The Nature of Handball, By Mike Treacy Part I

Posted on Feb 23 2016 - 6:48am by DV

Mike TreacyHandball is a game of position and the use of space.  Space is infinite in its possibilities, and so is Handball in its use of space.  The opponent is secondary to our use of space.  The map is not the territory and the dimensions of the court are the map; the infinite space the court provides. The territory.

Trigonometry is angles and Handball is the use of angles.  Player one is skilled… Player two is also skilled.  The one more in tune with angles will win.  Always play the percentages in your favor.  Always.

A good training skill is one that optimizes our use of angles.  This is done alone, in the court, with thoughtfulness.  To improve quickly, one hour practicing proper drills alone is equivalent to five hours playing against an opponent.  Practicing properly coached drills alone is proactive.  Playing against an opponent is reactive.  Remember this.

Handball is a mosaic and hundreds of aspects complete the mosaic.  Training, equipment, stretching, a Zen attitude, understanding our opponent, and of utmost importance is making friends.

Handball is a chess match and a boxing match, combined, and should always be approached in such a manner.  When you are in the court, NEVER let anyone water your game down.

A famous geologist was asked to sum up geography/geology in one sentence and he said, “There are sea shells on top of Mt. Everest.”  To explain handball in one brief sentence:  “Handball is deception,” and that is the mantra.

Handball is a very difficult sport and there are grosser aspects to it.  For example, “NEVER let the bastard get in front of you!”  This is a basic fundamental.  This is an extremely important fundamental.  Never forget this.

We always want our odds to be above fifty percent in the court when we shoot and play; therefore, it is of prime importance to strategically move ourselves in such a way that the odds are in our favor during a game, match, or tournament.  In addition, “Always bother him with your positioning!”  Be on your opponent like white on rice, to utilize an old cliché. This is a basic fundamental, indeed.

Each composite of DNA (i.e. a human being) has a different skill set.  This is discovered by practicing alone for hours in the court with thoughtfulness, focus, and proper drills.  The proper use of time is extremely important.  Be like a Zen monk and get up early.  The sun should not be up yet when you awaken.

The toughest opponent we have is ourselves. It may be our own laziness or cockiness.  “I am good enough!”  Never trust yourself or your heart.  Trust your coach because he knows more than you; your coach may be your inner self however, but listen to your Handball coach because he knows much more than you do.

Another basic fundamental:  “The serve is the most important!”  All the Greats knew this.  The more basic fundamentals we know will be all the much better for advancement.   Practice your ace serves by yourself; thousands of times over the course of a few months and years; every handball court is different but you will understand angles with practice.

Proper drills nurture the mosaic.  Lifting weights is good if it is specific to Handball.  Learning how to sweat for long periods of time such as saunas or steam rooms is beneficial.  This eliminates timeouts from being problematic.

In Handball, as in other sports, being emotionally un-involved is absolute gold.  Our mosaic will be different from others; different DNA, but offense is Handball.  There should be no thought of defense in the mind of a handball player; we will extrapolate on that in a bit.

Offense should be the mantra. Go for the jugular from the get go.  How would one do this?  The answer:  Ace the serve.  This is one important drill that needs to be practiced.  Practice ace serves!  Never hit a serve without knowing exactly where is it going and why; this is of prime importance.

Stretching and massage is a basic fundamental.  Just as important as Trigonometry and use of angles in the court; professional athletes know this.   How does one ace a serve?  Understand angles.  Understand the territory.  Understand the infinity of space.  Space is infinite.  Time is finite; at least, our time.

Defensive play such as ceiling shots, round-the-walls, and careful high passes are secondary to offense.  Each sport is different however.  Handball is meant to be offensive in nature.  Practice drills must be offensive in nature.

Ideal positioning in the Handball court enables an infinite amount of concentric circles at the short line, and it depends on our opponent’s position and shot selection.  We will move our feet to the right, left, or closer to the front/sides of the court for maximum mathematical advantage during a course of a match or tournament.  Our body is a mathematical event.

If we are moved out of the front court during a volley we must strive to return to the dominant position in front of the opponent.  Play the mathematical odds and eventually it will be in your favor.  To repeat, if your opponent is taking your position one must get right up on him, very close, but in front of him, while following the rules.  Basic fundamental:  ideal positioning.

In addition, hops can be very important.  Regarding hops (spinning the ball), they are always problematic for the opponent.  Hops are a prime example of infinite space and angles in the court.  Some players hit a reverse (overhand) or natural (underhand) hop simply by virtue of their natural stroke; nature made them that way.  Others need to learn them.  There are practice routines for this.  We can now more clearly see the mosaic being formed.

Basic fundamental:  learn good hops.  Practice hopping/spinning the ball in both directions with both hands.

Regarding teaching youngsters about hops; young pitchers ten years old throw curves and sliders.  At forty years of age in the Major Leagues, they are still throwing them.  Hooks and hops do not harm us if we use proper use of weights in our practice routines.

Basic fundamental; light weights.  A basic fundamental; stretching.

A good player must learn to hide their hops.  Is it hopping left or right?  Your opponent should never know.  This is a very important point that must be brought up.  We must always be deceptive.  Just like a magician, there are techniques that can be practiced and drilled alone to make our hops extremely difficult and many times impossible to read.  Always fool the opponent.

The simplest of Handball fundamentals is to be deceptive.  Whenever we hit the ball, if possible, hop the ball if we can.  Hops during the serve.  Hops in the rallies.  Hops off the backwall with both hands.

The ideal is to ace the serve and do it 21 times in a row and win 21-0.  This is our ideal; our goal.

One of my sons, Tim, listened to me coach him about learning to ace everything, and he mentioned that yes, he understood that the goal/ideal is to think exactly like a Major League Baseball player.  There is no thought of missing the ball or striking out; only hitting safely, getting a homerun, or advancing the runner on base.  And yet, failing seven out of ten times the pro makes fifteen million dollars a year, but he never forgets the goal; always hit the baseball safely.

In a tournament you are either there to win or play for fun.  Both are very rewarding.

Get that bastard out of the court in twenty minutes; that is our goal for a match.  Our secondary goal is to kill the return shot, always, always in the corners with both hands.  Score the point right away and do not waste time with rallies.  Rallies are pointless in tournaments; save that nonsense for when you are playing with friends and need to work out and practice drills with your buddies.

Again, any match longer than twenty minutes should be considered a failure if rallies continue past three shots on your serve or four when returning the serve if your return kill fails.  If we are involved in a long rally with our opponent, we have not practiced alone enough.  Never be fooled simply because you won a match; did you win quickly?

When we lose the opportunity to kill a serve what should we strive for?  Many folks think you go defensive when you return a serve, and then you look to take superior position.  Absolutely not!  No, you go offensive always.  Kill the ball in a corner or pass the ball.

All passes should strive to hit the sidewall floor crack behind the opponent.  This is like an ace serve or a corner kill.  Essentially the pass shot is a kill shot; drilling by yourself develops this.

Simple fundamental:  Everything we hit should have the purpose and goal of ending the rally.

Repetition for emphasis:  regarding tournaments, we can play in them for fun and friendship associating with our fellow ‘church members’ or we can play to win.  Both are very rewarding.  When we play for fun and friendship have fun and party your life away with friends.

But, for those of us driven to win championships a basic fundamental is “focus, focus, focus, FOCUS!”  We must respect time during our endeavors in the Handball court during tournaments.  We absolutely must save our energy each step of the way to the Final match of a tournament, since our goal is to win.  No partying at all.  You can party after you are holding the trophy in your arms; never before.

Even the best and most fit Handball players have a limited amount of energy or BTUs (British Thermal Unit).  Do not ever be in denial of this fact.  Beat your opponent and get him out of the Handball court as quickly as possible, and faster still as you move up through the brackets towards the finals.  Have no mercy in the court!  Get rid of everybody fast; have them out of that court and match in twenty minutes or less; this is your goal and purpose.

When you play in the Finals of a Championship game you want to know, absolutely, that you are bringing the best ‘you’ to the table.  If we lose, so be it.  There will always be somebody better, or as good as us.  There are no absolutes.  But remember this:  as you win matches, do NOT waste ten extra minutes beating an opponent just because you can; buffoonery.

Even nice folks and friends must be regarded as bastards in the court during a tournament.  It is called competition.  If truth be told, when we slaughter an opponent in the court, they really appreciate it.  They are Handball players.  They love good Handball even when receiving a good Handball spanking.

In spite of the Handball ideal mentioned earlier; a 21-0 win twice in a match, or 25-0 once, or whatever the tournament dictates, Championship matches can and do sometimes linger for a long time.  Many opponents are in love with long timeouts.  They cannot play the fast game.

Let them be the Prima Donna but you have saved up your energy for any of their shenanigans; they can try that tomfoolery all they want, but it will not work against the fast Handball game you have developed, drilling by yourself.  You have saved up your BTU’s; they will soon find out.

Yes, the circus has come to town.  He is calling timeouts, then he asks for a shirt change, then a towel, etc…  Maintain your focus on the match, however.  For all you know, this clown is outside the court making animal balloons for the children in the gallery during his timeouts.  You have no idea what he is doing, because you are staying in the court conserving your energy.   Concentrate on the match.

Mike Treacy 5Always be polite after a victory. Yes, “you played great,” you tell your opponent.  But silently inside yourself you can say, “But I played a darned sight better!”  Now you can party and go to the barbecue.  Lift a pint of Guinness, or a hot or iced cup of tea, depending on your preferences, and revel in your private self-glory.  Fall in love with yourself again.

Why did you win the tournament?  A simple fundamental:  you saved all of your energy/BTUs for when it would count the most:  the Finals.   Again, regarding tournaments…  Stay focused, always; do not let the mind wander inside the Handball court ever; only Handball exists and matters while playing against an opponent in a tournament.

The world is waiting for you after you win the match; all your joys and problems will still be there when you exit the court with your victory but none of that exists inside the court.  Prepare mentally and psychologically to block everything out except Handball in the court during a tournament match.

Oh, if somebody asks you, “How did you do that?”  Just tell them, “I got lucky.”  But do not tell them your training secrets or your approach to a tournament.  Do not cast your pearls before swine.  That bastard might be smiling at you now as he asks for your secrets, but he will copy you, and that bastard will beat you someday.  Give your secrets to those you know and respect, or have been recommended to you for coaching by others.

We NEVER rest on our laurels.  Continue training and drilling properly.  Continue getting better; there is always room for improvement no matter how good you have become.  The next Babe Ruth is out there on the horizon.  He may either be younger, faster, better DNA, hungrier, and healthier than you; or all of these traits.

Our body may take a beating on the Handball path.  It is not a sport for sissies.  Enjoy the self-love while it lasts; the next Babe Ruth of Handball is going to hit us over the head with a baseball bat soon enough, so don’t get cocky.

But we digress.  Regarding referees; life is imperfect.  Referees are a prime example of this.  Many referees, truth be told, are plain and simple bastards.  NEVER get emotionally involved with the referee.  A simple fact:  Be a Zen monk at all times.  Be at peace in the court.  The referee’s third wife probably hates him too.  Also, put your biggest trophy on a pedestal near your front door.  Just say to your guests and visitors, “Yeah, it’s mine.”

Moving forward, as with many sports, footwork or foot positioning along with proper weight distribution gives us an added advantage in Handball.  This is an important part of our mosaic.  A basic fundamental.

Always have your footwork available and prepared for two different shots.  Then, at the last moment, as you are striking the ball, size up your adversary’s posture, inclination, weight distribution and position; then use the better shot.  Remember to play the odds to your advantage.

Even if you are in front of your opponent, which you should always be (your goal and purpose for maximum mathematical percentage of success), intuitively you will remember and know what your opponent is up to from past rallies.  This keeps him in a state of indecisiveness and he can more easily be exploited.  It is not hard to do!  It’s not rocket science.  This is what we can imagine and practice when we are alone and drilling to improve our game.  Remember the most basic fundamental:  always use deception.  Handball is deception.  Did we forget this?  Never forget this.

Deception is so important.  Important, important, important!  …And important.  Without deception a world class athlete, a figurative Babe Ruth or Rocky Marciano will hit us in the head with his bat or fist during a Handball match; you will get knocked out.  Of course when you have developed a perfect kill shot you can telegraph it all you want and your opponent will never return it, but that is for the big boys; however if you reach or have achieved that level of skill, ninety-nine percent of your game is still deception.

During the rally and more importantly on the serve, deception is accomplished with different arm and body movements.  This is done in many sports.  Predictability always seems to add up to a loss.  In football it will be an interception; in baseball it will be a strikeout or failed attempt at a stolen base; in basketball your shot will get slapped into the tenth row.  Utilize deception during the tournament or your opponent will be jumping around you, in circles, like he just won the lottery and this is not something desirable for you.  He will be shedding tears of joy and happiness while you suffer through it.  No.  Do not let that happen.

When playing in a tournament, act like you have been there before.  Behave as though flat kills, corner mouse rollouts, ace serves and winning matches are normal for you.  When you win the tournament just act bored, if because you have been there before and you expected it; there are greater forces at work than us.  Pop the champagne or herbal tea back at the hotel.

We keep repeating these basic fundamentals to drill into our forgetful heads what is important in the Handball court.  The repetition of key fundamentals here is not by accident.

You may be familiar with the Japanese proverb that states, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

So let us digress again for a lesson that can be applied to Handball.  This story was read by my son, Tim, about thirty five years ago when a child from a local library in San Francisco.  He would check books out when young.  It was a book by a Martial Arts master and he spoke of one of the most famous poets in Japan; the poet’s name escapes us.  We will tie this into handball shortly.

Back a few hundred years ago or so, Japanese poetry reading was very popular and tournaments with money and prizes were given to the winner.  Well, a young man wanted to be great at Japanese poetry and sought out the best poetry master/reader he could find.  He was allowed to stay and be taught by the Master.

He was given three stanzas to read.  Every day he would go before the Master and read the three stanzas.  The Master listened closely, and repeatedly said to come back tomorrow and do it again.  This happened for a week.  He then read these three stanzas for two weeks.  The Master said come back again tomorrow.  A month turned into three months and three months turned into six months.  The young man was frustrated because he did not learn anything so he packed a bag and left in the early evening.

As he was walking down the moonlit road, he found an inn and there was a poetry reading contest there with prize money, in addition to a place to sleep.  He said to himself, “Why not, I only know these three stanzas!”  So he entered the contest.  Of course he won.

The proprietor gave him his winnings and asked, “How are you so good at such a young age?”  Well, the young man explained his story and the short poetry reading was the only thing he learned and knew from the Master in six months…  “I learned nothing.”

“Your teacher has taught you very well; you MUST go back to him because you are one of the best poetry readers I have ever seen or heard!”  Yes, he went back to the Master.  The young man listened due to the proprietor’s exuberance, and he eventually became one of the most famous poets Japan has ever had.

Handball.  How does Japanese poetry reading relate to Handball?  Your DNA will tell you of a shot that you are good at naturally; you can actually win with just that one stroke when perfected.   It may be an ace serve or a hop that comes easy to you; it may be a kill shot in the corner nobody ever returns, or the revolving door sidewall rollout.  Get good at the one thing you are good at!  Just one is all you need!  Practice by yourself.

Sure, it is important to develop the foundation/fundamentals of all shots, and know/learn every other shot and those should be practiced as well, but learn one kill shot, pass, or ace serve well and you will dominate.  You still have all the other shots at your disposal of course, because you drill by yourself often, and properly.

Practice the shots you are still developing when training in the court, but always leave the court developing your best shot.  Never leave the court by yourself until you have rolled that ball out at least a few times with your best kill or pass shot.  One wants to always leave the court feeling positive.

Again, remember to always leave your practice session with your best shot rolling or acing out out to compensate for that good practice on your weaknesses; that is, shooting your bad shots, or shots that are difficult for you.  However, leave the court with a flat kill or do not leave the court until this is accomplished; always leave positive.

Of course, playing for fun, exercise, and companionship with friends, drilling alone may not be needed as much.

Mike Treacy4My coach was Al Banuet,  considered to be the greatest player to ever play Handball; I was fortunate to be one of the very few he ever coached; much of what I say is from him.  I understand what a privilege this was to be coached by Al.

To quote comments from the archives regarding Al…  “Banuet stories are legendary. Trulio said (National four Wall Champion): “I’ve seen [Banuet] run up a back wall to retrieve a shot. He could do things that are regarded as impossible.””

W.O. McGeehan, sports editor of the New York Times said: “He [Banuet] is the greatest champion in his chosen sport I have seen. Greater than Babe Ruth in baseball, greater than Bobby Jones in golf, greater than Jack Dempsey in boxing.”

Of course Al was older when he coached me, and I had to pick him up and take him to the courts for the lessons, but he taught me a lot of the handball chess game aspects, as well as proper drills.   Banuet always told me, “Keep right up close to the bastard!”  So I understood and comprehended what was being taught…  Okay, bother him in the court.

Bob Brady, a policeman like my dad, was World Champion and often he practiced with his wife at the Golden Gate Park handball courts in San Francisco; in the back courts.  His wife would hit serves to him with a tennis racquet.  Brady was preparing to play Hershkowitz one year.  Herschkowitz ended up winning forty national and international handball titles, including nine consecutive Three-Wall Singles Championships, as history has shown.  Hershkowitz hit bb serves, fast as a gun.

A basic fundamental:  Innovation during practice and drilling as Brady did with his wife back in the day.  You may have the abilities of a Michael Jordan or Joe Montana but if you do not practice/drill  harder than anyone else you will have difficulty unleashing your capabilities to full potential.

Ambidexterity: crucial to top level Handball, or any Handball for that matter.  I would throw a baseball with both hands in the back courts of Golden Gate Park to build ambidexterity.  I also did this for fun when I was a kid up in Calistoga, CA on summer vacation; on the railroad tracks I would throw the abundant rocks.  I recommend railroad tracks for ambidexterity training but watch out for trains.

A basic fundamental for Handball:  Ambidexterity.  Drill by yourself to develop and improve your ‘off’ hand.

I have played against World Champions in Handball whose left off-hand was like a little girl, but they were absolutely devastating in the use of that offhand using amazing shot selection and execution.  What is the point?  Figure out a way to use both arms, otherwise the bastard will exploit you if he spots your weaknesses.  You may never be completely ambidextrous, depending on your DNA, but you can still be deadly with your off-hand if your practice drills properly.

Avoidable hinders; an avoidable hinder is when we get so close to the opponent that he cannot execute his shot.  Also, he is in danger of being hurt.  When I say get close like white on rice I do not mean avoidable hinders.  We all belong to the ‘church’ of Handball.  Avoidables are an apostasy.  A sin.

A basic fundamental…  Be judicious, fair, but annoyingly block your opponent within the rules.

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