Australian handball team captain Bevan Calvert on building domestic skill levels. By Jack Kerr.


Game of throws: Bevan Calvert, 30, handballer

Everyone here keeps asking: “What’s an Australian doing playing handball?” Sometimes things just happen, I guess. Me and my mates in high school, we were the sport junkies. We did every sport under the sun. We were looking for something new, so signed up for handball, thinking it was like what you play in the schoolyard. Turned out to be European handball.

You can build a solid handballer out of a basketball player. You just need to change over a couple of ways of thinking. Travelling and dribbling they share. But dribbling is generally a last resort in handball. Coming from basketball, it definitely gave me a leg-up starting handball. I did quite well in high school at athletics as well, in the various jumping disciplines at the carnivals. So I brought a bit of a mixed bag of skills across.

Anyway, our high-school team won the state knockout championships. I got scouted, and ever since then, I’ve been going up the ranks. Local, state, junior, senior, national teams. Then I made the jump from Australia to Europe.

I now play for Mecklenburg-Schwerin in the third division here in Germany. I’m lucky enough to be semi-professional, which means training nearly every evening and working as a trainer at a gym during the day. They tie in together nicely, those two careers. We’re not earning the mega-money like the footballers do over here, but we’ve got a devoted fan base. Our stadium seats about 1400 people, and the atmosphere at our games is fantastic. At the highest level of handball, you get national coverage and high status here in Germany.

I’ve played in the second division with my previous club, TSV Altenholz. We won promotion from the third division. It was a switch from semi-professional to fully professional and, yeah, it was definitely a big step to take. Unfortunately, we didn’t change a thing in our system. We were all students or working, and we didn’t change our training regimen. And we were still driving to games on match day – it didn’t matter if we were playing just around the corner or down in the south of the country. 

We knew it was going to be a tough ask. You need to be professional to play a good game at that level. Players in other teams couldn’t understand how we were doing it the way we were. Because when you’re focused only on handball, your skill level increases magnificently. And it’s the mental side, too: you can think just about handball. I definitely wouldn’t do second division like that again.

Australia hasn’t been at the last two world championships. It’s a pretty sad story actually. We’ve been to a lot of them in the past, but there was always a major concern that we weren’t up to the standard. Which is correct. We never delivered on the world stage. It eventually came to the point where the International Handball Federation had to take some action. For the 2015 competition, they removed Oceania’s spot at the championships. Our place was given to a wild card. That was Germany, who lost their last qualification match to Poland and didn’t make it. It was a pretty big deal here in Germany that they didn’t qualify.

Watching the latest world championships in France in January, it was tough not being there. But I respect why we’re not there. We had a last-minute chance to qualify. They put us up against the last place Asian nations, but we couldn’t put it past them. But because of the short notice and a few injuries in the squad, we weren’t able to put our best team on the floor. And we only had minimal resources to prepare.

Handball in Australia is just not comparable to anywhere else. We’re so far behind. It’s going to take a while to build up the infrastructure and the skill level. There’s a lot to do. I’ve been following the new national league that we’ve started: it’s definitely a step in the right direction. But, as with every start-up, it’s a real struggle. Hopefully through the setbacks, we’ll get a new direction and from that, everyone will be more motivated to get results, and they won’t be able to deny us a place, because we’ve rightly earned it.


1 . This week’s highlights…

Cycling: Track national championships

Until Sunday, Anna Meares Velodrome, Brisbane

Motorsport: Supercars – Clipsal 500 Adelaide

Saturday and Sunday, 3.20pm (ACDT), Adelaide street circuit

• NRL: North Queensland Cowboys v Canberra Raiders

Saturday, 6pm (AEST), 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville

Rugby union: Super Rugby – Brumbies v Sharks

Saturday, 7.45pm (AEDT), GIO Stadium, Canberra

Netball: Collingwood Magpies v Giants Netball; Melbourne Vixens v NSW Swifts

Saturday, 7pm and 8.45pm (AEDT), Hisense Arena, Melbourne

Basketball: NBL grand final series, game 3 – Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks

Sunday, 12pm (AWST), Perth Arena


This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 4, 2017 as "Game of throws".

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Jack Kerr is a dual Australian Sports Commission Media Awards winner who writes about the business of sport.

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