Flashback Friday: A look back at past USA Team Handball meetings and some optimism going forward

club-symposium

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.

Podcast (Throw Back Thursday):  August 2012 Interview with 1972 Olympians

72 Team Handball Olympians (From left to right: Vinny Dicalogero, Rick Abrahamson, Dennis Berkholtz, Jim Rogers and Joel Voelkert

72 Team Handball Olympians (From left to right: Vinny Dicalogero, Rick Abrahamson, Dennis Berkholtz, Jim Rogers and Joel Voelkert

While I’m on the topic of “Glory Days” there’s not better way to continue the discussion then a re-listen of my interview with members of the 1972 Men’s Olympic Handball squad.  Back in 2012 the team had gathered in Las Vegas for their 40 year reunion.  I sat down with Vinny Dicalogero, Rick Abrahamson, Dennis Berkholtz, Jim Rogers and Joel Voelkert and we discussed how the team was formed, how they prepared for the games, their qualification tournament in front of a packed house in Elkhart, Indiana, their experiences in Munich and their thoughts about what had happened with Team Handball in the U.S. the past 40 years.

As many of you know, since this interview Dennis Berkholtz has re-engaged with the sport as the new chair of USA Beach Handball.

1972 Results

Group Play (0-3)
USA vs. Hungary 15:28 (8:16)
USA vs. Yugoslavia  15:25 (9:11)
USA vs. Japan 16:20 (9:9)

Placement 13-16th place
Semi: USA vs. Spain 22:20 (8:11)
Final: USA vs. Denmark 18:19 (6:12)

Overall Placement: 14th out of 16 teams

Podcast: Interview with USA Beach Handball’s Ebiye Udo-Udoma

Ebiye Udo-Udoma

Team USA’s Ebiye Udo-Udoma

Ebiye Udo-Udoma is a member of Team USA’s Beach Handball side.  With just a few month’s training the U.S. Men were able to win a Pan American Beach Handball title and qualify for the World Championships this past summer.

The interview covers Ebiye’s journey from regular handball to the beach version and how the U.S. team was able to quickly put together a competitive “sandlot” team with a little help from Brazil.  Later we discuss some of the advantages the beach game has over the court game and vice versa.  We close with a discussion of the future and the sports potential inclusion in the Olympics.

USA Beach Team Handball Facebook Page: Link

Video: Ebiye’s viral 720 degree handball shot and highlights from the Pan American Championship: Link

Podcast (Throw Back Thursday): April 2006 Interview with Canada’s Alexis Bertrand

Team Canada's Alexis Bertrand

Team Canada’s Alexis Bertrand

Back in 2006, while I was still living in France, I interviewed Canadian handball player, Alexis Bertrand, who was then playing for OC Cesson in the 2nd Division.  Alexis and I discussed what it was like for him to play in France and we also discussed the Pan American Handball Team Handball Federation (PATHF) to not let Canada participate in that summer’s 2006 Pan American Championship.  Canada had actually secured the 3rd spot at the 2004 championship and participated in the 2005 World Championships, only to be denied an opportunity to qualify for 2007.

In the years following my interview, Alexis continued to play in France, even playing one season in the Ligue Nationale du Handball (LNH), France’s top professional league.  Following the 2015 PANAM Games, Alexis retired from international play and he is now the head coach of the Canadian Sr Men’s team.

Alexis Bertand Career in France

2003-04 AS Monaco (N2)
2004-05 Ivry (N1)
2005-06 OC Cesson (D2)
2006-07 OC Cesson (D2)
2007-08 US Saintes (D2)
2008-09 OC Cesson (D2)
2009-10 OC Cesson (LNH-D1)
2010-11 Chartres-Mainvilliers (N1)

Canada PANAM Games Web Bio: Link

Wikipedia Entry (French): Link

Podcast: Men’s Olympic Quarterfinals Preview

John Ryan and Christer Ahl review the final results of Men’s Group Play and preview the upcoming quarterfinals.  Also, a mea culpa or two about the women’s quarterfinals this morning.

Updated odds to win gold (from bet365.com)

France 11-10
Denmark 11-2
Germany 11-2
Croatia 7-1
Slovenia 9-1
Qatar 16-1
Poland 17-1
Brazil 20-1

Subscribe in iTunes: Link

Podcast: Women’s Olympic Quarterfinals Preview

John Ryan and Christer Ahl review the final results of Women’s Group Play and preview the upcoming quarterfinals

Updated odds to win gold (from best365.com)

Norway 11-8
Russia 7-2
Brazil 3-1
Spain 9-1
France 10-1
Netherlands 15-1
Sweden 15-1
Angola 100-1

Subscribe in iTunes: Link

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Podcast: 2013 Interview with Team USA’s Jordan Fithian

Team USA and NYAC Circle Runner Jordan Fithian

U.S. National Team Circle Runner, Jordan Fithian.  Fithian played D1 basketball prior to transitioning to handball.  A prime example of LeBron Lite.

My recent commentary regarding LeBron James becoming the world’s best handball player sparked a question regarding USA National Team player, Jordan Fithian, and his thoughts on basketball players transitioning to Team Handball.  Fithian played in college at Div 1, Binghampton and Div 2 Emporia before transitioning to handball.  One might consider Fithian a prime example of “LeBron Lite” a solid athlete with raw athletic skills ideal for handball.

This interview from May 2013 doesn’t specifically answer that question, but it touches on a number of related topics like learning how to play handball, playing professionally in German, “life issues” impacting his continuing development as a player, the challenge of recruiting crossover athletes younger than 22 and what it might be like for a U.S. National Team to play overseas in a European League

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Podcast: Olympic Handball: Review and Predictions Halfway through Group Play

 

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Crowd favorite, goalie Teresa Almeida, and her Angolan teammates surprised with victories over Romania and Montenegro before coming back to earth against defending champs, Norway

Crowd favorite, goalie Teresa Almeida, and her Angolan teammates surprised with victories over Romania and Montenegro before coming back to earth against defending champs, Norway

In this podcast episode John Ryan and Christer Ahl review group play at the halfway point. Surprises, disappointments and predictions for the quarterfinals.

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Podcast: New Handball Rules (Part 2)

I know what you are thinking regarding whether I’m going to call passive play: Do you have to shoot on goal yet? Have you made 5 passes or 6?  Do you feel lucky? Do ya, punk?

I know what you are thinking regarding whether I’m going to call passive play: Do you have to shoot on goal yet? Have you made 5 passes or 6? Do you feel lucky? Do ya, punk?

My discussion with Christer Ahl, the former IHF head for Playing Rules and Competition, continues.  In part 2 we discuss the new rules regarding passive play, the last 30 seconds of a match and blue cards

Point-Counter Point on Handball’s Last Minute Problem from 2009 (Or why I was so gleeful at Christer’s mea culpa)

Part 1: John: Time to add a technical penalty shot: Link
Part 2: Christer: John has good intentions, but gets his solutions from the wrong sources: Link
Part 3: John: No, Christer, post game sanctions are not working and referees should be empowered and trusted: Link

It’s not very often (heck, this might be the only time) that I’ve gotten Christer to side with me.  There’s a reason for this: He knows handball rules about 10 times better than I do.  But, every dog has his day

If the Dirty Harry reference has no meaning to you, here’s a link to the classic scene: Link

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Podcast: New Handball Rules (Part 1)

Irina Bliznova penetrates opposing defenses on a regular basis and gets fouled a lot. Against S Korea on day 1 she was fouled fairly hard, but chose to get back on her feet quickly. Why? I'm thinking the new rules had something to do with it.

Irina Bliznova penetrates opposing defenses on a regular basis and gets fouled a lot. Against S Korea on day 1 she was fouled fairly hard and started to relax and recover a bit on the floor, but then chose to get back on her feet quickly. Why? I’m thinking the new rules had something to do with it.

The International Handball Federation (IHF) has recently added 5 new rule changes and the Olympics is the first major event to see them implemented.  And, while at its core the game remains the same these rule changes are having an impact.  The ability to now substitute any court player for the goalie has resulted in goalies being pulled even more.  Why, it’s practically standard practice for some teams when they are a man down.  We’ve even seen a few instances of 7 court players being used on offense.

The rule change requiring injured players to exit for three possessions has also sped up the game.  Irina Bliznova went down after being hit fairly hard during Russia’s comeback vs S. Korea.  But, it wasn’t a 2 minute and when it looked like the refs might call for medical protection she hopped to her feet quickly.  With Russia’s offense really relying on her steady play in the backcourt she didn’t want to nurse her minor injury on the sideline for a couple of minutes.

There’s a lot of nuance to these rule changes, and who better to explain and discuss their potential impact then Christer Ahl, the former IHF head for Playing Rules and Competition.  In part 1 of this podcast Christer highlights the overall intentions behind these rules and we delve into the details of the new rules as they relate to goalkeepers and injured players.

Summary of new rules: Link

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PODCAST: Throwback Thursday: The More Things Change…

TBT

While working on the next part of my commentary regarding whether an austere Residency Program is better than none at all I listened again to an interview I conducted with Board Member, David Thompson back in May 2010. The interview took place after the Town Hall meeting at the 2010 National Championships in Las Vegas and focused on the Board’s recent decision to not fully fund qualification events for Olympic Qualification.  (Take a listen yourself:  The podcast is 22 minutes long and the link is at the bottom of the page)

The circumstances are similar, yet different in some key ways. Funding, then as now, was the issue, but the Board back in 2010 was only committing to minimal funding. Whereas for the past 2 years we’ve funded a Residency Program and organized quite a bit of competition for our National Teams.

What’s striking now is to compare the end results in terms of Olympic Qualification.

2011: USA Team Handball did as little as possible for our National Teams. No Residency Program, part time coaches, basically no preparatory matches and short training camps. The result: Qualification for the 2011 PANAM Games.

2015: USA Team Handball did as much as it possibly could with its scarce resources: A full time Residency Program, experienced full time coaches, several preparatory matches: The result: Non Qualification for the 2015 PANAM Games.

And, if you want to go back to 2007, the Women’s team failed to qualify for 2007 PANAM Games despite having had a Residency Program for several years at Cortland, NY. And, if you go even further back, the U.S. qualified in 2003 for the PANAM Games and the Men even medaled.

Yes, if you focus just on the all important benchmark of competition events related to Olympic Qualification the best results over the last 12 years occurred when the least resources were expended.

For sure, I’m a skeptic on residency programs, but this has me scratching my head a bit.  I’ll chalk up these surprising results mostly to the other variables at play, such as the quality of the competition in those years. The argument against Residency Programs will never be that they don’t help prepare U.S. National Teams.  No, the argument is whether they are worth the cost when there are so many other efforts that need funding support.

 

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Podcast: What can collegiate team handball learn from collegiate rugby’s success?

Iona College Rugby in action. Just 1 of 900 collegiate rugby clubs in the U.S. What can collegiate team handball learn from collegiate rugby?

Iona College Rugby in action. Just 1 of 900 collegiate rugby clubs in the U.S. What can collegiate team handball learn from collegiate rugby?

In my last post regarding the state of collegiate handball I mentioned collegiate rugby as a possible model to follow.  To find out more about collegiate rugby I reached out to Bruce McLane, the head coach at Iona and a panelist on the RuggaMatrix America podcast. In a wide ranging conversation we discuss the similarities and differences between the two sports, why collegiate rugby has been successful, what USA Rugby has done or hasn’t done to facilitate growth and what steps USA Team Handball might consider taking.

Be forewarned, it’s an hour and 30 minute discussion, but one worth listening if you’re interested in how team handball might follow in rugby’s footsteps.