Tess Wester: “Super cool if kids take up handball because of me”Article
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FEATURE: Initially not wanting to be a goalkeeper, Tess Wester has become one the world’s best shot stoppers thanks to hard work and determination, making her an ideal role model for the ‘Handball Inspires Generations’ campaign

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Tess Wester: “Super cool if kids take up handball because of me”

Tennis or handball? They were the only options for girls in the small village in the Netherlands where five-year-old Tess Wester and her parents moved to in 1998. As mom and dad wanted little Tess and her sisters to meet as many kids as possible in their new neighbourhood, they chose the team sport.

“I had never seen handball before but I liked it right away,” Wester tells eurohandball.com. “What I liked the most? Scoring goals - I remember how fantastic it was to run with the ball and to score.”

And she enjoyed the team spirit of handball: “Everyone brings individual qualities to the team but you will never win playing one against six. You always need your teammates.”

Anno 2018, the 25-year-old Wester is the first-choice goalkeeper with Women’s EHF Champions League participants Odense HC and the Dutch national team. She is a role model for many young players and has been selected as an ambassador for EHF's ‘Handball Inspires Generations’ campaign.

However, it had taken seven years of playing handball until she finally became a goalkeeper at the age of 12. That was not her idea as young Tess liked scoring so much, she was shooting on goal a lot, from almost any position.

“That was not very nice for the girls I was playing with so one day they told me to be the goalkeeper, at least for one half. I did that and it went pretty well,” Wester says.

When she joined a different team soon afterward, they needed a goalkeeper - and the coach asked Tess to take up this role.

“I absolutely didn’t want to do that. I remember sitting on the couch at home, crying. ‘I want to run and score goals,’ I said to my parents. But they told me to just try it. And if I would really not like it, they would tell the coach that I did not want to do it anymore.”

Since then, things have changed quickly.

Soon goalkeeper Tess was invited to a selection of the best players from the region, which took part at the Dutch national youth championships. And at that tournament, Wester got her first invitation to join the youngest age category of the national team.

“Within a year the train started running and it became a lot of fun,” Wester says. “Suddenly I was one of the best players, got a lot of attention, and that was very motivating.”

Wester was 15 years old when she first realised she could have a career in handball. She became aware that handball could be more than just a sport for her, it could become her profession.

She joined the Dutch handball federation’s academy for three years, a crucial phase early in her career. Wester recalls how she learned how to train very hard, “sometimes too hard, but you also learn from that.”

Thanks to a Dutch coach who was also working at VfL Oldenburg, she got in touch with the German club. When their first goalkeeper got injured, Oldenburg offered Wester her first contract as a professional player. Barely 18, Wester stepped into a new world.

“I worked with a Russian goalkeeper coach. I learned so much in those four years,” says Wester, who was reunited in Oldenburg with academy friends Laura van der Heijden and Lois Abbingh.

Wester helped Oldenburg win the German cup in 2012. She joined Bundesliga rivals SG BBM Bietigheim in 2015, won the club’s maiden national title, played the EHF Cup Final in 2017 and made her debut in the EHF Champions League the following season.

This season she is again part of Europe’s top flight, with her new Danish club Odense.

Her career with the national team has been even more successful. With Wester between the posts, the Netherlands won two silver medals (World Championship 2015, EHF EURO 2016) and one bronze (World Championship 2017) in recent years, and they hope to add to that tally at the EHF EURO 2018 in France.

Known for her spontaneous jubilations and being an extrovert on court, Wester has become a figurehead of Dutch women’s handball.

“It is hard to say about yourself that you are a role model but it is the way I feel in recent years,” Wester says. “Many people look at me and I get a lot of comments on social media from girls who say: ‘I want to be as good as you are’ or ‘I started playing handball because of you.’”

One fan wrote a particularly touching note to Wester.

“She told me: ‘You are the reason that I became a goalkeeper although I actually did not like it at all.’ It is really great to read that,” Wester says. “It is super cool if kids take up the sport because of me, if they also want to give everything for it.”

TEXT: Eric Willemsen / cor