Handball is a sport that has changed drastically over the years. It has always been a high impact sport but it has developed into a sport characterized by a noticeable increase in speed, intensity and force – with more injuries as a result. Rehband had a chat with Kristian Kristensen, head coach at Danish former FC MidtJylland (now Herning-Ikast Handball) to learn how it’s affecting the players.
Kristensen is managing one of the most prominent professional handball clubs in Denmark. The club is currently undergoing a visual brand transformation to adjust to the development within the sport and the digital world as a whole. Handball is not very rooted in e.g. North America or Oceania, but is dominating the sport scene in other parts of the world. It is the second biggest sport in Denmark and attracts numbers of both players and TV-spectators. It is also a very popular sport in Sweden, Norway, France, Germany and in the Balkan area.
The games are often broadcasted on national television with high viewership. Can that be a reason for the development of the sport? The audience at least seems to enjoy the new handball scene with a new set of rules and the faster play with more strength and power.
– If you want to be a successful player today your physical strength is key, especially on the men’s side. You have to jump higher, run faster and tackle harder. We’ve seen the same development within women’s handball but the game is not as strength oriented compared to the men, says Kristensen.
The season is about to kick off, as it does towards the end of August. The focus for Kristensen and his team is on building up the strength they need to reach the top in order to last throughout the demanding playing season.
National team player Louise Burgaard and Sarah Iversen in the midst of preparations for the new handball season.
An important part of the preparations for the handball season is preventative training. A tear of the anterior cruciate ligament, ACL, gives most players the shivers as the reconstructive surgery that is most often required can sideline a player for months up to years. It is one of the most common knee injuries and often the result of a fast movement including sudden change of direction causing the knee to rotate inward. The two bones that together form the knee joint move in opposite directions causing the ACL to tear.
– Handball as a sport is characterized by quick change movements which increases the risk of ex. ACL. We implement exercises to prevent injuries such as ACL on an everyday basis, Kristensen says. Efficient exercises to strengthen up areas that are related to the injuries are hamstring curl, deadlifts and squats, he continues.
– The sport is becoming physically harder and the game faster, resulting in injuries, typically to the elbow, shoulder or ankles, Kristensen
Overall he has noticed a remarkable increase in preventative training. Apart from the physical training he also implements ice baths and vacuum trousers in the routine for his team, both of which are aimed at keeping injuries at bay.
– It’s important to start with preventative training at a young age. At the professional level my team is at, everything in regards to their physical health, cardiovascular system and overall strengths and weaknesses is being screened and analyzed. All players follow individual programs that are closely monitored and adjusted. It’s easy to pick up on areas of improvement at this level and they have a full team of experts, doctors and physios prepared to support when needed, Kristensen says.
For Kristensen as a coach it is important to possess knowledge about injury prevention. Even more important is to gain knowledge about the players’ capacity.
– It’s my role to prepare them for the challenges they will meet on the court and make sure that they are equipped to play on a top level throughout the season. And the pressure on the players is hard, this season only they will play 71 games, Kristensen says. An elite player typically trains 1200 minutes per week, with one or two matches on top of that and they have to be able to handle that workload, he adds.
The players themselves are usually aware of the risk of injuries and injury prevention training. Their bodies are their tool, which they must take care of to last in the tough competition in the sport.
– Female players are typically more aware of safety and more often wear protection, such as Rehband’s knee and elbow pads, Kristensen says.
Another aspect Kristensen is keen to highlight is the importance of proper technique. Falling is part of the game but how the player lands of the floor will make all the difference.
– The development we’ve seen in handball can be seen as a natural development. Either way, it’s our reality. I hope that injury prevention will be on top of all coaches’ agenda, not only for the elite but also in younger ages so that we can turn the trend of increasing injury frequency rate around, Kristensen says before he heads back to his waiting team for the second training session of the day.
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