Valérie Nicolas: “We are late-starters, but we want to be quick-learners”
The coming weekend, France will see a handball premiere: the nation’s first beach handball tournament will take place in Montalivet on the Atlantic coast on 2 and 3 July.
Fans are in for a real treat as some big names in French handball have confirmed their participation: Patrice Annonay, who played for PSG Handball, and Cédric Paty, who took to the court in the EHF Cup Finals 2016 for Chambéry, already agreed to come.
Armelle Attingré and Audrey Deroin, two well-known internationals, will be leading the women’s team – and Valérie Nicolas, world champion with France in 2003, will coach the women’s squad and has revealed to the EHF what can be expected.
Valérie, it seems like a surprise that we suddenly see you as a women’s beach handball coach.
Valérie Nicolas: I guess yes and no. I'd say ‘no’ because I've played sandball before which is like the French fun version of beach handball. I've always been linked to the federation and they were looking for a woman to lead the women’s team, so I guess my presence makes sense. But in another way, for the mainstream audience, maybe I wasn't the obvious choice. But anyway, I'll be surrounded with people with a lot of experience in beach handball, so I'm sure I'll be up for the job!
What prompted the French federation to build a beach handball team?
Valérie Nicolas: Many factors. The fact that both men and women are achieving good results indoors, but that there hasn’t been a beach team bugged them a little bit. The questions also came from the EHF and the IHF, who were asking what we were doing while other countries like Hungary and Croatia had made the step onto the beach ages ago. I think the French federation waited a bit in order to be competitive once they would decide to invest into beach handball. They don't want to build teams just for the sake of doing so. We aim to win medals, maybe not tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow.
How do you see your role?
Valérie Nicolas: It hasn't been clearly defined yet. We'll have to know who does what between me and Eric Quentin, who's supervising the project. We won't have a lot of time together to build a team ahead of the EURO next summer, so we're aiming for players who play indoor handball. But we know that this is not all because if you're good on court it does not mean that you'll be good on the beach. My role will be to build a team that works together in this small timeframe.
How hard has it been to convince players to take part in the project?
Valérie Nicolas: Honestly, it's been quite easy. I already had some names in mind, I contacted the girls, some of them said ‘yes’ and some of them refused. I think that being part of the first French beach handball team counted. You want to be remembered for being a pioneer! The main problem was convincing the clubs to lend us their players. We had to prove them that they had nothing to lose in terms of image by lending us their players.
Will the Montalivet tournament be a one-off or really the start of something?
Valérie Nicolas: It's definitely something to build upon for the future. We want to make the project last, we want it to be only the first stage with more exciting ones to come. We have a lot of experience in sandball, and we want to see how well we can translate it in the more competitive context of beach handball. We learn from other countries, we talk and we attend championships to gain experience, but we're still at the very beginning. We are late-starters, but we want to be quick-learners.
Are you talking about goals already?
Valérie Nicolas: We have the EURO next summer and we definitely want to be ready at that point. Montalivet will be all about seeing what we can achieve and how. It's time to get thrown into the deep end and see whether we can swim. We'll be playing against other teams, drafting new players in along the weekend, and then over the next few months we’ll continue to progress. If we play at the EURO, we go there to play, not to win a medal. In one year we'll see where we are at.
TEXT: Kevin Domas / ts