Humans of Beach Handball: Jesper Knutsson
Jesper Knutsson cares and Jesper Knutsson does not like losing. Given the fact he has invested so much of his life into beach handball it is hardly surprising.
Therefore, as beach handball athletes go, there are not many who are as driven as Jesper Knutsson.
So yes, Jesper Knutsson cares. And Jesper Knutsson does not forget. For Jesper Knutsson it is the disappointments that motivate him.
“At the European Championship in 2019, we struggled. It was a disaster if you look at the results,” the Sweden beach handball captain says.
15 months since, it still hurts.
“We were not prepared. We were not ready physically, we were not ready mentally and not ready tactically.”
The Swedes had come into that tournament in July last year with hopes of medalling. After all they had been pipped to a bronze at the World Championships by Hungary the previous year.
But three defeats from four preliminary round matches meant Knutsson and co. were quickly out of the running for a prized place on the podium.
“Our preparation was not good enough – physically it was far from what I wanted from my teammates and I.”
Finishing in 10th place at the Beach Handball EURO 2019 was unacceptable. But remember Jesper Knutsson does not like losing and definitely does not forget.
But zip forward three months after that sorry show in Poland and everything changed: The good times came back. Sweden stood proudly on the podium. A deserved bronze medal at the World Beach Games in Qatar. Life was good again. But you sensed Jesper Knutsson – okay, we will stop using his full name now – had still not quite forgotten what happened in Stare Jablonki.
Years of eating, sleeping and drinking handball had taught the 33-year-old that a winning mentality is not only a crucial aspect of the sport – but one of the hardest attributes to find.
“A winning mentality is not something you just get, or work through. You either have it or you don’t,” he says. “Some guys can develop it, through more confidence for example, but it’s difficult. We lost two of our three games on the first day in Poland in a shoot out. You can look back on these situations and say with a winning mentality we win those matches. But what happened, happened.
“But we have come so far from what happened in Poland. As I said, we were not prepared properly.”
Surrendering to the sand
The focus, determination and motivation for Knutsson in the world of beach handball began 10 years ago when he was part of a team that won a national competition in Sweden. That got him into the national team for the EURO in 2011 in Umag, Croatia.
“After that I was totally stuck on beach handball. I’ve been playing it ever since.”
Now he juggles being captain of the Swedish national team with his indoor commitments for Torslanda HK and being sports manager for Gothenburg Beach Handball Club.
“I don’t think you can be on the top level of any sport without putting the hard work in,” Jesper says. “Over the last 10 years there’s been a lot of time and money spent on playing beach handball.”
Ah, yes, time and money…
Words that have been said time and time again by those close to the beach: the sacrifices, the raided bank accounts, the cancelled family holidays. Hell, Roman Kalashnikov even missed the birthday of his daughter!
“Beach handball has taken a lot. I have a fiancé; my son is 18 months old. I want to bring them to tournaments but I want to take them on holiday. I have to try and make room for both,” he shrugs.
“Beach handball has been a great companion but even if I was playing in the EHF Champions League or in the highest league in Sweden, handball is my life. This is my style of living. It’s an all-year-round project. That’s life.”
Shaping the next generation
Beach handball has given so much to Knutsson that he feels the need, deep inside, to give something back. If he cannot achieve the things he wants – like, for instance, representing Sweden at the Olympic Games, then he should help others do instead.
Take the next generation of Swedish beach handballers, who have his expertise and experience to draw upon. Knutsson knows there is a chance of the sport making its debut in Paris in four years’ time. If he doesn’t make it, he wants to ensure those that do, do themselves justice.
“I have not signed anything, just shook hands on a deal that says I will play until some of younger players reach the level where they can take my place in the team,” he says. “I can’t say I will stop but I’m not sure what life will throw at me. I want to play until I’m 40 or 45 if I can.
“But I’ve started coaching boys and girls in the age group 2004-2005. So, should beach handball be included in the programme, I think players from that age group would be good. They are interesting and a really exciting group.
“I hope they see me as a target and sure it’s nice if they look up to me. I just want them to be better than me.”
So if – or rather when – you see the Swedish national beach handball team on the podium at a future Olympics just remember: Jesper Knutsson cares.