8th March 2022
One of England Handball’s longest-serving figures says she has high hopes for the future of the women’s game in this country - but that there’s still a way to go until it achieves its full potential.
Melanie Chowns has been involved in the sport for almost 50 years – and was team manager for the women’s Team GB squad at the 2012 Olympics.
She was one of the country’s first female handball coach back in the 1990s at a time when very few women were coaching - but today proudly boasts that a third of all coaches in the sport are female.
Melanie said there’s no reason why that figure shouldn’t equal that of the men’s, once the sport recovers from the impact of the Covid pandemic.
She is now one of the key figures in the sport’s youth development and said: “It’s so important we continue to drive the sport forward. It feels like we have parity now in terms of the number of junior girls playing as boys, and it would be fantastic to achieve that parity with the coaching structure too.
“Covid knocked us back a little bit with some clubs struggling to keep operating, but we have a really strong pathway of teams coming through.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but the talent pool coming through now is really exciting.
“It’s such a brilliant sport for young boys and girls to play, but girls have less choice, so it’s even more important we make it as appealing to as many as possible.
“To do that, we need more role model coaches and players, and to help the junior clubs get up and running.”
Melanie started playing handball for West London Eagles back in 1975, retiring in the 1990s before moving into coaching the club’s women’s team, and going on to manage the Team GB Olympics women’s squad at London 2012.
She’s since moved to work in junior development - and now coaches the U16 and U19 girls for the Eagles.
Together with Ricardo Vasconcelos, EHA Coaching and Workforce Manager, she has been instrumental in setting up a women-only coaching group in a bid to enhance the prospects of the sport’s female coaches.
Also among the intentions are to set up the first ever female handball conference - bringing together top players and coaches from the sport to share ideas and inspire one another.
She said: “Junior development is one of my biggest passions and an area where women are really strong in this country, with so many female coaches coming through the ranks who are doing an amazing job.
“They’re doing absolutely brilliantly - but we now need to develop and support them.
“Some of them are experienced, but some of them may need a little bit more support in the way of workshops or a platform to share experiences and ask questions they may not feel comfortable about asking in a male-dominated environment - providing that open, free, non-judgemental forum for coaches to share ideas.
“The more we can do to help, the better.”
As part of International Women’s Day, Melanie paid tribute to fellow inspirational women coaching at clubs across the country - including Donna Hankinson and Sue Whitehead from NEM Hawks; Ilona Loewnau from Shropshire Handball; and Agi Foeglein from Cambridge Handball Club.
She added: “There are so many incredible women to mention - and IWD is a good chance to shout about their successes.
“It is vital that we continue to shine a light on them and recognise their key role in helping drive the sport forward.”
Ricardo Vasconcelos, EHA Coaching and Workforce Manager, said: "We know just how lucky we are to have so many amazing women like Melanie driving the game forward in England.
"With an incredible talent pool and brilliant group of female coaches to match, the future is looking bright."