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

Take a 27 by 12 meter rectangle of sand. Put two teams of four players in it for two sets of 10 minutes. If there is a tie at the end of a set, add a golden goal. And if at the end of the match, the teams are one apiece, mix things up with shots on goal. A touch of aerial figures, a touch of kung-fu. And bam, that’s beach handball! What the ? Well, it’s sand handball. Does that sound crazy to you? Naturally, this version Outdoor it was created at the same time as sandball, its more festive than competitive counterpart, honored by the French team that tipped its hand on the golden side of the medals: the aptly named Barjots.

If beach handball therefore appeared in the second half of the 1990s, it was not the priority of the French Handball Federation at the time, reports Joëlle Demouge, the current assistant coach of the Bleues in this young discipline. “The first international competition that France participated in, both women and men, was in 2017 in Montenegro for a Euro. The other nations have already started working, training players and participating in tournaments. “France is 15 years behind this practice, while holding the Olympic titles for its two A teams. for interior.

France, a young volunteer in the world of beaches

“I remember that in 2017, when Mickaël Illes established the French men’s team for the Euros in Zagreb, we had to do a maximum of ten sessions of handball on the beach before the tournament”, also confesses Patrice Annonay, one of the pillars of the tricolor team. a former high-level goalkeeper in for interior 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 Les Bleues coach Valérie Nicolas while securing the post of CTS (technical and sports advisor) for the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region. . And this even if in 2017, from our first Euro, we qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

France's women's beach handball team this summer during Euro 2023 qualifiers.
France’s women’s beach handball team this summer during Euro 2023 qualifiers. – FFHB

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

Clarisse dreams wildly of “just going to the beach”

“We have ambitions, continues the former high-level handball player. Starting from nothing six years ago, the work is immense. By first creating in 2016 the two France A teams, women’s and men’s, then following the national youth beach teams, the discipline is in the process of being structured. “Just the beach? I dream of it,” says Clarisse Wild (24), D1 handball player in Saint-Amand-les-Eaux and beach player since the beginning of her story in France.

But France, which just held its first Territorial Cup in Malo-les-Bains (North) last week, is not there yet. For Mickaël Illes, the dynamic must now take place at the regional and club level: “The leagues are the ones in charge of building their squads, it’s up to them to create tournaments to spot players and motivate squads.”

Dear owners Patrice Annonay and Benjamin Gallego

Absent from this summer’s rallies, Patrice Annonay retired from the field for interior in 2021, he plans to continue his adventure in blue: “My retraining project has taken me a lot of time this year, but the door to the French beach team is not closed.” On the contrary, for the one who was his first captain.

“Profile of him and Benjamin Gallego [pivot de l’USAM Nîmes], slightly injured this summer, are very important in the team, analyzes French coach Mickaël Illes. The team is full of spirit, with few professionals. They are full of energy and good will, they have been playing the beach for several years thanks to the youth section, but they lack experience. Patrice and Benjamin bring the required high national level fiber. »

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

The desire to appear at the Olympic Games

The national indoor team, Clarisse Wild had dropped her after a few cadet stints. “I gave up my childhood dream of being in the French team because I wasn’t in tune with the mood for interior. As soon as I put on my blue bathing suit at the beach, I felt the same emotion again. And then he sings Marseillaise during the competitions it always brings tears to my eyes. The director of the beach handball team, aged 24, assures us: he intends to wear the colors of France for as long as possible. Maybe even at the Olympics.

Because beach handball has Olympic ambitions. “All the criteria are met: we have an ideal match format, spectacular play, teams from five continents, and it’s a real show with music and a beach atmosphere,” sums up Mickaël Illes. And then, you just have to organize yourself with the beach volleyball tournament, which is already on the Olympics schedule. The sand structure and stands are already planned. “If in Paris 2024, beach handball will only be entitled to ‘a showcase’, according to the coach of the men’s team, the discipline could charm the IOC for Los Angeles in 2028. “The beach is a summer sport, funattractive, which also works very well in video and photography”, Joëlle Demouge abounds.

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 shadow of the interior

But currently, beach handball is still growing in the shadowsfor interior. To detect young players in particular. “We rely heavily on the federal performance course. We recruit young people in national indoor internships. We don’t have an industry specific to beach handball,” explains Joëlle Demouge. But why not think about it one day. Clarisse Wild, who does not see herself in a long indoor career, sees him well. “It would be too hard to go all the way to 35,” she says. I hope to be able to incorporate the beach into my everyday life in the years to come. Clubs are formed. I’ll see when I can get my license and maybe do one or two training sessions on the beach in addition to handball. I have to discuss this with my club as well. I cannot continue my professional handball career 100% by playing on the beach all year. »

Pass the hand for interior am i that hard to convince? “For Euro 2023, we will have to negotiate with the clubs because it will take place between May 23-28. For women, it falls on a D1 and D2 championship day, it’s not easy,” breathes Joëlle Demouge. Because Patrice Annonay sums it up well: “For professional players’ clubs, these are additional competitions in an already busy calendar. And then, some have not yet fully understood what the beach could bring themfor interior «.

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

Explosiveness, cardio, feint qualities, finer vision of the game, agility, extension… So many skills that beach handball demands and develops, with almost no fear of injury. “In terms of proprioception, it’s great. We have already seen players with ankles tied at the start of the competition who ended it without, assures Mickaël Illes. Sand is not at all traumatic for the joints. Only people prone to pubalgia and tears take risks with retractable supports. But last year at Euro I came home with zero injuries. “Beach season is very busy, but I play it 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’s my job. »

Fair play, friendliness and good humor are qualifications that appear regularly to characterize this more confidential outdoor version of handball. “Attention, I take the beach very seriously”, states the handball player. “The players who come to the sand are competitors and enter the court to win,” confirms Mickaël Illes. “But the atmosphere is much more festive than in a competition for interior classical. We don’t ban a beer at the end of the day,” he adds with a laugh. Does this mean that once you’ve tasted it, you can’t live without it?

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