16th February 2019
Chelsea Handball club, guided by an ethos of inclusivity, is making waves in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
The club has seen amazing growth. It started with just two junior boys’ teams in 2017, and now has 105 players. 39 of those players are juniors with one girls’ team and three boys’ teams – one of which plays in the senior men’s South East league.
Junior head coach Nataliya Kocheva explained the key ethos of inclusivity. She said: “We have children with different abilities and needs, so we try to adapt and personalise. We’re still learning!” Kocheva says parents are invited to get involved with the club. She explained: “The strategy we adopt is family based. If you are part of our family, we are looking after you, everyone is welcome and inclusion is our first and main objective.”
Players with disabilities are included in training in exactly the same way as able-bodied players. “We don’t judge people, I don’t do separation. We include everybody. We want everybody to have that sense of belonging.”
England Handball Volunteer of the Year Jamie Lau assists with coaching the Under-14 and Under-16 squads. He works alongside Kocheva and agrees that the club is all about bringing people together. He said: “We are happy for anyone to join and also we only charge a very small fee if players are not from a wealthy family. We would do whatever we can so everyone can play handball. We also organise a Christmas kids party so all the kids would get a certificate and Natalyia would explain to the kids and their parents what they need to improve.”
Lau relishes working alongside Kocheva, a former professional handball player for CSKA (Sofia) and for Bulgaria’s Under-20 side. He added: “Natalyia is a coach with lot of energy. All she wants the kids to do is to learn new things in every session. It doesn’t matter how many times they fail, she insists on putting them right. She runs session after session almost every day. She chose to be a handball coach just because she loves this sport so much. I have been learning a lot beside her, not only coaching but also other things in life.”
Kocheva’s strategy is for the juniors’ training to mirror the seniors, so there is less of a step between the two squads. She organises tournaments where seniors and juniors play together. In addition she introduces teachers to handball, as a route to take the sport to children.
She said: “We have a strategy to work closely with PE teachers. Because we recognise that we cannot produce enough awareness of the sport if we do not have the support of PE teachers. And that gives us greater access to schools, for example we deliver handball for PE teachers. We make them play, as well!
"They start loving the sport instantly. We then get access to deliver a few sessions in the PE lessons, in class. Our observation is that as soon as the students get their first feel for the game, they start loving the game.”