We’re back with our monthly interviews and, this time, we will take a moment to hear from our women’s team head coach, Kristina (a.k.a Tina) Alavanja who has been leading our women’s team handball program for more than a year.
What’s your name, age, role in the club, and where do you come from?
I’m Kristina Alavanja, 42, head coach of San Francisco Calheat women’s team. You can call me Tina!
Tell us a bit about your handball background and career…
I started playing (team) handball when I was 10 at Handball Club “Dinamo” Pancevo, a little town right next to Belgrade in Serbia. Shortly after, I signed my first professional contract at the age of 14. Even today, I still remember my very first goal during the adult competition tournament against one of the best goalkeepers back then in Yugoslavia (Branka Jovanovic). Being young and talented I got the opportunity to join one of the best teams in Europe, ZRK Radnicki Belgrade, right at 17! I was lucky to be a part of the team and able to travel around Europe especially during the hard days in the 90s. At Radnicki, I played at different international events, such as the EHF Cup’s Winners Cup. With Dinamo and Radnicki I managed to win several National Championships, particularly in youth and junior categories. Unfortunately, at the age of 23, and due to major injuries, I had to say goodbye to handball.
That’s a tough end. But surely you still got a lot to share. What do you love about the sport? Any memorable moments?
I love this sport because it requires fantastic physical and mental abilities, and combines different skills which can also be seen in some other sports in general. Handball requires a high level of speed, endurance, coordination, perception, awareness, teamwork, discipline and tactics that keep you engaged through the game and challenges you constantly.
You’ve decided to coach the San Francisco Calheat women’s team. Why? How would you describe the club, its people and the atmosphere?
After being several years in California, I had the opportunity to attend one of the youth tournaments where I met several members of the women’s team. Through our discussions, they invited me to attend one of the training sessions where I saw a lot of potential and improvement areas. At that time, the team had no coach assigned and, after several sessions, the board decided to appoint me for the position. Our club is really multicultural, diverse as we all come from different places around the globe. This helps us learn from each other, and brings up a fun environment during our practices and tournaments. We are all dedicated to the team and the club and focused to represent the sport at its best. We are a big family!
What do you love about coaching? What are your values?
I have always loved sharing the knowledge with my peers and teammates, which has been reflective of my professional career. With the opportunity to teach and guide my team members in tactical situations while establishing the long term strategy and vision I am very thankful to be leading this team. When it comes to the values I bring on the table, I put a lot of emphasis on teamwork and the synergies – this is fundamental in this sport. Besides, I try to strengthen trust between the players, and guarantee that the team’s dynamic is healthy. Handball as a sport is very challenging and requires focus, and that is why determination and resilience are some of the values I also cherish.
The season’s first half is now behind with some great matchups against the best teams in the country. What is your goal for the second half? What should we expect from the upcoming US Nationals (May 8-10, in Detroit)?
We always strive to learn and level up our game as a team and individually through our practices and tournaments. We would love to have more opportunities to compete in our area/state. Yet, due to the distances separating clubs, this remains a challenging task. For the US Nationals, I do believe my team will act and play as a team, and ultimately reflect on what we’ve been working on during the season and, who knows, some opportunities may open.
What’s your view on handball in the US? How do you see it developing in the coming years?
Handball in the US has a lot of potential specifically for the upcoming younger generations. With the rich diversity that this country has with players from all backgrounds, as well as the physical and mental capacities, the US teams could potentially be developing into more competitive levels. As I see it, handball as a sport in the US does not have adequate coverage and understandings in the media and very often delivers a wrong/confusing message to potential youth players. I think we can all do a better job in educating the media, schools and general public about the sport and the impact it can have on next generations. The popularity of the sport is also most often challenged at educational institutions where the focus (and budgets) are mostly dedicated to sports like basketball, baseball and football. Given the size of the market, it would be beneficial to have further representation from the IHF to strengthen such presence and help the federation to accurately market (and advertise) the sport along with the ability to bring sponsors to a comparable level as other relatively popular sports in the US.
Last. What would be your best advice to new and developing US players, dreaming of the 2028 Summer Olympics?
I do see the 2028 Summer Olympics as an amazing milestone for young athletes to make history in their careers through handball. My advice to developing players would be to take this as a chance to learn the sport, become familiar and eventually professional athletes who will be Olympians. I’m convinced that this fantastic sport may open up many doors in their personal and professional careers. So, please make sure you reach out to you local club and explore options to start learning handball 🙂