The Nature of Handball: Part II

Posted on Mar 17 2016 - 9:59am by DV

Mike TreacySaturday, August 3rd, 2013  9:00am

San Francisco:  Fisherman’s Wharf

The Burial at Sea of Mike Alvarez

The foghorn moaned mournfully this morning at the pier.  I saw many limping handball players and some women too, following a ragtag small band of New Orleans Jazz musicians.  The music was twangy and haunting, genuinely respectful, and totally appropriate for a Handball player.  A large group climbed into the boat to give what was left of Mike to the sea.  The ashes would only make me cry if I saw them scattered upon the cold waters, so I turned my back away from the boat to walk off the pier to the South End Rowing and Handball Club.  It was still damp cold and foggy.  A normal August in San Francisco…

Mike Alvarez was a lot like me.  He was a blue collar fellow that loved making friends playing Handball.  I didn’t see any tears during this dank morning.  Handball players tend to bury their most intimate feelings deep down inside.  I hung around the Club for a little while with my wife.  Then we left.  There had been many smiles at the pier and in the boat, off to spread the ashes in the Bay…  It was a chance for all of us to show our love for Handball and its friendships and for Mike Alvarez in particular.  Later there was a celebratory barbecue for Mike.

It had been a moving moment for most of us.  It was a very unassuming ceremony and I’m sure Mike would have wanted it that way.  If you ever get a chance, go to a Handball funeral.  It might be foggy if it is in San Francisco, but don’t let it deter you.  It’s a way of remembering someone you loved and to commiserate with your lifelong Handball friends.

God bless you Mike.  We’ll play again in heaven.


…Many hours over the course of time, by practicing by ourselves in the Handball courts, will make us ‘unconscious’ in our Handball skills as we play an opponent. As many know, this means we are hitting perfect shots without thinking, basically.  It is called the “dead eye.”  We may even forget how we won because we have drilled alone properly so many times that our skills become second nature to us; our shots come so naturally, but that takes time. Again, respect your practice time in the court, alone…

But now we put more time into the drills we have not perfected.

A basic fundamental:  ‘Always be tinkering and mastering our drills!’  The mosaic will never be complete.  …Unlike an artist who finishes and then the paint dries permanently, our athletic endeavors during our career will never be complete.  Handball is a sport and sport requires constant improvement and attention as one attains to reach the top of a specific goal.

Again, we must use our time judiciously in the court when practicing alone.  As we perfect, to our satisfaction and eventually to our opponent’s dismay a certain drill, or map a certain aspect of a proper drill, we can then minimize our practice for that particular skill set that we have mastered. Then we can practice on our weaknesses.

Of course, we do not abandon the drilling of our best shots because we always want to nurture our muscles and positive psychological memory that have caused flat rollout kill shots on the bottom corner board in the corners, for example.  Our proprioceptors and kinesthetic memory will overcome lack of practice on our strengths, as we work on our weaknesses instead of our proven strengths, as we improve upon our weaknesses. As a result, our entire game is strengthened.

Mike Treacy1Let’s discuss 3-wall kill shots. This is a kill that hits one sidewall, then the other sidewall, then dies on the front wall.  These are not a kill shot that is showing off.  This shot is part of the continuing theme of deception; once a game the 3-wall kill shot is actually sufficient, but two or three times is good too, but we should use this shot sparingly, even when perfected.  The 3-wall kill shot may force your opponent to alter his position quite frequently, because he is now aware that you are unpredictable.  Unpredictability is key. Shots like the 3-wall kill will put more stress on your adversary in the court and take him out of his game.  It is ALL about bending your opponent to your will, not his.

The 3-wall kill shot is mastered with drills.  A basic fundamental:  3-wall kill shots work wonderfully when applied correctly and at appropriate times in the match.  It is NOT a trick shot.  Trick shots are fun to perform (behind the back, between the legs, running backwards to hit an offhand corner kill whilst staring at the back wall, etc.) but they will not intimidate nor help you win a tournament against good players.  We will get back to 3-wall kills in a moment.  Paul Haber actually was good at trick shots, but that is very rare; I do not recommend them.  If you are forced to use a trick shot, you have been forced into an improper position due to lack of focus, poor footwork…  or perhaps a great shot by the opponent.  It happens to all of us sometimes.

3-wall kill shots work.  You can also figure this kill out by yourself drilling in the courts.  Once you attain it, you will own it.  Remember however, we want a hundred different properly developed shots and plays at our disposal.  This is just one of them, but an important shot rarely seen today, and it will discombobulate an adversary in the court, especially when they realize you did it on purpose.

I played against Paul Haber in the Golden Gate Park Handball courts.  Haber, well I actually knew and played against him, but according to Wikipedia, “Haber is credited with being the first player to use the ceiling offensively and did so very effectively.”

Notice that even Paul Haber thought offensive even when going defensive.

Learning and being coached from Al Banuet, that offensive ceiling game personally did not work for Haber when I played him, but he was a phenomenal player.  To destroy the ceiling game, Banuet’s style was to attack a ceiling shot from the opponent on the short hop and kill or dump it up front.  I listened to his advice and copied that.  Always attack a ceiling shot and kill it.  Think about it.

The ceiling shot is one of the most ‘telegraphed’ shots that exist. Your opponent is in the back and you are already upfront to kill/dump it off the bounce, and your opponent is twenty five-thirty feet away!  Why any player would voluntarily abandon their front court position and run backwards 20-25 feet was simply beyond the comprehension of the Greats that played decades ago, for sure…

This is from Wikepedia regarding Paul Haber; this is true from personal experience with him; one of the Greats:

“Haber appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in 1970. Numerous magazines featured him including Sports Illustrated, Ace, and Argosy. It wasn’t just Haber’s ability on the court that caught national media attention.”

An interesting adjunct regarding Paul is quoted below and one can google the source.  This is public information.

“Haber would clobber the straight arrow handball players and then wind up in jail or a hospital after days of being on a bender with various females. He supported himself giving handball and golf lessons, playing cards, pool, board games and betting on his handball matches. Haber lived day-to-day forgetting each night’s escapades and capers in anticipation of the next one. He lived a lifestyle that would have ruined most professional athletes.”

Haber was a legend and quite the character, as many know.  I knew him and played against him.  He was a great player and he won more Championships than I could ever recall.  Always go offensive.

REMEMBER!  You can learn to attack the ceiling game off the bounce and kill it! Think of the ceiling game as foolhardiness, if your goal is to go offensive and kill everything.  One of the hardest, most difficult fly kills to accomplish/learn is to move in aggressively on a ceiling shot and fly kill it; for a world class player you can kill it on the fly or low bounce. You can practice it alone by simply throwing a ceiling shot and running up fast and dumping or killing it hundreds of times, but everyone has their own DNA working for them, so your drills on shutting down the ceiling game and maintaining the offensive game may be different.  When possible have a friend or partner assist you as you also assist him.

We would never want an opponent watching us in the stands/gallery during a tournament say to himself, “Now I have him figured out.”  Regarding our Handball game, we always want to be “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…” to use a thought of Winston Churchill.

Regarding lob serves…  Lob serves are not a part of the game style I am talking about unless one is fly killing or killing every return, with no rally.  These ‘riffs’ I am specifically writing about are the offensive game.  The “You are a bastard game” is very important inside the court; again, remain unemotional in the court.

If we study chess, we will find that there are many masters throughout the centuries that have created unique styles.  All of their different strategies were brilliant.  The lob serve is one such strategy, but it will lose to the “offensive defensive minded game.”

A basic fundamental:  ‘ALWAYS attack the lob serve.’  … And kill it or pass to a sidewall crack.  Oh by the way, no pass shot should ever hit the back wall under any circumstances except for human error, which happens, but move forward from any failure like this by regaining/maintaining the dominant forward position.

Look upon and view mentally the lob serve as a Major League Pitcher, capable of pitching 95-100 miles an hour, lobbing the ball to you at home plate.  Hit it out of the park.  There are successful champions who employ the use of the lob serve (killing one’s weak returns), but the lob serve takes second place to the strictly offensive player.

The lob serve tries to lull us to sleep, and slow our game down.  As with any aspect of the Handball game, do not EVER let the opposing player impose his will on us!  We want the game fast and we want to get him out of that court lickety-split.  Twenty minutes.  That is the goal.  Save your energy.

A basic fundamental:  do not be mesmerized or slowed down by the lob serve.  Your opponent is looking to maintain front court position and kill your weak return.  Do not let him get away with it.  The lob serve is all in your mind; attack it.  A few lob serves against you may be perfect, like an ace but do not let that deter you from attacking.  And many opponents do not know what a lob serve is for:  To create a miss, fly kill, cracked out pass shot, or corner kill of a weak return, etc.  If one cannot accomplish that, then the lob serves are simply elves floating across the ceiling, as Ross Perot used to say; entertaining but useless.

Now for yourself, regarding timeouts during a tournament:  Repetition for emphasis:  NEVER take them, if possible.  Even if your gloves get wet, let the referee or opponent complain about them.  Let them call for that timeout.

During a tournament, even if your shirt or gloves are sopping wet and you are dripping sweat all over the floor, let your opponent or the referee call for a towel or equipment change.

This is not to save timeouts; rather, we do not want to be the least bit helpful to our opponent in the court during a tournament.  Assisting our opponent in the court is not our job; that is akin to telling a Chess Grandmaster during a Chess tournament that his Queen can checkmate you within four moves as you are moving to end the game in five moves; let him find his own moves.

If a timeout gets called for you, rush through your forced timeout as fast as possible.  Get the game going quickly again as soon as possible.  In support of the above, regarding personally calling wet gloves, sweat on the floor, etc., have you ever seen any professional athlete, in any sport, run up to a referee and ask voluntarily for a ruling that favored his opponent or the opposing team?  Have you ever seen a professional athlete argue against a call that was wrong, but helped him?  I doubt it.  Stuff happens and it all balances out…

Regarding training, there is smart training and unproductive training.  By training we do not mean Handball and Handball drills.  There was a World Champion, decades ago, who wrote a book and bragged that he played hours and hours a day and that is why he is so good.  The point being made is that many champions tout their wisdom, but is it life enhancing for you personally?  You can decide what is best for you and it may not be what is best for everybody.

A basic fundamental:  depending on the person, ‘limited time spent training (intelligently) can be and is the most effective.’  Strangely, in the court, we will be faster, better, stronger, and smarter as a result.  Our personal life in other aspects will be fuller as well; win/win combination.  Do not get burned out on training too much.  A basic fundamental:  follow the middle path.  As Buddha says, walk the middle path.  No extremes and if that means we are not the best, so be it.

In the powerlifting world, this is common advice regarding deadlifts, for example:  You can get strong dead lifting just once a week… 405lbs., 595lbs., etc… even six plates or more.  We are all human and cannot go one hundred percent all the time.  Take a break sometimes and simply marvel at your improvement.

Locally here in San Francisco, running on the sand dunes, up and down them for twenty minutes; you will suffer.  But this is easy on the body, no jarring, and yet it builds speed and stamina for the courts.  Ocean Beach in SF is great for this.  And while you are at it, wear very heavy boots if you are really dedicated.  This can equal one hour running around a track, and if you have the strength and stamina run up and down those sand dunes even longer.

Of course, not all of us have sand dunes at our disposal, but wherever we live, locally, no doubt has an abundance of great options for training.  Think outside the box and train effectively.  You will come up with what is best for you personally with due diligence, concentration on what your body is doing, and focus during training.  This is why the best Handball players come from all over the world, just not one area; utilize what you have to improve.

Regarding the concept of intimidation in sports, in handball it is low IQ to use it.  The opponent is always secondary.  We are only concerned with creating our own mosaic and letting the wins and losses fall where they may.  Any emotional involvement with our opponent is ego centered naivety.  Foolishness.  Our natural conscious presence has a purity that is sullied by any school playground strategies.

A basic fundamental:  just worry about ourselves.

To be continued…

Read all issues: (Nature of Handball is authored and edited by Tim Treacy, chronicalling the memories of Handball Player and Bay Area Legend, Mike Treacy.  A multi-part series that is intended to be put into book form upon completion.)

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV