FIVB Beach Volleyball U23 World Championship

Press release

Zemljak making a difference in Slovenian beach volleyball


Nejc Zemljak is a young, talented, eclectic beach volleyball enthusiast, who has a passion for his favourite sport both on and off the court

Lorca, Spain, May 11, 2015 - Passion for sport often leads volleyball and beach volleyball enthusiasts to unexpected destinations. While many sport lovers may quiver at the idea of facing new challenges, Slovenia’s Nejc Zemljak embraces taking the road less traveled and juggling with different projects.

The beach volleyball ace represented his country in the 2014-2016 CEV Beach Volleyball Continental Cup tournament held last weekend in the Spanish city of Lorca. He alternates his career as a player with contributions to grassroots programmes, and leading under-age national beach volleyball teams in international competitions. He also acts as the head of the Slovenian Beach Volleyball Commission. Zemljak was also recently appointed Secretary General of the Middle European Volleyball Zonal Association (MEVZA).

“I think that I probably do more than I should, but it all comes down to improving the game. That’s my goal. The better beach volleyball is, the better my situation is - if I want to look at it from a personal perspective. You just have to take it all as your own project,” said the 27-year-old athlete, who started playing the sport at an early age at school. “I never thought that I could play to represent my country, but you kind of go along with things - and things just happen.”

It takes a special kind of personality and strength of character to manage these different responsibilities and accomplishments. However, Zemljak believes he has just been at the right place at the right time. “I don’t think I ever thought about it that far ahead; when the opportunity knocks, you just grab it. I do not consider myself a “beach volleyball professional” or anything like that, because we are not making real money or a living with it. It is more of a lifestyle. The key aspects required to have success [in beach volleyball] are, first, to have determination and thrive on it; then, it comes down to three things: technique, physical skills and mental strength. These three elements go hand in hand, but first you need to really want to do it, you need to hang on to it, even if things don’t go the way you expected.”

Slovenia, Austria, Sweden, France... and Hawaii
“Yes, I spent five years in Hawaii.” The setter got a scholarship to attend college in the United States, and the dream Pacific island seemed “the perfect place.” When asked if Hawaii is really as “cool” as it sounds,
Zemljak says: “Yes, of course it is. I was very fortunate because I joined the volleyball team and soon my teammates, staff, coaches became my family. It was like a second home to me.” After his Hawaiian experience, Zemljak lived in Austria, played beach volleyball in Sweden and joined a club in France where he spent two years, before returning home. He also started taking on other tasks.

“I coach kids and I help the national teams. It is fun to be around kids because for them it is just about playing, it’s just about the sport, not about money or anything like that. You demand the same things for yourself than you do for others. But when you are a coach, not everyone has the same motivation.”

Since, Zemljak has taken on other roles. “It started with me being chosen to be the players’ representative in my federation; after that, my president asked me if I wanted to be the head of the Beach Volleyball Commission in Slovenia and in December I became responsible for Beach Volleyball in our country. It’s been a learning experience. I take the beach volleyball decisions in Slovenia and we have a lot of projects and many goals ahead of us. I don’t know how many of them will see the light, but for sure we are going to try”.

Dreaming big
Succeeding in many different fields doesn’t come without thinking big. Just days before his participation in the third round of the CEV
Beach Volleyball Continental Cup in Lorca, Nejc Zemljak was appointed Secretary General of the Middle European Volleyball Zonal Association.

“My first goal [as Secretary General] is try to maximise the opportunities for players to get points given out in regional competitions; we need to organise MEVZA events, and we also need to take care of the young players. Most youth and junior players only have one important tournament per year, so the goal is to create more competitions for them too. In addition to this, it is important for us to find new groups of interest for beach volleyball.”

Regardless of his activities, love of the sport is at the heart of what
Nejc Zemljak does. “Whether it is coaches, referees, players, fans or else, we need to become the central point to develop volleyball and beach volleyball in our societies; it doesn’t matter if you play only once in your life, or if you play recreational volleyball, or if you become the next Olympian, we need to be there for you.”
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