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Smartly designed handballs boost search for future EHF EURO stars

NEWS: Focusing on initiatives to encourage more people to start playing handball, the European Handball Federation’s first ‘Grassroots Market’ took place on the fringes of EHF EURO 2018 on Saturday

Goalcha aims to increase the accessibility of handball. Photo: Anze Malovrh / Kolektiff Images

While the Women’s EHF EURO 2018 is all about the best players and the biggest stars of women’s handball, the European Handball Federation is also using the opportunity to shed light on the grassroots of the sport.

How to encourage more people, of any age, to pick up handball and try playing the game, in any form?

That was one of the main questions at the inaugural ‘Grassroots Market’, which took place in the FFHB’s Maison du Handball in Creteil. It was the first time the EHF staged a ‘market’ like this.

Coaches and representatives from clubs and federations throughout Europe attended various presentations and tried out the game themselves using different, smartly designed handballs, aimed at making the game easier to learn and more attractive to kids.

One appealing example is Goalcha, a street version of handball. The game is played with an adapted ball, which is squeezable as it is not inflated. That makes it earlier to grip it and to handle it.

“If a five-year-old has to catch a normal handball but it hits him in the face, he doesn’t like that and he probably will never play the game again. This ball doesn’t hurt,” said Ole Bruun Andersen, one of the founders of the Goalcha project in 2009.

Also, the Goalcha ball doesn’t bounce, but that is intentionally as it prevents kids from dribbling and forces them to passing to a teammate instead.

“You cannot play handball by yourself. Communication is a very important part of handball, you are part of a team,” Andersen said.

Started in Denmark, Goalcha has meanwhile spread over Europe, and beyond.

“Goalcha is about inclusion, everyone can take part,” Andersen said. “There is no competition, it completely focuses on fun. It’s flexible and uncomplicated.”

Goalcha can be played as by just juggling with the ball and doing tricks in order to improve hand-eye coordination. Another option is to play a real game, three-against-three of four-against-four, but with just one goal. Each team swaps for defence and attack with each show on goal.

“Look at street basketball, they play for one basket. If you take way the middle field, you create intensity,” Andersen explained. “There are no coaches, no referees, no rules. The players have to agree themselves on them, but body contact is not permitted.”

Goalcha is aiming for 300 to 500 playing grounds to be opened in Denmark, the home base of Goalcha. The project, however, has already found its way to countries like the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Kenya, Tanzania and China as well.

Another creative innovation to get more kids involved in the sport was presented by Norwegian company Playfinity, which combines technology and sport to get more young kids involved in handball.

The initial idea came from five dads on a mission to get more people actively playing.

“Kids just want to have fun. You don’t have to tell them what to do, but you can encourage them,” says Henrik Stub Aune, one of Playfinity’s founders.

That is exactly what the company tries to do with a specially prepared handball, which includes a chip that connects to the corresponding app on a mobile phone or tablet. The system registers almost everything that can be measured inside a ball: speed, air time, bounces, even if it’s being caught or not.

The app enables a coach to easily follow all players during a training session as the tracking data will immediately show up on his phone or tablet. But it’s also suitable for individual training.

“It’s not just a tool for handball players, it’s a tool for every kid,” Stub Aune said. “Even if you are not in the same place, you can compare your stats with others and challenge them.”

Rolling out in Norway now and being tested Austria, Playfinity has already won an award for best health and fitness product of the year 2018.

Maybe a future EHF EURO star will have begun her career by throwing around Goalcha or Playfinity balls.

written by Eric Willemsen / ts