December 18. 2019.
There must always be a Plan B!
We talked to Norbert Madaras, the former water polo player of FTC.

The two-time Olympic and World Champion player is the project's ambassador, now head of the FTC's water polo department. The European Day of Care is a big collaborative partnership co-funded by the Erasmus+ Sport Programme of the European Union, an extension of an initiative launched in 2015. Our goal, together with other European multisport clubs, is to highlight the difficulties of transitioning from leading sports to civilian life and to share inspirational stories of those who have succeeded.

- How did you become a water polo player?

- I was six when my parents first took me to the swimming pool. At first I didn't play water polo, I just swam, I was 14 when I switched. It's usually too late for water polo, luckily it wasn't for me. I grew up in a "wet" family, since my father was also a swimmer and my grandmother was a national team member in swimming. Although I was not obligated to swim or water polo, I was captivated by the swimming pool world, and I still feel good in this environment.

- Having been active for almost 20 years, what was it like to be out of the pool suddenly?

- We are talking about two completely different worlds, even if, after completing my career, I started working as a Head of Waterpolo section at Ferencváros. Regarding back, it was a bit odd to feel that I was still the champion on Saturday, and on Monday I was already working as a Head of the section, but I think I made the change in time and didn't regret my decision. I knew once my career was over, I was preparing for it.

- How much time have you spent relaxing in your years as a player?

- It is no exaggeration to say that I did not have much of a private life while I was doing elite sports. Anyone who is a professional athlete and also a national team will get less from the rest. From September to the end of May I spent the time with my club(s), and summer was the season of the national team. I only had two weeks for an annual leave. That's how it went for almost 20 years.

- How have you and your family watched your profession go with such pursuits?

- They've really fallen into that. When I first met my wife, she knew I was a water polo player, which meant that I had to play on Saturdays in addition to the weekends. My children soon got used to this rhythm as they experienced from birth that, for example, if we went somewhere with the national team, I could be away for weeks. It was not that difficult time for me, but it also required my family’s committment.

- As a player, did you have a hobby you enjoyed doing in your spare time?

- As long as I was playing, my free time was more about water polo, my hobby was not very active. In the two summers before my retirement, when I was no longer in the national team and so I had more free time, I took the sailing exam or went to wakeboarding sometimes, and I always liked to try wet things, physical activities. Besides that, as a player, I still enjoy reading, and I am interested in many other things besides the world of sports.

- Are you still swimming?

- It's a funny story, but I have to swim. It's about my 10-year-old son swimming at BVSC, training twice a week before school, from 5:50 in the morning. I take him, and once I'm there, I'll go for a swim in the normal pool. That's optimal for me, because now I can swim 2*2.000 m every week.

- When did you start to think about what will happen after your career?

- I came through several stages. At the age of twenty-twenty-two, for example, I thought I'd polish up to further eight, ten years, because there was so much else I was interested in. I couldn't have thought I'd stay in this world after my career, but I'm still the best at water polo, I'm happy to have another opportunity in this environment. I can develop a lot in this field as well, I’m still learning. After graduating at the College of Economics, I was almost sure at that time that I want to work in that area, and now I think there might be more in my life after water polo. There is life beyond that. I was a bit prepared for this as a player, I didn't accidentally learn languages. All players should keep in mind that they won’t be retired right after their pro sport career is finished, there must be a plan B following their sport careers. The world is changing, you have to prepare for civil life, too.

- Have you been given many helpful tips throughout your career?

- Of course, there was more support from my family and older players, and I was always happy to do that. Although their advice was not always helpful, they always came to me with good intentions, wanted the best for me. I think one of the biggest problems in the world today is that there is a need not only for coaches, but also for mentors who not only deal with waterpolo, but also teaching life skills to young people. Of course, this is a semi-coaching task, but you can't push everything towards coaches. The world is changing: nowadays, in many cases, you can earn more money sooner, there are other revenues, and there are agents and managers as consultants. All this can take a 20-25 year old player in the wrong direction. Mentoring junior athletes nowadays is even more necessary than ever before.

- As you said, you have a college degree. How important do you think for young water polo players to learn alongside their sports career?

- A 15-year-old water polo player does not know yet what kind of career he is looking for, so he shouldn't have to put up everything for the polo. It is also the responsibility of the media to make them aware of the need to study besides elite sports, as no-one can guarantee that anyone who was successful in elite youth will be also successful as an adult athlete, too.

- As one of the ambassadors for the European Day of Care project, what is your most important message?

- In order to be very good at something, they have to give all-in, but for a young athlete there always must be another way, because a lot of things might occur. Over time, you might lose your motivation or get injured in your chosen sport, or you might not be talented enough. You must have a Plan B in your twenties. Athletes have to understand this, but it’s also the medium’s responsibility to say that professional sports are only an option.


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