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

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 if at the end of the match, the teams are one set apart, stir things up with shots on goal. A pinch of aerial figures, a touch of kung-fu. And bam, that’s beach handball! The what ? Well, it’s handball on sand. Do you find that crazy? Normal, this version outdoors was created at the same time as sandball, its more festive than competitive counterpart, honored by the French team which tipped the 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 that time, relates 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 a Euro. The other nations had already started working, training players and participating in tournaments. “France is a good fifteen years behind this practice, while it holds the Olympic titles for its two A teams indoor.

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 », testifies Patrice Annonay, one pillars of the tricolor collective, also a former high-level goalkeeper in indoor for twenty years and resident of several D1 clubs. “The elite of international beach handball? No, we are not there yet, exclaims Joëlle Demouge, who plays alongside Valérie Nicolas, the coach of Les Bleues, while ensuring her position as CTS (technical and sports adviser) for the Bourgogne-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 qualifying matches for Euro 2023.
The French women’s beach handball team, this summer during qualifying matches for Euro 2023. – FFHB

It is the only tricolor participation in a World Cup so far, since 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 in Angers, Nîmes and Aix. This year, in qualifying 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), just like for the French women, also qualified.

Clarisse Wild dreams of « only doing beach »

“We have ambitions, continues the former high-level handball player. Starting from almost nothing six years ago, the work is immense. By first creating in 2016 the two France A teams, women’s and men’s, then in the wake of the national youth beach teams, the discipline is in the process of being structured. “Only beach? 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 story in France.

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

The precious owners Patrice Annonay and Benjamin Gallego

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

“His profile and that of Benjamin Gallego [pivot de l’USAM Nîmes], a little injured this summer, are very important in the group, analyzes the French coach Mickaël Illes. The team is spirited, with few professionals. They are full of energy and goodwill, they have been playing beach for several years thanks to the youth section, 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 notably Nikola Karabatic's teammate at PSG.
During his long and successful professional career as an indoor handball player, Patrice Annonay was notably Nikola Karabatic’s teammate at PSG. – Urbanc/Sportida/SIPA

The desire to appear in the Olympics

The national indoor team, Clarisse Wild had put it aside after a few 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 in indoor. As soon as I put on the blue swimsuit at 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 assures us: she 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 get organized with the beach volleyball tournament, which is already on the Olympics program. The sand structure and the stands are already planned. « If in 2024 in Paris, 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 goes very well in video and photo ”, abounds 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 shadow of the indoor

But at present, beach handball is still growing in the shadow of theindoor. To detect young players in particular. “We rely a lot on the federal performance course. We recruit young people on national indoor internships. We don’t have a specific industry specific to beach handball,” explains Joëlle Demouge. But why not think about it one day. Clarisse Wild envisages it well, she who does not see herself in a long indoor career. « It would be too hard to go up to 35, » she says. I hope to be able to install beach in my daily life in the years to come. Clubs are being set up. I’ll see when I can get a license and maybe do one or two beach training sessions in addition to handball. I also have to discuss it with my club. I can’t pursue my career as a pro handball player 100% by playing the beach all year round. »

Hand clubs indoor are they so hard to convince? “For Euro 2023, we will have to negotiate with the clubs since it will take place from May 23 to 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 the clubs of pro players, these are additional competitions in an already busy calendar. And then, some have not yet fully understood what the beach could bring to theindoor « .

« We do not forbid 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 requires and develops, almost without fear of injury. “In terms of proprioception, it’s great. I have already seen players with strapped ankles at the start of competition who ended it without, assures Mickaël Illes. The sand is not traumatic at all for the joints. Only people prone to pubalgia and tears take risks with receding supports. But last year at the Euro, I came home with zero injuries. “The beach season is very dense but I play more relaxed, says Clarisse Wild. I put a lot more fun, probably because it gives me a change of scenery while playing handball, which is my passion before being my job. »

Fair play, friendliness and good humor are qualifiers that come up regularly to characterize this more confidential outdoor version of the handball. “Be careful, I take the beach very seriously”, specifies the handball player. « The players who come to the sand are competitors and they enter the field to win, » confirms Mickaël Illes. “But the atmosphere is much more festive than in a competition indoor classic. We do not forbid 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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