2016 is an Olympic year so in anticipation and celebration of the upcoming Rio Games I’m joining together with my blogging friends at Multicultural Kid Blogs in a series on the Olympics for kids (see more below). I love the Olympics and France is a great sporting nation so I’m constantly surrounded by sport, particularly handball. Let me explain more….
Handball is an extremely popular team sport in France, played by kids from about 6 up through to adulthood. It’s so popular that it has the 3rd biggest number of registered club players of all team sports in France after football and basketball, and the French national team (men) are Olympic and World Champions. It has been an Olympic sport since 1972 (after a one off time in 1936). And yet for many of my readers based in UK, Australia and USA it’s probably almost unheard of.
I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of it until I married a sporty Frenchman and bred 2 sporty half French boys! But trust me, it’s not an insignificant minor sport, there are 24 nations competing in next year’s World Cup (taking place in France) representing every continent except Oceania, though it has to be said it is rather Euro-heavy. Handball is very popular in Scandinavia, Germany (where it originated), former Soviet states and Spain as well as the Middle East, South America, Korea and Japan.
The game itself is fast-paced, high scoring and pretty aggressive, with bodily contact allowed. Teams consist of 6 players on the court and a goalie. Although it’s an indoor sport some clubs arrange outdoor tournaments in the summer for fun, like this one below called “sandball”. In a nutshell for non-sporty types (like me) it looks a bit like football but indoors on a smaller court and instead of kicking the ball it’s thrown. Does that make any sense? Probably not to a footballer or handballer (sorry!) I can’t begin to say I understand all the rules but over the last 6 years I’ve watched a great deal of amateur handball and one very professional match.
That’s because all my boys (JF included) play or have played for local teams and the teen even got to départemental level before he gave up recently owing to too much academic pressure. Supporting the teen we travelled all around the south of France as far as Carcassonne (450 kms) and Montpellier watching him defend the goal (I used to find it excrutiating watching a small hard missile hurled with force at my son from what seemed to me to be far too close for comfort; not fun being the mother of the goalie!)
A highlight for the teen was playing in Montpellier in Thierry Omeyer‘s goal in an arena that could seat thousands (photo below). Omeyer known as “Titi” is the goal keeper for the French national team, an Olympic, World and European champion and voted best goalie of all time by the International Handball Federation as well as holding the most records of any team sports player in France (not just handball). He will be 40 by the time of the World Cup in January next year and he has been captain of the team which is very rare as the goal keeper. An amazing sportsman!
My little kid didn’t play for as many years but his great moment was meeting William Accambray, another member of the national team and also an Olympic champion when he became the mascot for his club, seen below signing autographs.
However, for all of us the greatest handball experience ever was attending the bronze medal match between Croatia and Hungary at the London Olympics in 2012. I applied for tickets for the Games in the initial lottery but failed to get any. This meant I could apply in the second round to a particular event so I decided to be strategic. I reckoned the opening and closing ceremonies and 100m track events and such like would be over-subscribed and we’d miss out again, whereas knowing how unheard of handball was in UK I gambled that we’d have a fighting chance of tickets. And I was right!
The only mistake I made was choosing the bronze medal and not the gold-silver as France ended up in that retaining their gold medal from Beijing to become Olympic champions again. I must admit the boys were frustrated to not see France win but the overall atmosphere just being at the Olympic Games was beyond our expectations.
The whole experience left us on a high for weeks, with an overwhelming feel-good factor from just about everything: the excellent organisation, the cheerful volunteers who made queueing fun, the gorgeously landscaped park with wildflowers and waterways (we were in the Olympic Park), the spectacular architecture and sculpture, the international food, the street entertainers, the bonhomie among nations, the good humour of the supporters and of course the top class sports….
I’m smiling just remembering it all. It really was an amazing day, one that none of us will ever forget. (By the way if you want to know why we weren’t carrying a French flag take a look here, it was not for want of trying).
Have you heard of handball? Do you enjoy watching the Olympics? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Introducing Pelote Basque, a very un-Provençal game
Visiting the National Museum of Sport, Nice France
Pétanque – the famous Provençal game of boules
Welcome to our Olympics for Kids series! The Olympics are a wonderful opportunity to teach kids about the world and explore cultures together. Today, you can find more about other sports/games from various countries thanks to our participating bloggers: Exploring Indonesian Badminton – Multicultural Kid Blogs, Popular Summer Sports in USSR – Creative World of Varya, Handball, France and the Olympics – Lou Messugo, Capoeira: a martial art with a great beat – Brynn in Brazil, The big 3: soccer, rugby, cricket – Globe Trottin’ Kids, Copa América: We Are the Champions – La clase de Sra. DuFault, Football in the Netherlands: The Men in Orange – Expat Life with a Double Buggy, Summer sports in Latvia – Let the Journey Begin, Valuable Lessons From The Olympic Sports to Kids – Hispanic Mama, Fencing with Ibtihaj Muhammad – Kid World Citizen, Puerto Rican Olympians – Discovering the World Through my Son’s Eyes. Don’t forget that you can also download our Summer Games Unit activity pack to learn more about the world and have fun during the Olympics.
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which olympic stadium Rosie? As you wrote this before Bolt ran in Rio I know it’s not that one, but I’m wondering which one? Do you not even like tennis????
The boys do play handball at school sometimes but I must admit I have never seen it and they don’t seem to particularly like it – Tom prefers athletics (and was at The Olympic Stadium a few weeks ago to see Bolt and others run) and Ben is a rugbyman. I am not a great sports lover … well except for polo but then you know that already! #AllAboutFrance
I like that!
How cool! I wonder if their school introduced handball after the olympics? It seemed to go up in popularity enormously in UK after London 2012
No, it’s more like basketball than volleyball, as the goals are at either end rather than over a net in the middle.
It really was an unforgettable day.
That’s great Jen! Pleased to hear that.
If you’re a football fan, nothing beats it!
That’s good to hear Erica.
I hope you find one Jayne 🙂
I don’t play it with my kids but then I really don’t enjoy team sports!
Interested to hear you played as a kid, I wonder where you lived?
I bet wheelchair basketball was amazing Kara!
I wonder where you went to school becasue if it was in England then I’m very surprised to hear that Emma. (And pleased)
No, not living under a rock, just not living in a country that plays it much!
If he likes fast-paced team sports then he sure would like it!
that’s very enthusiastic Tendie!
It is; and adults alike!
Well now you know! I hope you enjoy the rest of my blog, I don’t often write about sprt it must be said!!!
And many French don’t know about cricket which seems amazing to a British/Aussie mix!
I love watching most of the olympic sports too but the timing is pretty bad for us in Europe this time. Some of the keen handball players in the family stayed up to watch a match that started t 1.50 am the other day but I’m not that keen!
Am watching the Olympics in Australia as we speak. The time zone kinda works for us here and we can watching the finals in the mornings. Of course not much handball shown here! But I LOVE watching the Olympics – I’ll watch anything. My sister and brother in law have taken holidays so that they can have an Olympics watching marathon!
Like you, I’d never heard of handball before coming to France. My French friends found it difficult to believe I didn’t know the game – so I asked them if they knew what netball was. Of course they didn’t! Thanks for the info on the sport – now I can sound a little more authoritative when handball crops up in conversation.
‘Well, I never’ as my grandma would say! I must admit I have never heard of or seen this game before. This is exactly why I love reading blogs and following authors… I am always learning cool new stuff!!
Love the pictures looks like a great sport for kids 🙂 x
handball the best sport ever i like it live it seems like everything to me
I hadn’t heard of Handball either, but I bet my son would LOVE it!
I’ve never heard of handball! I must be living under a rock or something 😮
We used to play at school, back in the day! It was a favourite 🙂
We loved our visits to the Olympics and we saw wheelchair basketball and diving. I have not heard of handball before
We used to play handball as kids, haven’t played it since but I did enjoy watching it on TV during the Olympics x
Leo keeps trying to get me to play, I have never had a go before!
I’ve watched handball a couple of times and have always thought it looked like a super fun sport to play! I must have a look and see if there are any local clubs as we’ve all been looking for ways to get more active and this looks like a way which could be really enjoyable.
I don’t think i’ve ever watched handball but it sounds like a fantastic game. I think my son would love it so might have to search out some local clubs.
My son plays handball at school and loves it although everything comes second to football these days x
My son has been playing it at school this term. I think he prefers it to both rugby and football.
My boys taught me about handball as they learned it and play it at school
Looks like a brilliant day- a friend of mine watched it at the Olympics in London and had a brilliant time!
So it’s sort of like volleyball but with no net and no weird punching back action? I think I probably need to watch a youtube video to get it and no, until this post I’d never heard of it either!
Funnily enough, my kids play handball at school. They taught me how to play on our recent holiday!
“Kids play football, men play rugby and Gods play handball” according to the specialists!