Yes, We’ve been here before… As USA Team Handball gears up for what has unintentionally become a quadrennial meeting to discuss the state of handball in the U.S. here’s a bit of history regarding the past two meetings. And, a bit of sunshine optimism going forward.
USA Team Handball is holding a Club Symposium next weekend “to share the vision and programs being planned and for clubs to know that they are the pillars of the organization and your input is most valued in this planning process.”
Meetings similar to this were held in 2008 and 2012. In June 2008, Dieter Esch hosted a Team Handball Summit meeting in St Louis which was essentially an open forum opportunity to educate him and newly hired General Manager, Steve Pastorino on issues related to handball in the U.S. I attended and here’s my summary of that meeting: Link
The meeting was a positive sharing of information and I was optimistic about the future. Alas, 3.5 years later both Esch and Pastorino were gone: Link
Jeff Utz replaced Dieter Esch as Board President and Dave Gascon took the reins as the interim General Manager. Working with the USOC they held a Strategic Planning Meeting in April 2012. This meeting included a professional facilitator and was designed to be the kick off for the development of a comprehensive strategic plan for the organization. There was lots of good discussion at the meeting and in my podcast interview Jeff Utz discussed the major focus areas for follow on work: Financial Stability, “Pipeline” Athlete Development, Promotion/Marketing and Governance/Management Structure. (This podcast interview is available for download at the top of this post) These areas were later expanded to the following committees: Link
Again, I was optimistic about the future of the sport in this country as USA Team Handball was finally beginning to think strategically about its future. But, as I’ve pointed out before this effort never continued. The committees were not empowered to do anything and were simply told to submit their brainstorming ideas to the Board of Directors. In 2013, most of the committees were quietly removed from the federation website as if the strategic planning meeting had never occurred. (For some reason, promotion/marketing and fundraising are still identified even though the individuals listed haven’t been involved with the sport for a couple of years.) For sure, no strategic plan was ever written. My overall thoughts are summed up here: Link
And, so now we come to 2016 with a new meeting and new opportunities to move the sport forward in this country. I know I come off as a real pessimist sometimes. (Hey, if you attended both of those previous meetings and saw the outcome you likely would be too.)
But, it’s time yet again for a little optimism. USA Team Handball’s new leadership, Board President, Dr Harvey Schiller and CEO, Mike Cavanaugh have now had a few years to take stock of the current state of affairs. The Olympics have recently provided some added buzz to the sport. There’s a solid possibility of a 2024 Olympics in L.A. And, if not 2024, then surely 2028 is in the cards. Some solid youth programs have been established in Chicago and other locales. Our Men’s Beach Handball team won a Pan American Championship and played in a World Championship. Maybe there’s even a good TV deal on the horizon. All these developments and possibilities could lead to what I think is an inevitable tipping point for handball in this country. A tipping point by which the sport moves from quadrennial, marginal niche sport to a solid niche sport with a significant fan and player base.
I hope to be a part of the planning that speeds up the timetable for that inevitable tipping point. Yes, time for a little optimism.