LykkeLiga - "The Happiness League"
LykkeLiga (Happiness League) is a Danish handball league for children with intellectual disabilities. Also known as “The happiest league in Denmark.” Founded in 2017 by former professional handball player Rikke Nielsen and Creative Director Mikael Espensen, LykkeLiga today counts 850 players in 54 teams.
The story of LykkeLiga
Rikke Nielsens life has been all about handball. As a professional she played clubs in both Denmark and Germany. And in the Danish national team jersey, she played 54 matches for her country.
When Rikke had her first child in 2009, she dreamt of seeing her offspring on the handball court. But soon after birth, her daughter Magda was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome - and all dreams changed.
Fast forward 7 years. Rikkes Daughter Magda is reviving the old dream, as she is beginning to enjoy playing with a handball. Rikke is thrilled and starts looking for a handball team that can handle Magdas special needs. She finds none. Refusing to let the dream go, Rikke starts a handball team herself and posts on facebook: “Do you have a child that doesn’t fit existing handball teams? - come join us.”
To be sure that Magda has at least one team mate - Rikke calls her friend Mikael. Mikael is the father of Kaya, who also has downs syndrome. He is also Creative Director of a local advertising agency.
Mikael has no dream of his daughter playing handball. But he does have a dream about Kaya being happy: “Kaya can be on your handball team. But only if we can make her feel like a star. This team needs to be the coolest handball team in Denmark!”
Mikael and Rikke names the team “Aalborg Kidz.” Despite Rikkes fear of no players showing up, Aalborg Kidz is an instant succes. The team quickly grows to 30 players, some parents driving 50 km to let their children practice with Rikke. The players have all kinds of diagnoses - but no one asks which one. If you do not fit in on existing teams - you are welcome here.
In the meantime, Mikael is putting his professional experience from the advertising agency to use. Aalborg Kidz now has a cool team logo and a popular “Fan club” on facebook. The team even has its own team song “En krammer der lammer” (A hug that stuns you) and a music video featuring the players themselves. Most new players join the team after the parents heard about it on social media.
Who are we playing?
Aalborg Kidz keeps growing and the players love playing handball. They also love being part of a team and there are hugs and high fives in abundance during every monday practice. One day, star player and self proclaimed captain of the team Jakob asks Rikke: “We are getting good. Who are we playing?”
There is no answer. Even though there are a few other teams around, the players are typically grown ups and the teams are geographically far apart. “We need to start a league” Mikael insists "and we need to find funding". “How on earth are we going to start a league?” Rikke asks. She is used to the bureaucracy of national sports unions. This time, there is a simple answer: “We´ll just post it on facebook!”
And so, LykkeLiga is born. With a catchy name, grandiose communication and a strong voice on facebook, LykkeLiga has tailwind from day one. Soon, the first teams pop up around the country.
As a part of the communication on facebook, Rikke is recording short videos together with her daughter Magda. In one particular video, Magda and Rikke talks about playing handball. “I am no handball player…” Magda says coyly to the camera. “I am a handball STAR!” The video is a viral hit - shared almost 10.000 times and reaching nearly 1 mio views. Not bad in a country with 6 mio inhabitants. Soon - most people in Denmark knows about LykkeLiga, and the traditional media followed suit with several stories about “The happiest league in Denmark”.
Simultaneously, the funding comes through. With big donations from the danish government and 2 large nonprofit funds, LykkeLiga is able to found a formal organisation and make Rikke Director. Mikael takes on the role as chairman of the board.
A happy succes
Since then, LykkeLiga has been growing steadily. Today, teams are all over the country - even in Greenland and Faroe Islands. In all, 850 players in 55 teams.
In January 2019, LykkeLiga received the “Danish Sports Award” at a live transmitted TV-gala celebrating danish sports stars. In July 2019, newly signed sponsor Hummel (Danish sports brand) presented their cooperation with LykkeLiga at the IHF World Congress, thus showcasing the project in front of the supreme international body of handball, and 204 national representatives.
August 2019 brought international attention as a facebook production team visited Denmark to shoot a video about LykkeLiga. The video is featured in the facebook owned “Community Voices” page on the social network.
In January 2020, national TV-station TV2 featured a 2-episodes series about LykkeLiga. The series portray 3 of LykkeLigas star-players including Rikkes own daughter Magda. The TV-series once and for all cemented LykkeLiga as a household name in Denmark.
Today, LykkeLiga has an audience of more than 50.000 people on social media, thus considerably larger than the professional handball leagues in Denmark. During 2019, LykkeLiga had more than 20 mio impressions on social media making it one of the strongest voices in the country displaying life with intellectual disability.
More importantly, parents all over Denmark are starting to insist that their children with intellectual disabilities, wear LykkeLiga shirts when out and about. Reports from parents show, that LykkeLiga is making life easier for the players: "When people see the LykkeLiga logo, they know how to handle our children. And they know it is ok to give them a high five!" LykkeLiga has become somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy - actually creating happiness in the lifes of players and the people who love them.
LykkeLiga teams are autonomously affiliated to LykkeLiga. The individual teams are connected to local handball clubs around the country. All teams play with the LykkeLiga logo on their shirts - but only out of pride and a willingness to connect to the brand.
The role of LykkeLiga is to inspire and create strong team spirit across the league. Also, LykkeLiga is planning a series of initiatives that targeted families and in particular siblings to children with intellectual disabilities - all aimed at creating happier lifes for everyone involved.