The French women's handball team came very close to winning the World Championships just four months after taking Olympic gold in Tokyo. What the French women and their coach have done remains a remarkable achievement.
A perfect winning streak… until the final hurdle!
At the 29th minute of this women's World Handball Championship final against Norway, victory seemed a foregone conclusion for the French team. The players coached by Olivier Krumbholz had been displaying their handball skills to perfection! Six points up, they only had a few seconds left to play in this superb first half of the match when, suddenly, a lob shot – which should have extended the French team’s lead to 7 points – missed its mark. The Norwegian goalkeeper blocked the ball and from that point on, everything span out of control until the match ended on the final score of 22-29. There are times when a coach can do nothing to prevent a reversal of fortune such as this. The games played by the French women in the championship had been considerably harder than those played by their opponents, resulting in greater nervous and physical fatigue… to such an extent that, in the second half, neither the players nor their coach could find a way to regain ascendancy over their remarkable opponents and, notably, over Silje Solberg, the Norwegian goalkeeper, at the top of her game. The fact of falling at the final hurdle, however, doesn’t diminish in any way the French team’s fantastic results! It shouldn’t be forgotten that, before this final, the French women had won sixteen times in a row… and that they are, after all, the reigning Olympic champions in their discipline.
Giving fresh impetus to an exhausted team
But their triumph at the Tokyo Olympics had put considerable strain on the French women’s physique, enthusiasm, and ability to focus. The players emerged from the Olympics completely drained after they had pushed themselves – both individually and as a team – to the absolute limit… and then pushed themselves a bit further in order to win.
This was the formidable challenge and task entrusted to their coach, Olivier Krumbholz: to find a way to breathe fresh motivation into his team both individually and collectively to ensure they entered this new competition driven by enthusiasm and a winning spirit.
The French team’s staff managed to instill a certain freshness into a somewhat jaded group of players. But remobilizing exhausted players is an enormous challenge, a fact that explains why very few teams win both Olympic and World Championship titles in rapid succession.
The challenge was to draw on the players’ hidden reserves and to define new game plans capable of beating opponents who, after naturally analyzing every aspect of their collective and individual styles of playing, were ready and waiting to confront them on the court. The management approach adopted by Krumbholz, a 63-year-old veteran, had a lot to do with this success. After pursuing a vertical management style in the first part of his tenure at the head of the French team (from 1998 to 2013), he adopted a much more cooperative management approach when he returned as head coach in 2016. “The three years off gave him time to think…” explained Philippe Bana, president of the French Handball Federation, in an article published in the daily newspaper 20 minutes: “The players competing in the biggest clubs know how to do their jobs. You need a different management style where the coach himself provides solutions – because the players are more demanding – and a management style based on cooperation. When he returned to the helm in the spring of 2016, he came with the idea of helping the players to win.” We saw this management style in play at timeouts during games when he stood back and let the players intervene themselves. When preparing for matches, he analyzes the rival team with his staff and suggests different options, and the players are invited to join in and help define the winning strategies... He involves the whole group in the match; even in the final, we saw that Krumbholz brought in young players, not only because it was an immediate solution for the game in hand, but also because it gave them experience for the future... This goes to show the immense acumen of this coach who won his 13th international medal with the French team’s position of runners-up in these World Championships. He has become the most successful French coach in the world of French handball, ahead of coaches such as Daniel Costantini or Claude Onesta... This gives an idea of the outstanding career achievements of this man who is now fostering a grand ambition: to crown this remarkable journey with success in Paris 2024!