From sandball to beach handball, the dazzling evolution of a beach sport that has nothing to envy indoors

Take a rectangle of sand 27 by 12 meters. Put two teams of four players for two 10-minute sets. If there is a tie at the end of a set, add a golden goal. And if at the end of the game the teams are one, shake things up with shots on goal. A pinch of aerial figures, a touch of kung-fu. And bam, this is beach handball! The what? Well, it’s handball on the sand. Do you find him crazy? Normal, this version outdoors was created at the same time as sandball, its more festive than competitive counterpart, honored by the French team that laid their hand on the gold side of the medals: the aptly named Barjots.

So if beach handball appeared in the second half of the 90s, then it was not the priority of the French handball federation, says Joëlle Demouge, current assistant coach of the Bleues in this young discipline. “The first international competition in which France took part, both women and men, was in 2017 in Montenegro for one Euro. The other nations had already started working, training players and participating in tournaments. “France has a good fifteen years behind this practice, while holding the Olympic titles for its two A-teams internal.

France, young volunteer in the world of the beach

“I remember that in 2017, when Mickaël Illes organized the French men’s team for the Euro in Zagreb, we had to do a maximum of ten beach handball sessions before the tournament”, also testifies Patrice Annonay, one of the pillars of the Italian team a former goalkeeper high level internal for twenty years and a resident of several D1 clubs. “The elite of international beach handball? No, we’re not there yet, exclaims Joëlle Demouge, who plays alongside Valérie Nicolas, the Bleues coach, while securing his position as CTS (technical and sports consultant) for the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region. . And this even if 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 matches for Euro 2023.
The French women’s beach handball team, this summer during their Euro 2023 qualifying matches. – FFHB

So far it is the only tricolor participation in a World Cup, since the men have never managed to win any qualification. “We are progressing undeniably from season to season,” analyzes Mickaël Illes, coach of the men’s team A and former top-level player in Angers, Nîmes and Aix. This year, in the Euro 2023 qualifiers, the Blues finished fifth. Enough to win a ticket for this European championship, which will take place next May in Nazaré (Portugal), as well as for the French women, who also qualified.

Clarisse Wild dreams of “doing only the beach”

“We have ambitions, continues the former high-level handball. Starting with almost nothing six years ago, the work is immense. Creating the two teams of France A, female and male first in 2016, then in the wake of the youth beach national teams, the discipline is being structured. “Beach only? I dream of it “, says Clarisse Wild (24), handball player in D1 in Saint-Amand-les-Eaux and beach player since the beginning of her history in France.

But France, which last week organized its first Territorial Cup in Malo-les-Bains (North), is not here yet. For Mickaël Illes, the dynamic must now take place at the regional and club level: “It is the leagues that have the task of forming their team, it is up to them to create tournaments to identify the players and motivate the troops”.

The precious owners Patrice Annonay and Benjamin Gallego

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

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

During his long and successful professional career as an indoor handball player, Patrice Annonay was most notably Nikola Karabatic's teammate at PSG.
During his long and successful professional career as an indoor handball player, Patrice Annonay was most notably Nikola Karabatic’s teammate at PSG. – Urbano / Sportida / SIPA

The desire to appear in the Olympics

The indoor national team, Clarisse Wild, had put it aside after some internships as cadets. “I gave up my childhood dream of being in the France team because I was not in tune with the state of mind I was in internal. As soon as I put on the blue swimsuit on the beach, I felt the same excitement again. And then she sings the Marseillaise during competitions I always get tears in my eyes. The 24-year-old manager of the beach handball team assures us: she intends to wear the colors of France for as long as possible. Maybe she too at the Olympics.

Because beach handball has Olympic ambitions. “All the criteria are met: we have an ideal match format, a spectacular game, teams from five continents, and it’s a real spectacle with music and a beach atmosphere, summarizes Mickaël Illes. And then all that remains is to get organized with the beach volleyball tournament, which is already scheduled for the Olympic Games. The sand structure and the stands are already 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 could enchant the IOC for Los Angeles in 2028.” The beach is a summer sport, funattractive, which also goes very well in video and photos ”, Joëlle Demouge abounds.

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

Always in the shade of the interior

But at the moment, beach handball is still growing in the shadow ofinternal. To particularly detect young players. “We rely heavily on the federal performance course. We recruit young people in national indoor internships. We don’t have a specific sector specific for beach handball ”, explains Joëlle Demouge. But why not think about it one day. Clarisse Wild foresees it well, she who does not see herself in a long indoor career. “It would be too difficult to get to 35,” she says. I hope to be able to install the beach in my daily life for years to come. The clubs are in the process of being formed. I’ll see when I can get my license and maybe do a workout or two on the beach in addition to handball. I also have to discuss this with my club. I cannot pursue my career as a 100% professional handball player by playing on the beach all year round. “

Hand clubs internal are they so hard to convince? For Euro 2023 we will have to negotiate with the clubs as it will take place from 23 to 28 May. For women, it falls on a day of championship D1 and D2, it’s not easy “, breathes Joëlle Demouge. Because Patrice Annonay sums it up well:” For professional player clubs, these are additional competitions in an already packed calendar. And then , some still haven’t quite figured out what the beach could bring tointernal “.

“We do not ban a beer at the end of the day”

Explosiveness, cardio, fake skills, finer vision of the game, agility, extension … So many skills that beach handball requires and develops, almost without fear of getting hurt. “In terms of proprioception, it’s great. I have already seen players with laced ankles at the beginning of the competition who finished it without, assures Mickaël Illes. Sand is not at all traumatic for the joints. Only people prone to groin pain and tears take risks with elusive supports. But last year in the Euro, I returned home with zero injuries. “The bathing season is very busy, but I play more relaxed, says Clarisse Wild. I put much more fun, probably because it gives me a change of scenery while playing handball, which is my passion before it is my job. “

Fair play, friendliness and good humor are the qualifications that emerge regularly to characterize this more reserved outdoor version of handball. “Attention, I take the beach very seriously”, the handball player points out. “The players who come to the sand are competitors and take the field to win,” confirms Mickaël Illes. “But the atmosphere is much more festive than in a competition internal classic. We don’t ban a beer at the end of the day, ”she adds with a laugh. Does this mean that once you’ve tasted it, you can’t do without it anymore?

Leave a Comment