“Women know a lot about handball”
April 8, 2023
by Sascha Staat
After winning the EHF Champions League with Vipers Kristansand last year, Isabell Gullden stepped away from the highest level of handball and enjoys the game in her home country Sweden. She has also assumed a new role, being part of the coaching staff of Sweden’s national “B-team”. After her debut on the bench in Almere against the Netherlands, she talked about her “new” career and the development of women coaching handball.
How does it feel to work as a coach?
IG: It’s really different. It’s a big change for me and this is the first time I try it for real – so yeah, it was nice.
What are your expectations with regards to coaching handball? Is it something you’ll think about doing for the next ten or 20 years?
IG: Actually, I never thought about coaching because I always did what I felt was the correct next move on the field. But, after I moved home to Sweden, I started to be around younger players and I felt the need to be more of a leader and coach as well. Maybe it’s something for me to further develop – it’s really fun. For now, I just try it for these three days and then we will see. Maybe yes, maybe no, I don’t know, yet.
Did you like your debut?
IG: It was really nice, it was good and I think the girls had a real good game. In defense, when we played a 6:0 formation, they were really going for it. It was easy to be on the sidelines and just give some small tips. We just trained two times together, so everything was really new but the squad did really well.
Have expectations changed with regards to the Swedish team over the last two or three years or so? Your “A-team” is doing a great job in international tournaments and it is really close to playing for medals. They are not there yet, but getting very close. How can you use your experience to make sure that they reach the next level?
IG: I think ever since Tomas Axner took over, he has created a really good structure. Every player knows exactly what to do and I could feel it when we came here. For example, we are trying to play as the “A-team”, try to do exactly the same things – all in all it’s very well structured.
The team does a great job and us on the bench try to do it the same way. It’s also easier for the young and new players who come into the team – it will lift them up right away. Right now, we are among the top four or five teams in the world. But, to reach one level higher, the goalkeepers need to do better.
We also need a bit more depth, so that key players like Jamina Roberts can come in and out while taking five or ten minutes to catch their breath. Overall it’s already a good system, but you cannot say that I have anything to do with what they are doing in Sweden right now.
I guess you have to be patient because once you reach a certain level, everybody thinks they can win a medal?
IG: It takes a long time. And, as you can see, there’s always one team in a championship that surprises everyone. Like Montenegro at EURO 2022. At the moment the top three are Norway, France and Denmark while Russia is not part of this group anymore. To break into this group, you need to do really well. I think this Swedish team is really beginning to get used to it, to play at this level. They are really, really close. It can be as long as another two years, but it can also happen next year.
How did it feel to sit on the bench and not being able to get on the court?
IG: It felt strange. But, I’m really done with competing at this level. Of course, when you sing the national anthem you still get goosebumps – especially when there is a full house. But, I don’t have the motivation and power to train as hard as these girls do – I’m just not on this level anymore.
Still – it has been less than one year since winning the EHF Champions League in Budapest for a second time…
IG: Yes, it’s true. This was a real nice way to finish my career on a high level. Now, I’m doing a lot of other things that I’m really happy about. I’m also working with young players to develop them further. I like it and I think this is also what I will be doing down the road.
Recently more former players, like yourself, who have performed at the very top are working in handball. What do you think about it?
IG: I think we only see the beginning of women becoming more active, now. Before, women were not stepping up as quickly as we still don’t see so many female coaches. But, Amorim is going for it now and Bojana Popovic already is a coach. This is a good development because there have to be role models girls can relate to.
It’s the same when a player is having a child. Others can see that you can come back. It’s the same when it comes to coaching because we are women and not men. We have to make a conscious decision, when to take the time out? When should I change? Can I do it? You always have doubts and questions.
I think it’s really good that more and more women are also trying to get into coaching, because women know a lot about handball.