New Zealand Fistball take on the World
It’s a sport played in 60 countries, yet it’s not well known in New Zealand. It is played with five players per team, on a grass field 50m long x 20m wide with a 2m high tape net in the middle and a smaller, harder and heavier ball than a volleyball. Like volleyball, up to three strikes of the ball are allowed to hit the ball into the oppositions side of the court though only one arm and a closed fist are used to hit the ball and a bounce between each shot is allowed.
Our New Zealand Fistball Association has been around a mere three years, and last month competed at the 15th Men’s World Championship event held in Winterthur, Switzerland. Given the sport didn’t exist in New Zealand four years ago when the last World Champs were held, in true Kiwi fashion, our boys punched well above their weight.
I had the privilege of travelling with our NZ Men’s Fistball team as their Physio and was able to help out other teams travelling without a medical team as well. The NZ team had been together as a unit for around six months trying to train together a couple of times a week to get prepped for the big stage of World’s. With challenges of half the team living away from Christchurch, many being parents, everyone working full time and being a fully self-funded sport, the fact that the team could get to World Champs, was in itself, pretty impressive. I was lucky to work with a group of athletes, each with hugely mixed sporting histories but all with the same drive to perform on the world stage and make their families and NZ proud.
The guys arrived in Winterthur after a pre-Championship Swiss club tournament and training camp in Germany, in pretty high spirits and in great playing form. The tournament took over the local football stadium and with 18 teams competing in the largest World Champs to date, the NZ team was undaunted. Chants from huge crowds of “Hopp Schwiitz” (“Let’s go Swiss”) and “Clap your hands for Fistball” filled the stadium from Day 1. The Swiss, as we expected, put on a stunning tournament with upwards of 4000 people watching every day. The event was a sell out by finals, with 8000 people filling the stands especially for their beloved Swiss team, who ultimately finished in 4th place.
Our men performed really well and achieved their first goal of making top 12, much to the surprise of the rest of the world. A five set comeback win against Serbia in pool play and wins over Poland and Belgium cemented this. Then a few tough games against Chile, Italy and the USA followed in the double elimination rounds. The guys showed great fight and took a set off the Chilean team (who finished 6th) and had a very close match with the USA, unfortunately ending on the losing side. They were the only debuting team to make top 12 and made sure everyone knew they should be there by beating Denmark in emphatic fashion to finish 11th in a 3:0 match.
Travelling with such a great group of athletes and being able to help keep them all in one piece for such a big sporting event was a real honour for me. The guys were awesome at making sure they were as prepared as possible for the World Champs and threw everything into the tournament, making my job a whole lot easier. New Zealand relished the whole time in Switzerland and have brought another level of motivation and excitement to the sport here at home.
Now time to brush up on my own Fistball skills… Bring on Women’s World Champs, Chile 2020.
(Cover Photo cred: Stoeldt)