Thursday, November 5, 2009


As intimidating as it may be, trying new things, joining new clubs and meeting new people are all things that I wanted to do [ and sometimes when times are low, things I tell myself I should do] while experiencing this year abroad in Germany.

Sports were no different, and I knew that joining the University gym and sports center I would be able to meet students at the university and also try out a new sport.

Back in the stages of applying to come to Germany, I listed the sport of handball under things I would like to experience while abroad.

I didn't know anything about the sport then, and walking into the gym at 8 pm on a Monday night for the first free-session here at the university, I didn't know it on that evening either.

In fact, I had never even seen handball played on TV. From the Olympics [ yes Americans, handball is an Olympic sport - our channels just don't show it] I had seen pictures of men looking like they were going to slam dunk the palm sized ball into the goal keeper, but I had no idea about the rules - not even how many players on the court played at one time.

I silently slid into the back of the crowd hoping that some rules were going to be discussed - albeit in German - but it didn't seem like it was going to happen. Even being the non-experienced player free-play session, it still seemed that everyone had a little more experience than me.

Everyone counted off by Eins and Zwei and when it came to me I said Zwei - only to hear - nur M├Ądchen... only girls were counting. I was so embarrassed that I didn't even realize that and I retracted my head like a turtle amongst a few snickers around me.

There were several dozens of students in the gym, so it seemed like a popular weekly event, and when the introductions were complete, everyone grabbed the handballs and started running around. I didn't know if it was just a scrimmage starting or what not - I just knew what team I was on.

I have drawn a paint diagram of what the gym was set up as when we started playing - 4 boxes, and 8 cones that served as 4 "gates" or goals.

Players began passing, throwing, bouncing - counting their 3 steps - weaving through the cones and dropping the balls in the boxes. There were probably over 40 people on the court... what was going on? What are the rules to this sport?

[ a representation of what it looked like when the whistle blew and this "game" began.]

I had NO idea what was going on. If I was passed the ball - just like my years of playing basketball in grade school - I was a champ at immediately flinging the pass somewhere else.

When asking one of the Germans, humiliated, what was going on, I realized that I completely lacked the vocabulary at this time for sports - words taken for granted like pass, shoot, dribble, score... I knew how to say run and throw... but it was not enough to learn and question the rules of a new sport.

What I did learn was that this "game" was nothing like the real sport of Handball - it was just a passing drill that had some point system to it for competitiveness. This just proved that I came knowing absolutely nothing about the game.

After some more drills - and more failed attempts at trying to understand the rapid German instructions of the rules - some scrimmages finally began.

Maybe because I was kind of quiet during the drills, maybe because I wasn't already at the session with a group of friends, perhaps because some of the players witnessed and knew that I could only be a detriment to the team - I felt like the last kid picked [ teams were more divided up, but still, I felt like a straggler ] .

I may have been one of the quick kids, but you can run all you want over the court - if you don't know where to run, or what to do with the ball... you are useless.

I learned the sport through trial and error - having the whistle blown on me for taking one too many steps, or passing with two hands - but I was picking it up quickly. It was much like how I would learn the German language, just try saying or do something and learn from your mistakes. At least it was fun and the student there were very nice [ and understanding that Americans have generally no clue about this sport ].

I would not say that the hour and a half sports session was a failure - but it was probably more stressful for me than the other players there just for fun. I will continue to try handball on Mondays and from there learn the rules better and then post some new opinions about the sport as the weeks go on.

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