Thoughts from the Maiden Voyage

Erkki Miinala is a Finnish national goalball team player, a Paralympic gold medallist (2012) and a European Champion (2011). 

Little less than four months to go until the Goalball European Championships in our home soil in Pajulahti Sports Institute! We have just come back from a tough international Malmö Men Intercup tournament where we finished 8th. This was our maiden voyage under our new coaching staff and even though the result doesn’t satisfy anyone in our team it is much more important at this point of our preparation to the Euros to see behind the results.

Before the Malmö Intercup we knew there were at least three realities that would have an influence to the result. First of all we have worked three months with our new coaching staff including three training camps and intensive weekly training with our new head coach. Malmö would be our first international tournament with our new coaches which means we would have to learn new ways to cooperate, new meeting conventions, new match preparations and new playing identity. In Malmö we managed to create clear and well-working routines of how and when we go through the upcoming match and when we analyse the latest match. We also went through and got to learn many new routines inside the match which gives us confidence to the future tournaments.

The second big thing influencing our result in Malmö was that our coaching staff wanted to give a real chance for every player in our team to show how they can perform in international level. It meant that each of our six players would get enough playing time to show their skills, which lead to hard player rotation inside matches. It might have seemed to outsiders that we made substitutions with sometimes quite weird timing but inside the team we knew the name of the game and it didn’t bother us. At times some of our less experienced players were thrown in to the game in decisive moments but I’m sure that it was a great opportunity for them to learn to cope with the pressure.

The third thing that clearly had an influence to our result in Malmö was that two of our most experienced players: myself and captain Jarno Mattila had some small injuries and we couldn’t quite give all we got in the tournament. It wasn’t anything serious and I believe that we will be in a hundred percent shape in the European Championships.

Erkki Miinala

During the first day of the Malmö tournament we were visibly nervous. It was a learning day for us. We were bit shaky in the beginning of our first match against Ukraine. I wonder if we were too anxious to show what we got? In that frame of mind you might lose the control of your playing. Your timing is off, you react too quickly, the ball slips from your hands, bounces away from you and sometimes even climbs over you to the net. A match that should have been completely winnable was lost because our nervousness. Also the inexperience of our coaches led to two penalties for Ukraine which didn’t help us players to get in to the game. The second match against Great Britain started the same way as the first ended but during the match we were able to get a grip, got more relaxed and started to do things as a team again which resulted to a narrow win.

On Friday night we held a team meeting where we discussed with the coaches about the ways to get us players more concentrated, more relaxed and less anxious so that everyone would be able to play at their best. After the meeting us players held our own meeting: six grown men lying in a double bed trying to find the ways to tighten our defence, to rhythm our playing and some other game related stuff that we needed to improve. A wonderful team spirit and rough humour have always been our backbone and that’s how it will be in the future also!

Our meetings seemed to have worked out. When we met the reigning Paralympic gold medallist Lithuania on Satuday morning our squad was again concentrated, well-defending and fighting version of itself. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to help the team in the match as my hip injury forced me to the sidelines. I was happy to witness our team’s patient and calm performance against Lithuania, although we suffered a narrow one goal defeat as Lithuania scored the game-winning goal just a second before the final whistle.

In Saturday’s second match I was back in action and was able to help our team to beat Belgium. It was a fully-deserved victory after concentrated and patient performance. Although heavy player rotation had some influence to our playing, we didn’t get frustrated and our focus didn’t slip a bit.

Matches against Lithuania and Belgium did expose one aspect that we need to focus on the future: Our penalties weren’t nearly as effective as they should be. On the other hand this tournament showed that we don’t do much mistakes with our throws and we have vastly improved our saving percent in the penalties. We managed to save at least half of the penalties against us.

The tournament ended with a bit undisciplined performance against Japan on Sunday. We went to that match with maybe too arrogant attitude which led to errors in defence and unnecessary long throws from where Japan made us pay big time.

All in all our tournament was really erratic but there were lot of positive signs behind a poor result. At the moment we don’t have anything to worry inside the team. Besides focusing on our penalty throws we need to improve our throw variety and power and of course our team defence. We have a hundred percent trust that the following months, quality weekly training, five training camps and two international tournaments are enough to put us in a situation where we are ready to reach our goal: medal matches in the Euros. I’m sure that our home crowd will help us get there as well!

There will be total of 22 blog texts published in the Pajulahti 2017 blog, one text every week until the 2017 IBSA Goalball European Championships on 18–22 of September. Each week there will be a different writer. New blog text will be published every Wednesday.