"A True Tale". . .& To Be Continued. . .

Ferenc Vindisch

He turned age 42 on the last day of February. His water polo career began in Canada where he “accompanied” his father (and first coach) as a 12 year old kid in 1991. He spent five years abroad, to return to Hungary at age 17 to start his domestic water polo career in the Junior team of Spartacus. Two years later he transferred to Vasas, where he spent the next eight years.

Then there was a year in Fradi (with Somossy), followed by two years in Honved, and two years in Szeged. After a subsequent three-year stint in Debrecen, he landed in Kaposvar, where he has been playing ever since.

His best results included a gold medal at the FISU games, a World League silver medal in national team colors, and four National Cup victories as a division I club player. Gold Medal at a European Cup Winners Cup, and numerous championship finals – out of which unfortunately not ine lead to the ultimate victory and the gold. Vasas proceeded to take over the baton in leading the rankings when Feri left the blue-red colors.

“They lost the ballast, and things immediately took off”, he says with admirable self-irony.

We called on Roland Babarczi Sr. to give us some up to date statistics about Ferenc Vindisch. The surprising result: Feri, having played a total of 602 Hungarian Championship games, is close to surpassing the two – now retired – players ahead of him in the country’s rankings; Peter Tiba (620), and Zsolt Urogi (616).

He played a total of 15 national team games – and this latter stat will likely not change, although one can never be sure, just looking at his performance…

Ferenc Vindisch:

“It still feels great to dream about the national team”

Ferenc Vindisch is without a doubt one of the most outstanding individuals of Hungarian Water Polo. Having played a whopping 602 championship games thus far in his career. Despite the fact that he recently turned 42 and currently holds third place in the country’s records for most championship games ever played, he says it is far from over, he may play for years to come. For he will do whatever it takes to give his utmost in any game, nothing less than can be expected from an athlete by the name of Ferenc Vindisch. vlv.hu (Hungarian National Water Polo Team) - interview

Coach Laszlo Suranyi – Head Coach of Kaposvar, Division I Water Polo Club in Hungary, recently commented on Ferenc Vindisch

“Feri will play next season, if he wants to continue. His training performance is extraordinary, and he consistently sets the bar high in both practices and games. He is showing no signs of aging or slowing down. As a matter of fact, he swam for the ball four times in a recent game against Pecs and won the swim off every time. Simply incredible! During practices, he wins every sprint, a true pro right down to the core. He would like to continue playing and obviously we agreed that he would. He is also doing age group coaching for our club and maintaining a playing career. I don’t think that the coming season will be his final one either, I can see him tackling a few more.”

Photos: Zoltan Andrassy, Kaposvar Water Polo Club, and Ferenc Vindisch

Ferenc Vindisch (Kaposvar) to vlv:

“We agreed with Laci that we would only say good things about each other, so I would like to emphasize what a great coach he is” :-)

But seriously: we are fortunately on the same page, and I do my best to live up to his description expectations of me. [Grab your reader’s attention with a great quote from the document or use this space to emphasize a key point. To place this text box anywhere on the page, just drag it.]

Aside from a good personal relationship, he is truly a great expert, as proven by the results of last season. He follows on the heels of a long line of excellent coaches I have been fortunate to train with the likes of: Szilveszter Fekete, Zoli Szécsi and Józsi Berta were my coaches as well. Laci and I even played on the same team when Szilveszter was coaching. It would be a perfect script if it turned out that Laci would end up being my last coach throughout the final seasons of my Div I career in water polo – it would be proof we’re both doing a good job.

I’d love to give credit to all the coaches who shaped my career, starting with my father, and including “Soma” (Jozsef Somossy, in case anyone doesn’t know), Farago, Foldi, “Kovi” (Istvan Kovacs), or for that matter our current dry land coach Barnabas Baranyai…but then it would have to be more like writing a book than an article.

With regards to last season’s achievements, I’d like to point out that Rajmud Fodor, who has been working with our club for a year now, played a decisive role in our success. It’s a huge step on the road to becoming a professional, when you have one of the greats shining the light towards the coveted goal. Not long ago we gained a beautiful new pool, and now we have a leader of such calibre. Seems like there’s a bonus for every year.

Getting back to the subject of the game itself and my physical condition; I feel good, and barring any unforeseen events, I feel like I could go on for quite a while. We will just have to wait and see what cards mother nature holds for me.

The building of the 2021-2022 team is in progress; meetings with young players and potential recruits is under way. The technical committee supports me in continuing to play, and for my part, I cannot imagine a better lifestyle, daily routine, than the current one: the fact that I can live and maintain a job as an elite athlete. In terms of a job of course. Because let’s face it, lying on a beach sipping a cocktail is not a bad pastime, however, that is definitely not a realistic occupation, and furthermore, it is only rewarding if it is earned through hard work.

I am grateful for my club for providing me with “employment” and ensuring the conditions that are necessary for high performance elite sport. Speaking from experience, I can honestly say that we should be grateful for what they are able to provide us with here and appreciate the conditions in which we get to do our “work”.

-What is it that you love about participating in a high-performance sport? The game, the excitement, the competition?

-Competition equals stress. Some people thrive on it, seek out high stress situations, enjoy the adrenalin rush. That’s not really me. In fact, that’s probably the most exhausting component for me. However even though of course I’m perfectly aware that those are the precise circumstances under which I have to perform; and I am prepared to do so. When I’m tired, the stress, the expectation to perform is perhaps the most challenging.

So, then what do I love about it? Well, possibly the fact that it keeps me young. As long as I am able to train with 20-year-olds, to keep up with them, and not just meet performance expectations but be in the lead physically, that’s an incredible feeling. I always think the moment I quit high performance sport, will mark the beginning of the last chapter of my life.

Sometimes it’s difficult to train hard on the other hand, if I recall, it was just as hard at 20 as well…A young body is more flexible, able to do more, recovers easier, so it’s not that the performance bar slipping lower, it’s more about the increased difficulty to in maintaining the bar at the highest level. The important thing is that I can still take it and can keep going at a level that makes it worth doing.

-What changed with the passing of time; how were you able to adjust to the biological changes? Do you have special methods, like energy conservation during training sessions, games, and does this vast experience have any bearing on your game style?

I asked myself the same question over the years and have thought about it a lot. I feel that whatever I was able to accomplish at the “top” in my twenties (regardless of the actual results), I can execute 90-95 % of that even today. This doesn’t necessarily mean game performance on a given day, but in terms of the measurable aspects physically, mentally, like swimming, legwork, power and precision of shots, I can arrive at the same level of performance as before. Obviously, to stay at this level, I need to do more. When you are in your twenties, you feel you can do anything, and still easily recover the next day. You can give yourself a wider berth, although a real pro still tries to meet the expectations of a lifestyle that a pro career demands. I have to pay more attention to rest, nutrition, warm up, stretching, shoulder and other joint exercises. But if I keep these up, and for the moment I have time to do so daily, then this is something that is sustainable. I don’t have a series of exclusive exercises that no one else does, but while they do one of each set, I “collect” all the exercises in a series and execute all of them regularly, consistently even in my spare time. The goal is not to let time and fatigue catch up to me. It is hot on my heels, and I am escaping from the pursuit. And if I pace myself, the I can keep the distance. Of course, I’m aware that this game cannot be played eternally, but so far so good.

An athlete’s career is broken into longer time spans, with decisive characteristics. For example, an athlete who reaches the height of his performance at 20-21 will go on performing at this level until age 27-28; this may then be followed by another long period in which he can now then build on this experience as well. I feel like the current period (one of the many) that I am in, can also last for a prolonged period of time, and I am just at the beginning of this period. It could go on at this level for years, provided I don’t get injured and provided I keep up with everything I am currently doing.

Most older players rely on routine, experience, physical strength – whatever their major strengths are. Csaba Kiss for example, or my colleague Oliver Kovacs. They don’t train as long and as hard as in their youth, or even as much as they did a few years ago, because they subscribe to the accepted norm that at this age “less is more”. Hats off to those who have enough in their repertoire to be able to pull this off and can dip into their reserves to allow them to perform at a high level with less practice. This is not the case for me. I feel I can only meet expectations and have a decent chance at a good playing performance if I consistently train hard and do 100-120 % of the prescribed heavy workload (and even put in some overtime). Naturally, there may be interruptions due to a cold or a minor injury, however the intent is always to execute the maximum.

I feel the best when the training is tough, such as amidst a brief conditioning period, or if there is only one game on the weekend and I’m able to go into it having trained hard the entire week before. In other words, that’s when my chances are the best for optimal performance. I admire older players who are able to “contribute” substantially to their team’s game, simply by virtue of their intrinsic qualities. I would not be able to do it without the heavy-duty training, and I would not willingly put my name down to a performance where the conclusion was, “oh look, he is still hanging in there, but his best days are clearly over”.

-We shared the two goals you scored in the championship finale in the 9-9 game against UVSE. …I don’t think anyone can say that you no longer have what it takes.

-The game against UVSE is actually a great example. I remember each movement, the moment, the feeling I had; it was important for all of it to come together for it to have worked out. This is true for many similar situations. It is impossible for this to come together It cannot come together, it’s just impossible without physical conditioning. It may be possible to score a goal here or there or make some positive contribution moves, but things start slipping through the cracks, you fall apart mentally, lose your self-confidence, start sliding down a slippery slope, only to have it all crash and burn. This is a very strong personal conviction, and I can only say that it holds true for me.

-Sounds like you are making sure that the kind of nightmare you are describing doesn’t come true, for if it does, at that point you will be forced to quit?

Pretty much. That’s a certainty. Clearly my past and present performance is not up there with the performances of the all-time greats – I have no false illusions about this. But I do things well at my own the level I set myself, and I give my name to the game wholeheartedly. I am willing to do a lot to be the athlete Laci described; that was nice to hear. And if I wouldn’t be able to do it in this way, then except for the few who are very close to me, people would have a drastically altered different opinion of my work and fitness then what they have today. Understandably the performance would not be the same and I would have to however reluctantly a hard time accepting this. Then I would then move on to something else – and do that well. I try to lead by example, let my actions speak for themselves, and I would not like to damage my image by doing things with half steam.

Most of the older, more experienced players are in fact in quite a different situation from a physical standpoint. I’m the odd one out, I think that, rather than drawing the conclusion that every other experienced older player is doing this wrong. It works for them, and not for me, that’s all. I don’t think Csaba Kiss trained ten times per week this past year, and just yet look at his performance. Same goes for my teammate Kovacs. They obviously weighed what they still absolutely had to do versus what they did not need have to do at this point in the game to guarantee performance. In my case, my style of play, on top of everything else, commands a different approach, as I rely primarily on my speed and endurance - and you have to be in top shape for that.

-Did your role change within the team? How much do you play during a game? Do they play you less than 20 years ago?

- I used to play a lot in the best teams, at on many occasions throughout times all four quarters. I like not being subbed off during a game because it is a kind of an acknowledgement. It always felt great to play a lot and it still does.

-And is this how it is right now? Do you play a lot during a game?

- Yes, I do. My coaches in Kaposvar have trusted me throughout my career here and have given me a lot of play time. At times I do get tired; my physical state on a given day, the week’s accumulated work, rest, daily food intake, rise or fall of the barometer, and a whole bunch of other random factors can contribute on any given day. In that instance it makes no difference however much time I spend on the bench. For me it is generally worse to play after jumping in from the substitute bench then continuing to play from the water even if exhausted, albeit a bit tired. Generally, my opponent is also tired, and I know for a fact that I can take endure more, based on decades of personal experience. At that heightened energy level in the water I feel comfortable working through the tiredness. Of course, I oblige with the decisions of the coaching staff, and allow myself to be substituted if I am instructed to do so – in some instances even gratefully, such as after a swim off. Generally, I would much rather keep playing in a tired state than deal with the more (for me) negative effects of jumping in the water from the bench. It is important to keep in mind, that the ultimate goal is the team’s victory. The coach’s perspective is to secure the team’s victory, not necessarily to take into account a player’s individual preferences.

A rare occurrence, Ferenc Vindisch on the bench during a game

-Have you ever had a serious injury? Do you worry about this? Do you have a series of exercises designed to prevent injury?

-I have never had a serious repetitive-stress related injury. Of course, I have had to deal with a broken nose, a broken finger – cannot always prevent a wrong move, like having your hand in the way of a strong shot; this is the luck of the draw more than anything. In terms of joint related injuries, prevention is the key. Prevention is Much easier than having to treat a problem once it manifests crops up. I have been doing preventive exercises for decades now in the interest of injury prevention. Various exercises including. There was a time when I used a rubber band. Ever since I have been playing in Div I, I have paid continuous attention to shoulder injury prevention. If I hadn’t done this meticulously, I would have lost the agility mobility in my shoulders a long time ago – of that I am certain. The movements in water polo are very repetitive. Swimming and shooting inflict identical strain on the joints. This is why it’s really important to use counter exercises to balance this out. The rubber band is excellent for this purpose. It is worth noting that I am still using the same Gyuri Zala injury- prevention exercise sequence he taught us when he was dry land coach at Honved.

-How about nutrition? To what extent do you have to pay attention to this? How do you plan your meals and what do you eat? Do you have a list, do you count calories? What would you consider to be regular routine that you have adopted as a lifestyle?

-What I can say about nutrition – because the subject is of great interest to me – is that I know a lot more about it than I actually adhere to. :) Unfortunately…

However, I have a am fortunate to have a certain body type, so generally I am the only person who is aware that there is cause for dissatisfaction. My immediate circle does not notice if I gain a couple of kilos here and there. They have basically seen me as being the same for the past 25 years. They say “Feri is thin” and they don’t necessarily notice if he is “not that thin”.

What, and how much I eat, definitely makes a difference from the point of view of my health and it has an effect on my performance as an athlete. I don’t have any staunch beliefs that I swear by. I don’t follow a paleo diet, I’m neither vegan nor vegetarian, and I think believe that a well-balanced diet, and moderation in everything, is the way to go. I could go into detail, such as: it is important to eat lots of vegetables; I try to avoid sugar; I try to stay away from gluten - which is practically impossible because gluten is in everything.