From sandball to beach handball, the surprising evolution of a beach sport that has no indoor envy

Take a rectangle of sand 27 by 12 meters. Put two teams of four players in it for two sets of 10 minutes. If at the end of a set there is a tie, add a golden goal. And when at the end of the game, the teams are only one apart, stir things up with shots on goal. A pinch of aerial figures, a touch of kung-fu. And bam, that’s beach handball! What? Well, it’s sand handball. Are you crazy about that? Normal, this version outside created at the same time as sandball, the more festive than the competitive counterpart, honored by the French team that put the hand on the golden side of the medals: the aptly named Barjots.

When beach handball appeared in the second half of the 1990s, it was not the priority of the French Handball Federation at that time, said Joëlle Demouge, current assistant coach of the Bleues in this young discipline. “The first international competition in which France participated, women and men, was in 2017 in Montenegro for a Euro. Other countries have already started working, training players and participating in tournaments. “The France is a good fifteen years behind this practice, as it holds Olympic titles for its two A teams. inside.

France, a young volunteer in the beach world

“I remember that in 2017, when Mickaël Illes set up the French men’s team for the Euro in Zagreb, we had to do a maximum of ten beach handball sessions before the tournament”, confirms Patrice Annonay, a pillar of the tricolor collective, also a former high-level goalkeeper of inside for twenty years and a resident of many D1 clubs. “The elite of international beach handball? No, we are not there yet, exclaimed Joëlle Demouge, who played alongside Valérie Nicolas, the coach of Les Bleues, while securing her position as CTS (technical and sports adviser) for the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region. . And this although in 2017, from our first Euro, we qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

The French women's beach handball team, this summer during the qualifying match for Euro 2023.
The French women’s beach handball team, this summer during the qualifying match for Euro 2023. – FFHB

This is the only tricolor participation in a World Cup so far, as the men have yet to win any qualifiers. “There is no denying that we are improving every season”, analyzed Mickaël Illes, coach of the men’s A team and former high-level player in Angers, Nîmes and Aix. This year, in the qualification for Euro 2023, the Blues ranked fifth. Enough to win a ticket for this European championship, which will take place next May in Nazaré (Portugal), like the French women, also qualified.

Clarisse Wild dreams of “just doing the beach”

“We have ambitions, continues the former high-level handball player. Starting almost six years ago, the work is huge. By first creating in 2016 the two France A teams, women and man, then after the national youth beach teams, the discipline is in the process of being organized. “Just the beach? I dream of it,” said Clarisse Wild (24), D1 handball player at Saint -Amand-les-Eaux, and beach player since the beginning of his story in France.

But France, which just organized the first Territorial Cup last week in Malo-les-Bains (North), is not there yet. For Mickaël Illes, the dynamic must take place at regional and club level: “These are the leagues in charge of setting up their team, it is up to them to create tournaments to find players and motivate the troops”.

Dear owners Patrice Annonay and Benjamin Gallego

Absent from this summer’s rallies, Patrice Annonay, retired from the field inside in 2021, intends to continue his adventure in blue: “My retraining project took me a long time this year, but the door to the French beach team is not closed”. Quite the opposite of the one who was its first captain.

“His profile and that of Benjamin Gallego [pivot de l’USAM Nîmes], a little injured this summer, is very important to the group, analyzes the French coach Mickaël Illes. The team is enthusiastic, with some professionals. They are full of energy and good will, they have been playing on the beach for years thanks to the youth sector, but they lack experience. Patrice and Benjamin brought fiber to the necessary high national level. »

During his long and successful professional career as an indoor handball player, Patrice Annonay was mainly a teammate of Nikola Karabatic at PSG.
During his long and successful professional career as an indoor handball player, Patrice Annonay was mainly a teammate of Nikola Karabatic at PSG. – Urbanc/Sportida/SIPA

The desire to appear in the Olympics

The national indoor team, Clarisse Wild rejected it after a few internships as cadets. “I gave up my childhood dream of being in the French team because I wasn’t in the right state of mind inside. When I put on the blue swimsuit on the beach, I felt the same excitement again. And then sing the Marseillaise during competitions, it always brings tears to my eyes. The 24-year-old executive of the beach handball team assured us: he intends to wear the colors of France as much as possible. Maybe even the Olympics.

Because beach handball has Olympic ambitions. “All the criteria are fulfilled: we have an ideal game format, unique game, teams from five continents, and it’s a real show with music and a beach atmosphere, Mickaël summed up Illes. And then, you just have to organize the beach volleyball tournament, which is already in the program of the Olympic Games. The structure of the sand and the stands have been planned. “If in 2024 in Paris, beach handball will only have the right to ” a showcase “, according to the coach of the men’s team, the discipline will attract the IOC for Los Angeles in 2028. “The beach is a summer sport, funattractive, which is also good for video and photography”, says Joëlle Demouge.

Clarisse Wild, here in January 2021 in the Plan de Cuques jersey, during an elite indoor handball match in Mérignac.
Clarisse Wild, here in January 2021 in the Plan de Cuques jersey, during an elite indoor handball match in Mérignac. – Daniel Vaquero/SIPA

Still in the shadows inside

But for now, beach handball continues to grow in the shadow ofinside. To know the young players especially. “We rely heavily on the federal performance course. We recruit young people in national internships internally. We do not have a specific industry specific to beach handball,” explained Joëlle Demouge. But why who doesn’t think about it one day. Clarisse Wild thinks about it, she who doesn’t see herself in a long indoor career. “It’s very difficult to go to 35,” she said. I hope to be- install the beach in my daily life for years to come. Clubs are built. I’ll see when I get a license and maybe do a training session or two on the beach in addition to handball. I also need to discuss this with my club. I cannot continue my career as a pro handball player 100% by playing on the beach all year round. »

Clubs in hand inside is it so hard to convince them? “For Euro 2023, we have to negotiate with the clubs because it will take place from May 23 to 28. For women, it will fall on the day of the championship of D1 and D2, it will not be easy,” breathed Joëlle Demouge. Because Patrice Annonay sums it up well: “For clubs of pro players, these are additional competitions in a busy calendar. And then, some have not fully understood what to bring to the beachinside “.

“We don’t ban a beer at the end of the day”

Explosive, cardio, feint qualities, better vision of the game, agility, extension… There are so many skills that are needed and developed in beach handball, almost without fear of injury. “In terms of proprioception, it’s good. I’ve seen players with strapped ankles at the start of the competition who finished it without, assures Mickaël Illes. The sand is never traumatic for the joints. Only people who it’s easy to get sprains and tears at the risk of giving up supports. But last year at the Euros, I came home without any injuries. “The weather at the beach is very busy but I play more relaxed, said Clarisse Wild. I put more fun, maybe because it gives me a change of scenery while playing handball, which is my passion before my job. »

Fair play, friendliness and good humor are qualifications that often appear to identify this more confidential outdoor version of handball. “Be careful, I take the beach seriously”, specified the handball player. “The players who go to the sand are competitors and they enter the field to win,” confirmed Mickaël Illes. “But the atmosphere is more festive than a competition inside classic. We don’t ban one beer at the end of the day,” he added with a laugh. Does this mean that once you’ve tasted it, you can’t live without it?

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