Handball: the French Women’s Team and their coach back in the game!

Wednesday, 23 december 2020

The French women’s handball team put up a splendid performance at the European championships, winning a silver medal for which their coach Olivier Krumbholz can be proud but a result that he can also use as a springboard for the future…

Successful management

One could almost go so far as to say that they were successful even in defeat. Of course, Olivier Krumbholz and his team would have preferred to win this EHF Euro 2020 final and keep their title; victory is always the ultimate goal of top-level sport. At the sight of the players’ tears at the end of this match where they lost to Norway (22-20), this fact was obvious. However, the experienced coach knows that it will be easier for him to prepare his team for the Olympic Games with this track record and its frustrating conclusion as his benchmark. He has already said as much in his post-match interviews. “We need to improve our performance in all areas… The Olympics will be upon us very soon, which is a very important competition for us, and I think we can improve over the summer. If we meet the Norwegian women’s team in Tokyo, we will have to play better than we did today,” he explained on the FFHandball website. The tone is set: it’s time for the players to get back on the top of their game… which was the dominant theme of the entire Euro competition with, ultimately, a fine group success for the staff and their players.

The team has made quite a comeback considering the immense disappointment the French women’s handball team suffered last year at the World Cup in Japan when they were kicked out of the competition in the preliminary round: a huge blow to their pride! But credit must be given to the staff who successfully managed to reverse the trend in these European championships. This was all the more complicated as the competition was staged under special circumstances owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. The team found themselves completely isolated in their hotel and training facility. The Federation had given Richard Ouvrard, the trainer, a room on the same floor as the players who organized themselves in the form of a micro-community with the approval of the coaching staff. 
Everyone praised the fantastic atmosphere that reigned in the corridors of their hotel. This bond between the players themselves, but also between the staff and the team, cemented their success. Olivier Krumbholz and the coaching staff managed to achieve overall cohesion between the young and experienced players both on and off the field. This was reflected in the final match in the fantastic performance put up by Pauletta Foppa (aged 20) and the goalkeeper Cleopatra Darleux (aged 31).

This explains how the French women came out of the group stage unbeaten with a great 31-25 victory against Sweden. Olivier Krumbholz then gave his players considerable leeway in the way he organized the match debriefing session. They were responsible for analyzing the match, identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and the coach only asked them questions about what improvements could be made or whether the chosen strategy had proved to be effective. This development in the coach’s management style shows that he is still trying to progress personally as much as he is trying to make the team progress as a group.

Effective tactical option

The method worked as the women players crushed Croatia in the semifinal. They ultimately delivered a performance in the final marred by technical problems (notably in the penalty shoot-out) but full of courage and character. This provides a key basis for preparing for the Olympic title. 
In this European final, Olivier Krumbholz showed his wealth of experience and his exceptional calm during the time-outs. While the French women’s defense was flagging in the first half, Olivier Krumbholz changed his defense system from six aligned players to a system with one player in front capable of disrupting the Norwegian team as they prepared to attack. This derailed the well-practiced Norwegian approach, which was also shattered when it came up against the skills of Cleopatra Darleux in goal. The tactical option chosen by the French coach almost succeeded!

The French team won a fine silver medal, full of promise for the forthcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo which is already the focus of the coach’s attention, who on this occasion won his 10th international medal (1). With the medal hanging around his neck, he set out the team’s future objectives: “That each player should keep working in their club and that they will all return better players to the national team, when we will also be putting in a lot of work.”

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(1) Olivier Krumbholz’s record at the head of the French team: 1 Olympic silver medal (2016), 2 world titles (2003 and 2017), 3 world silver medals (1999, 2009 and 2011), 1 European title (2018) and 3 bronze medals (2002, 2006 and 2016).
Photo copyright: Pillaud