What’s The Secret of Croatia’s Sporting Success?

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Just what is it that makes Croats so, so good?

It’s no secret that Croatia has achieved remarkable sporting success, especially after gaining independence in the 1990s. Croatia has seen success in some of the most competitive sports in the world.

It is generally agreed that football and tennis are two of the top most competitive sports in the world, due to the size of their participation in the world. Croats are very successful both in football and tennis, as well as in many other sports. In these two sports, Croatia has achieved some of what the so-called ”big” nations could only dream of.

But the question remains: Why Croatia? Why are Croats so successful when it comes to sport? This is a very common question, and it remains common for several very good reasons.

Many authors tried to reveal the secret of just how the little country with a population of just four million people managed to take over the international sporting scene.

In this piece, we’ll try to answer the question as to why Croatia has been proclaimed the best sporting nation in the world for many years.

1. Raw talent and genetics

It’s often said that Croats have an ”inborn talent” for sport. People who live in this area are usually born with this crude talent, and this can not be explained logically, Croats just have it. This is obviously something Croats were blessed in their genetic makeup. Croats usually say that if they could find a way to bottle up the raw talent with which they were born and sell it, then it would be the most desired product in the world.

Many authors often say: ”Croats have a natural talent for sport that will never die”.

2. Coaching

There are a couple of other reason that might explain why Croats are so good at sport, in addition to genetics and inborn raw talent. If you have raw talents, it’s still nothing without proper coaching. High quality coaches in sport, including football, tennis, handball, waterpolo, basketball and many more, play an important role in shaping the raw talent into something more and something bigger, eventually resulting in the production of successful athletes.

As Romeo Jozak, a former technical director at the Croatian Football Federation once said: ”It’s no good to have a good talent and raw material if you don’t have a coordinated approach and good coaching.”

3. Grudge match, spite or ”inat”

This is another reason why Croats are so good at sports. The word inat is very difficult to understand or translate into English. Usually it translates as grudge match, spite, defiance, malice or sometimes even stubbornness. It’s a word that is very often used in Croatia, and mothers usually use it to describe their children’s character and are likely to be a little proud of it.

Throughout the history of this region, its people have learned to fight for the defense of their countries, their beliefs and their cultures. And that is the sharp edge of inat, the attitude of proud defiance and stubbornness that allows self-preservation. It is commonly said that all Croats have that, and do things because of that. It’s about doing things because someone told you can’t, and you want to prove that you can, it isn’t necessarily because you actually want to.

4. A pool of talents

Sport is synonymous with Croatia. Sport plays a very important role in Croatian culture. Sport began to develop more seriously in Croatia when Franjo Bučar, the widespread father of modern Croatian sport, founded the Croatian Sports Association in 1909 as part of the then Austo-Hungarian Empire.

The most endearing sport in Croatia is, of course, football. The Croatian national team won the bronze medal in the FIFA World Cup 1998, played in the quarterfinals of the European Championship in 1996, then the European Championship in 2008, most recently playing at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, proudly winning the silver medal.

Many Croatian football players play for the most successful and most popular football teams in the world, such as Luka Modrić for Real Madrid, Ivan Rakitić for Barcelona and Mario Mandžukić for Juventus.

Historically, Croatia has been a very profilic nation in handball. The Croatian national handball team is currently at an impressive 10th place of the World Handball Federation. At the Summer Olympics in 1996 and 2004, Croatia won gold medals in handball. The team also won the World Handball Championships 2003, and arrived to second place in the 1995, 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010 championships. In 1994, the Croatian National Handball Team won the third place at the World Handball Championship.

The most prominent Croatian basketball players are without a shred of a doubt Dražen Petrović, Krešimir Ćosić, Dino Rađa and Toni Kukoč. They were the first foreign basketball players to succeed in the NBA in the US. The Croatian national basketball team won the silver medal at the Olympic Basketball Tournament in 1992, the bronze medal at the FIBA World Championship 1994, and bronze medals in 1993 and 1995, at the Eurobasket championship. Croatia’s talented basketball players were also Euroleague champions five times.

Although we haven’t touched on it it, the Croatian water polo team doesn’t lag behind other Croatian teams from other sport at all. Croatia’s national water polo team won the gold medal at the FINA 2007 World Cup, and bronze medals in 2009 and again in 2011. The team also won gold at the Olympic Games 2012, and silver medals at the most recent Olympics, as well as the gold medal at the European Championships back in 2010. Croatian water polo clubs were LEN Euroleague champions thirteen times.

It’s also worth mentioning the great success of Croatians in individual sport, including skiing where Janica and Ivica Kostelić make the biggest contribution, Blanka Vlašić as the best Croatian athlete specialising in high jump, Stipe Drviš as a successful boxer, Mirko Filipović as a well-known kickboxer with great rating, Duje Draganja as very successful in swimming, world renowned tennis players, including Goran Ivanišević and Iva Majoli, and taekwondo where the Zaninović sisters contributed the most.

The list of Croatia’s achievements in the sport world is very long, and this isn’t even half of it.

Like Romeo Jozak often says, the best Croatian players and athletes are scattered throughout Europe, often leaving the country during their teenage years. This talent drain can damage the chances of Croatia’s national side.

5. Patriotism

The final reason, and by no means the least important, is the patriotism that is reflected through passion and a pure love of sport that is deeply rooted. Croats express their love for their country through sport and competing, seeing sporting competition as a perfect opportunity to show the world they are in, that they exist. Athletes have since long been Croatia’s ambassadors and have always been a great inspiration for their fellow Croats.

The Vatreni (the nickname for the Croatian national football team) didn’t simply represent Croatian football at the World Cup in Russia this year, they represented the whole of Croatia. So, if any Croat suggests he or she does not care about winning or losing, it would be considered deeply unpatriotic and it didn’t matter about whether or not you followed football, because it wasn’t just about football, it was a matter of national interest.

Perhaps Croats show a huge lack of unity in many areas, including economics and politics, but they always unite when it comes to sports and that is what makes them so successful on the world’s sport scene.


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