31st January 2022
Name: Anna Rayner
Place of Birth: Madrid, Spain
How did you get into handball?
Like most girls, I played netball all through primary school and into secondary, but I wasn’t being picked for the top teams, so I started thinking it just wasn’t for me. I stuck with it until my PE teacher told me he was creating a handball team for some school games and asked me to be in it. I jumped at the chance to play a new sport and loved the introduction I had.
Tell us about your handball journey - and how you got to where you are now?
I was 12 when I started playing for Guildford Sabers. Then when I was 14, I got into the South East regional team where, in my second and final year, I heard of a new programme that England Handball was setting up called the Elite Performance Academy (EPA).This is where I now live in student accommodation in Loughborough and train up to eight times a week, plus matches with João Castro, a professional coach. In September 2020, me and eight others moved away from our homes aged 16 and started our first year of college. In 2021, I began my second and final year at the EPA. I was a pivot when I started playing, which was unusual as I was quite short. Everyone tried to get me to change position - and by the time I was 16, I had become a playmaker - the position I have kept until now.
Do you remember your first goal?
Yes - and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. It was an Under 16s game against Islington. I was playing as pivot for Guildford and I remember running across the defence, getting the ball, turning and shooting. Afterwards, everyone was asking ‘was that your first goal?’. I had only been playing for a few months. I was delighted. It was a great feeling.
What’s your favourite thing about handball?
It’s got to be the team aspect of the sport and being able to win with a team and the truly great feeling that gives you - knowing everyone is there to support you. I also love the intensity of the sport and having to make those quick decisions. As playmaker, you have to be creative in those quick attacks. I really enjoy being able to do that and figuring out ways of breaking down a defence. I watch a lot of handball on TV - it’s pretty much all I watch in fact. I watch and analyse handball for a minimum of about seven hours a week.
Describe handball in a sentence? Quick, intense and gratifying.
Who is your sporting icon?
Norwegian playmaker Stine Bredal Oftedal. She’s the captain of the national team - and was voted World Handball Player of the Year in 2019. I look up to her, I admire the way she plays and like me, she’s quite short too!
What’s your handball dream?
I want to end up with a professional contract somewhere in Europe. My dream is to play in the EHF Champions League - somewhere like Germany or Denmark.
What’s your best attribute?
The ability to think and act quickly - and my decision making.
How has England Handball helped your career?
I’m currently based at England Handball’s Elite Performance Academy in Loughborough, where I’ve received so much support from National Performance Manager Bobby White. Bobby and his team have given us loads of support on nutrition, strength and conditioning, and more. They’re always great to speak to as well as being so helpful in both our handball careers and life.
What advice would you give to young people looking to take up handball?
I would say first off, have as much fun as you can. That’s really important. Watch as much handball as you can - and try and learn from top players and see how amazing handball can be at that top level.
Could handball one day become a mainstream sport in the UK?
I think it could, yes - so long as it grows and continues to grow. It’s such an inclusive sport which really is for everyone. It’s obviously so huge in Europe, so if awareness and participation can increase here, then I don’t see why it can’t one day be up there with football, rugby and cricket in this country.
National Performance Manager Bobby White said: We created the EPA to give players like Anna the opportunity to access the kind of support elite players in Europe will benefit from. Putting an elite development programme in place for these players isn't easy. The time constraints and commitment required to manage all the key aspects of becoming an elite athlete, in tandem with the players academic programme is a real challenge. The handball, fitness and other sessions like video analysis, nutrition etc are wrapped around the players' academic timetable. It's a very demanding environment requiring an elite mindset to achieve excellence across all areas of the programme. Anna is a great example of how a young person dedicated to their sport and their studies can thrive in this environment'. To find out more about the England Handball Performance Pathway, click here.