Head coaches Juliano de Oliveira (left) and Michael Hinson (right) coaching the United States beach handball teams.
With the inaugural ANOC World Beach Games kicking off in Qatar on October 12, the U.S. beach handball delegation has spent months training and preparing for competition. USA Team Handball talked to head coaches Michael Hinson and Juliano de Oliveira, who lead the men's and women's teams respectively, prior to the start of competition. Hinson and de Oliveira created the United States beach handball program in 2015, and have been guided their teams to various Pan American, North American and Caribbean and international tournaments and competitions.
Read more below about their thoughts on the World Beach Games, the growth of beach handball and much more:
This is the very first World Beach Games that has ever been hosted. How does it feel to be leading an American beach handball team at an inaugural international event?
JO: Leading the U.S. women's beach handball team at this competition is a feeling like no other. It is a combination of pride, anticipation, gratitude and of course, a few nerves. In my opinion, this will be the most important competition we ever participate in as program. We got here through hard work and dedication to our sport, but it still feels a little like a dream. Us being here in Qatar proves that this sport is moving up in the ranks of international sporting competition and we are incredibly excited to be part of this first edition.
MH: I am personally incredibly proud to be able to lead a team of incredible young men representing our country to such a historic event. I am looking forward to watching their smiles and joy as they carry in and represent the stars and stripes. They have worked so hard to reach this point and they deserve everything they have earned. It feels amazing and I couldn’t be prouder of the athletes.
What has the practice schedule and training been like for your players? Is there anything you've been focusing on in particular?
JO: We practice every weekend with tournament and camps that we use as part of our official training activities. Athletes just competed in the annual SoCal Beach Handball Tournament as preparation for Qatar. We also had a large training camp with the women’s team from West Point Military Academy, and we spend a lot of time doing video analysis, making sure that players are well-prepared mentally and physically.
MH: We have been training every weekend in Southern California for the past year, and have been intensely focused on the process of getting better, both individually and as a team. Our athletes have been practicing a fast tempo, high-flying game that is designed to highlight the athleticism and beauty of our sport for a world of fans who have never seen our game before.
What is the team's mindset or main goal going into Qatar? Is there an overarching goal that you hope to achieve at the Games?
JO: Our main goal going to Qatar is to bring a medal back to the States. We know we will face some tough opponents along the way, but we are confident that we can succeed and bring home some hardware. Beyond that, our goal is to share this amazing sport on a large international stage in advance of maybe being named as a sport to the Olympics. This is also an opportunity for our athletes to experience a high level event as part of Team USA which grows the level of professionalism in our program.
MH: The team is both calm and excited. The guys have worked so hard to reach this point but want so much more. They want the world to see that we can compete in handball with the best in the world. Our goal is simple: limit turnovers, create turnovers and shoot high percentage shots. If we can keep the game simple, greats things will happen.
What does it mean for you to have observed the sport of beach handball grow to now be included at such a huge international stage?
JO: For me, this is a dream come true. The sport of beach handball is growing in leaps and bounds every year, and this is proof that we are on the right track. Since the start of this program, we have had to work hard as coaches and as part of the leadership team just to keep it going at times, but the commitment and dedication has paid off. We're hoping that beach handball will eventually be accepted as part of the Olympic sport program in the future.
MH: I love the game of beach handball. Having played indoor handball at the national team level and pioneered the sport in the U.S., there is nothing more exciting than introducing the sport to thousands of new eyes. Once people see our sport, they love it! What’s not to love about a sport with high flying alley-oops and spectacular goals? This is just the next step in the growth of the sport, but it is a huge step. I am even more excited about where this sport will be in four years. Greatness awaits for all of us.
Do you have an idea of which team/country will be the toughest competition?
JO: All the teams we will face are excellent competitors. We have the traditional top teams like Brazil, Argentina, Spain and the current world champions, Greece, as the toughest opponents. Denmark and Hungary, the current European champions and runner-up, are also very strong. One of our goals is solidify the U.S. as a title contender, no matter the competition. Beach handball is a game that can turn in an instant, where one or two goals can change the whole outcome. Our job is to play with intensity and not worry about who we are playing.
MH: The thing about beach handball is that anyone can win on any day. Every team in our pool and in the tournament is capable of beating every other team. We are preparing for every team with the expectation that every half will come to one decisive play, and every shootout will have to be earned. I am very excited to see the support and enthusiasm behind the home team from Qatar. As each round of the tournament progresses, the level of intensity and excitement in the stadium will just continue to rise.
Can you talk a bit about the improvement, growth and progress of your players as they've been preparing for Qatar?
JO: The U.S. women's team has been in a constant upward trajectory since we started our program in 2016. Winning the gold medal at the last NORCA games in Trinidad is a confirmation of our efforts to recruit and train the best players. We are gaining experience in every competition and more important the comfort level and ease of play between our teammates makes a huge difference. This is sport where the synchronicity between the players is crucial for the success of the team.
MH: My guys have been preparing both physically and mentally for this competition. It has been amazing to watch Bryan Cook as he continues to embrace the challenge of becoming a world-class goalie. Drew Donlin has been polishing his indoor game in Spain and is ready to demonstrate himself as one of the top pivots in the world. Watching young players like Jacob Garcia and Ebiye Udo-Udoma continue to raise their game to a world class level has been something special to witness. We have been lucky to have world-class athletes like Charlie White and Alex Browne go from typical American sports to elite beach handball players. I am so proud of the whole team and cannot wait for the world to see the dedication and work these guys have put in over the past three years.
What are you most looking forward to at the 2019 ANOC World Beach Games?
JO: Honestly, on top of playing amazing teams and projecting ourselves onto the world stage as a solid and talented team, I am excited to be a part of Team USA. I just became a citizen of the United States, as I am Brazilian by birth, and it is going to be a most incredible honor to represent the United States at these Games. Of course, growing, progressing and succeeding as a team is my number one goal. But for me personally, there is a lot of pride in officially wearing the name of my country on my chest.
MH: I am looking most forward to the first game and getting the opportunity to show the world that the U.S. has a beach handball team and we are one of the best in the world. I cannot wait to compete against world-class athletes from countries on every continent. All these athletes worldwide have dedicated themselves to greatness and it will be on display for the world to see. I cannot wait for that first jump ball and the excitement our sport will generate! Be prepared to be amazed, beach handball is only going up from here.