Urban Toman Interview

Urban started his volleyball journey when he was nine years old. His professional career took off only six years later as he began to train with the OK Žirovnica senior team. At the age of nineteen, he debuted for the national team. He played in some of the most prestigious competitions as World Championship, the European Championship, and the World League Il, where his team won first place and qualified for the first division. Urban played for Triglav Kranj, Giesen Grizzlys, United Volleys from Frankfurt, and ACH Volley from  Ljubljana. Currently, he is representing Montenegrin champion Budva Volley. 

In addition to being a good volleyball player, he also has another passion, which is marketing. He is currently studying at the Faculty of Marketing DOBA. Around one year ago, he started his project, VolleyGuide, to entertain volleyball fans and help young players who want to play volleyball professionally. 

At what age and how did you realize that you wanted to play volleyball professionally?

The story began in my childhood when I started to train volleyball when I was around nine. My first steps began in OK Žirovnica. I was inspired by my cousin, who is four years older than me, and he was the first in our family who become involved in volleyball. He was my inspiration, and that is how everything started. 

I am unsure at what exact age I realized I wanted to play volleyball professionally. Although I know it was when I learned that sports could be played professionally. Volleyball was something I loved. At that time, I decided to do anything to make it. 

How does it feel to be among Slovenia’s best players and play in the national team jersey?

It is a special feeling whenever you represent your national team and your country. When you know that you are among the best players in your country, it feels like a privilege. It is hard to describe it with words. You feel proud of yourself and your country. 

How do you predict the future of the Slovenian national team? Do you think you will play for them again?

The future of the Slovenian national team is, I think, really bright. Volleyball in Slovenia is developing. With its previous achievements, medals in European Championship, and fourth place in World Championship, the national team made not one but a few steps further. 

That inspired a lot of young people to start playing volleyball in Slovenia. In addition, clubs are doing a really good job developing young players and the youth national team. They are achieving great results. Of course, we currently have, in my opinion, one of the best players in the world Rok Možič.

As for the second question, that is a tough one. I want to play, but due to my busy schedule, and my goals outside of volleyball, I don’t know if I can manage it. If I could, I would say yes to the national team, but if I couldn’t give my full attention, I would decline. 

Do you have a role model you look up to?

When I was younger, a role model for me was my cousin. He was such an inspiration to me, as I already said. We grew up together; I was younger than him, so that is why I developed quicker. I wanted to be as good as him, just the way he approached the game and how professionally he acted; it was satisfying to watch. 

Today, I don’t have a role model. I look up to nobody. I like to compare myself only to myself every day; I want to be a little bit better than yesterday. That is my everyday goal. As you get older, the improvement steps get smaller, so it is really important to look up to yourself. 

In addition to volleyball, you also graduated from the Faculty of Marketing; why did you choose marketing?

Yes, hopefully, next year, I will graduate. I have just a few more exams left. 

I am not sure why I choose marketing. I knew that marketing was important in sports, but I didn’t understand what marketing was until I signed up for university. I went to university without any knowledge, I had never focused on marketing before, so it was completely new. 

At first, it wasn’t interesting; the first year was boring. We didn’t learn anything important, but after, especially when I was injured and rested for longer periods, I started learning by myself in real cases how marketing works. At university, we didn’t learn practical stuff, but only the bigger picture; for me, it wasn’t interesting. I told myself that I will learn everything from the beginning, especially websites. That was interesting to me, so I focused on it much more

Urban Toman
Photo: ACH Volley: Alen Hadzic

The first project you are currently working on is the Volleyguide website; what is its purpose?

There is an interesting story behind the Volleyguide website. It started as a school project; at first, it wasn’t serious. I never thought that it would grow so fast. I just wanted to make a website about volleyball and learn through it. I was learning marketing stuff and using sites properly. That is how it began: I uploaded a couple of blogs, SEO started working, and I got my first visitors. It was an amazing feeling. Everything visual you see on VolleyGuide related is done by me, text wise I have some helpers because it is very time-consuming.

After that, I just posted more and more. People enjoyed that content. I said maybe I could make something big out of it. I became so motivated; the website grows pretty fast. It is ten months old, and we have 5000 visitors per month. You feel pleasure and satisfaction when people enjoy reading your content

I am figuring out that marketing is not just selling something to people. It is about giving value to your audience. And I believe success can be achieved only in that way. Customers need to get quality in return when they buy your product. It is simple math.

The main purpose of the Volleyguide is to connect volleyball players and fans, share volleyball content from the perspective of professional athletes, and provide readers with quality interviews, tips, training, and much more. I have some plans for next year, but they will remain a secret for now. 

You plan to open a sports marketing agency; how did you come up with that idea?

It is true next year or in two years; I plan to start my own sports marketing agency. The idea for that occurred to me when I was working on Volleyguide. It will focus on creative marketing strategies to help other sports companies and clubs expand their image and brand. I also consider working with athletes if it will make sense.

How much time does your job, marketing, take up?

Volleyball is still my first job; marketing is, I would say, my hobby for now. I am still learning, but I am very motivated. When you are learning new skills, it takes a lot of time. It probably takes me eight, maybe nine hours every day. Everything together is just a hustle. Volleyball can be physically exhausting sometimes when working, and learning takes a lot of mental energy; it is really hard. However, I know it will be awarded. 

How do you manage to balance your two professional careers?

It is pure passion. It would be possible for most people, but if you are passionate about something, you can do more than you can imagine. That is the right reason for still doing it. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t be doing it. 

What is the key to a good organization?

The key to good organization, for me, is communication. It also needs a good leader who can take responsibility for wins and losses and deal with different types of characters. A good leader needs to get the maximum from anybody. Not every person is the same. That applies to both business and sports. 

Which volleyball success would you single out as the most important?

The most important thing for me is that I managed to play volleyball professionally. It was my first dream, and I fulfilled it. Not many people can say that they made it professionally in something they love and dreamt about as a kid. 

The second thing is making it to the national team and representing my country in prestigious competitions; for me, that is a big achievement. Also, the thing I still remember, and am still so proud of, is signing my first contract abroad. 

Teamwise it is the first place in World Leauge, second division. It was my biggest achievement, which I am still so proud of. 

What kind of problems have you encountered most often during your career?

Every player has hard times in their career, and every athlete has ups and downs. I am not an exception. Everything went perfectly for me until I came to the national team. Before that, I was always one of the main players, but when I went to the national team, that wasn’t the case anymore. I wasn’t used to it, so adapting was really hard.

They had, and still have older players who always stick together in the national team, and younger guys need to listen. For me, that was tough to accept, and at that time, I had problems with my performance. I was under pressure, and I cared too much about that. Honestly, it was mostly on me because I was so self-conscious. I should react; differently; I was too young and not prepared for all of that. I didn’t feel good, I loved playing for the national team and was proud, but sometimes, outside of the court, I didn’t feel well. That was the first bigger problem I met in my career. 

The second problem was injuries. I got my first serious injury when I was in the national team. We were in Italy, where we were preparing for Olympic qualifications. I sprained my ankle pretty badly; some of my ligaments were torn. I had a contract with Frankfurt at that time. The injury was severe, and I hoped to recover by the time of the European championship. Still, after a long thought, I decided to leave the national team behind and go to rehabilitation in Germany. 

What is the libero in volleyball Photo: @Corinna Seibert
Urban Toman defence Photo: @Corinna Seibert

How did the team react?

The players and the national team’s coach didn’t like that; I told them my reasons. Honestly, it was a really hard decision, but to this day, I think it was good. If you ask me today if that was a good thing to do, from the standpoint of the national team, probably no. If I stayed with the national team until they saw that I was not able to play, I would probably still be part of the national team today. 

At that time, I was angry that they didn’t call me, but I made peace with it with time. Ultimately, it is their choice, I did nothing wrong, and I still stand behind it. 

After that, I had a great season in Germany and signed a contract with Ljubljana. Unfortunately, the injuries continued. I got Inguinal Hernia at the beginning of the preparations and had to play all season with that. After it, I had surgery, and it was mentally the hardest thing to get through. Luckily, I found inspiration in marketing and making websites and this is how I spent my time at home. I learned new things and new skills and discovered my new passion. There is always something good in bad situations. 

How was your recovery after the operation, and what gave you the strength to get back on the court?

Recovery after the operation lasted for three months, and I started training again. Meanwhile, I did nothing besides learning and university stuff. When you have surgery on the stomach or groin area, you need mostly to rest. It is so painful you can’t do anything. For me, it was frustrating; as an athlete, I was used to moving a lot. 

As soon as I recovered, I started taking short walks and doing simple, basic exercises. Improving core strength and getting into the previous form that I had before. The only positive thing was that I had a contract with Ljubljana for two seasons which made me feel safer from a financial standpoint. Because of my injuries, they decided to bring a new libero. They offered me that I could go and they would pay me the difference from my salary in my new club. 

Even due to all of that problems, I had an offer from Galati in Romania. I was one hundred percent sure I would go there, everything was ready, and I was waiting for the contract. Of course, they didn’t send the contract, and I was getting even more nervous. I mean, I could stay in Ljubljana, but I didn’t want to sit out the whole season.

What happened after?

With my manager, I searched for new opportunities, and OK Budva was interested in taking me. We agreed to one year deal, and everything was okay for some time. 

When I signed up for Budva, the season started a little later than usual, and the team was great. There were some more experienced players like Filip Despotovski, Blažo Milić, and Aleksander Gmitrović, but other players were young. Looking at the average age of players, we were younger than other teams. It was a relief to finally get into a team where I got along with everybody. I was excited about the season; we also represented the team in the Champions League qualification, where we lost but showed good character. 

Right after European matches, the problems occurred again. One day after the last game, I got a fever, and my stomach was painful. I didn’t think that was bad until I told my teammate. He told me that I needed to see a doctor immediately because it may be appendix inflammation. At that moment, I started panicking a little. I already had one surgery half a year ago, and I was afraid I would have to go through it again. 

I called the coach and assistant coach, who drove me to the hospital. Unfortunately, my teammate was correct; it was appendix inflammation. I needed to do emergency surgery. Again the process of recovery was the same. Luckily the club gave me more spare time; they sent me home to finish the recovery. It was much easier for me there because I had my family and friends by my side. 

At least the season ended as planned, we won both cup and league titles, and the club renewed my contract for one more season.

Urban Toman Photo CEV
Urban Toman Photo CEV

What drives you to work so hard?

It is a passion for the things I do. I have a passion for volleyball; I have a passion for marketing. Those are the main things driving me to get better every day. Until I feel motivated and satisfied, I will go in this direction. 

Considering that you have many obligations daily, do you manage to find time for yourself?

Right now, it is hard to find time for myself, but I still manage to do it somehow. I have Sundays, sometimes, and Saturdays free. I must rest my body and mind from a long week of training, games, and work. 

Usually, I call my friend and family; I love to spend some time talking to them on the phone. Also, I go for coffee with my teammates and friends here. I liked to party more in previous years, but today that is not the case. Now I think that is time-consuming, and I don’t feel like doing it anymore that much. 

What are your goals for the next five years?

As for volleyball, I have one goal, to enjoy it. Honestly, I don’t see myself playing five years from now, at least not professionally. (But who knows) As for business, I plan to open a marketing agency in the next two years, and if everything goes to my plan, it should expand to a decent level in five years. So I could work with big companies and clients by that time. 

With Volleyguide, I want to expand it as well. Opportunities are limitless.

Do you have any advice for young people who want to play volleyball professionally and study?

The most important thing is to go to the university they will enjoy. If you don’t enjoy university, it will eventually get boring, and it will be hard to stay focused. The moment kids start truly enjoying their university is when they start learning. Sometimes it is hard to manage both things, but If you love it, everything is possible. 

When you reflect on your volleyball career, what things would you change?

I wouldn’t change a thing. All things went in the right direction, I made mistakes, and I probably made bad decisions, but I wouldn’t change anything. You need to learn from bad things, accept the bad choices you made, and get out of it a valuable lesson. I believe the road to great things is a process.

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