HandBallJourney.com

My quest for handball greatness!

Today we had practice in the morning and a few Argentine classrooms came to watch.  Afterwards they all wanted autographs so we had fun handing out and talking with the kids.

Here’s our team captain Mark Ortega signing autographs after practice.

This happens after every scrimmage or practice as a lot of the kids here enjoy practicing their English with us.  It’s been a blast getting to know them and attempting to work on my Spanish with them as well.  They all love handball and try to trade their shirts with us whenever they get a chance… it’s a blast hanging with them! 

After practice we had the afternoon off to do some sightseeing in downtown Buenos Aires.

The hour long drive into city while fitting four giants into mini cooper sized cars was a workout in itself!

We got dropped off at the center of town near the monument and at one of the widest streets in the world.  Felt a little like Times Square but not as crazy.

I’d been here before and realized we only had about 5 hours to spare.  I made the suggestion that we walk to La Recoleta Cemetery (a famous cemetery in Buenos Aires that has something like 50+ national landmarks in it alone).

A few of the guys made remarks and grumbled at the fact of going to look at a cemetery… but once we got there, they had to stop and marvel at how amazing this place really is, and they couldn’t put there cameras away ;)

We only had a little bit of time until we had to go back so we grabbed some dinner and headed back in our tiny cabs back to the Hunger Games training grounds.

Here’s Jordan eating something OTHER than pasta (which is the only food we have ate since arriving in Argentina).

Another scrimmage tomorrow night and a couple days left til we play in our first game against Argentina.

Go USA!

Player Spotlight- Mark Ortega and Divine “The Answer” Jackson

Divine (aka The Answer)sleeping about 3 feet away from me in the Hunger Games sleeping quarters.  He’s always got a smile on his face, listing to music, talking to his kids on skype, and playing games on his iPad.

He’s been playing for the USA Men’s National Team for nearly 10 years and coaches many other sports along with doing personal training in Long Island.

He’s got some sick moves that make you look like a deer in headlights when he puts together his attack.

He plays both right and left back and is a joy to be around.  

Mark Ortega is the USA team captain.

He’s played all over Europe in Spain, Germany and Norway and has been playing with the national team for seven years.

He’s one of the first guys I reached out to after starting my handball journey. He lives in Columbus, OH when he isn’t playing pro in another country, so that gives us another great connection being from the same home town.

He also played football in college as a wide receiver at Akron University.

Mark is a guy who helps move our sport forward, keeps the team together, and works his butt off behind the scenes to help all of the athletes get the things they need to help take us to the next level.  

I’ve got a lot of respect for both these guys and I’m excited to learn more about them in the future.

Today I finally ventured out of the “Hunger Games” training grounds.  Luckily, no one was killed in the quest ;)

It was fun to get outside the big blue brick walls and walk around the streets just outside the city limits of Buenos Aires.

A number of the locals said it was dangerous on the streets and to not go to far, but I think a big group of tall Americans storming down the broken down streets was scarier for any potential “threats” we could potentially encounter.

Pretty boy Alex, the two Serbians Ivan and Vlad, my Ohio boy Jason, and our trainer Dave all went out.

We walked down the broken sidewalks, and noticed that everything here looks like it’s about 40 years outdated.

The stores weren’t like the stores you see in the states… most of the shelves are half empty, and there are very few options to choose from (especially with food).

The snack isle had a lot of options… just not like the gluten free options you see in Whole Foods :)

Pretty boy Alex (who is about to be a commander in the army stationed out of Korea) had a fun time practicing his Spanish while buying some fruit.  

There was some amazing looking Argentine meat on the street that we all were drooling over. 

We had two practices and then a scrimmage at night against one of the elite club teams in Buenos Aires.

side note… It feels like football camp all over again with three a day workouts (just without the pads and without the 100 degree heat outside ;)

It was the first time we had played together, and they had played together for a long time.  They came out playing much faster than us and with much better organization.  Lots of crosses and fast attacks at the goal.  I believe we were down 7-0 at the start… it was that rough.

We kept our composure, and came back to nearly tie it up at half time.  Our speed and fast breaks really helped us pull away at the second half as their players got so tired they started walking when we went on fast breaks.  The speed of our guys playing up top were too much for their athletic ability.  

I played way below average.  I only made one goal, missed 4 or 5 shots, messed up a few passes, turned the ball over, and had some confusion on a few of our plays.

It was tough for me to watch the game film as I’m very critical of everything I do wrong, and I can see all of my mistakes on the film (It brought me back to watching game film in football… I critiqued EVERYTHING I did… even if I scored a touchdown I could find something to improve on to make it better for the next play).

The one great thing about the game was I DID make a lot of mistakes… and I was able to visualize the corrections and see what I could do to get better for the next one.

Failing In Necessary for Champions

Failing, for me, is something that has to happen (not just in Handball, but business, life, etc).  There is a lot to learn, and little time right now… so I’m studying and practicing as much as I can to use my athletic ability to add massive value to the team to help us win.

Even though there were only 100 people in the gym during game time (at max), there was something about the energy from the game that made me feel so alive.

I think thats one of the main reason I play competitive sports at a high level.

My last pro football game in August of 2007 was in Louisville, KY and it was in front of 15,000+ screaming fans in the playoffs.

I remember the energy from that game.  Tensions were high as everything was on the line and you couldn’t hear the play being called from the huddle the crowd was screaming so loud.

This scrimmage felt like that.  Playing together with my brothers for the first time in an organized game… I was on cloud nine. 

There were kids with a big drum and they were banging it during every offensive possession we had, making it so loud it felt like were were playing in an English Premiere League soccer match with 50,000 in attendance.

As the match ended I felt both happy and sad.  

Happy that I got some game time experience with my brothers, and sad that it ended so quickly.

I wanted to play 2 or 3 more games right then, but the buzzer went off, and I have to wait til the next time.

It reminded me that NO MATTER WHAT, I need to play my ass off and give all I’ve got when I’m in the game.  

Each one of us has a gift to give to the world… and if I’m not giving my all with my athletic talents, then I’m doing the spectators, my teammates/coaches, and myself a disservice. 

Can’t wait to play the next scrimmage and express what I’ve got.

Go USA!

Player Spotlight- Adam El-Zoghby

Adam has become a good friend since I first met and played with him January 1st for a handball tournament in NYC.

He has been playing a high level of handball since 1994 and played over 130 international games for the Egyptian National Team for a number of years before deciding to switch and play for Team USA.  

He was born in NYC but raised in Egypt so he has dual citizenship.

He has one of the sickest left handed shots I’ve seen in the game at the right back position. I have the priveledge of guarding him on defense a lot during practice which I love because he makes me a better player.

His smooth fakes, fluid crosses, and whipping passes are a beauty to watch.  He is truly an art in motion. 

He is always giving me great coaching and feedback during and after practice as well to help me improve my game.  I need those insider pointers from great players to help me accelerate my learning curve of the game and get to a higher level much faster.

I hope to play with Adam for many years to come and at some point would love to go to Egypt to practice with him and his team for a few weeks.

Make sure to check out Adam’s full bio here and his Facebook fan page here.

We departed yesterday from NYC.

With a few hour layover in Atlanta, I met up with a few other of the National Team brothers.

We boarded the 10.5 hour flight to Buenos Aires and began the journey.

Within two hours of our arrival our team captain Mark Ortega came to sit next to me and says, “man, I feel great after that 8 hour nap!”

I wanted to punch him in his face since I got an hour at best of rest and had a strained neck and back from the seat. ;)

All was good though as we were about to land and I was eager to see where we were staying and start training.

We met up with a few more teammate who arrived from different cities, and took a bus to our destination.

Our technical director had mentioned in a previous email that we should prepare for “Spartan” like conditions.

I didn’t know it would resemble the hostel I slept in four years ago as I was starting out in the business world on one of my first trips to an industry event.  I didn’t mind though because at least this place didn’t have throw up all over the floor and 20 snoring European guys.

We took a tour of the place we were staying, and at first I wasn’t sure what it was… based on the gated community as it felt like we stepped into the training grounds for the Hunter Games.

It ended up being a sports club, but not like the ones you are used to in the U.S.  Everything seemed about 40 years out dated, at best.

I can’t really complain as I lived for a year on my sisters couch and my it wasn’t really like I was flying first class during my Arena Football playing days.  It was just a funny sight walking into a room of cots built for girls 5 feet tall and under.

All I need is a ball, two nets, a gym floor, and my national team teammates to be happy.

And that’s what we have here.

We ate a team lunch (while missing a few players who are arriving in a day) and then took naps as most of us were jet lagged.

After that Coach Tilton took us on a two mile run of the Hunter Games training grounds.  We did some warm up drills and went right into defensive practice.

I was pumped about this as it’s the one thing I feel I can contribute immediately to this team.  I know I can also add massive value on the offensive side of the court, but I think the coaches will need to see me prove myself in the friendly matches throughout this entire week to really feel comfortable with my game.

After practice we took showers… and luckily we found some that had hot water.  Team dinner after practice, then we watched part of an Argentine team practice on the same court.

(The wifi spot was in the dining room, hence how everyone was on their phones at this time to get online.)

Our sleeping quarters are directly above the gym, so it’s kinda crazy to be able to walk downstairs and jump on the court.

The wifi feels like dial up at best (does anyone even remember how bad dial up connection was???).

They cut off our connection at 9pm while some of the guys were on skype chatting with their kids all over the world.  I asked if anyone had cards to play as it’s hard to imagine what we all did 10 years ago when wifi wasn’t an option.

Lights out is at 11pm and half of the guys are asleep next to me already.  

These conditions remind me how amazing we have it in the United States.  The food, the training equipment, the beds, Whole Foods… and so much more.

There’s something about being in these conditions that brings me back to my Arena Football days.  It make me hungry.  It makes me connect more with my teammates and coaches.  Most of all… It makes me proud to be an American.

Looking forward to day two… as the journey continues. 

Go USA!

playing with the L.A. team for a practice two weeks before my trip to Argentina to play for Team USA!