Photos: Hrvatski vaterpolski savez
Head coach of the Croatian national water polo team has been managing one of the best national teams in the world
In today’s world, when everything is fast and transient, to hold the same position for more than ten years is an extraordinary achievement. This is especially true for coaches in top-level sport where ‘its majesty’ the score is the be-all and end-all, and, often, the only measure of someone’s success. It is said that an exception proves the rule, and, in this sense, Ivica Tucak is an extremely rare bird. He has held the position of the head coach of the Croatian national water polo team since September 2012, and has won 14 medals in that period. He has won the world and the European championships as well as the Olympic silver, and, in 2017, was named the water polo coach of the year by the International Water Sports Federation.
His beginnings, however, could not have been more difficult. After the Croatian national team won gold at the London Olympics, Ivica Tucak succeeded, as head coach, Ratko Rudić, the best coach in the history of water polo.
Being on top is hard work. You have been the head coach of the Croatian national water polo team for more than a decade. How did it all start?
Considering the conditions in sport and the pace of today’s life, my term of more than ten years is a rarity. I don’t only refer to sport here, I’m speaking generally. Looking back, I think the hardest part was to reach the national team bench, which I think of as sacred. Because the Croatian water polo is the flagship of our sport, taking into account the number of medals, top players, continuity etc. And I was handed the keys to the ‘Ferrari’, to put it so, by Ratko Rudić after he’d won the Olympic gold with the Croatian national team in London. I’d had impressive coaching results before, I’d won the world championship with the Croatian junior national team, won trophies on the bench of Jadran HN; however, the trust that the Water Polo Federation officials placed in me and the position of head coach was a new level in my career.
You have been a coach for almost 20 years. What do you think are elements that make a successful coach?
If I had to describe top-level coaches in just a few words, it would be ‘the real deal’. A coach simply has to be ‘the real deal’. The only authority that you can establish with players is competence. In my career, I have worked with great players that you can’t fool by pretending to be something you’re not; you have to present your vision through your attitude and your competence instead. I think this is a universal maxim that applies to all successful people, from business to sport. The coaching profession is unique because, in addition to sport expertise, you also have to be able to lead a group of people who unquestionably have different characters, lifestyle habits, motivations. This means you need to have considerable social intelligence and the ability to understand the relation between people and the states they are in. While training ahead of major competitions, which can last for over a month, you are the players’ therapist, father, mother, sister, friend…