Channeling emotion to achieve top performances
Anybody growing up in Niederwürzbach is destined to become a professional handball player. Okay, so it is not quite as simple as that – but Björn Zintel’s dream has certainly come true. Sponsored by RAMPF, Björn plays for Bundesliga team HBW Balingen Weilstetten. We caught up with him for an interview.
Hi Björn, many thanks for taking the time to talk to us. How did you get involved in handball in the first place? Did you have role models?
I’m very happy to talk to you! I started playing handball when I was three years old. I come from Niederwürzbach, a village in south-west Germany where handball has always been a big thing. My local club, TV Niederwürzbach, played in the Bundesliga, the top professional handball league, for a long time, so it was almost inevitable that I would get into the sport myself. I wouldn’t say I had any particular role models. There are so many world class players to watch and learn from – given the choice, I’d love to combine the strengths and skills of Andy Schmid, Kentin Mahé, and Marko Bezjak.
What do you find most fascinating about the sport?
The speed of it and the non-stop action that seems to take place on the spur of the moment in a game. There’s always something happening in handball – unlike a soccer match, which can sometimes be lacking in energy and end up in a goalless draw.
When did you realize you were good enough to think about playing professionally?
I went to an elite sports high school and specialized in handball, so it quickly became clear to me that I wanted to turn professional. This school gave me the chance to pursue my dream of becoming a professional handball player while also studying for my high school diploma. I’d already been nominated for the national youth team, so that fueled my ambitions at an early stage. In fact, between the school and the club, I’ve had handball training almost every day since the age of 12.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
One highlight was without doubt playing for the German U20s junior national team when we finished as runners-up in the European Championships. Tim Nothdurft, who’s in my team now, was also playing. That was a fantastic tournament. Many of the players in that team are now playing in the Bundesliga and the national A team, such as the current German captain Johannes Golla. In the semi final, we beat France in overtime. The French team had some of today’s top stars in it, too, including Dika Mem, Ludovic Fabregas, and Melvyn Richardson, who all play for FC Barcelona.
After a difficult first half of the season, the second half is just about to get underway. What is HBW Balingen-Weilstetten hoping to achieve?
Our aim is always to pull out all the stops and channel our emotions to deliver top performances. It’s proving a hard season – maybe even harder than last year – so it’s a case of drawing on everything we’ve got in every game to collect the points we need.
As a professional athlete, nutrition must be an important part of your conditioning. Does your club give you a diet plan to follow or do you avoid chips, chocolate, and so on by choice?
You’re right, nutrition is really important in elite sport. In general, I think we handball players are able to take the occasional liberty, unlike athletes competing in sports where it’s all about endurance. We’re left to manage our diets ourselves and aren’t given any plans to follow. Having said that, we get regular talks about nutrition and other relevant topics, so we’re well informed and know what’s expected of us as professional athletes.
Apart from handball, what schooling or professional training have you had?
After doing my Abitur, the German high school diploma, I spent two years in the handball division of the sports group within the German armed forces, which was a fantastic experience. I’m currently doing a distance learning course in business psychology at the IU International University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt.
How do you manage to combine professional sport and your studies?
Since it’s distance learning, I have complete flexibility and can organize my university work in the way that suits me. I don’t think it would be feasible otherwise, because it would be practically impossible to combine my training and match schedule with attendance at a conventional university.
I’m a big fan of the way the distance learning course is organized and delivered – I’d certainly recommend it!
You do obviously need a lot of self discipline to make sure that you sit down at your desk and get on with the written work and lectures on the days you’re free. I sit the exams online at home, with a special video monitoring system.
Apart from handball, what are you aiming for professionally?
Other than handball, I’d obviously like to get my degree. If all goes well, I’d like to do a Master’s, too. My hope is that I’ll then be able to embrace a new, professional challenge with the same approach that I take to professional sport – with one hundred percent enthusiasm!
MANY THANKS FOR TALKING TO US – AND ALL THE BEST FOR BOTH YOUR SPORTS AND ACADEMIC CAREER!