As Olympic fever comes to a close, Team GB and Britain as a whole can feel very proud. The London 2012 Games has been a great success and huge credit must be given to all those involved, from the athletes to the Games Makers and everyone in between. One particular highlight of the Olympic Games has been how previously unknown sports have captured the hearts and imaginations of our nation!
One such sport was Handball. Referred to as a ‘sleeper sport’ in this country, Handball has a very niche existence. Handball in many European and North African countries is the national sport. So, for these Games the aim of Team GB Handball wasn’t to finish in a medal position (although that would have been amazing!) but to ‘Inspire A Generation’ and get more people involved with handball. As GB captain, Bobby White, told BBC Radio Northampton, “We might not have the ability to compete with these teams properly yet but in a few years we definitely will be”
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Mark Hawkins, who was part of Team GB’s Handball Olympic squad and Matt Lee, an aspiring Handball Olympian who is at the Games as part of the Olympic Ambitions Programme to discuss all things Olympic Handball…
(1) How long have you been playing Handball and how long have you been involved with GB Handball?
MH: I have been playing Handball for 4 and a half years, been involved with GB the whole time.
ML: I’ve been playing Handball for just over 5 years now. I used to play basketball, but got into the sport through a talent ID programme advertised on TV, similar to the ‘Sporting Giants’ campaign launched shortly afterwards by Sir Steve Redgrave.
(2) What has your journey been like from initially taking up the sport to representing GB Handball internationally?
MH: I was a ‘special’ case fast tracked straight to the national team through the UK sport talent transfer program ‘Sporting Giants’
ML: I’ve had quite a different journey to the ones of many of the lads who made the Olympic squad, because I also stayed in full-time education alongside training. After the talent ID trials in 2007, I joined Ruislip Eagles HC, and played for them for 2 seasons. The I moved up to Liverpool, to study Sport Science at LJMU and played for 2 seasons with Liverpool HC, before last season switching clubs to play for Salford HC, and enjoyed a pretty successful season, winning the league undefeated and coming runners up in the cup.
I’ve only recently been involved in the senior squad, after representing GB U21s and England U23s during 2010-2011. I was invited to a trial camp with them during a tournament in April 2012, when I got my first cap against Tunisia. After that I was put on the long squad list, and selected to go on the Olympic Preparation Camp, the first leg being a fortnight of S&C training in the Serbian mountains of Kopaonik. Unfortunately I didn’t make it past the first cuts, but I was a great experience in itself to be part of the preparations.
(3) What has your training, particularly in getting ready for the London 2012 Olympics, been constructed around?
MH: Largely full time daily training with a club team in Europe for the last 3 years
ML: I’ve been training with my club Salford 3 times a week. During the preparation camp, the first 2 weeks were focussed on S&C. So we worked closely with our S&C coach, training 2-3 times a day, interval training, weights sessions, core and shoulder stability work. After those first two weeks the focus in training turned more handball specific, working on set moves etc., still with some emphasis on conditioning alongside.
(4) In terms of nutrition (and supplementation) is there anything specific to Handball?
MH: Not particularly, from January this year I re-worked my diet so I got everything I needed from nutrition instead of having to take additional supplements due to risks in drug testing etc.
ML: I don’t know if there’s anything specific to handballers. I think a lot of the time it’s going to depend on preference, the time of the season and the training goals.
(5) What sort of Sport Science support is involved? What role does Sport Science have in terms of aiding and improving your performance?
MH: A great deal in handball, as players require needs from all areas, obviously related to injury and strength and conditioning there is a great deal of biomechanical information and the two work very closely together. Nutritionists play a key role with physios and S&C coaches to get the right benefits and also performance analysis is widely used to reflect on performance and scout opponents.
ML: The support staff on camps usually includes the coaches who take footage from training and matches for performance analysis; our S&C coach, who also works with players on their biomechanics, nutrition and psychology (bit an all-rounder!); our physiotherapist, who is crucial given the contact element of the sport; and our team manager.
(6) The Olympics, rightfully so, is the greatest sporting show on Earth. As someone fortunate enough to be there, how does it feel that all the hard-work has paid off?
MH: It’s incredible, every tough day and training session and all the times you asked yourself why you were doing it were completely worth it!
(7) From an athlete’s point of view, what have been your experiences and feelings so far? What is the atmosphere like around Team GB?
MH: It’s been amazing for us and Team GB as a whole has had a really great atmosphere, everybody is hugely supportive of each other and it’s made for a great, bigger team atmosphere.
ML: I wasn’t actually selected as part of the final 14, but I have still been able to experience the Olympics through the TeamGB Olympic Ambitions programme, organised by the BOA. The programme is for athletes aspiring for future summer and winter Olympics games, and provided us with an opportunity to experience what it would be like to be an athlete and an Olympic Games.
(8) With Team GB doing so well can you see the legacy of the London 2012 games inspire the British public to embrace sport?
MH: Absolutely, the amount of great public feeling and national pride is visible and the amount of people wanting to take up sports and being inspired to play is beyond what anyone could have expected, I hope that the feeling is capitalised on!!
ML: I think they already have! Right from the opening ceremony there’s been a real sense of national pride, the crowds at all the events have been amazing, getting behind all of our teams. It’s been a fantastic 2 weeks for the smaller sports such as ours to get nationwide coverage and show the British public what they’ve been missing out on all these years! Many people have been enquiring about where to play and how to start up clubs, and I imagine it’s the same with other sports. We just need to make sure we capitalise on the interest.
(9) Unfortunately Team GB men’s Handball didn’t qualify from the group stage, but participation in these games was more about exposure for Handball. With Handball warming the hearts of the nation, what do you hope to be the legacy for Handball in this country?
MH: More people playing and continued exposure, we have got well in the minds of the nation but we need to capitalise on it immediately and keep the momentum building, I hope it gets more kids playing regularly and then in 10-15 years time we have teams competing in major tournaments and qualifying by right much more frequently
ML: I want to see more people getting into the sport, from grassroots levels, in schools, right the way up to elite level. But we need the financial support in place for that, which will be up to the authorities that control the funding, after the Olympic is over. But it would be fantastic to see new clubs forming all around the UK (and some already have since the beginning of the Games!). I look forward to the day when we see a weekly Match of The Day for handball!
(10)….And finally, what is next for you and GB Handball?
MH: For me I am assessing club options for next season and for the national team we start with Euro 2016 qualifiers in October!
ML: After the Olympics the focus will turn again to European Championship qualifiers in October. For me, I’ve just got to focus on my training, and get to a level where I can become a regular squad member and be part of those qualifiers.
I would like to thank Mark Hawkins and Matt Lee for taking the time to speak with me. Also, I’d like to thank Matt again for making this opportunity possible. Team GB Handball may not have won a medal, but in getting the sport in the hearts and minds of the nation, they can take great glory from this.
I’m sure everyone has thoroughly enjoyed the past few weeks and discovered events or role models they weren’t previously aware of. Now we look forward to a great, and hopefully just as successful, Paralympics Games.
Thanks for reading!
Mubz (follow on twitter @MubzKamaluddin)