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Women at the Heart of the Game: Krisztina Pigniczki's love of coaching

ER 2842 (1) EHF / Danijela Vekić

Women at the Heart of the Game’ is a weekly series in the build-up to the Women’s EHF EURO 2022 and features former stars who have transitioned into a new role. In today’s sixth episode: Krisztina Pigniczki.

We are counting down to the Women's EHF EURO 2022. Only 15 days are left until the start of the 15th European Championship that are taking place in Slovenia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro from 4-20 November.

One woman that knows the feeling of winning a EURO title is Krisztina Pigniczki. The Hungarian player is one of the country's most decorated handball players with one gold, one silver, and two bronze medals from major tournaments with national team.

A European champion in 2000, bronze medalist in 1998 and 2004, four-time EHF EURO participant, IHF Women's World Championship silver, and an Olympic Games silver medal from Sydney 2000 are just some of Pigniczki's accomplishments as a player.

The center back ended her career in 2011 and began a new role as a coach. Today she is one of Hungary's assistant coaches, having enjoyed success as an assistant coach with age-group teams, and with Gyor's handball academy.

Krisztina Pigniczki hails from Mako, Hungary and she started playing handball at the age of 10 in Szeged. Her family supported her as her career developed and proved vital in her career, as she says: ''We live, learn and work as one unit, so we have common influence on each other's life as well.''

This is her story...

''I came from a sporty family; however, football was more present in our life than handball. I was 10 when I went to a club's recruiting program in Szeged with one of my friends. A local company sponsored the club, and my parents worked for this firm (Textilművek, a textiles producer). In the first two years, we had only training, without any matches.

''Then I went to a sports school at the age of 12 to make better progress in handball and things became more serious. In school, I played all sports, from gymnastics to track and field. Why did I choose handball? I liked the community, the team, the experience, the joy of playing – I liked everything about it."

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Handball became an integral part of her life very quickly and from Szeged, Pigniczski soon signed for Győr. A place where, in a way, everything changed.

''At the end of high school, I was already a member of the Hungarian national YAC team. I said to myself now I have to take it even more seriously. It was an important moment when Győri ETO wanted to sign me when I was 16. My parents did not want to let me go but the club came again the next year, and I said yes. From this point, my main goal was to become a professional athlete.”

Over 11 European seasons, Krisztina Pigniczki played in every tier of European competition. She was twice a Hungarian champion and cup winner, more than nine times in top three and had enormous success with Hungary. She played for three clubs: Győr, Dunaferr NK (DKKA Dunaujvaros KA) and Issy les Moulineaux (Paris 92).

Are there any regrets?

''I'm absolutely satisfied. A victory in any European competition would be nice but I'm not disappointed. I wanted to be a Hungarian champion and I succeeded. I wanted to win the Hungarian Cup and I succeeded. These were great goals in my life, and I was desperate for them, I wanted to be successful. Later on, when I went to France, I learned many things and it helped me hugely in all aspects of life."

Her national team accomplishments put Pigniczki into Hungary's history books. A three-time Olympian and a Sydney 2000 silver medalist, three world championships and silver in 2003. Krisztina Pigniczki topped to the European throne in 2000, participated at four EHF EUROs in total and has two bronze medals. A national team career anyone would be proud of.

''I'm extremely proud that I could be a part of this extraordinary era, which was very successful for the national team. Obviously, it would be better if I could say that I'm an Olympic and or world champion, but I don't feel I've missed out because I have a silver medal from both of those competitions. In life, many times we think: OK, next time we will be better, but in sport, there's no next time. You have to be the best now, not tomorrow or later. I mention it to my players as a coach from time to time.”

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'It was marvellous. We were strong, with a mixture of experienced and young players. We lived like a family in that competition, and as a team ,it was a great atmosphere. We wanted to prove that we were great. Our fans supported us but also the opposition fans too.
Krisztina Pigniczki, Hungary assistant coach - on winning EURO 2000

Hungary went all the way at EHF EURO 2000 played in Romania and celebrated their first European title. They finished first in group A, as only unbeaten team in the group to qualify directly for the semi-finals. In the semis, they defeated hosts Romania by one goal and in the final beat Ukraine 32:30 after extra-time.

How did it feel to become a European champion?

''It was marvellous. We were strong, with a mixture of experienced and young players. We lived like a family in that competition, and as a team, it was a great atmosphere. We wanted to prove that we were great. Our fans supported us but also the opposition fans too.”

Pigniczki ended her professional career in 2011 while playing for Issy les Moulineaux and stayed in France until 2015. However, Pigniczki knew what she wanted to do after playing; it always involved teaching.

''It was difficult to stop playing handball. I like to play, not only handball, but cards, table tennis, football, anything, I just like to play. It was difficult to let it go. First, during my playing career, I wanted to be a PE teacher, but I could not manage to study and play at the same time, so I started my schooling after my playing years and after my daughter was born, but I knew wanted to stay in handball.

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''I started to work as a coach in Paris, at Issy. The club offered me the chance to learn to make my first steps as a coach and I also continued to play at a lower level. I had full continuity in handball. I like to work with young players very much.”

In 2015 Pigniczki moved back to Hungary and started working in Gyor's academy and also became an assistant coach in Hungary's age-grade category teams, a job she held until 2021. As an assistant coach she witnessed young talented players becoming junior world champions in 2018, European youth champions in 2019, and youth bronze medalists in 2017.

''The successes of the YAC national teams were a tremendous experience for me. I truly believe that those players can reach the top at senior level. It's very complex growing up to the international top level, we try to help them to achieve it."

In 2021 Pigniczki became an assistant coach to Vladimir Golovin with the national team. They had worked together with the age group, and they are now trying to replicate their strong, successful connection. At the last World Championship, they ended in 10th place and are coming to the Women's EHF EURO with confidence.

''We are transmitting trust towards them. We treat them like partners. We don't only expect them to solve the situations, we also help them to identify opportunities. We have many experienced players, but we also have players in the squad who are unique, and I try to empower them and motivate them. The leaders are the most experienced players, and we try to help the youngsters together."

The Women's EHF EURO 2022 has only one female coach, but changes is coming as there will be 10 female assistant coaches at EURO 2022. Pignizcki still works with young players in Gyor's academy, and she is doing what she loves. Does she maybe see herself as a head coach someday with a club or national team?

''It's not the coach's task to decide where they work as a head coach, it's up to club and national federation leaders, so it doesn't depend on us. To work as a head coach at senior professional level? Who knows, maybe, if life brings an unmissable opportunity.”

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