OFF THE COURT TALKS – Mirko Krolo: ”Professional sport has its own price, but everything is in your head”

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OFF THE COURT TALKS – Mirko Krolo: ”Professional sport has its own price, but everything is in your head”




Next guest of our ‘’Off the court talks’’ is true legend of Croatian sport life who is doing his job as fitness coach since 1986/1987 – Mirko Krolo. In his long professional carrier, he worked with many famous athletes such as NBA stars – Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja and Davis cup winner – tennis player Mario Ancic. Right now he is working at his own gym in Osijek, but he is also in charge of physical shape of HC Nexe’s players.

Besides talking about his NBA experience and winning three European championships with basketball club Jugoplastika, he shared with us his advice about physical shape, importance of mental strength and his specific training methods based on operators. Alongside his professional carrier he was also great athlete who trained football, boxing and athletics in which he become Yugoslavian and Croatian champion. Now it is a right time to meet Mirko Krolo!

How long are you doing your job as a fitness coach?

Since 1986 or 1987. It all started in Split with one tennis player. After that, coach Maljkovic asked me to come work as a fitness coach for basketball club Jugoplastika. I was working there during 1989, 1990 and 1991 when we won three European championships.

You have your own gym in the city of Osijek. Do professional athletes only or amateurs also come to your gym?

Only athletes, but they are not all professional athletes. There are also perspective children who want to achieve something in sport. Basically, all athletes that want to achieve more in sport.

Is there any difference in approach between senior athletes and children?

Of course, there is a difference. With kids we have to do the initial testing first, because we start from the beginning with them while professionals have already worked with different coaches where they had a chance to adapt to the training process. With children, you have to do the initial testing to create a training program. In modern times, the athlete must be fast, he must be agile and strong, and he must solve everything in a short time. The brain must act quickly. It’s all from my perspective because I’ve collaborated with both Dino Radja and Toni Kukoc in America. I have one great experience that I try to apply when working with children.

Is there any specific training method you are using?

I try to teach from the beginning. I work methodically and then I create loading that later lead to successes. At these loads, all the ligaments work, all the muscle units are involved, and you have to turn on the brain in order to maintain balance and take a step under that load. I also work on speed. All methods permeate each other. It’s not just the absolute power that you have to turn into explosives and then into reactive power. It’s quite demanding.

You worked with basketball players from Jugoplastika, but also with Croatian national handball and basketball team. Are there differences in fitness training?

There is a big difference, because handball is contact sport and handball players should be strong and durable. On the other side, basketball players must be fast, agile and when working with them you need to develop explosive strength and jumping. Also, the functional abilities of basketball players are at a higher level.

You also worked with Mario Ancic, Croatian tennis player, when it comes to fitness training can you compare tennis as individual sport with basketball and handball as team sports?

Every sport is specific. When I am working with tennis players, we are doing mental specific training. Those trainings consist of a polygon with more than 100 exercises. Basically, athlete needs to endure the action so many times without making a mistake in the right order of movement. That helps you to improve your concentration which is very important in tennis.

Dino Radja and Toni Kukoc were NBA players, and you worked with them during that time. Can you describe your NBA experience?

I was working with Dino Radja for 11 years. He hired me during play-offs period and out of the season. All European NBA players are doing their preparations in Europe. It is important for them to come at the beginning of the preparations in a certain physical condition. But NBA is a different world. When it comes to recovery after training, underwater massages, saunas, nutritionist recommendations, testings, everything is at the top level and it can’t be compared to the situation in Europe. This experience helped me a lot during my carrier because it helped me a lot to know how to bring an athlete to a higher level and how much attention needs to be given to everything (training process, sports equipment, diet, vitamins, etc.). But the NBA changed a lot. Toni once said that he doesn’t like this version of the game that is popular now – fast play, there are no actions, thinking.

What is the most important thing in conditioning preparation?

Small details, such as the lower back and crotch belt, need to be done thoroughly. The body binds, the torso and legs and that bond is the weakest link on the human body that needs to be strengthened. This is where all the agility happens, and everything is transmitted through the ankles to the feet and knees. I work on good prevention of foot injuries, I strengthen the muscles of the lower leg, ankle and foot and the groin belt, which I pay a lot of attention to. You will easily develop everything else, the small details that break everything are important. The ankle, foot and groin belt are what I base athlete prevention on.

Can you briefly describe to us how the process of fitness preparation of athletes looks like?

First, we are doing initial testing to see the strength of all body segments. Secondly, we are doing functional testing for heart and lungs. These tests are helping us to see what the capacities are and which group the athlete should go to. During the preparation time, athlete should fulfil all the categories. Also in handball, a distinctive feature for groups is the position played by the player.

Is there any exercise or group of exercises that is especially important for handball players?

Well, it is necessary to consider the flexibility of the shoulder girdle. The shot goes from the floor over the foot to the knee of the hip and ends up with the hand. So, the shoulder girdle must be flexible, flexible and strong. The whole body must be ready. In top sports, if you watch a top-class athlete, for example, Jordan, you can’t find a weak point. He has both explosiveness and jumpiness and speed and strength, and it is all combined into one to create a top athlete or Ronaldo. They thoroughly complete the whole body plus mental training, endurance, and concentration. If it’s the last shot, he thinks like it’s the start of the game. These are the differences between top and slightly fewer top athletes.

You have worked with many famous athletes. Can you choose the one that was most enjoyable to work with?

Toni Kukoc was a genius and every exercise he was doing, it was done better than you would do yourself. On the other side, you have Dino Radja who was persistent, and he did every exercise until he was the best. They were top athletes and that is why they achieved all these successes. Professional sport has its own price, but everything is in your head.

Have you ever played any sport? If yes, which one?

Yes, I played football at FC Split. After that I started boxing and after that, athletics where I was very successful. I was Yugoslavian champion in long jump and Croatian champion in triple jump, long jump and decathlon.

What do you do in your free time?

During the season I don’t have too much free time. In summer, situation is a little bit different. I regularly go to the island of Brac where I have a house. I love sea and I love scuba diving.

What is the most important advice you can give about success, good physical shape, and injury prevention?

I would recommend choosing a good coach who is a main figure in athletes’ life and a lot of thing depends on him. Also, children should start with basic sports like gymnastics and athletics where they can learn how to control their body and how to run. After that, everything is easier.


Photo credit: Nexe