Handball may not spring to mind as a sport that you know too much about, but GB international, Sam Crocker takes us through his story to representing both his country and God.
Sam, tell us about your life growing up?
I was incredibly blessed to have been brought up in a Christian home by my two loving parents. I always went to church and my best friends now are the guys that I grew up with throughout my early years as a Christian. Although I went to church every week, my faith didn’t really mean anything to me until a lot later in life. I loved sport from an early age and my parents were really supportive in giving me the opportunities to play as much sport as possible. I went to an amazing secondary school in Birmingham, where sport was a real priority and that’s really where my passion for Jesus and sport grew.
At what point did you first hear about Handball?
I was always aware of handball as a sport, but I didn’t know anything about it until the London 2012 Olympics. I remember watching it on TV and trying to work out what some of the rules were but I literally had no idea! I was completely inspired by the Olympics and I remember watching the opening ceremony and thinking to myself, “I want to be part of that one day”. I then went to university in September and, fortunately for me, a couple of other guys had also seen it in the Olympics and decided to start up a handball club. That’s where I first started playing and immediately fell in love with it.
What makes a good Handball player?
Handball is a bit of a mixture of a few different sports. It’s kind of like a hybrid of water polo, basketball and rugby. It’s a very quick and explosive team-sport and so you need to be physically strong and fit to play. It is also a contact sport, not to the same level as rugby, but it therefore requires a bit of ‘fight’ to really get stuck in. That being said, I think the most important thing is that you can throw and catch, as essentially this is the aim of the sport- to throw a ball into a goal.
What position do you play?
I play in a position called ‘pivot’ or ‘line’. Usually you would find a line player in amongst the opposition defenders. This means that I’m heavily marked, but if someone can get the ball to me then the chance of scoring is usually higher as I am closer to the goal.
Tell us about how you came to represent England?
After playing handball at university for a few months and joining a local club, I decided to go for an England U19s trial. Amazingly, even as one of the least experienced players, I was selected and went to a training camp and tournament in Denmark. About a year later I was invited to trial for the GB U21 squad for their World Championship Qualifiers in Medway, Kent. Again, the coaches saw something in me that they liked and I played against some really good teams. Following this, I was selected for the senior men’s GB squad to play in my first senior international tournament.
What are your ambitions in the game?
I would absolutely love to represent Great Britain again- there is currently no funding for a senior men’s team and so the number of games we can play is very limited. I also currently play for a team in Brighton and would love to help them get promoted to the top league in this country!
Best country you’ve been to whilst representing England?
I have visited Denmark, The Netherlands and Germany representing various England and GB squads, but it would have to be Kosovo for my first senior tournament with the GB team. We were treated like royalty there and had an amazing 5* hotel!
Do you think Handball will continue to grow in the future?
Absolutely! All the funding that is currently being provided by Sport England is going into grassroots and youth handball. This is the key for growth in sports like this. It is huge in almost every other European country, with professional leagues and thousands of people going to watch the games every week. I don’t know why it has never really caught on here, but I think that with a bit more exposure in the media, it could become one of the biggest team sports in the U.K.
Aside from Handball, do you watch, play any other sports?
My first sporting love was for cricket- I used to play for a team growing up in Birmingham and captained the First XI at school. Since then, handball has pretty much taken over. Other than that, I played rugby at school and love playing and watching football, tennis and pretty much any other sport that’s available!
Tell us how you became a Christian?
As I mentioned before, I have always gone to church, but I don’t think it was until I went to university that it really clicked. Suddenly, when you move away from your home, you are forced to make a decision as to whether or not you really want to follow this Jesus guy or whether you want to follow everyone else. I think that previously I had just gone to church because my parents went and I got to see all my friends. Going to university changed my perspective and what previously was my parents’ faith became my own. I decided that I was going to try to live my life differently to those around me and it was through Jesus that I have found true freedom.
How do you take your faith with you onto the court?
I think for me it is all about my attitude. I believe in good sportsmanship, honesty, positivity, humility and encouragement, but I also play hard and with a lot of passion. To be able to play in a way that honours God is really tough- I don’t always agree with the referees, I get frustrated with my teammates, I disagree with the coach, but I have to remember that I am playing for an audience of One. I enjoy praying before the game and thanking God for the ability and opportunity to play.
Do you chat with team-mates about your faith?
I have done, yes. I think when they see that you do things a little bit differently to most other players, they have a bit more time for what you have to say. I have invited my whole handball team to my wedding in June and for some of them it will be their first experience of even being inside a church, but I am hoping it will start a few conversations.
Do you believe God has planted you in the game of Handball for a reason?
Yes He has! As Matthew 9:37 says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” In my sport the harvest area is huge- I have become connected to so many people through handball. However, I may be the only Christian that I know in my sport, but God has given me ‘all authority on Earth and in heaven’ to go and make disciples in my sporting field.
How are you using the sport to glorify God?
I think that when you aren’t playing for a result, for personal glory, for the approval of your coach or for the respect of the people watching it completely takes all the pressure off. God has given me the ability to play sport, so through handball I can give something back to Him. Handball is my worship. Sometimes I get it wrong, most of the time actually, but worship isn’t about being perfect. It’s about coming before God with what you have and saying, “Here I am. Use me for your glory.”
Favourite Bible verse?
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” – Romans 12:1