From a young age, she simply saw herself on the court helping others. Since the psychological aspect is becoming very important in the sports world we talked with a woman who truly inspires – sports psychologist Bojana Jelicic. Bojana shared her story with us and you cannot simply pass by it! She worked with many professional athletes, won a silver medal with the Serbian handball women’s national team, is a part of EHF ”Respect your talent” project, and much more. Enjoy another IWD read and stay tuned because more stories are waiting to be heard!
Where did the love for psychology come from and have you always known that you want to do this job?
The two of us somehow found each other. It was psychology or architecture and psychology prevailed. My parents had a role in this process, suggesting to imagine myself as one, and then as the other – and to listen within, what will fulfill me more, where do I visualize myself in the future. And what did I visualize? I visualized myself and people who need help, who rely on me, and who I “see” as satisfied and fulfilled in the end. Due to certain experiences, I figured out that, in those visualizations, I am actually – in sports – in the team – on the court. And afterward, when the vision crystallized as much as possible, I studied and worked towards what I „see, sense and feel”. This is who I am. And the reason why my path is as it is.
Is there anyone in your family from whom you inherited the love for the sport?
Sport has always been followed in my family. Various sports, not to say all – simply, sport, in general, was loved and followed by the Jelicic family. The most direct contact was with football. Visits to the stadium and closed-type trainings have been, I see more clearly now, a kind of a privilege. Godfather Zoran (Antonijevic) is a person who has been around since the beginning of my life, my father’s friend, and someone who gave his whole self to football, defined himself with it a lot, a man who lived (for) football. As children, we are not aware of how access to some things/experiences affects us in one way or the other, we gain insight as adults. I will never forget the day I have asked my godfather to sit down with me (my father was present as well) – telling him what I wanted, where I wanted to help out, and how I envisioned it all. I had graduated psychology at that moment already. The look on his face will never be forgotten, how surprised he was by the determination for such a challenge. He laughed and turned to my father, asking with a smile “Is she serious ?!”, dad replied with a calm face ”Does it look like she’s not serious?”. And so it all began. I will never forget that day. It all started with that support. He is no longer alive, and I get emotional every time something big is achieved, and he is not there to witness it and celebrate it with me.
In your career, you worked with many different athletes from many different disciplines. Have you played sport yourself?
In my case, it was more of a typical activation of a school-age child through enrollment in sports activities. So, as a child, I tried gymnastics, table tennis, dance, and tennis. I have been involved in folklore for eight years non-stop – on two different continents. By the way, this is something that my athletes laugh at when they ask me if I have trained any sport. I tell them, with a smile, that eight years of folklore are behind me. And you can imagine the reaction of a top athlete.
You have experience in football, volleyball, basketball, handball, but also archery, tennis, martial arts. Is there a difference in psychological approach in the team and individual sports? If there is, can you explain that difference?
In order not to make the answer a psychological lecture, I suggest answering in a generally understandable form. Let’s start with the obvious difference and that is the mental set of an individual sport, where everything starts and is focused on that one person/athlete. In individual sports, the “team” is consisted of the athlete and his/her team staff, which is focused on the health, development, and performance of that one person. In team sports, it is a group of people, focused on a common goal, that during their work process also take care of health and monitor the development of the whole team. In this case, the days in team sports are a bit more complex. Here we have a group of people who make up a team with their own group dynamics, defined roles, and tasks, communication, relationships, etc. In team sports, the result often depends on how well will they communicate with one another, and join skills to reach their common goal. The goal itself can only be reached if the skills are joined. Despite the daily work on the technique, tactics, and physical readiness of the players – we have this psychological aspect that sport is starting to become more and more aware of it’s importance. Therefore, in team sports, the daily dynamic is more complex. Keeping so many athletes in a psycho-social discipline, not only sports discipline, keeping so many different personality structures in focus on the same goal, following the psycho-dynamics of the group and “putting things in place” – is a special kind of challenge. Your team must be communicating well, taken care of as we work with human beings with their needs, so that the whole team’s work, players and team staff, would show when it counts the most. For example, if we think about the pressure, imagine how different it is when it is divided on so many people in team sports, and when you know that even if you make a mistake during a match, there are other teammates on the same court with you who can correct that error in/through the match. Now imagine how pressure is different and more intensive on an athlete in individual sports, where he/she is alone on the field, and where every mistake in performance is only controlled and can be corrected (if there are conditions for it) only by him/her. These are just some of the differences. To help those who are not able to see the sport from the point of view of the participants themselves, to gain a clearer insight into what athletes go through in general, whether they come from individual or team sports.
You have worked with both men’s and women’s teams. Is there a difference in work and the approach?
Where to start? I am not a supporter of generalization, but I will try to do that to give an answer to this question. You notice some of the first differences already during the first week of work, where male athletes are quieter and more observant, they don’t “run ahead” in communication, until they explore the “field” – they are more careful and cautious in communication, even scarce in the beginnging. But the moment you gain their trust, they have continuity in it. While working with female athletes, there is a tendency to establish communication quickly, to find a “common language” (they seem to be more cooperative), and for a new person (in this case, me) to have a sense of acceptance by the group. They are committed to the work and goals of the group in a specific way, in the presence of a slightly more personal identification with the group.
Can you describe the feeling when the Serbian women’s handball team, which you worked with in that period, won silver at the IHF World Championship 2013 in Serbia?
Joy with the awareness of achievement, surprise at the disbelief that we really achieved it – that it is now our reality, tiredness after that much work dynamics and pressure that needed to be filtered and given a constructive form, filled with emotions and satisfaction.
What is the most interesting part of your job as sports psychologist?
The first association on this question was – laughter, anecdotes, fun moments that refresh serious work and professionalism with relief and jokes. Don’t ask me to share some of them.
Describe the course of your working hours on the day of the match and on the rest day.
The day of the match is “D Day”, where your main aspiration is to observe and handle the moods and needs of all team members (players, team staff) and to be ready to act “ad hoc” because the tension of that day can initiate various undesirable situations. It is important to maintain constructiveness, focus on tasks and agreements. And a day off is a day for me. That is the day I spend relaxing, I don’t have a task other than to unload and entertain myself. The emphasis is on the spontaneity of the day, as all the other days are sufficiently planned and full of schedules.
How much are you involved in the whole process of working with athletes? Does your job have working hours?
That is an excellent question – no (working hours). I try to be available and committed to my work, that my clients see me as a support, security, a solution that is always there. This is quite demanding, but I think that is what characterizes the work and approach of all professionals who strive for special goals.
Why do you like handball or sport in general?
Dynamics. Freedom. Discipline. Healthy life and habits. A sense of acceptance in the group and co-creation. Education. Raising awareness of the importance of mental health. Demonstrating the importance of the role of the mental aspect in the development of the athlete and the achievement and maintenance of top results. Helping others achieve their goals, which through cooperation become common.
Can you describe your experience working on the project ”Respect your talent”, organized by the EHF?
Great program! Even better energy in and around it! An opportunity to combine knowledge, experience with other participants and experts in the development of programs for young talents. An opportunity to exchange our knowledge and skills with young talents, to hear their thoughts, needs and suggestions. We had two camps – for girls (U17) in December last year, and for boys (U19) in January this year. I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised by the ways of thinking and perspectives of these young people, young athletes whose desire for sports (in this case handball) prevailed and helped in making decisions for discipline, learning, development, hard work, determination. I want them to persist in that. By participating in the project “Respect your talent”, for the first time I was a member of an expert team that worked on the design and preparation of materials for the application that this project will launch in the upcoming period. I can’t wait to see what it will look like!
Do you have interests beyond your daily responsibilities and work?
It would be dangerous if I didn’t. Yes, I have them. It relaxes me to read non-psychological literature because I read professional topics every day, and it I would be worried if that relaxed me as well (ha-ha). The peace in the nature relaxes me (mountains, rivers, the smell of the sea, and the “mesmerizing” sound of the waves). My friends, our conversations, and laughter at our internal jokes. Music, good rhythm, and ‘beat’, because I tend to not listen to the lyrics until the fifth or sixth time of hearing the song. And architecture – floor plans, interior designs – I can look at it indefinitely.
Is there a person who has had an impact on your professional career?
I don’t know how adequately you will understand me when I say that I would single out – my determination, consistency, persistance, perseverance. “They” have the biggest impact on my professional career. And shifting the focus to other people, who have become a part of my environment – these are the people of integrity, dignified in their attitude and functioning, who have dedicated their lives (not just professional life) to work on themselves, commitment, and continuity in development and progress. These people are from different professions. People who have no need for conformism, but are focused on creation. There is no real creation if you are not ready for change, and if you are afraid to be different. Pragmatism is not for everyone.
What advice would you give to all women who have the desire and ambition to work in psychology?
Our profession is beautiful, creative. I suggest that the ladies, potential future colleagues, ask themselves “How do I imagine myself? Do I have a vision? What is it? How intensely do I want to achieve it? Do I see myself in this business? How does this job make me feel? What should I work on when it comes to my personal development? How can I contribute?”. Those are some of the questions that would be useful to ask ourselves before we decide on any call, not just this one. Allow yourself to be resourceful. Be aware of the need to continuously invest in yourself and your knowledge. Learn pragmatism. Be persistent. And enjoy! That is the essence of everything.