Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

Traditional Danish sports: Big handballs and lonely ping-pong players

I just dropped my daughter off at handball practice today. Like many parents, I want my child to have a sport she can enjoy for a lifetime, and since we live in Denmark, her choices are Danish sports. Sports that a small country can excel in.

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m making fun of traditional Danish sports. The fact is,   Danish people make fun of my favorite sport, baseball.

This is because it’s similar to a Danish playground game, rundbold, which translates to ‘round ball.’ Round ball is a simple game and it’s played by very small children.

So, for Danes, a professional baseball game is like watching grown men play tag . . . or duck-duck-goose . . . wearing uniforms, in front of a stadium full of people. Danish people just can’t take that seriously.

Now, when it comes to stadium sports, Danes do play soccer. They don’t win very often. They claim this is because a country the size of Denmark can’t compete with Germany or Brazil, although the Netherlands seems to do okay. At any rate, the official line is that Denmark is a small country, and it needs Denmark-sized sports.

Very large handballs

Like team handball.  Team handball is very big in Denmark, and the ball itself is very big.

In the US, where I come from, a handball is about the size of a plum and it’s very soft and squishy. Danish handballs are like grapefruits or small watermelons. They’re big, and heavy, and hard.

Team handball is a very aggressive sport. And the Danish women are so much better at it than Danish men. Take what you want from that.

Of course, the women’s team handball players often form relationships with the male team handball players. Hot stuff. You can read about it in the Danish weekly tabloids, available in line at your supermarket.

When it comes to the Olympics, the sports that Denmark does well are sailing and rowing – all that water surrounding Denmark, all that Viking tradition.

There’s also team badminton. The Danes are Europe’s top badminton team.

Team-table tennis is also a medal winner for Denmark. That’s team ping-pong. You do see the badminton players’ love lives in the supermarket tabloids, but the ping pong players, not so much. Maybe that’s just not a sexy sport.

Team sports

Anyway, you’ll notice that most popular traditional Danish sports are team sports. Danes like to play on teams. In the past decade or two, there have been a few successful individuals – a golfer, a pretty tennis player, a couple of boxers and some cyclists, but for a sports-mad country, Denmark has relatively few great individual athletes.

To be an elite individual athlete, you have to believe that you’re better than other people, and that goes against the Danish belief system.

In Denmark, in sports or in life, the individual is always less important than the team.


Kay Xander Mellish books

Buy Kay’s books about Denmark on Amazon, Saxo, Google Books, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble Nook, or via our webshop.

Read also:
Danish political parties: ‘Left’ is not leftist, and other tips for voting in Denmark
Danish music
Danish sports: Big handballs and lonely ping-pong players

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