Three of England’s brightest handball prospects have successfully graduated from a special programme designed to create the next generation of handball superstars.
Georgia Batty-Smith, Heidi Warren and Alicia Smith have all come through England Handball’s Elite Performance Academy (EPA), which is a full-time handball programme for young athletes looking to become the best version of themselves and increase the possibilities for a professional handball career.
Aged between 18 and 19, the talented trio are already playing for clubs across the country and are also making an impact at international level.
The three girls have been on the EPA programme for the last two years, which is taken alongside academic studies. The programme is tailored to individual players’ needs, helping them excel and reach their full potential.
It is also led by some of the most experienced handball coaches in the country and continues to evolve with more players graduating every year.
We caught up with the three players to find out a little bit more about their handball journey so far, and what the future might hold for them now that they’ve successfully graduated from the EPA…
Here’s what they had to say…
1. How did you first get involved in handball?
Georgia: I first got involved in Handball through an after-school club my PE teacher told me about. I was lucky enough to meet Liz Roberts running the club, who sparked my interest in Handball.
After attending the after-school club, Liz suggested I could I start playing for Dorset Handball Club and then after, Poole Phoenix.
Heidi: I first got into handball in year 8 when I went to a school tournament. I had no idea about the sport, but that’s when I got scouted by my Somerset coach, Roger Petch.
During my time in Somerset, I started to really enjoy the sport. A year later, I progressed to the South West regional academy and then joined GB U17 just before Covid.
Alicia: I first got into handball after playing at a schools’ tournaments hosted by England Handball in the Midlands. Everyone gets to have a go at all aspects, shooting, defending and trying positions, which means that it allows for all sizes speeds and is so inclusive.
What do you enjoy the most about handball? Could you share any memorable experiences or achievements you’ve had while playing?
Georgia: It’s the feeling of achievement you get when you step onto the court, I enjoy the most. Whether it’s a big competition you didn’t think you’d get to, scoring a fast break, or making a big tackle, it really makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. I think my most memorable experience would be making the U19 National Finals during both my first and second year at the EPA.
Heidi: I enjoy the physical aspects of the game and the aggression which I never found playing other sports, especially as a pivot. I also really like the fact it’s a team sport with a lot of intensity.
The most memorable experience would be playing for Great Britain in the European Championships, as I was facing some high-level teams which allowed me to learn a lot about my game. One of my biggest achievements was being named Player of the Match during my first game for GB against Finland.
Alicia: I enjoy the training and opportunities that I have gained going through the England Handball EPA. You can take it to whatever level, even as far as GB. I have loved seeing more young people playing at schools and now it is becoming a sport on the UK curriculum.
My most memorable moment would be the Euros in Kosovo this year… they were such a huge experience that not many people get to say they have done, and lots of young girls feel inspired by this and in my home club where I coach, I am able to be a role model for the young players.
Being part of EPA means training full-time. How did you manage to balance the training commitments, academic responsibilities and personal life?
Georgia: At first, it was challenging to manage training and college because I wasn’t used to this new environment. The first year was mostly about figuring out how to attend training and submit my assignments on time, while still finding time to wind down.
Heidi: Starting the EPA at the age of 16 meant juggling school, training, and social life at once. However, with the help of college staff, especially our coach João, nutritionist Matt, and our psychologist Casper, I was able to maintain a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.
I had to give up many social events back at home, but the effort I invested in my EPA training was worth it. It paid off when I got the chance to represent Great Britain and even travel abroad to play at the end of the season.
Alicia: I’m not going to lie it was hard but there is a lot of support around you, it’s quite hard for people outside of our bubble to understand what it’s really like but Loughborough is a great base where we are surrounded by lots of elite athletes, which helped a lot when things get hard and you get setbacks. There is lots of planning going on behind the scenes and this helps to give us goals, which is how I managed to tackle everything in my life by setting small goals and writing lots of lists.
Tell us about your experience on the EPA? Why should young athletes be keen to join the EPA?
Georgia: I’ve had an amazing time while being at the EPA and it has definitely shaped me into not only a better player but also a more independent person.
The jump from my old club training to the EPA was difficult at first. However, without the programme, I wouldn’t be the player I am now, as I’ve improved so much and reached a level never thought was possible.
Heidi: Joining the EPA was one of the biggest decisions I have ever made. I’ve learnt so much and developed many social skills I’ll be able to use in the future. If you love handball and want to take your skills to the next level, the EPA is a perfect place to start.
For young athletes who want to train full-time and still go to college, joining EPA is a fantastic way to do both things together.
Alicia: The EPA is great, I think the set up that they have there is just what British handball needs, in order to develop, without the EPA GB handball wouldn’t be able to have a developing programme where athletes are able to play to those higher standards and take on better, European opponents, where Handball is their national sport.
The EPA is the place to be if you want to combine sport with your studies The programme is intense, but I find that you actually grow so much as a person and into a better well-rounded athlete. The EPA is making handball better, also training coaches, referees, managers.
What will be your pathway next year? Are there any specific goals or dreams related to handball you are working towards, either on a local, national or international level?
Georgia: Next year I will be studying for a Sports Therapy degree at Loughborough University working towards getting my Physiotherapist qualification.
My biggest goal right now is to be making the move up to the GB Senior Women’s team after finishing my final year as GB U19s.
Heidi: Next year, I’ve committed to spend a year in Ikast at ISI Idrætshøjskole. This will give me the chance to take the skills I’ve learned at EPA and make them even better by playing in a more competitive league.
I would love to become a professional handball player and reach the highest level possible. I also hope to keep representing Great Britain and score some great wins against other international teams.
Alicia: Next year I hope to continue to play for GB and work on my goals, as well as coaching at my home club Olympia Cannock in the midlands, the u16 team and u19, as I really enjoy coaching them and it is a great environment for young girls to develop…
I will also stay and train at the EPA as the coaches there are the best and have mountains of knowledge, and a great network in order to help me in whichever path I choose. I will also coach 1 session a week at the EPA to develop my coaching skills as well as my court skills. I then hope next year to look abroad for a contract and learn different styles of handball.
Good Luck to Georgia, Heidi, Alicia and the rest of the squad for the 23/24 Season!
For more info on England Handball’s EPA, visit our page here.