conditioning trainings suit me better so I headed in that direction – conditioning in the handball world. Also, because of physiotherapy, I worked with many tennis players. I was part of the FED Cup team for 3 years (Serbian female tennis team) where I worked as a conditioning coach, masseur, and physiotherapist. In 2010, I started working with Ana Ivanovic. When I became her coach, I had to put my teaching job aside and focus primarily on that. Since then I have only worked with professional athletes. I worked with many female handball players such as Andrea Lekic, Slada Pop-Lazic, Sanja Damjanovic, Kaca Tomasevic, and Jovana Radicevic, as well as with some volleyball and football players. But handball had always been my love.
How did you feel working with former world No 1. tennis player, Ana Ivanovic?
I know Ana Ivanovic from the beginning of her career. Back then I was working as a masseur when she first came for a massage. That’s how it all started. Every time she was in Serbia, we went together for a run or exercise. After some time, she asked me if I wanted to work with her. For me, making that step was a huge challenge. But, since I prefer to be a part of a team, rather than one on one, that brought me back to Serbia and team sport.
Are there any differences in the approach and exercises with male or female teams?
I would say that it’s easier to work with men. In searching why is that so, I read some books to explain to myself why is that so. For example, women remember more than men do, and it’s because they have such brain structure. Another thing is, women approach every problem intuitively, while men see it a little wider, meaning they are looking for a way to solve that problem. In addition, men have a higher level of testosterone (20 to 30 %), and after a tense match, a man will approach the analysis of the match much calmer. They will analyze their own performance, their plays, and so on. Women, on the other hand like to work things out transparently, they immediately start to look for the reason why the match was lost, and usually that finished with fighting. From my point of view, the approach to each gender needs to be different. When it comes to work, trainings and so on, I cannot say that there are some differences. We are talking about professional athletes. It was a great pleasure to work with them. I worked in Skopje for five beautiful years with the male and female handball team. I recall many beautiful moments such as EHF FINAL4 tournaments, so my heart fills with happiness when I think of that period.
When talking about differences, what are the main ones in the training process at professional and amateur sports?
I have not been a part of amateur sport for a long time, but I can say generally there shouldn’t be differences in the approach and the principle of the training. When it comes to financial opportunities, the differences are huge because those are the conditions that dictate everything. For example, they dictate if the club will have a conditioning or goalkeeping coach, an adequate medical team, etc. Therefore it can happen that in amateur sport there are more injuries than in professional. In professional sport, there’s a huge team of experts who provide guidance in the process of training and recovery. The trainings are programmed and designed according to a defined plan, while in amateur sport is not like that. Amateur athletes don’t train every day or even twice a day as we do. Maybe they have practice three or four times a week and then some coaches want to do everything in those few trainings which is extremely difficult. It leads to the accumulation of fatigues and more possibility for injuries in the end. Then there’s the change of training ground which is more present in the amateur sports. It’s easy for me to make a training plan when I have space, a free hall, equipped gym, and players who stay after the practice to do more work. When you don’t have those things you have to do your best to make things work.
How does a typical Marija Lojanica training look like?
I like to start the trainings with some warm-up, rolling where I let the players do their part. When we are in the gym, the first 10 minutes are reserved for dynamic stretching and mobility. Those exercises are intended for circulation, raising body temperature and of course stretching, with movement that is typical for handball.
Are there any exercises that handball players like or don’t like particularly?
There are some of the exercises they are not really keen on, but when the players are with national teams I can see that the exercises we do in Veszprem suit them well. Sometimes, they come to me and say: Marija, I can’t start the training without our warm-up before. That is very important because then you can make sense of what you are doing is right.
What is the most important advice you can give about success, good physical shape, and injury prevention?
My colleagues and I are always discussing if injury prevention is really possible. I think we cannot prevent injury, we can only reduce it. Well-planned practice is one of the most important conditions for injury prevention along with a good sleeping schedule, nutrition, and supplementation. Handball is a contact sport in which you cannot prevent punches, unpleasant landing, and similar things, so the best thing for injury prevention is good training which consists of loading management, practice, and mobility. Another thing that is necessary is communication with the head coach. For example, I talk with Momir Ilic every day to hear how he sees the team. Also, I like to ask every player about his condition, how did he sleep, how is his family, etc. This little information gives me insights into the state of every player, not just physically, but mentally as well.