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04.07.2016, 10:57
"Handball has enriched me, this is how I give back"
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FEATURE: Former Serbian star Jelena Eric talks life after retirement, work as the national team coordinator, and her many projects, including a handball training app
 

"Handball has enriched me, this is how I give back"

Many a time a player finds it difficult to come to terms with the inevitable career end. However, an end always signifies a new beginning, and therefore a chance to open a new chapter in life.

Jelena Eric was known as the true handball devotee throughout her two-decade long playing career. Her handball journey took her way beyond the humble beginnings in the Serbian league. She became a household name during the six years spent in the Danish league, playing for KIF Vejen as well as Randers (with whom she won the EHF Cup trophy in 2010). She then spent her final two playing seasons in Astrakhan. Playing in the Russian league for Astrakhanochka was a fitting completion of a remarkable journey, however her handball mission, as a player, was still not over.

"I wanted my last match to be with the national team, so I decided to retire after the ultimate round of the Women’s EHF EURO 2014 qualifications. It was very emotional, but I knew it was time for a different chapter in my life and professional career," said Eric.

As Serbia qualified for the Women’s EHF EURO 2014 with a victory against Slovenia (32:25), Eric had an emotional goodbye in Nis. However, as the euphoria wore down, another big task was on horizon for the tenacious left back.

“I wanted to use the experience and the energy I have to do something for handball, that I could not as a player. I had an idea how to put my education and handball experience together. Along with my degree in economy, as well as one in sport, I’ve also acquired a coaching licence,” says Eric.

She was immediately brought into the women’s national team staff ahead of the Women’s EHF EURO 2014; while, as of March 2016, Eric was entrusted in running the Serbian women’s team as a team coordinator.

Photo: Serbia vs France at the Women's EHF EURO 2014 / Stephane Pillaud

Embracing the new technologies

“I liked this-courtside view from the get-go. I liked the new perspective on things. Especially as I’ve learned how much there is to be done in order for everything to function properly.

“My idea was to bring everything I’ve learned in during my playing career, in Denmark and later in Russia, into a project that would be beneficial for handball development in Serbia. I was thinking long-term, and knew exactly what was necessary,” said Eric.

Eric’s initiative was a bold one. Making an application for handball training was always going to include a great deal of work, and with limited resources at her disposal, it was a job for a genuine enthusiast. However, belief and confidence the project will succeed carried Jelena and her associates through, and the “Handball Training” application finally saw the light of day in November 2015 (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=rs.co.rsv.rukometnisavezvojvodine_treninzi).

“We had to think ahead, and the idea was to bridge the IT with sport, and create something that never existed here, or anywhere in this part of Europe. The focus was nurturing and preserving the methods of our handball school, which has had a huge global impact on the handball we have today,” said Eric

The list of associates includes some highly acclaimed names, with the likes of Svetlana Ognjenovic, Momir Ilic and Dejan Peric, who have supported the project, and helped create and showcase the exercises with the young players in mind.

Screenshot: Serbian Federation Handball App

“I’m happy that handball is the first sport in Serbia to have a dedicated application. It was designed with young players and coaches in mind. I had a great support in doing this from the coaches, as well as my colleagues and players alike.

“We have invested a lot of energy into this project, and hope it will continue to grow. We have done a lot of presentations and are thrilled with the reception. By the end of the year, we are looking to further and expend the project, and hope the update will follow up,” said Eric.

“If you believe in something, you have to do your utmost to see it accomplished”

Eric’s dedication and hands-on attitude served as an example to the now rejuvenated national team, which have secured Serbia’s ninth Women’s EHF EURO birth. With Eric working tirelessly in the coal face of handball to improve the image of the sport, one can’t help but wonder what does her day look like, two years since retiring.

“I maintain a highly organised schedule, so I have a bit of time for myself. The good thing is, I can manage most tasks working from home in Novi Sad. I am enjoying playing handball again, training with the beach handball team Tuareg. But only training – I will not be making a comeback,” she admits.

“However, the EURO is my biggest priority right now. Great work is upon us, and the time is running short, so we have to be ready.

“I feel it’s very important to invest in yourself. Whether it’s time, effort or financial resources - If you believe in something, you have to do your utmost to see it accomplished,” says Eric.

“I love being able to contribute to the sport that has given me so much. Handball has enriched me as a person, and this is the way I give back.”


TEXT: Nemanja Savic / ts
 
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