German women’s handball success: a great challenge for Henk Groener

August 3, 2018

German women’s handball success: a great challenge for Henk Groener - Johan Cruyff Institute

Henk Groener, founder and core professor of the Master in Coaching at Johan Cruyff Institute, is the head coach of the German women’s handball team since January and wants to guarantee the continuity of the team at top level for the future

Henk Groener, who has been responsible for the German women’s handball team since January, was head coach of the Dutch women’s handball team for a total of eight years and took them to the top of the world, helped by his experience as a coach and former top handball player: silver at the 2015 World Cup and fourth place at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Despite the success, the coach thought it was time for a change and decided to take a break. The international handball world did not quite accept that, though. In 2017, Henk Groener was approached by China through the International Handball Federation, a number of foreign clubs showed interest and the Dutch Handball Association offered him the possibility of becoming head coach of the men’s handball team. Eventually, he chose Germany. “From the first meeting I had with the German Handball Federation, it was clear to me that this would be a great next challenge”.

The German women played a disappointing World Cup last winter and were eliminated in the round of 16 by Denmark. Something had to change and Henk Groener was brought in, with a short-term goal: qualifying for the European Championship 2018 in France. “After the disappointment of the last World Cup, everyone is now looking ahead with an open and fresh set of eyes, the changes are being well received and we were well accepted as the new coaching team. There was little time from my start until the first qualifying matches. In total, we have been able to train together for one week only. Nevertheless, despite the limited time we performed well in the first two games against Spain. Everyone was very enthusiastic after the home match. Not only about the result, but especially about the way the team had presented itself”.

With his more than 25 years of experience and track record as a coach, Henk Groener could be able to bring some good things to the German handball world. To the question of where the challenges for the upcoming period lie, Henk Groener replies: “The players are very ambitious, but have to function from a semi-professional environment. Since at the top it is full-pro, there is still a way to go. The transition from semi-professional to professional is therefore an important step that the players have to take. We must stimulate and support this development from the technical staff and the federation. In addition, the years in which the talents make the transition from the youth to the senior team must be accompanied even better. The German youth teams have been among the best in the world for years. During the first years with the seniors, there is often still a lack of playing time and individual development impulses during the training sessions. That is also a key factor for future success”.

“The years in which the talents make the transition from the youth to the senior team must be accompanied even better; it’s a key factor for future success”, says Henk Groener

“In the longer run, we want to be among the best in the world”, Henk Groener adds. “In order to achieve this, we must initiate the above-mentioned developments by selecting the right players now and taking the first steps with them. Next, it is important to include the follow-up of the current generation directly in the selection and training policy. Otherwise, after a few years there will again be a gap in the experience of the players, and thus in the results of the national team. That means that young talents have to be included in the A-team’s program, so that they can not only make the connection, but also take the next step”.

German women’s handball success: a great challenge for Henk Groener - Johan Cruyff Institute

Germany National Handball Team

Henk Groener already has experience of working as a coach in Germany. How would he describe the differences between German and Dutch handball? “In Germany, the game is more physical, the clubs train more often and the matches take place at a higher level. Handball is a big sport in Germany, although the sport is bigger among men. This is a difference with the Netherlands. In addition, sport generally takes a much more prominent role in German society than with us and performance here is something that is openly appreciated and respected. For me as a coach, this means that what you say and do has a heavier impact than in the Netherlands.”

The German women qualified for the European Championship which will take place in France in December. A good step in the right direction. But how does the congenial coach ultimately want to make the difference? “I want to ensure clarity and, above all, to keep monitoring long-term developments, because it is easy to be swayed by the issues of the day where the short-term result gets priority. We must remain consistent in the selection policy and ensure the follow-up, and therefore the continuity, in close cooperation with the coaches of the youth team”.

Header by Frau N. Zimmer = Walter Mier [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons



The focus of the Master in Coaching program is on self-knowledge and self-development. Students will gain insight into their strengths as a coach (that they’ll develop during the program), and those of their athletes / employees, for a better understanding of themselves and their players/staff, in order to improve performances.

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