24 Feb. 2022
“Baby Handball helps unlock the door to a universe where the children are the main actors of their formation. The trips who are led by the Baby Handball hero, Handy, help the children discover the world and develop their social skills from an early age.”
Basically, what Vanessa Patucca-Bourgeais, the President of the Development Commission for the Clubs in the Ligue Provence Alpes Cote d’Azure of the French Handball Federation (FFHandball), says is that handball is for all, irrespective of the age.
It can act both as an enabler to improve the social skills of children, while also serving as a fun activity, which can create a harmonious development for them, in a controlled and safe environment.
These were the ideas upon which the “Baby Handball” project was born in France, after 15 years of perfecting the recipe to create a perfect programme for curious children.
“In 2013, the French Handball Federation has created the project of BabyHand, an activity which duly delivers on the needs of families who want to help children develop a love for the sport and physical activities from an early age. Our aim was to cater to the needs of children aged three to five, with the FFHandball laying the foundations to enhance the experience of handball and its values,” adds Patucca-Bourgeais.
Over 15,000 children playing Baby Handball
The intensity and the fun of handball, with the team spirit it creates has always been appreciated by children and the first ideas of creating a safe environment to play in France were born in the late 1990s, with special rules for Under 11 players.
The next step was the implementation of the “Handball premiers pas” (“First steps in Handball”) project in the 2000s, a concept which was dedicated to children aged six to nine. Then with the FFHandball eager to help children even younger to start playing the sport they were interested in, the BabyHand project was born.
“It is important to pay attention to the needs of the public and the social evolution to create new ways to cater to them. Creating new ways of playing handball, we are just replying to children who are eager to try, which is just crucial,” says Patucca-Bourgeais.
The aim of Baby Handball is clear and it helps develop the children in a healthy way. Between the ages of three and five, the children are building their fundamental motor actions, as locomotion, balance and object projections, which Baby Handball helps enhance.
According to FFHandball, the activities are layered, being gradually diversified, in order for the children to understand what they are doing and improve at their own pace.
“This is a sport, which, in its essence, is a vector of socialisation, collaboration, acceptance and adaptation. Baby Handball is, in its adapted version, truly suitable to play for children, at the age in which they discover the world. We are not trying to teach them a sport, we are showing the children a game, which develops their motor and coordination skills,” adds Patucca-Bourgeais.
Since BabyHand has been officially launched in 2016 in France, the reception has been unequivocally positive, with over 15,000 children playing the sport. There are now plenty of clubs offering Baby Handball courses to children, with excellent conditions, as the sport has been growing more and more, alongside of the interest of the parents and children.
Patucca-Bourgeais says it is also interesting to see how children who did play Baby Handball, have now grown up and continue to play the sport. As the rules are getting closer and closer to handball as the players grow up, plenty of them have developed the necessary skills to become senior handball players.
However, the aim is not to create new stars, like Nikola Karabatic, Dika Mem, Grace Zaadi or Estelle Nze Minko, rather to experience a great adventure, to improve the social skills, to bring the community together and, eventually, to promote handball as a sport.
“There are no standings, no results, no derbies, just children trying to have fun and play a sport. We are exploring some challenges between clubs, but in the same playful spirit we are always tapping in the sport,” adds Patucca-Bourgeais.
New ambassadors in the future
What is the future of Baby Handball in France?
Well, if you ask Vanessa Patucca-Bourgeais, the future of Baby Handball should not be only tied to France.
“We are constantly evolving the programme, creating new sessions and educational booklets which will add to the trove of resources available for the clubs. Other projects are also analysed, including some activities around our mascot, Handy, the rabbit. And why not try to export this amazing sport,” asks Patucca-Bourgeais.
Another idea is to call on two players or former players to further enhance the experience, to act as role models for the young children starting their amazing journey in handball.
“With such a loved activity, it could only help us develop even further the sport,” concludes Patucca-Bourgeais.
For more information, visit ffhandball.fr.
Photos: FFHandball / S. Pillaud