It is with great delight that the Fistball Federation of Australia (FiFA) can now announce their first-ever international head coach for the Australian National Men’s Fistball Team, with experienced German fistball coach Thomas “Tommy” Helber accepting FiFA’s offer to come on board and lead Australian fistball through the next stage of its development.
With 40+ years of fistball experience in the German fistball league, Tommy will be utilising his vast knowledge and experience in both playing and coaching to try and shape the relatively novice Australian men’s national squad into something resembling a highly competent unit of fistballers.
Born in Leonberg, Germany, Tommy’s fistball journey began in 1975, suiting up as a youngster for local club SpVgg Weil der Stadt (SpVggW). He continued to don the blue and white for SpVggW for the next 25 years, graduating through the various youth leagues until he slotted into the men’s team, playing an important role in their first division team for several years.
As solid as his playing career has been, his career as a trainer has been the jewel in his crown. After getting an initial introduction to coaching while helping to train the SpVgg Weil der Stadt U14 team in the late 80s, Tommy took on a senior coaching role with TV Unterhaugstett (TVU) in 2000. It was here that he had his greatest success, beginning his work with the U14 and U16 boys’ teams, before quickly taking charge of the men’s senior teams and guiding the first team through the adult leagues of the Deutsche Faustball-Liga (DFBL). In his role as head coach, he oversaw their league promotion every year, beginning in the 7th division in 2000 and continuing their rise until they reached the 1st division (1.Bundesliga) in 2005, before then helping them stay in the top flight for a further 10 years until 2015.
Tommy was rewarded in 2006 for his strong training performance with a Trainer Of The Year award from the Schwäbischer Turnerbund (effectively, the Swabian Fistball Association) and continued his own trainer education; earning his C and then B Trainer Licence Qualifications for fistball in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
The Australian men’s national fistball team will get their first taste of his teaching wisdom when he flies out to Melbourne in September this year in the lead up to the Asia-Pacific Fistball Championships, to be hosted by FiFA in November, 2018. With only limited time on Australian shores, he will be thrown straight into introductions, training, bonding, and then team selection over the course of 2 months, before leading the Australian men’s team into battle against the best the Asia-Pacific region has to offer.
After gazing lovingly upon the championship trophy he has helped them win (best-case scenario), he will depart these shores and head back to the Bundesrepublik Deutschland, before returning just 6 months later to do it all again. The second time however, it will be to prepare them for the 2019 Men’s Fistball World Championships in Winterthur, Switzerland (should they qualify for the tournament), in what will be just their second appearance on the biggest stage in fistball.
While he won’t set foot on these golden sands until September, Tommy has already taken on an unofficial coaching-by-internet role until then, assisting players and trainers via the world wide web when required and familiarising himself with both the active players and the playing “styles” utilised by the mighty Fisting Wombats.
From a personality point of view, FiFA are certain that Tommy will fit in perfectly. With a keen sense of humour and unbridled enthusiasm for the role, he will have no problem embracing and balancing the desire to improve fistball in Australia with the humour and good spirit that has build this sport from the ground up Down Under. And while he may have lost the ability to grow the flowing Björn Borg hairstyle that he used to rock on the fistball field back in the day, he will now gain something even more important than that – an Australian fistball nickname.
Outside of fistball, Tommy frequently indulges in live music and travelling, while also occasionally dabbling in politics and philosophy. Interestingly enough, one of his favourite bands of all-time is Deep Purple – appropriate, given this is a well-known right of passage for forearms when one starts playing fistball.
After briefly toying with the idea of moving an entire team of fistballers to the Vatican City in order to coach a national team many years ago, FiFA are now very happy to offer him the means to do so in a much more legitimate way – by taking the reins of the national men’s fistball team of Australia, and leading them through the next chapter in FiFA’s evolution.
Helping him on this journey will be Bianca Kruck – a young German fistballer currently studying in Jena, who has accepted the role of part-time au pair (to FiFA President Rolf Petersen)/part-time fistball educator, to be based out of Geelong for 12 months.
With 10+ years of fistball playing and training experience at FV 1925 Glauchau-Rothenbach and FSV 1911 Hirschfelde, as well as her A-licence as a fistball referee, she will be an invaluable addition to the Australian fistball landscape. Outside of assisting Tommy in his role, she will have a special focus with the Australian National Women’s Fistball Team, taking on the Head Coaching role for their participation in the Asia-Pacific Fistball Championships in November, as well as being actively involved in training sessions during the year following. Both Bianca and Tommy have experienced a strong interest to help develop fistball with Australian youth in their time here, which FiFA hope will only help to grow this sport further. Bianca is expected to arrive in Australia in October 2018, after the completion of her university exams.
With this groundbreaking quest now fulfilled, FiFA would also like to extend our gratitude to the greater fistball community for the tremendous response to the Head Coach search. With help from friends at the IFA, in particular Alwin Oberkersch, FiFA fielded expressions of interest from experienced fistballers in Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, Chile. It was an overwhelming response, especially considering the time and financial commitment required for the role. The fact that so many wanted to travel so far to help Australians play better fistball only reinforced that fistball is indeed “family”.
As for now, the Australian fistball teams are finalising their preparation for the upcoming Trans-Tasman Fistball Championships at the end of this month; the last international tournament for the men’s national team before Tommy’s arrival on these sandy shores in September, 2018. With Bianca not arriving until later this year, at this stage the women’s national team will be without a Head Coach at the Women’s World Championships in Austria next July, but FiFA will be looking to fill that role on a short-term basis. Of course, if any fistballers are looking to travel through Australia (and then Austria) in the near future, please let FiFA know!
Tommy Helber, on what attracted him to the role:
I always liked the idea of spreading the sport of fistball all over the world and the offer by FiFA to become their Head Coach was “the big chance” to support the IFA in their relevant activities. Beside the fact that I’ve never been to Australia before – even though it has been a lifelong dream – it is the chance to develop something in a sustainable way, that drew me to the role. When I got the first details about the Australian fistball opportunity from IFA-sports official Alwin Oberkersch, I immediately recognized that on one hand there is a huge potential for the Wombats, and on the other hand this would be a big challenge and an appealing task in life for me. When we got to know each other (some of the Aussie players, their President and me) and when I realized how engaged, funny and lovely they are, I was “convinced’.
What he sees as the main challenges and opportunities for the role, both short and long-term:
In the short-term (the period until the World Championship in 2019), my concrete task is to prepare the squad for the World Championship in August 2019 in Switzerland. The main challenge might be the circumstance – most of the current players are at an age where it starts to become more difficult to learn things easily. This means we will have to work hard to bring the squad to the shape it needs to be for a successful participation in the competition. Another challenge might be the fact that we will work together closely only for six and a half months (in total). Even though we have already started to work together virtually (video analysis etc.), it will be a big challenge to run this project in a continuous way over twenty months (from now on), with me only being on site for one third of this time.
As I mentioned, my leading paradigm is sustainability and I like to develop things holistically. So – out of the project ‘something sustainable’ for both the mid-term and the long-term will grow for the sport of fistball in Australia. I think this is exactly what the fistball community in Australia needs – the players of today should become the trainers of tomorrow. This will be the mid-term challenge. I will also work on an issue I would call “training theory”, during the two periods I will stay Down Under. In my eyes, the whole project is as a big opportunity – for FiFA, for the male squad (Wombats), for the female squad (Possums) as well (!), and maybe even for the IFA and the entire international fistball community.
FiFA President Rolf Petersen on the coaching appointment and the future of Australian fistball:
2018 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for Australian fistball. We will have more tournaments and more players in both men’s and women’s teams with an increasingly higher standard of play. The international fistball community have generously welcomed Australia into the fistball family and for that we are humbled and grateful. I feel the best way for us to honour the great hospitality we have been afforded is to send increasingly competitive teams to international tournaments and to develop the next generation of players by investing in youth programs. With tremendous experience in these areas, Tommy will be invaluable to our federation and our future. My only concern is whether he will be allowed to return to his native Germany after we defeat their national team next year in Winterthur.
Tommy will be aided by Bianca Kruck in the role of assistant coach. Bianca also has a wealth of experience in fistball and will be tested to the limits of her physical endurance and sanity. Mainly as she will also be helping to look after my children.
FIFA are very pleased to have Tommy and Bianca on board and look forward to introducing them to Australian fistball!
Full details on Tommy’s career can be found below.
Birthplace: Leonberg, Baden-Württemberg
Club playing career:
- 1975-1983: Youth-player for the club SpVgg Weil der Stadt (SpVggW)
- 1983-1985: Player in the men’s adult team SpVggW
- 1986-1988 and 1991-92: 1.Bundesliga (1st division) with SpVggW
- 1993-1995: 2.Bundesliga (2nd division) with SpVggW
- 1995-1999: Player in the senior (30+) team SpVggW
- 2000-2005: Trainer + Player-manager for the club TV Unterhaugstett (TVU) up to the 2.Bundesliga (2nd division)
- 2011-2014: Player in the senior (45+) team SpVggW
- 1983-1986: First experience as an fistball ‘exercise instructor’ for a male U14-Team SpVgg Weil der Stadt.
- 2000-2014: Trainer TV Unterhaugstett (TVU) for several male youth teams U14 + U16 and the men’s adult 1st and 2nd team.
- 2007-2008: Qualification C-Licence Trainer Fistball
- 2008: Additionally took on role as trainer for the SpVggW men’s team in the 1. Bundesliga
- 2009: Qualification B-Licence Trainer Fistball
- 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014 (and 2016): Organizer of five professional training camps in Turkey (and Cyprus); 2011 together with the German National Team).
- 2013-2014: Trainer for several male youth-teams U14 + U16 (SpVggW + TVU)
- 2000 – 2004: TVU male youth teams won one gold and two bronze medals at the German Masterships in the class of U14, U16 and U18.
- 2000 – 2006: TVU men’s adult first team earned league promotion every year, moving from the 7th division to the 1. Bundesliga over 6 years
- 2006: Awarded “Trainer of the year” by the STB (‘Swabian Fistball Association’)
- 2006 – 2015: While competing for 10 years in the 1.Bundesliga, the TVU men’s adult team finished 5th at the German Championships in 2007, 4th at the German Championships in 2011 and 5th at the IFA-European Cup in Berlin 2012.