An athlete who is said to be one of the best Macedonian volleyball players of all time, Filip Despotovski is the creator of the greatest successes in the history of Macedonian volleyball. During his 20-year career, he secured two placements at the European Championship with his national team. He spent most of his career in Romania, but he also played in Russia, Estonia, Greece, Montenegro… He is currently back in Macedonia, where he plays for OK Strumica. His exceptional technique and positive energy make him a role model for many young players.
When and how did you start playing volleyball?
I didn’t start playing volleyball by accident. My dad has always forced me to play some sport, and I don’t know if it was his unfulfilled wish or if he was just directing me that way. Mom, too, Dad is a former athlete, and mom, of course, supported everything he did.
In the beginning, I was involved in swimming, water polo, and basketball. In the end, somewhere around the age of sixteen, I started training volleyball, and that’s how it happened that I still do it today and achieved all these great successes in my career.
Did you have a role model at the beginning of your career, and how important is that for young athletes?
Of course, I had a role model in my career, but it wasn’t the only one. Even when I was young, I picked up moves from anyone I thought was better than me and learned from their experience. I tried to imitate, as much as I could, all those great players and setters. All those players were my role models in a way. They helped me to perfect my technique and to upgrade some of their moves. Of course, the coaches were always there to guide me on what I should use and what not. When I was younger, I loved Samuele Papi. Then I wanted to be an outside hitter, but my career led me to play setter.
Role models are essential for young athletes. Everyone must have a role model, not only in sports but also in life. First, the family, mom and dad, as the biggest role models for walking through life. Also, in sports, the most important thing is to have a goal, to be able to train every day and to break barriers.
What things in life did you have to sacrifice to play volleyball at a professional level?
Anyone who wants to play sports professionally must make many sacrifices, mainly because sport happens when you are still young, from seventeen eighteen years old. I started playing sports professionally when I was seventeen, and now I’m thirty-seven. That in between, perhaps, are the most beautiful years, when you should live life, go outside with your friends and create a family.
There are a lot of sacrifices, you can’t socialize as much as your other friends do, and you go to a camp in the summer, not on vacation with your friends. Of course, there is always time for that, but that certain period of high school and college sacrifices the most. On the other hand, it is challenging if you are committed to professional sports, but it is mandatory to finish school. So when all that is combined, there is always no time for something, and sport must not suffer.
What is your greatest professional success?
There were many medals, cups, championships, and second and third places throughout my career. Of course, at the representative level with the Macedonian national team, we achieved a lot of success, and they are equally important to me. When you play professional sports, there is no separation. Sweat was shed for every medal and every success, so they are all equally dear to me.
As the biggest success, I will single out the fact that I did not have a single injury throughout my entire career. It’s all because I did everything according to the rules and lived according to the rules, I believe there was a lot of luck there, but it’s my greatest success that I didn’t suffer any pain while playing volleyball.
You are associated with one of the most controversial events in the history of volleyball. Could you tell us what actually happened there?
Yes, it’s true; although others were also dragging the net, when I did it, it went viral, and everyone was commenting and sharing it. I remember that event very well. I did not plan to deceive the judges or the Hungarian national team. The match was breaking, and our libero made a bad reception that went over the net. Their opposite Padar jumped up and hit the ball with all his power; I only thought that I should stop the point because he entered the 2:0 for us and made a reversal to 2:2. With that point, it would probably be 3:2 for Hungary in the end.
So all I had in my head was to end the point, not to deceive the Hungarian national team and the referee. In those two or three seconds, I saw how the second referee looked up to see how hard Padar was going to hit, and I was hidden from the first referee by my body, and at that moment, everything went through my head. Everything happened quickly, from trying to stop the point to hiding, then taking the point and finally winning. I had to pull the net very hard because Padar is a huge man, a violent attacker, so I had to pull the net a little harder, not just touch it.
What was the reaction from the fans?
I did it, nobody saw me, in Macedonia everyone crowned me, they said that I was the Macedonian Diego Maradona and there were a million different titles. Honestly, I wasn’t happy about it all. I did it unfairly; the referees were punished, one was punished for one year of European matches, and the other was punished for three or four months of refereeing European matches. I was not happy at all because they make money from it. And I was ashamed and guilty because they couldn’t work and earn because of something I did.
My family and I received many unpleasant messages on social networks. Some glorified me and said all kinds of nice things about me. However, there were many more bad messages.
After that, we played more games and won. Over time, I forgot about it. I know how and why I did it and that it was not malicious. Just because I did one unfair thing doesn’t make it good, and I can’t brag about it.
In the end, it brought some good things; our volleyball plans in Macedonia improved significantly. Judges still learn from that move. They play that video at every seminar to understand that they can be deceived and that they cannot see everything.
How has your volleyball career affected your private life?
Volleyball has only had a positive effect on my private life. My wife always followed me, and she was always with me. We were always together. I had her support and, of course, the support of my family, sister, mom, and dad. The only thing is that I spent many years outside my country, and some friendships were lost, but new ones appeared through sports. So my private life was only positively affected by playing volleyball professionally. Everyone loves athletes, and everyone looks at athletes differently.
What is the difference between playing for a club and playing for a national team?
Professionalism is always high on the club and national team levels. Satisfaction is different. When you play for a club, you defend the club’s colours, which is done under the contract. You try to respect the contract and make the best possible results.
On the other hand, playing for the national team and in the national jersey is a different feeling. In a sense, just because you’re there means you’re the best at your position in that country, and there’s no better player than you in your entire country. The support received from the entire nation and the entire country is a different and wonderful feeling.
What problems did you most often encounter during your career?
I didn’t have many problems throughout my career, maybe it was luck, and maybe I was the only one who found myself in those places where everything was okay. The only problem is that there is competition in sports; sometimes that competition can’t be healthy. Healthy competition is very important for a team to compete with each other, in training sessions primarily, and then it has to be implemented in the matches. So, the only problem I would single out is that the competition inside the teams was sometimes not healthy.
How important is the psyche for physical performance on the field?
Mental health is essential every day. Some players physically cannot continue their careers, and some players mentally cannot continue their careers. In my twenty-year career, I can’t say that I wanted to go to every single training. I used to not feel like it, but it is the psyche that should determine what the priority is. Psyche is important for matches and for making good decisions in crucial moments.
Does an athlete know when to put an end to his career?
I don’t know. I’m at a crossroads right now. I am 37 years old and came to a crossroads where I need to either end or extend my career. As I said in the previous question, sometimes the psyche won’t, and sometimes the body can’t. Fortunately, I didn’t have any injuries, so physically, I can still get ready, and my psyche is still listening.
I don’t think athletes ever know when it’s over. Life simply forces them, for me, for example, one of the most important things is that my son started elementary school. I took a little break and found myself at that crossroads where I had to decide whether to continue playing volleyball or end my playing career. Anyway, life forced me to be in my city where there is not so much volleyball.
So that it comes just somehow, it is felt. Some players know it’s over because of injuries, and some players can no longer mentally return to the field and maintain their level. These are some signs that his career is over.
What advice would you give to young people in the world of volleyball?
I would always recommend young people to play sports. Not because I’m an athlete but because sports change people for the better. From my personal experience, I have only positive things to say. So many friendships are made through sports, and so many other things contribute to life and happiness. Of course, through sports, some other things can be arranged and finances can be secured.
You can’t play volleyball forever. When you get older, it doesn’t look as wonderful as it did at twenty-five, but life connected to sports, with volleyball, is not easy to leave.
Everything happens spontaneously in life, but sport requires a lot of persistence and sacrifice.