I want it so badly this yearArticle
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BLOG: Larvik captain Gro Hammerseng-Edin explores what has driven her and her teammated to step up their game to such impressive levels this season on the road to the MVM EHF FINAL4 in Budapest

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I want it so badly this year

It is just great for me to be able to say that I’m madly looking forward to playing the MVM EHF FINAL4 in Budapest on 9/10 May.

Obviously, this has been our main goal all this season. It is important for me to emphasise that we are in no way content with just having reached the FINAL4. Our team consists of players and coaches who aim high and there is no doubt that we are chasing the big trophy.

Last year we were disappointed. We did not perform well enough. After four seasons in a row where we were among the four best teams (two finals and two semi-finals) we did not manage to qualify for the new FINAL4.

I tried convincing myself that failing is human. The other teams were good teams who had undoubtedly worked very hard to get that far. Blah blah blah. My point is that it did not help much to try and curb the disappointment. It did not work.

I soon realised that we had to look forward. What was needed? What did I have do better? How was I going to achieve it? What should we focus on as a team? Larvik was going to be part of the FINAL4 in the spring of 2015. That has been lying deep in us every day ever since we wasted that opportunity about a year ago.

Proving the critics wrong

I have the pleasure of working with people who are just as dedicated to handball as I am. That goes for the players as well as for the coaches. Most of us have won a lot already, but we have definitely also experienced disappointments and hardship at various levels.

In some cases, an opponent is simply better. In other cases it is you who do not get enough out of your potential in the deciding moments. I am boiling inside each time someone from the outside questions our commitment, our motivation.

After last season, my teammates and I were accused, among other things, of not being hungry enough. Apparently it looked as if we did not want it enough. Of course, it is okay to think that. It is okay to say it. I may even have looked that way in some matches, but I would allow myself to say that it is wide of the mark.

On top of being disappointed, I was angry for some time with the critics who came up with these allegations, which I found to be foolish. Sometimes, that can become an obstacle and prevent you from being constructive, reflective and thoughtful.

I am glad that, together with my teammates, coaches and officials, I have been focusing on training to become as good a handball player as possible. To become better as a team. Big and small changes have been made and in the priority of our training, in physical training as well as in the handball training itself.  More focus on strength, less on running. More focus on training attack and on developing systems which are suitable against certain opponents. More exercises with duel training. At the same time, a lot of our work has been done in the same way as before.

Much of it has been very good, you see, despite the fact that we did not reach our goal last year. It is no coincidence that Larvik has been among the world’s elite clubs for several years. We have been considering what was important to bring along with us and what should be improved or solved in a different manner. We made priorities. Some choices were made by the coaches, some were made by each individual player in her personal struggle to develop. The best we could make out of last season in the Champions League was learning. Experience.

Step by step, the disappointment let go. Most of us were continuing to play in the Larvik jersey. The opportunity to “get another chance” was there. I was very grateful for that.

Reasons behind the improvement

Apart from some adjustments in training, I have been preoccupied by my own thoughts. By my approach to the matches. Thoughts during the matches and after the matches. Main focus on the match, yes, that was where I had most to think about. Optimising my own mind-set became a special task. I am going to spare you the details about this, but my point is I was at least as focused on the mental training as on the physical training.

As I am writing this, it is natural to ask: What is the main reason for our better season this year? Why did we manage to qualify for the FINAL4 this year, but not last year?

I would say that there are many reasons, and it is hard to say which ones are the most essential ones. No doubt it is tempting to answer that it is because we have a deeper squad this year, that we have been reinforced by some new players, or that we have more players who have maintained a higher and more consistent level this season. Maybe we have made better priorities at training?

What annoys me a bit is that I personally suspect that I, and we as a team, have WANTED THIS so badly this year! This can have much to do with it. The burning wish to get to Budapest has been so obvious and has been shining out of our eyes the entire time.

In a financially tough time for the club, the hunger and the dream to take part in the FINAL4 and to take the big trophy back home has been overshadowing everything else. The threat of bankruptcy hanging over our heads has not made us lose our focus. In away matches against strong opponents we have been the better team again and again.

I hate to admit it, but maybe I WANT it more this year. Have we managed to pull out some extra resources because it hurt so badly to be sitting at home, when the CL was being decided last year? Is it good that I got angry at the journalists who thought that we had we older players who had become too “satisfied”? Did I get some extra “go” from being provoked? Does the will to win wake me up from a light sleep?

I obviously realise that it is about much more than wanting to win. If it had only been about wishing strongly enough, several teams would just have been sitting on their behinds, wanting this and that instead of training. I suppose I have realised that in the competition with teams who probably also spend a lot of time training and who have lots of good players, such factors may end up being decisive. How important is it to me to win? How hungry am I?

Maybe I have been able to give more than I thought I had in me in some situations, because I have wanted to give the finger to that journalist who indicated that I was old and had won all the medals I wanted? A little embarrassing to admit that there probably is an extra drive in that, but is it really so bad if it improves my level? And if I end up being hungrier for the win than I was last year?

All my teammates have their own experience from this season, they all have their trigger points to what causes that special look to appear in their eyes, the look that reveals how keen and focused they are, the look which is so full of will power. I would say that I have seen exactly THAT look on their faces more frequently than I did last year. I do not know much about the reasons for that, but one thing is for sure: It has been extremely powerful for us as a team.

TEXT: Gro Hammerseng-Edin, Larvik captain