Trafford Handball, an Access Sport Partner Club that provides handball training sessions to school-age children in the Greater Manchester region, has moved its classes online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The training sessions, which provide young people with the opportunity to engage with a new sport and excel at a national level, have been successfully running virtually with increased engagement from both students and their families.
Developing new active opportunities
When handball became part of the school curriculum just three years ago, Head Coach Stan Belinski saw there was an opportunity to take his love of the sport and develop young people’s opportunities for physical activity. He established Trafford Handball in 2018. Since then, the club has grown from an initial session of five participants to 120 members, with training sessions running every day. The organisation gives both boys and girls across Greater Manchester the chance to get involved in handball, with outdoor leagues running in schools alongside after school clubs.
After switching from playing to coaching due to injury, Stan (who’s 22-year handball career has spanned youth World Cups and Euro Championships) started coaching handball across Europe. ‘It doesn’t feel like a job, as I get to do what I love,’ Stan says. ‘It’s great to be able to provide opportunities for kids to play sports that they didn’t have before by introducing them to something new.’
A chance for young people to excel
‘Handball is on the school curriculum as an optional activity,’ says Stan. ‘Yet as the sport isn’t widely known, there are greater chances for players to excel and opportunities for success at national level are high. Truthfully, for many of the kids handball’s not their first choice of sport. Yet as we grow the sessions and build engagement, it’s clear to see that pattern is slowly changing.’
Trafford Handball Club won the National Handball Championship in 2018, with Trafford Handball players awarded places in the handball regional academy. ‘The players are realising they’re actually quite good at handball, and they have the opportunities to trial for GB teams that they would be unlikely to get with, say, football,’ adds Stan.
Increasing activity despite Covid-19
Naturally, due to the coronavirus crisis changes needed to be made to the way the classes were run. Stan proposed moving to online teaching, running three sessions per week for each age group. The sessions include a mix of fun home workouts and interactive video analysis.
For Stan and his team, there were no concerns around continuing a high-level of engagement in the training despite no longer running sessions in person. ‘As a club, we’ve managed to build such a strong community bond that players are really committed to Trafford Handball,’ says Stan. ‘We have a positive vibe and true friendships, driven by coaches and staff encouraging participation. In fact, we’re seeing between 20 and 30 people training in every online session, which is even more than attend in person.’
Encouraging activity through collaboration
Trafford Handball have run community events in the past to encourage parents, siblings and friends of players to get involved with handball, and lockdown has boosted this collaborative network even further. ‘We’ve had so many parents engaging with the sessions online,’ says Stan. ‘Some parents have told us that they’ve never attempted to work out at home before, yet seeing their son or daughter taking part in online classes has encouraged them to join in too.’
‘The great feedback from players is that running sessions online allows them to see their friends and engage with coaches despite not playing with them in person,’ Stan continues. ‘There’s a real family-vibe to Trafford Handball and that’s kept us all going by staying active online during such tough times.’
Stan also credits partnership approaches to running handball sessions with such success. ‘We certainly put in the hours by going into schools and engaging students with handball,’ says Stan. ‘But that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of GreaterSport and Greater Manchester Moving. Most of our players come via after school club programmes funded by GreaterSport; we run the sessions, but without this support we wouldn’t be where we are today and able to hold our online classes with such engagement and success.’
Trafford Handball plans to continue with sessions in their current form until it’s safe to return to in-person practice.
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