Andrea Lekic is a well-known face in the handball world, a player with a recognisable style of play and a true professional. The ever-present force of European handball does not only inspire on the court but also off the court. Lekic is dedicated to the work with children and young stars of our sport. This is part 3 of our series ‘Empower to inspire’.
The IHF World Player of the Year, medallist with the Serbian national team and EHF Champions League winner in 2013 with Györi Audi EZO KC is a true role model. Currently playing for FTC-Rail cargo Hungaria, Lekic reveals how she feels about that.
“It means a lot to me and it is a privilege to be a role model. When I was younger, I did not think about it and I was not aware of what it meant. I say it is a privilege to be a role model and at the same time a great responsibility,” Lekic says.
“We, experienced players, are the ones who can show younger generations what it means to be a professional athlete and what it takes to reach those high goals.”
Today, young players all over Europe look up to Lekic, but when she was younger, she also had one woman she admired: Danish star Anja Andersen.
“When I was younger, besides Ivano Balic, my role model was Anja Andersen. I was very young when I got a chance on the national team when she took over the helm. She was amazing, with a similar style to Balic and I admired her,” Lekic says.
“I always loved to watch exhibitionists, players who were making fans happy with only one move, who were able to do something extraordinary and she was exactly that.”
When she is not competing in the EHF Champions League, Lekic’s focus is on the numerous projects involving the transfer of knowledge to younger generations. Among those projects is EHF’s Respect Your Talent programme.
“When I was younger, women’s handball was not so much in the spotlight and we did not have this kind of marketing opportunities, to popularise women’s handball even more. I am very proud to be part of the Respect Your Talent programme. Of course, I would love to see even more players involved in this, both young talents and experienced stars.”
The Respect Your Talent project aims to prepare future stars for many different areas of the game, both on and off the court, like media communication, anti-doping regulations, law or education.
“Projects like this have one important thing: we don’t talk only about handball, those magical 40×20 metres. Handball and being an athlete are so much more than that. It is a unique programme which allows us to describe to young talents what it takes to succeed and that all obstacles on this journey are surmountable,” Lekic says.
“To be aware of traps like doping, how to communicate, how to deal with media pressure, interacting with fans and education. I hope we will have even more opportunities like this in the future, and expand the base of young handball players to an even larger number.”
For Lekic, who studied Hospitality and Tourism Management as well as Sports Management, the connection with others is the most important part of working on the project.
“I would really like to have the possibility to get in touch with many young players who are willing to learn and get some new perspectives. The project and application are great and I hope we will soon be able to have more one-on-one contact with them when they need us.” Lekic adds.
Since 2013, Andrea Lekic has been gathering children from all over Europe at her handball camp. For her, those seven days are one of the highlights of the year and there is a reason why she invests time and energy in it.
“I love working with children. They have an inexhaustible level of energy, but at the same time, they are also a source of inspiration. I have an opportunity to be with them through seven days in my camp, and I give every part of me to help them,” Lekic says.
“One of the reasons why I started my own handball camp is when I was younger I did not have any idea what it meant to play at the professional level. And what the journey from the youth categories to senior handball looked like. That is why alongside technical-tactical improvement, I included many different topics at my camp. Like working with sports psychologists. It is something I still do to this day and I think it is important for them to know about it. Learning new methods that can help you be better on and off the court. Every segment is at the camp.”
That is also one of the reasons why she tries to connect young players with other inspiring professional athletes, who were her guests at the camp.
Being able to work closely with the role models a child compares itself with, means the world to them, as they understand these role models also had difficult paths with similar problems.
“We have too many young talents giving up on handball at an early age. When they don’t have an understanding of different problems from their families, coaches and surroundings. Especially during their teenage years, when they have deep, emotional feelings that they need to overcome,” Lekic says.
“My goal is to give them a glimmer of hope, self-confidence and faith in themselves. Having an opportunity to help others today is a special thing, and we should all be focused on that. Not to help only children in handball but to help each other on daily basis, too.”
To Lekic, the key to the development of sport are coaches. Her first coach was the reason she fell in love with handball and stayed in it to this day.
“Coaches in younger age categories need to be animators and pedagogues. Everyone is too focused on the results in younger age categories, they push kids too much. When you are older and play at the senior level, no one will ask you what you won as a kid,” she says.
“To develop and become a professional athlete you need to have the right path, enjoy handball and have great technical-tactical knowledge. In my opinion, the best coaches should work with children and they too need to improve their knowledge. You are learning your whole life. Handball is changing, times are changing, and we all should adapt.
Lekic started her own handball path at the age of 10 in Belgrade, and that path led her through Radnicki, Knjaz Milos, Krim, Györ, Vardar, CSM Bucuresti, Buducnost and, currently, FTC.
She has come a long way and witnessed all the changes happening in handball, especially women’s handball.
“Handball needs to become more transparent, especially in refereeing. That’s my point of view as a player. Maybe to introduce challenges in handball, so that in some crucial moments we can see what the referees saw,” Lekic says.
“When it comes to women’s handball, we still lag behind men’s handball. And we are aware of it. I think we should use marketing more in order to promote women’s handball and women’s sports. And we all should be part of that change. Each player today can use their own social media and power to promote it. We should start with ourselves, do our best and if we work hard enough, we can have an impact globally. We have that power.”
Andrea Lekic has been through it all. Each day she works hard on and off the court and continues to inspire. In the end, she has a clear message for everyone.
“We all have our dreams, and everyone has a different path. But what is the same for everyone are the ups and downs. It is a rollercoaster,” she says.
“Have courage and faith in what you are doing, with a mixture of patience and good people as your support, it will lead you to great results. After rain always comes the rainbow. Trust the process and believe in your dreams.”