Throughout the last 5 years, I worked with coaches and kids from various different countries(Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, France, USA, Russia, China) and coached in 3 countries myself(Serbia, Romania, China). With this in mind, I will tell you about my personal experience and how I’d describe the schools of basketball that I was in, focusing mainly on Serbia, Romania, and China.
Serbian Basketball School
I worked as the coach of KK Djerdap, filling in where an opening would appear, be it with kids under eight or seniors. It was a small-town club but it was very fun to work with everyone.
Basketball is very important in Serbia as it is a national sport besides football, but compared to football in Serbia, basketball is way more developed and way more successful with teams and the national team.
The big two teams in Serbia are Partizan and Red Star both based in Belgrade and they fill up the gym most of the nights when they play. Besides does a notable team is KK Megalex or Mega for short which has amazing youth facilities and developed players like Boban Marijanovic and Nikola Jokic, and so many more.
To not go too much into history as you can google it, the Serbian school of basketball is quite developed and the coaches are very dedicated to their craft, which thought me a lot of things about basketball.
What I learned from Serbian Coaches:
- Dedication to the Craft
- Though Love
- Love for the Game
- Emotion Control
- Fundamentals are everything
What I learned about Serbian Players:
- Very ambitious
- Highly competitive
- Good Genetics
As a coach the system in Serbia is very interesting, it brings you in a very interesting position as a coach. I learned a lot from watching, listening, and just doing it in practice. A big thing that I learned and that is still valid to this day is the way you approach the team. A coach is a friend, he/she is like family, but there must be a clear line between the coach and the player, mutual respect if you will. You, as a coach, need to establish yourself as a person that will help their players in their darkest hours, but also as the person who takes the decisions. If you are too friendly with players, you will lose control over the team. The whole team needs to know that you are the leader they can come to with their problems but also the leader who will make the decisions. Those decisions come with big responsibilities that many people don’t understand unless they coach. If your team is doing bad, most of the time the coach is going to be blamed unless one player clearly does something wrong. So you must be a person of high character and establish yourself as a leader who picks up players when they are down and takes the punches that are thrown at him by the media and the management.
In this way, I learned that, as a coach, you are not only just the middle man, just the person who blows a whistle and shows drills, you are a person who is there for the team, and who is responsible for part of their personality growing up. We as coaches, shape our players, and in Serbia, I was told that basketball is more than a game, it goes beyond the court and that is still the best sentence that I can think of when describing what basketball is, more than a game.
If you need me to explain why loving the game is important, you might be in the wrong place. Loving basketball is just what I do and I turned down offers for work for so much better money just to be close to the game and be able to do what I love. If you love it, you love it, and will for the rest of your life.
Dedication to basketball is something I saw in many Serbian coaches, their life was based around basketball. Family, friends, going out, hobbies, everything was based around basketball. This dedication in my opinion is one of the traits of the Serbian coaches that makes them do very well around Europe and Asia, not sure about the USA but I saw some friends coach at colleges there as well so I think we are pretty ok in the US as well (with me now working for USAB in China lol).
This dedication to the craft is something that drives people to be more emotional. Emotional control is very important for a coach, you should know when to yell, when not to, when to encourage the player and when to question his dedication. Just search on youtube Serbian Coaches and you will see the emotions that go into the game we all love.
Adapting to other cultures is sometimes difficult, but most of the coaches I spoke to in China, and most of the coaches I spoke to around the world, told me that adapting is crucial. But what means adapting? Do we change our ways and become the same as the country’s coaches?
The answer is no, we adapt our practice plans to be the most efficient for the culture we are in. If we are in China our plan will include more entertaining parts(Chasing Games, Competitions, Funny Games) while in Serbia more athletics(Dribbling and Defense) or in Romania more technical stuff(Passing, Movement without the ball). We adapt the plan so that we get the best results. In China, if the coach is too serious the kids will say it’s not fun and hence the parents won’t bring them back. On the other hand, if you are too loose in Serbia the kids won’t have fun as they would feel that the practices are too easy. So adapting means that we will change our plans a bit for the best results. This is what I like about Serbian Coaches as they are able to bring out the best in players(not all of course).
And as the last point, fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. Passing, Dribbling, and Shooting are all the buzz. Of course don’t think now that it is like in the Communist days, training for 2h only dribbling, of course not. But the fundamentals are highly valued everywhere in Europe.
I had the privilege to work in Romania for C.S. Heart in Drobeta Turnu-Severin, which was an amazing experience. I’ve learned a lot from Coach Livu Zaharia who is a very knowledgeable coach, might call him even a database of ideas, drills and ways of coaching. From that time I learned the following things:
- Working with young kids
- Athletic Fundamentals
- Parents and Kids Management
- How to make it different and interesting
- Finding Motivation to Keep Playing
- Fun Drills are as useful as Strict and Serious ones
What I learned about Romanian Players:
- Fast Learners
- Need to be Motivated
- Great Potential for the future of basketball in Europe
When I arrived in Romania I didn’t know what to expect. I was met with parents, and kids in the gym, which was unusual for me as I used to have only kids at practice so it put a bit of pressure on me. Through all this I watched and learned from Coach Liviu, he had different methods than I saw in my first club and they were and are still helpful until this day. He gave me a lot of guidance points and made me a better person by giving me my own groups to coach. It was a big responsibility and I loved those kids and miss them, I will hopefully get the chance to see them when I go back home for a practice or two.
I learned the importance of athletic drills in the practice, and I also learned a lot about how to make it more fun for smaller kids. You have to understand when you coach kids from 12-16 the fun is in playing 1v1 or 5v5 at the end of the practice or some competition, but for younger kids, the whole practice needs to be fun and he would make them fun and challenging.
Romanian kids are a bit different than Serbian kids, and it took me some time to adjust to the mentality, and the motivation needed for them to work harder. By that, I mean the difference in sports culture, wherein Serbia basketball is on the same level as football, while in Romania football is EVERYTHING. You would get one basketball game and ten football games on sports channels.
All in all, Romania helped me more than I thought to prepare for my next journey to the far east. It was an interesting experience where I had to build relationships with the parents, players, and other coaches, truly a time I will never forget.
China looked like an easy one from the outside, just hear this about my job description:
- Good Money
- Assistant Coaches + Translators
- Daily Maximum 4 Classes per Weekend(1 per day during the weekdays0
- Mon and Tue off
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Because there is a big cultural difference. Now let’s start off a little bit with the difference between Europe and China business-wise. In China you will be contacted at random times, the schedule is usually a mess if there is more than one Coach and you will sometimes work in crazy conditions because, in the end, it is their way of doing things. Privacy and personal space are defined differently in China. A lot of times you will have your assistants like kids watching over your shoulder what you are doing on the phone. Things are different, it is not for everyone. Food is a lot different, and yes some regions in China eat dogs as well but don’t worry about that, there is KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, and most big cities have western restaurants and bars(more expensive but needed sometimes).
As stated the living culture is different, hence the basketball culture is different. They try to copy the USA style of mostly school teams existing (at least that’s how it was in my area) and with the president being in love with football(soccer) the country’s focus is on that. Basketball survived in China only because it promotes communist values like teamwork and achieving goals as one, equality on the court, and so on.
Enough of rambling if you want to know more about it you can always leave a comment and I will explain everything I know about this place.
The big problem with basketball in China was that we had to adjust to the already created way of teaching: SUPER FUN. Kids in China are everything so the parents and grandparents usually spoil them, teachers as well, so they are a bit more sensitive to disciplinary actions. But as you know kids nowadays have a short attention span which requires coaches to do quick explanations and make the kids do the exercises as soon as possible not to risk losing attention and getting a chaotic practice. Well here is the thought part, it takes almost double the time to do so due to having to translate things. English is not the main language and unless you are one of the rare ones who know Chinese you will have to rely on your assistant coaches who also can have a different level of English knowledge depending on your luck.
Things to know about China is that most teams are actually companies that are more like after-school programs than actual teams. When it comes to playing matches and others unless you work for a High School or University it will be very hard to get some matches due to the “losing face culture”, which is a system of respect that is deeply rooted in the Chinese culture where people would do anything to “save face” or not lose respect in front of others.
Hence competition is good only between the company kids, not against others. The one match I had while working for YBDL was in Shanghai, but even then I didn’t go with my kids an assistant coach took them.
All in all, China is so much different, with cultural differences and sports differences. The big focus is studying, and kids here are studying hard every day almost all day. This creates a big lack of professional sports leagues and people’s chances to actually join a professional team or make money from basketball.
What did I learn from Chinese Basketball:
- How to create funny drills that teach kids skills
- How to adapt to other cultures and change plans quickly
It’s been hard, I won’t deny it, I am still not used to the chaotic workplace schedule, where I get my weekly schedule a day before the actual practices (Aka Friday and Saturday we start) but it is a place where I want to try and do my best, it is a learning experience that will help me go far in my basketball journey.
It will be interesting in a few years when I return home and start applying the methods I learned here to see how good they will work in Europe or if I manage to get to the USA and apply them there.
All in all, this was my journey so far, and I will try to keep you updated on a weekly notice, posting mostly on Mondays as those will be my free days and describing to you my work week and the challenges that I overcame.
Big thanks to all of the coaches who helped me to get to where I am:
Liviu Zaharia, Miroslav Zlatkovic, Darko Ivanovic, Peca Bukatarevic, Dragan Marinkovic Mareta, Ivan Djuric, Coach Petcu, Danijel Popovic, Coach Vukosavljevic, Milica Milutinovic, and so many more helped me shape who I am, thank you a lot!