Handball is a fantastic sport for women. Everyone attacks, everyone defends, it's fast, fierce, high scoring, and incredibly entertaining. The Scottish Handball Association (SHA) is continuously striving to get more women and girls involved and increase the representation.
Female participation within handball in Scotland is growing. Since the 2019/20 season, the adult female (16+) playing membership of Scottish Handball has grown by approximately 40%, and as of March 2022, 41.2% of Scottish Handball’s members were female.
Funding from sportscotland and the European Handball Federation (EHF) has allowed the SHA to recruit two new Development Officers to develop the women and girls’ game and grow handball at primary school level. Having staff dedicated to the growth of the women and girls’ game is a huge positive, and Scottish Handball now also have more female staff than male for the first time.
Student clubs are paving the way
Student handball clubs have played a massive role in the rise of female membership across Scotland. University and College sport offers a significant opportunity for individuals to try new sports. Handball is also a popular sport across mainland Europe, and often international students studying in Scotland work with home players to bring on their skills and expertise.
Julia Stenhouse, Operations Manager at the Scottish Handball Association, commented: “Female Scottish student handball players are fantastic ambassadors for the sport across the UK. We have an equal number of men’s and women’s student handball teams competing in their respective men’s and women’s Scottish Student Handball leagues. We also had a larger number of female student handball players than male in season 21/22.”
“Recently, eight women’s and men’s student handball teams travelled to Derby (4 and 5 March) to take part in the BUCS Handball Championship Finals weekend. Out of the four women’s teams who travelled south, two teams won the silver medal in their respective Trophy/Cup competitions. This is the second year in a row Glasgow University Women’s Handball has been crowed the 2nd best women’s handball team in the UK.”
SHA Equality Working Group
The SHA established an equality working group to increase the number of women and girls in handball. With the return to sport in January 2022, the group produced content for Instagram promoting ‘top tips’ for retaining female players. They profiled several prominent women and girls in the Scottish handball landscape for Scottish Women and Girls in Sport week, asking the women to discuss barriers for women and girls participating in the sport, later using these answers to inform discussions at working group meetings. Members of the group also hosted a podcast to discuss the barriers to participation (link at end of article).
The power of promotion
The SHA produced a new Digital Media strategy in 2020.
Julia commented: “Digital media is central to achieving the Scottish Handball strategic target of sustainable growth of the women and girls’ game. We have a target of at least 50% of all content on our channels to represent women’s handball.”
“We aim to achieve this by promoting our women’s league through weekly match graphics, utilising female imagery in workforce imagery such as refereeing and coaching, promoting the women’s national academy programme, promoting female match play on TikTok and Instagram, as well as promoting all women in handball content from the European Handball Federation.”
Since implementing the strategy, since 2020 the SHA has increased their ratio of female followers by nearly 9%.
Continuous learning and development
Increasing female participation is at the forefront of the SHA’s agenda and the governing body is continually looking to enhance their skills and knowledge to help grow the game.
Julia mentioned “COVID-19 forced a reboot of our Girls National Academy programme. After the COVID-19 break, the SHA recruited a new, majority female, coaching and managerial team for the girls’ squads. Across 2022, SHA staff and an Academy Coach also took part in Well HQ workshops, to aid our learning on how to ensure young female handball players feel comfortable in our National Academy Programme. We have since added key points to our programmes, such as the usage of dark coloured playing shorts and conversations surrounding the importance of wearing correct supportive sports bras.”