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Reaching the apex performance of a pro athlete requires dedication, talent, endless practice, passion, and all of the intangibles which includes: inspiration. Every handball pro was inspired as a young player, either by watching a top player, meeting a top player, taking a lesson with a pro, or even just having the opportunity to have a conversation with a pro. Junior handball players are fortunate to have the opportunities to share the court with today’s pro players at virtually every major handball tournament, providing today’s juniors with the spark and inspiration to become the next generation of stars. Many of today’s younger pros were inspired by today’s veteran pros, meaning they are often playing their heroes!
We reached out to a number of today’s top handball stars, and they quickly fired back responses remembering the moment that a handball pro gave them inspiration.
Eamonn Murphy my junior coach, and while he wasn’t the best at teaching skill, he always made sure you gave it your best and gave it gusto. He would usually say.
“Make sure of it!” “Hit the ball at the bottom of the wall!” And “keep the ball on the wall” But the most incredible thing was my old coach would spend time with anyone and drive them anywhere for a game, no matter what their ability was, as long as they showed interest. To me it was the most inspiring attribute and my first coach, Billy O’Connell had this as well, as did my father Don.
People in my later years still inspire me to this day and I don’t think I could ever live up to the legacy they will leave in the sport. People that come to mind are Don Quinlan, Mike Dau and Fred Lewis just to name a few. These few people I think are the true champions of the sport.”
I was very fortunate to attend the Steamboat Springs handball camp when I was 12. John Bike was one of the instructors – I was just in awe of him. I had a chance to play a game against him after taking lessons for the weekend and it was a huge thrill. Of course, I thought I should win, but I could not even score a point, despite the fact that he was barely trying. At the end of the camp, John and Rick Hatcher played an exhibition match and I was awestruck by the level of play. To get to hang out with those guys, who I can now call my good friends 30 years later, was such a huge thrill for me. I was so inspired to improve after that experience. I’m so grateful for John and Rick’s kindness and willingness to teach me handball skills that I still apply to my game today. I had a chance to play doubles with John yesterday and I’m still learning from him and I’m still so inspired having a chance to share the court with the legend.
He then dropped the ball and “Pow, pow, pow!” – he just smashed it, low and hard with both hands. I hit the small ball, and I was instantly hooked and never stopped playing. Tati would swing by from time to time to play with us, and I got to see him play in some tournaments. He was just amazing.
Pee Wee never played with a strong player; he would just pick a teammate that would have the same drive and heart to win a game like he did.
Albert would tell me about pro players from different versions of the game such as Chapman, Bike & Tati, and he’d break down their different styles of play. He told me a few things that helped me prepare for playing Vince Munoz when he came down to the 1-Wall Nationals…and it helped. Dori wouldn’t always agree with everything he’d say and she’d give good arguments, as to why and by the end of the conversation, I’d have a well-rounded understanding of whatever game or player we were talking about. They definitely showed me how you can disagree, argue your point and reach a place of understanding without compromising your stance or belief. I’ve learned a lot of things from being around them both on and off the court and I’m truly grateful for that.
Next time you see a young player in the court or at a tournament, give the youngster a tip, play a few points with the youngster, teach the aspiring player some strategy…you never know, that young player could become the next Emmett Peixoto, Luis Cordova, or Megan McCann!
David Fink and Matt Krueger
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