USA Men’s Club Rankings (1st Poll and Some Background Info)

First USA Men’s Club Poll (December 2017) (Rest of the Top 25: Link)

The first poll ranking the top men’s clubs in the U.S. has been released with the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) edging New York City (NYC) for the top spot.  NYAC’s resume so far this season consists of a 5-0-0 record and a Michael Lipov Tournament title in Chicago this past October.  NYC is also undefeated with a spotless 6-0-0 in Northeast Team Handball League play.

Rounding out the top 5 are Chicago Inter, Revol and San Francisco CalHeat.  Chicago Inter has a 16-1-1 record and is dominating play in the Midwest Team Handball League, placed 2nd to NYAC at the Michael Lipov Tourney and won the inaugural Texas Cup earlier in December.  Revol, a new side consisting mostly of current and former Residency Program players at Auburn has a 3-0-2 record from the Chicago Tourney where they took 3rd place.  Rounding out the top 5 is San Francisco Cal Heat with a 6-0-4 record, a 4th place finish in Chicago and a 2nd place finish in Texas.

Background on the Ranking Process

The bulk of the credit for this undertaking goes to Bryan Cothorn with the DC Diplomats and Northeast Team Handball League.  Bryan has compiled the results and tabulated several different ranking statistics at this website:  Link

Further, he rounded up several volunteers to review this data plus factor in their own personal observations to come up with their own individual ranking.  These individual rankings are then combined to produce the overall club ranking: Link

Background on Rankings (in General)

The concept of “rankings” may be common knowledge to many American sports fans, but as there are a fair number of expats involved with handball in the U.S. here’s a brief explanation/history as it relates to sports rankings.

First off, let’s be clear:  These rankings have no “official” bearing.  They are not endorsed by USA Team Handball and they won’t be used to select teams for the Elite National Championship bracket.  That process for selecting will card teams is defined in the rule book and those current standings are here: Link

It’s possible that these rankings could be used by some tournament organizers to seed pools, but that’s not officially defined anywhere.

As far as guidelines for the voters, much like the NCAA polls used for college sports there are no hard and fast rules.  Voters are free to weigh different factors as they see fit.  I’m one of the voters and I’ll tend to put more emphasis on key head to head results.  But, if two clubs are close to each other I’ll probably reward the club that plays in a league and practices once in awhile.  You don’t like that?  Tough. As Bobby Brown once told America over and over, “It’s my prerogative, I can do what I wanna to do

So what’s the purpose of the rankings, then?  Well, it’s simply for fun and recognition.  To acknowledge teams for their performances on the court.  Bragging rights, if you will.  To give some context to matchups that are taking place.  It may not be official per se, but it adds a little bit more to your pregame pep talk to say that you are taking on the #1 team in the nation.  And, it can really mean a lot for a newcomer team crack the top 10 after years of being just another team.

And, for sure, part of the fun are the debates that inevitably arise. The chip on their shoulder a team gets when they are somehow ranked way lower than they think they should be.  Stupid voters! How come we can’t get any respect?  East Coast bias!  NYAC shouldn’t be #1.  Those lazy mercenaries don’t even bother to play in the Northeast League any more. Chicago Inter may have 16 wins, but how many of those W’s are just beating up on weak Midwest opponents? etc, etc.

Future Considerations

We’ve already gotten some great feedback and we’re looking at adding a Women’s poll.  I’m adding a college specific poll that will place extra emphasis on college vs college results.  And, I’m also planning on adding some Wiki style pages that will make it easier for everyone to see the results of different competitions.  And, better yet, hopefully for players and coaches to enter the results themselves.

Finally, we would like to get some more balanced representation from other parts of the country so if you’re interested in voting please contact Bryan Cothorn.

 

Team USA Olympic and World Championship Qualification Odds (Part 2):  Assessing 2024 Olympic Qualification Odds Based on Level of Investment

Projected U.S. Olympic Qualification Odds based on level of investment. Does this reality suggest a strategy that forgoes investment in the near to mid term in favor of  maximizing national team performance in 2028?

In Part 1, I highlighted the long odds USA National face in the next couple of years.  In Part 2, I project what the odds are for the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games.  I also get a little philosophical as to whether those odds suggest a re-evaluation of USA Team Handball’s near to mid- term priorities.

2024 Olympic Prospects

With under 2 years to get ready for the 2020 Olympics it should come us as no surprise to anyone with even just an inkling of handball knowledge that the U.S. Men and Women do not have a realistic chance of qualifying for those Olympics.  Perhaps, some folks don’t fully realize to the extent of just how unrealistic it is, but most people are aware that it’s not very likely to happen.

But, even if there is virtually no chance to qualify there is still an obligation to make a good faith effort to do so.  Further, one can make the case that efforts to qualify for 2020 will have the benefit of setting up a stronger and more realistic attempt to qualify in 2024.

For an Olympics qualification run that is less than 2 years away it’s fairly straight forward to assess how successful such a campaign might be.  This is because the teams that compete in those qualifying tournaments will bear a strong resemblance to the teams of today.  Sure, there will be some roster changes to both Team USA and its competition, but on the whole it’s pretty unlikely that there will be a dramatic drop off or gain in performance.

6 years out, however, is a bit more difficult to project.  Will Argentina’s Diego Simonet at age 33 still be as big of factor? Or will Argentina even be better with some promising newcomers complimenting the wily veteran?  Will the Brazilian women be as strong with less sponsorship and support then what they received in the run up the 2016 Olympics?  Could Cuba’s economy improve such that they are competing on a regular basis?

And, what of the U.S. teams?  Could the U.S. Women continue to improve with several newcomers joining the program to replace some veteran athletes due to retire?  Could the U.S. Men show steady improvement with a mix of dual citizens and top athletes learning the game at Auburn?  Or, might the U.S. teams simply tread water playing with a measure of respectability, but lacking the depth and talent needed to challenge the likes of Argentina and Brazil.  Or, could the U.S. sink even further in terms of relative competitiveness?

Projecting the 2024 Competition

I could set up a table of possibilities as I did for 2020 qualification, but doing so would be pointless.  There are simply too many variables to project out that far.  That being said, I think some top level crystal ball projections can be made in regards to our competition.

  • The Brazilian Men are poised to be very good for years to come. Multiple players in their early to mid 20’s are playing for top clubs in Europe.  Their domestic league is also respectable and they’ve fielded Jr and Youth National Teams with great depth.
  • The Argentinian Men are also solid, but lack the depth Brazil has. They’ve got Simonet, though, and if he’s playing well Argentina will continue to be a threat for a gold medal.
  • No other Men’s PHF team appears to be on a trajectory to challenge Brazil or Argentina anytime soon. Chile and Greenland have decent teams, but their lack of depth is even more pronounced than Argentina’s.
  • The Brazilian Women have a Golden Generation that is starting to age out. I doubt that their replacements will be as good, but on the whole they have tremendous depth. Brazil’s 2nd and 3rd teams could have taken silver and bronze for the last several years if they had been allowed to participate in PHF Tourneys.
  • The Argentinian Women have yet to show that they can improve to the level of Brazil. Solid technical players, but they have to find a game changing athlete that can take them to the next level.
  • No other Women’s PHF team appears to be on a trajectory to challenge Brazil, but several sides are probably capable of mounting a challenge to Argentina
  • As an aside, the Cuban Men’s and Women’s programs are a real wild card. If properly resourced they surely could contend with other 2nd tier programs and perhaps even challenge for a PANAM Games Gold Medal.

Projecting Team USA in 2024

But, what about the U.S. Men and Women in 6 years time?  Taking the court in Santiago, Chile, the likely host of the 2023 PANAM Games.  As discussed, there are a lot of variables to factor in, but there is one simple thing that can be done:  Just add 6 years to the age of every athlete in the current talent pool.  If one does this simple addition to the Sr Team rosters for the past few tournaments, you’ll reach a quick conclusion:  That there will likely be only a few hold overs between now and then.

With the U.S. Men the roster change will likely be pretty significant.   The last major Men’s competition was the 2016 Pan American Championships I would assess that perhaps 4 or 5 players from that roster will be on the team in 2023.   I would then add 1 or 2 players from the current team at Auburn and then 4 or 5 dual citizens that have shown promise in Jr Events.  There’s some overlap with those 3 groups, but all told I think 10 athletes could come from our current player pools (Sr and Jr).  And, that would mean 6 athletes that aren’t even playing or perhaps just started playing would be on a 2023 roster.

And, such a roster would have some major question marks.  The biggest one being who would be the reliable, consistent scoring threat in the backcourt?  Perhaps a 39 year old Gary Hines will still be starting at backcourt, but I’d like to think he’ll have gently been nudged into retirement by some up and coming players.  Or at best he is a veteran reserve playing key minutes a la France’s Daniel Narcisse by then.

With the U.S. Women the change will be really dramatic.  I would assess that from the 2017 Pan American Championship roster the only holdovers could very well be just 3 or 4 younger dual citizen athletes.  Perhaps there will still be a couple of U.S. based players from the 2017 roster, but they will all be 31 or older and right in that age range where “life issue” decisions related to career and family could become more pressing.   Yes, there could be as many as 11 athletes on the U.S. Women’s Team in 2023 who are not even playing handball right now.

Now at first glance, particularly to our European friends, the prospect of the U.S. National Teams qualification for the 2024 Olympics with much of the roster consisting of newcomers might seem pretty farfetched. But, it is possible to take a quality athletic talent who has never played the game before and turn them into a decent handball player in 6 years time.  Possible, but not easy.  And, not cheap either.  It requires recruiting great athletes, providing them a quality training atmosphere and relatively frequent competition opportunities for those athletes.  I’ve written ad nauseum that the program at Auburn has not provided any of those key components for the past 4 years.  Don’t get me wrong.  Those athletes and coaches are working hard and doing the best they can, but there simply has not been enough financial support to do the job properly.

Playing the percentages (or the percentage gain)

But, what if we could properly fund our National Team programs?  Would it make a difference?  Would we then have a real shot at Olympic Qualification?

Those are very important questions.  Questions that should be asked, researched, and answered by USA Team Handball.  The short answer is that, of course, it would make a difference and it surely would improve our odds of qualifying.  But, the real questions are “How much would it improve our chances?” and “Is that percentage gain in improved chances worth the investment?”

For illustrative purposes, I’ll outline 3 possibilities in terms of investment to support or National Teams over the next 6 years and assess at a top level what our chances of qualification will be:

Minimal Investment:  This is the status quo and would mean relying on dual citizens and the continued recruitment and development of athletes at Auburn under the current austere circumstances.

Modest Investment:  This would be a modest investment in the neighborhood of $500K to 1.5M/years to beef up support to the residency programs.  This investment would be used to improve the Residency Program with partial college scholarships, stipends for athletes and travel support for multiple trips/year for overseas competition.  This should improve recruiting and also improve the development outcomes for those new athletes.  Overall, this would be roughly comparable to the U.S. residency programs of the 80’s and 90’s, particularly as you get closer to the $1.5M end of the scale.

Robust Investment: This would be an investment of $1.5-3M/year and would be an all in effort to fully maximize the performance of our teams in time for the 2023 PANAM Games.   The Residency Program would be further improved with select athletes receiving full scholarships and/or salaries.  A full time recruiting director would be hired.  Top athletes would be placed overseas via training arrangements with top European clubs.  This would be an unprecedented level of support perhaps comparable to what Olympic Sports currently under the NCAA umbrella receive.

Taking those 3 possible investment scenarios into account here’s how I would assess the likelihood for USA qualification in 2024.  (You’ll see that for illustrative purposes I also include the odds for 2020 and 2028)

USA Women

 

Excepting, Brazil and to a lesser extent Argentina, the competition in Pan America is relatively weak.  This means that a modest investment if properly executed could put together the 2nd best team in Pan America fairly quickly.   The U.S. would still not be nearly as good as Brazil, but capable of pulling off a 1 in 10 upset of Brazil in a one off Gold Medal match.  If more resources are provided with a robust investment I could see that being upped to a 1 in 5 upset possibility.  However, I don’t see it going higher because 6 years, regardless of investment, is just not enough time to put together a roster of that caliber mostly from scratch.

USA Men

 

Recall from Part 1 that Olympic Qualification for the USA Men, in most scenarios would require successfully beating both Argentina and Brazil.  That’s very likely to still be true in 2024.  For our current team this is really daunting and for 2020 Olympic qualification would require winning two 50-1 upsets or a 1 in 2,500 proposition.  For 2024 I think a modest investment would improve our team such that odds of an upset would be in the neighborhood of 10-1, but again the double whammy is a real killer meaning the odds of doing it twice are still 1 in 100.  A robust investment would further improve our National Team, but as with the Women, 6 years is just not enough time to reach Argentina and Brazil’s level.  We could improve our odds for an upset to perhaps 1 in 5, but again that means performing a double upset which would be about a 4% possibility.

Significant Investment for Minimal Gain

So, if we have no further investment to beef up our residency programs we face really, really long odds.  And, if we do provide additional investment we essentially change “really, really long” to “really long”.  With the Men’s program such an investment would have almost no value.  Spend a little or spend a lot, it just won’t move the needle much. With the Women’s program there is some small value, but it’s certainly nothing to get excited about.

Bottom Line: Significant investment directed at improving our National Teams with the intent of securing a 2024 Olympic Qualification slot makes very little sense.  Even our current investment is highly questionable.

Now, if Los Angeles had been awarded the 2024 Olympic Games, the whole dynamic changes.  “Really long shot qualification” replaced with “automatic qualification”.  The discussion would then become how do we put the most competitive team possible on the court in 7 years time?  And, that would logically lead to a near term strategy with some really aggressive recruitment.  And, even I would advocate some investment in such a strategy.   But, 2024 didn’t happen.  LA got 2028 and that reality should lead to a totally different approach and strategy.

Why it All Matters

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time outlining the long odds.  And, sure as the sun comes up every day, I will get some grief along the lines of “Why are you always so negative about things?  Why always, with the glass half empty?”

My response is that I’m an analytical guy.  I’ve looked at the data and I’m sorry, there’s just a lot of reasons to be negative.  The glass isn’t half empty.  There’s barely any liquid in the glass at all. Quite frankly, if you’re all sunshine and roses about our prospects for qualification in 2020 and 2024 you’re either lacking information to understand the big picture or kidding yourself big time.

There’s a time and place for optimism.  Certainly when you’re getting dressed in the locker room against a superior opponent it’s appropriate to be optimistic.  To go out there and give it your all.  The odds be damned.  Certainly, that was my attitude in my brief and unspectacular national team career.

But, when you are trying to map out a future for the sport in this country?  Sorry, Optimism must take a back seat to reality especially when you take into account all of the shortcomings the sport in this country needs to address.  Every dollar spent, every man hour directed toward near term national team support is a dollar and man hour that could have been spent on development and the building of a player base that could actually make the U.S. competitive in 2028.

Further, while USA Team Handball’s current incoming revenue is minimal (2015 was only $348K) that should change.  Sponsorship support will increase with the lead up to the Olympics.  The IHF could even kick in with funding support.   Am I concerned that way too much of that funding will be directed towards near term National Team support?  Propping up Residency Programs that are way too austere.  That our once in a generation Olympic opportunity will be squandered?  Yeah, I’m concerned.  Big time.  And, so should you.

USA Men Go 1-2 in First Leg of Super Series

Alex Recker led Team USA in scoring this past weekend with 19 goals in 3 matches

The USA Men travelled to Quebec this past weekend and played 3 matches against Canadian teams from Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan/Manitoba.  The U.S. opened play Friday night with an easy 44-26 victory over Canada Central, a team composed of players from the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Alex Recker led the U.S. with 9 goals, while Ty Reed added 7.

On Saturday night, the U.S. took on hosts Quebec and fell short 38-31.  The U.S. was again led in scoring by Alex Recker with 7 while Chris Morgan and Michael King added 5 each.  Quebec was led in scoring by Christian Toth with 11 and Etienne Mercer with 10. and  Video of the first half is available on Youtube and the U.S. struggled on defense against Quebec’s 7 player alignment.  The half ended 17-14 in favor of Quebec and likely would have been worse except for some tellar play in Goal by Alden Mezick

On Sunday afternoon the U.S. finished the weekend series of games with a 27-22 loss to Alberta.  The U.S. was led in scoring by Sean Zimber with 8 and Michael King with 4.  Alberta was led by Tyrell Johnston with 6 goals

Results

Standings

Handball Quebec Facebook Page:  Link (source for results)

Handball Canada Summary: Link

Video: USA vs Quebec (1st half): Link

 

Podcast (Episode 24): College Potpourri

Luke Albu is investigating Pittsburgh as a location for another Residency Program.

Luke Albu is this episode’s guest and we discuss a wide range of topics including the length of the handball season, a summer pro league, weekend tourneys, a Collegiate Final Four packaged for TV and his investigation of Pittsburgh as a possible location for a new Residency Program.

Towards the end of the podcast we discussed some of the different plans and proposals that have been shared on the collaborative Google Drive:  Link

Michael Gordon’s USATH Growth through Colleges: Link

Ryan Peterson’s Handball Proposal: Link

Original Commentary Highlighting the need for planning: Link

 

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 2):  The Curious Politics Behind the Proposal and a High Stakes Vote in Turkey

The IHF President Proposal to split the Pan American Handball Federation in two and still on the agenda for the upcoming IHF Congress.  A major vote that could change handball in Pan America for decades to come.

The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 2):  The Curious Politics Behind the Proposal

In Part 1, I outlined the IHF’s proposal to split the Pan American Federation into two separate federations.  In Part 2, I look at the overall merits of the proposal, the curious politics behind it, and a looming high stakes vote at the IHF Congress in Turkey.

Not a Perfect Deal, but One that Makes Sense

As discussed in Part 1, there’s a lot of pros and cons to the IHF proposal to split the Pan American Handball Federation (PHF) in two.  Personally, I took some offense to the lack of World Championship qualification slots.  1 slot only for Youth and Jr Championships.  And, essentially half a slot for Sr. Championships.  While it may reflect the current competitive status of North American/Caribbean Handball it’s still quite a snub.  But, once I got over the snub and weighed the cost savings and the opportunity to create truly regional competitions I started to warm to the proposal.

And, the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve warmed up to it.  The reality is that it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for all that travel back and forth across the equator.  All that money spent paying airlines will be roughly halved… forever.  Those costs are different for each nation, but make no mistake there’s some real big savings over time.  And, there are just too many Pan American events right now that are for all practical purposes simply South American events.  The recently completed Women’s Club Championships are a prime example:  8 clubs- all from South America.

I think the New York City Team Handball Club Men’s team is only side from the North that has ever participated in a club championship And, yes club handball is not very well developed in the North, but bet your bottom dollar, if this championship was ever staged in the North, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba would be far more likely to attend.  And, then maybe only one team from Argentina and Brazil would make the trip up north.

And, this is not likely to ever change in a Federation that spans from Greenland in the north to Tierra Del Fuego in the south.  Club Championships, Jr and Youth Championships will continue to have limited participation due to travel costs.  Only Sr Championships will be truly North/South affairs.

Whereas, if you split the federations there’s a real chance that the North will see legitimate growth in participation to all those events.  Ideally, it could turn into handball’s version of the FIFA CONCACAF.  Not the strongest Federation, but a competitive one with good participation in all events.  And, perhaps even the South will see growth with the 5 primary nations (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile) focusing on and encouraging growth in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Central America.  In theory, they could create a legitimate handball CONMEBOL.

And, I’m not even factoring in the contentious issues that roiled the Federation 10 years ago.  Major issues that were resolved with devastating impacts to Canada and Greenland.  Things have been more agreeable the past few years and it’s nice to see some championship events coming north for a change.  But, with a split?  Well, those issues would never rise to the fore again because the disagreeing nations would be in separate federations.

But, a Deal that’s Being Unanimously Rejected?

Well, while I may have warmed to the idea of two federations, the PHF nations soundly rejected the proposal at an Extraordinary Congress held on 7 October.  As stated on the PHF website:

  • Se trató la propuesta presentada por el Presidente de la IHF de dividir al Continente Americano en dos Federaciones (Norte y Sur) y la misma no contó con ninguna adhesión positiva.

Or, in Google Translate :  “The proposal presented by the President of the IHF to divide the American Continent in two Federations (North and South) was discussed and it did not have any positive adhesion.”

As to why it was rejected, no rationale has been provided.  Speculation on my part, but I would surmise that many nations are resistant to change or are concerned with qualification slots.  Regardless, while the proposal merited only one sentence, this proposal was the reason why a PHF Extraordinary Congress was held and it wasn’t just discussed, it was discussed at length.

It surely would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall of that meeting, but I’ve heard next to nothing (on or off the record) as to what was discussed.  Nobody’s talking and for something like this with major potential repercussions that is a bit surprising.  Yes, the PHF appears to have quite a bit more discipline then the leaky Trump White House.

The Curious History and Politics Behind the Proposal

What’s really curious about this proposal is that it was initiated by the IHF.  This in many respects would be sort of like the European Union proposing to Spain that it split into 2 countries, Spain and Catalonia.  As an organization it’s fairly easy to see it from the PHF perspective: “Mind your own business, would ya?  If we want to split the PHF, we’ll figure out that ourselves and then we will put forward a proposal to the IHF for consideration.”

And, what makes things curiouser and curiouser?  A similar proposal was submitted by the U.S. back in 2009 and it was rejected by the IHF.  Former USA Team Handball Board President, Dieter Esch, later voiced his displeasure with IHF President Moustafa’s lack of support to his proposed breakaway federation.  Indeed, it was a factor in Esch’s decision to step down and discontinue his generous financial support to USA Team Handball.  And, now Dr. Moustafa is taking up the mantle for a North American Federation?  And, USA Team Handball is rejecting the proposal?

It should have you scratching your head.  But, then again, USA Team Handball has entirely different leadership now and having known USA Team Handball CEO, Mike Cavanaugh, for around 30 years, he’s not one to prone to rock the boat unless it is absolutely necessary.

Additionally, as I discussed in my interview with Handball de Primera, it’s possible that some nations in the PHF were/are reluctant to speak out openly, out of fear of future repercussions should the proposal not come to fruition.  For sure, it would be awkward to attend future PHF meetings after having previously voiced support for leaving the PHF.  And, it would only be natural for future issues and decisions to be weighed negatively against the “traitor” in their midst.  Yes, often it is better to be quiet and tactical in such a situation.  But, to be honest I’ve got little insight as to what the nations are thinking and this is clearly speculation on my part.

The Way Ahead: Drama and High Stakes in Turkey?

Well, you might think that this issue is over.  After all, the PHF nations unanimously rejected the proposal.  The IHF wouldn’t force the PHF to split if they don’t want to? Right?

Well, apparently that’s not the case as the proposal is still on the agenda for upcoming IHF Congress in Antalya, Turkey on 11-12 November.   And, you can even read the proposal which in a rare moment of transparency is readily available on the IHF Congress website.  This wording is virtually identical to the IHF Council Meeting Minutes except for the omission of information regarding WC qualification slots (which I outlined in part 1).

So, assuming this proposal stays on the agenda, the IHF Congress will vote on the motion to split Pan America in two.  For passage, the motion will require a 2/3 majority.  This may seem like a steep hurdle, but President Moustafa who is running unopposed for his 5th term as IHF President generally knows how to count up the votes.  The IHF 2013 Congress had 163 attendees and the 2015 IHF Congress had 139, so one could assume that the 2017 Congress will have similar attendance.  Perhaps even more as additional nations have joined the IHF.  Further, the IHF has been known to pay airfare and hotel for developing nations to attend, which often endears support from those representatives on key votes.

If there are 160 voting members, the measure would need to have 107 voting in support to beat the 53 voting against.  And, one can do a whole lot of speculating as to where the votes might come from for either bloc.  Key questions to be asked and answered in Turkey:

  • How many nations will show up and how many are attending on the IHF’s dime?
  • How strongly will the IHF President push this motion? Will he be content to let the Congress decide or will he see its non-passage as an affront to his leadership?
  • How will the different continental federations discuss this proposal at their meetings prior to the IHF Congress? Michael Wiederer, the influential EHF President voiced his support for the proposal stating that he is in favor as it would help to strengthen handball in the economically important country of USA. How might other IHF Council members lobby their respective continents?
  • Can the PHF member nations effectively lobby other nations with the rationale that this proposal shouldn’t be forced upon a continental federation? (i.e. The message being that your continent could be next)
  • Are the PHF member nations truly united against this proposal or will some take the opportunity of a secret ballot to vote in favor?
  • And will some renegade PHF nations even go further? Actually lobbying for the proposal in private or with a wink and a nod in a semi-private discussion in the hotel lobby or at a coffee break?
  • What will USA Team Handball say or do? As this proposal is in part focused on U.S. development a few choice words in public and/or private could make a real difference.

Honestly, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions which makes the outcome all the more interesting.  In another life, as a NATO Staff Officer I attended dozens of meetings with the flags around the table.  With very few exceptions these meetings were snoozers with little doubt as what would be decided… because anything important had already been decided before the meeting.

But, this might very well indeed be the rare case where an International Meeting takes place with the outcome to a major issue in doubt.  There might even be impassioned discussion at the Congress right before the vote takes place.  Something rarely seen or heard.  And this discussion should even be available for viewing on a live web stream on the IHF Congress web page.  An unprecedented possibility that should have every handball fan in Pan America on the edge of their seat.

Yes, mark your calendars.  11 November 2017 could be the date that seals Pan America’s fate one way or the other.

Podcast:  Buckeye Classic Tourney Review and College Game Discussion with Ohio St’s Max Littman

Ohio State Team Handball

This past weekend Ohio St defeated the Columbus Armada 20-19 to win the 4th Annual Fall Buckeye Classic Tournament.  Max Littman, an Ohio St Right Winger provides a review of the tournament and then we discuss the state of the collegiate game in the U.S.

Here are some links to more information on the topics we discussed.

Ohio State’s Twitter with a few videos from the tourney: Link

Commentaries on Collegiate Handball in the U.S.

Podcast Discussion on what collegiate team handball can learn from collegiate rugby’s success: Link

 

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

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The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 1):  The Pros and Cons

The IHF is proposing to split the PHF into 2 separate federations.

This past summer I began hearing rumors of a possible split to the Pan American Handball Federation (PHF).   A couple of postings on the PHF website have indeed confirmed that the rumors are true and I’ve now seen an outline of the actual proposal.  Surprisingly, the proposal actually came from the IHF as opposed to a PHF member nation.

For reference, here’s an overview of the current PHF nations and qualification paths:  Link

Detailed Map of PHF Handball Nations: Link

The proposed IHF split would do the following:

  • Split the PHF into two separate federations: A North America and Caribbean Federation and a South America and Central America Federation.  So, unlike soccer it would be a CONCA and not a CONCACAF.
  • For Jr and Youth World Championships the North/Caribbean would receive 1 qualification slot and the South/Central would be awarded 3 slots just like Asia, Africa and Europe. The new North/Caribbean slot for the Jr WC would come at the expense of the reigning Youth Champion and the new Youth WC slot would come at the expense 2nd best continent at the preceding Youth WC.  So, in practical terms the new North/Caribbean slots would likely mean that Europe would lose 1 of their ~12 slots for Junior WC and that Africa, Asia, or South America would lose a bonus slot for the Youth WC.
  • For Sr World Championships the IHF borrows a bit from FIFA World Qualification formats and essentially gives the North/Caribbean a ½ slot and gives South/Central America 2 ½ slots. With the ½ slots being decided by a playoff between the North/Caribbean Champion and the South/Central 3rd place team.
  • For the Olympics the IHF proposal only states that “the qualification process for the Olympic Games shall be discussed later.”

The IHF listed several rationales for this proposed split to include

  • Improved organization as each Federation would be focused on serving fewer nations
  • Cost savings particularly due to smaller travel distances
  • Greater participation from nations that currently don’t have a realistic chance of making the PHF or IHF championship events
  • Opportunities for beach handball growth in the Caribbean

Assessing the Pros and Cons

There’s certainly some positive aspects to this proposal along with some shortcomings.  Here’s an assessment of the Pros and Cons

Pros:

Cost Savings:  If this proposal were to be approved there would be some significant cost savings in travel.  Here’s some back of the envelope calculations based on a sampling of flights from Atlanta to different destinations.  In broad terms travel to cities like Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires is twice as expensive as it is to go to the Caribbean, Canada or Mexico.  Around $600/person cheaper per flight.  If a team contingent is 18 and a Federation makes an average of 1.5 North to South (or vice versa) trips a year that’s $16,200 in costs that would disappear.  Right now there are about 12 active Federations in the PHF so that would be $194,400 in total savings/year.  And, if one does a simple x10 calculation that would be $1.94 million dollars over a decade. Admittedly that’s some very rough analysis, but while we could argue about the numbers, there’s no denying this would save a lot of money over the long term.  A lot of money for resourced starved nations that could then be spent on development instead of airline travel.

Greater Participation:  Directly tied to the cost savings is the possibility that more nations would participate in more events.  Somewhat established nations like the U.S., Canada and Mexico would be more likely to participate in Jr and Youth events.  Less established nations in the Caribbean and South America might see an upsurge in participation as well.

Independence Would Eliminate Issues of Fairness:  I was really pleased with recent PHF developments to award Greenland the Men’s Sr PHF Championships and the U.S. the Beach Championships.  But, I also remember some major injustices meted out by our friends in the South.  Not trivial little things either.  Canadian Handball was on the verge of a renaissance a decade ago when they qualified and participated in the 2005 WC, but due to arcane rules they weren’t even allowed to participate in WC qualification in 2006.  And, then Greenland was demoted to Associated Membership after they went to the WC in 2007.  The U.S. might very well have qualified for the 2007 PANAM Games if the 2nd chance tournament hadn’t been moved at the last minute from Puerto Rico to Chile.  Yes, these events were a decade ago, but I’ve got a long memory.  Of course, there are bound to be conflicts within any organization, but given the distances between the North and the South I suspect key decisions in the future will continue to gravitate towards a north/south split in opinion.  I also like to think the level of disagreement won’t reach the heights that it did a decade ago, but make no mistake there will continue to be contentious issues.

No Major Change to the WC Slot Status Quo:  For all practical purposes while the North is being short changed on WC slot allotment it wouldn’t result in much change to the current status quo.  In some respects it’s even better for the North as several times we’ve failed to send any team to the World Jr or Youth Championships either because we didn’t place high enough or failed to send any team at all. And, for last 5 Sr tournaments the North for the most part has missed out on the semifinals and the opportunity to play for 3rd place and the last WC slot.  (Cuba and Puerto Rican Women in 2015 being the exception).  Under this format the North champion would be guaranteed a chance to qualify for the 3rd slot.  Further this playoff could even be a marketable event.

Cons:

The Oceania Treatment: While it’s true there’s no change to the current status quo, if one looks at this proposal from a WC slot allocation perspective, the proposed North/Caribbean Federation is pretty much being treated as another Oceania.  Nothing against our friends from the Pacific, but give us a little respect will ya?  The U.S. has been in a downward cycle for the past 20 years, but with an Olympics we will surely improve.  The Greenland men knocked off Argentina at the 2016 PHF Championship.  Cuba has several pros playing in Europe and when properly resourced they can be very competitive.  This split should come with more WC slots or at the very least there should be some clear benchmarks given to the North/Caribbean Federation as to how those slots can be increased.  And, really how many European teams do we need at the World Championships?  Yes, maybe one of the performance slots should be given to the North/Caribbean champion.

Weaker Competitions:  Splitting into 2 Federations will mean that each competition will be weaker.  In particular, the teams from the North will no longer get the experience of playing the Brazilian Women and the Brazilian and Argentine Men.  While matches against those sides have recently been blowouts it’s still very beneficial for weaker nations to get a yardstick as to where they stand against top competition.  And, even the South tourney will be degraded with sides like Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay missing out on matches against peer nations like Greenland, the U.S. and Canada.

The 8 Nation Rule: Underlying possible concerns with this split is a recent IHF competition rules requirement for federations to have at least 8 nations participating in World Championship Qualification events.  While Pan America may have around 30 full and associate members, the level of participation varies dramatically.  Perhaps around a dozen nations have fairly active programs, regularly participating in Sr events and to varying degrees Jr and Youth events.  Then there are around 6 nations that are somewhat established and sporadically play in qualifying events.  And, finally there around a dozen nations in Central America and Caribbean that are really fledgling nations.  I think for some of them the IHF Trophy tournament just this past year was their very first official competition.

So what does all of this mean?  Well right now the PHF can easily meet the 8 nation rule for Sr events, but doing so relies on participation from the established nations from both the North and the South.  The South could probably meet the 8 nation requirement independently, but it would need to coax nations like Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and the Central America nations into participating to ensure that it’s met.  And, doing so for Jr and Youth events would be even more challenging.  The North/Caribbean Federation would have even a harder time coaxing the fledgling nations of the Caribbean to participate.  Perhaps there could be a Caribbean championship and also maybe the French Departments of Guadaloupe and Martinique could participate.  (Side note: Trinidad & Tobago is one of the fledgling nations.  Will some future USA National Team have to travel to Port of Spain to ignominiously go down in defeat in a handball WC qualifier?)

While it’s true that the shorter distances might allow greater participation both of the new Federations might find themselves short of numbers and accordingly losing their WC slots.  Perhaps the IHF will provide a grace period for growth requirements.

So there’s a rundown on the pros and cons, as I see it.  But, what about the PHF nations and the IHF as a whole.  What do they think about the proposal? In Part 2, I’ll take a closer look at the history of Pan American Handball and the politics behind this proposal.

Team USA Olympic and World Championship Qualification Odds (Part 1):  Assessing the near term 2019-2020

Sometimes when the odds are long we don’t even want to contemplate them. But we should. We really should.

With the 2028 Olympics now officially coming to Los Angeles, I’m working on a number of different commentaries that assess possible ways forward for USA Team Handball.  And, for those also inclined to dream of the future I’ve set up a Google Drive to develop documentation in a collaborative environment.  (Send me an email at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com if you’re interested in participating.)

But, while it’s inherently logical to envision a strategy that centers around the 2028 Olympics and the automatic Olympic qualification that comes with it, it’s still important to remember that it’s 11 years away.  If you spend all of your time planning to be the team of the future, you might very well never get to that future.

That being said with very limited resources and critical shortcomings in just about every phase of development I think it’s pretty important to continually assess the quality of our National Teams and what their prospects are on the world stage.  To assess how likely Olympic Qualification and to a lesser extent World Championship qualification is so that informed budgetary decisions can be made.  If there’s a decent chance at Olympic qualification it makes sense to allocate more resources to support a robust effort to improve our national teams in the near term.  To get that team over the hump.  And, on the flip side if the odds are long, perhaps it makes more sense to direct limited resources towards other needs to facilitate development and a stronger run in the future.

With that introduction explanation as to why it’s important, here’s an assessment of our Olympic and World Championship qualification over the next two years.

USA Women Odds             

The recent USA Women’s trip to S. Korea showed a bit of promise as the women were more competitive against professional and semi-pro club teams.  Still losing mind you, but way more competitive than matches against European club teams that had taken place just a few months earlier in France.

First I’ll tackle the 2019 Pan American Championships.  This event will take place probably in June and will likely include a qualification event for the North America and Caribbean region.  Here are my assessed odds for where the U.S. will finish.

Note, that the overall odds total up to 100%.  Also, keep in mind that you can add them up to determine other odds like making the semifinals (10% +10% +20% = 50% in this instance).

Rationale for the different numbers

1st(<1%):  It’s really hard to see any other PHF team beating Brazil in the next two years.  Really, only Argentina has even a remote chance of such an upset.  I know folks like to bring up the “Miracle on Ice” analogy that in one game anything can happen, but it just doesn’t apply here.  The gap is just way too large and handball has too much scoring for such a miracle to occur.  It’s the equivalent of an NCAA Div 3 team beating Kentucky or Kansas in basketball.  Of course, anything is possible, but we’re not talking about a 1 in 10 chance like the 84 Olympic hockey team.  I’m thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 in 250 or so is about right.

2nd (10%): Beating Argentina in a one off game, however, is conceivable. Argentina is clearly a better team than the U.S. and the other PANAM teams, but they are not that much better.  From a historical standpoint I’m pretty certain that the USA Women’s national teams from the 80s and early 90s would probably beat the current Argentina squad.  So, in theory a residency program clicking on all cylinders should probably be able to put together a team capable of finishing 2nd at the PANAM Games.  That being said I don’t think it’s very likely that can be accomplished in 2 years time.  There are a lot of variables here, but let’s be optimistic and give the USA a 10% chance of upsetting Argentina in a semifinal or group play match and securing 2nd place at the PANAM Games.

3rd (20%) and 4th (20%):  Overall, I would assess the U.S. chances of making the semifinals as a 50-50 proposition.  Some might pooh-pooh such a number since the U.S. hasn’t even made a PHF semifinal in over 14 years.  But, if they’ve been watching the U.S. play recently they should know that they are due to play for a medal.  And, playing for 3rd means an opportunity to qualify for the World Championship.  Meaning that overall, I would assess the Women as having around a 30% chance of participating in their first World Championship since 1995.

5th to Last (40%): But, while the U.S. has shown progress, they could also falter in pool play. Certainly, that’s been the case for the past few tournaments.

Fail to Qualify (10%):  I’d like to think this number is less, but it’s still possible to think that such a melt down could occur.  And, if Cuba decides to show up at a NORCA event, a decent team like the U.S. will find itself on the outside looking in, if they have a bad tournament.

Now, let’s take a look at the 2019 PANAM Games.

You’ll notice that the numbers are the same and this is because the competition will roughly be the same.  The only significant difference is in the qualification format as the U.S. will likely play Canada in a series of qualification matches.  The Canadians have slipped a bit in recent years and I think the U.S. will be big favorites against them.  That being said, though, there’s still 1 in 10 chance the U.S. could slip up.

USA Women Olympic Qualification

So are the U.S. Women’s Olympic dreams contingent on an extremely unlikely upset of Brazil?  Essentially nonexistent?  No, not quite.  Because Brazil is that good, it’s possible they could win the 2019 World Championship and then give Pan America one more Olympic slot.  After all, Brazil were World Champions in 2013 and beat Norway, the current World and Olympic Champions, just last summer at the Olympics in Rio.  But, while they clearly are capable of doing so, more often than not Brazil hasn’t done so well when they get to the knock out stages of major tournaments.  In fact, the 2013 World Championships is the only time they’ve made it to the semifinals.  The latest odds for the WC list them at a 16/1 underdog or roughly a 6% chance of winning, but, again let’s be optimistic and give Brazil a 10% chance of being the 2019 World Championships.

So, when one puts the two requirements, Brazil winning the World Championship and beating Argentina together you get a basic probability equation

10% x 10% = 1%

Yes, a 1% chance of 2020 Olympic qualification.  And, honestly that’s being pretty optimistic.

USA Men Odds

Now let’s take a look at the Men’s chances.  Before, we do that, however, it’s important to note that there are a lot of question marks concerning the Men’s National Team roster.  Since the 2016 Pan American Championships (the U.S. placed 8th out of 12 teams) the U.S. Sr. team has played only a handful of matches.  This past summer using a roster mostly composed of athletes at the Residency Program in Auburn they split 4 matches vs Canada 2-2.  I suspect, however, that the strongest possible U.S. roster would rely mostly on players based overseas, Gary Hines, of course, and several promising younger dual citizen players who have made our Jr. team competitive.   Whether the U.S. will field such a roster, however, remains to be seen, but I’ll assume that they will.  (If for some reason they don’t, though, their odds for success will be even longer than what I’ve assessed below.)

As far as the competition in PHF, unlike the Women’s competition, there is no one team which is overwhelmingly stronger than the competition.  Instead, there are two teams (Brazil and Argentina) which are substantially better.  The gap is still pretty large, though, just not at the extreme level it is with the Women.  A notch below Brazil/Argentina are Chile and Greenland and then below them are several teams roughly on par with the U.S.

First, here’s a look at the Pan American Championships which are scheduled to take place in Greenland next summer.

1st(<1%):  While the Brazilian and Argentinian Men aren’t out of this world better like the Brazilian Women they are still quite a bit better than the U.S.  So instead of a one off miracle victory being a 1 in 250 or so proposition it’s probably around 1 in 50.  That may provide some comfort that there’s a 2% chance of an upset, but it’s tempered by the need for the U.S. to likely execute two back to back 2% upsets, beating one top side in the semifinals and then turning around and beating the other in the finals.  The math (.02*02= .0004) is ugly and puts the chances of that happening at around 1 in 2,500.  Unlike C3PO, however, I don’t think you can simply perform the math equation.  After all, if the U.S. were to pull off 1 such victory, pulling off another wouldn’t seem so hard anymore.  That being said, it’s a real stretch right now to think that the U.S. Men are capable of pulling off such a twofer.

2nd (2 %):  As discussed, a one off victory of Brazil or Argentina is very unlikely, but conceivable.  It would take the U.S. playing out of this world and one of those sides having a real off day.  A 1 in 50 occurrence, although, I’m sure some might argue that it’s even worse than that.

3rd (3%):  The assessed odds for 3rd aren’t much better than 2nd and that’s primarily due to the location of the championships in Greenland.  This is possibly the biggest sporting event ever to take place in that country.  If Greenland is in the semifinals they will be extremely difficult to beat in a 3rd place match with a World Championship bid on the line.  Chile would also be tough to beat.  Heck, Greenland even beat Argentina in 2016 so it wouldn’t be much of a shock for them to knock off Brazil or Argentina at home, meaning that one of those two sides would need to be beaten in a one off match for WC qualification.

4th (10%):  A fortunate draw could mean that the U.S. would only have to beat Uruguay or a similar team to reach the semifinals.  An unfortunate draw will mean beating Greenland and/or Chile.

5th-Last (75%):  If past history is a guide, the U.S. will likely lose 2-3 matches in group play and play for a consolation place

Fail to Qualify (10%):  In 2016, the U.S. didn’t even have to play in a North American & Caribbean qualification tournament.  That could also be the case in 2018.  Or an event could be held whereby the U.S. would need to secure a qualification slot.  I think the U.S. should be able to secure a slot against the likes of Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, but it’s not guaranteed.

As far as the PANAM Games go this tournament is actually a bit easier due to fewer teams from South America and Greenland not being allowed to participate.  The U.S. would still need to first beat Canada in qualification, but should they make the final tournament they will have better prospects of making the semifinals.  But, once there they would still need to then execute the double upset and it’s really hard to imagine the U.S. doing so.

But, while the odds for the near term are extremely long for the 2020 Olympics there’s still a fighting chance for WC qualification, particularly for the Women.  Does that possibility alone, in the near term, justify directing the Federation’s limited resources towards national teams?  And, what about the midterm and the lead up to 2028? In part 2, I’ll address those questions and more.

USA Team Handball Strategic Plan 2018-2028: Envisioning the Final Product

Envisioning what the final product might look like.

Sometimes when you start an effort like a Strategic Plan for USA Team Handball it can really help to have a conceptual idea as to what your final end product might look like.  So that one can perhaps better understand the types of questions that need to be asked and answered.

As a starting point, I’ve taken the best example and perhaps the most relevant Strategic Plan I’ve found, USA Field Hockey’s 2017-2024 Strategic Plan and re-imagined it as a USA Team Handball 2018-2028 Strategic Plan.  In many cases I simply replaced Field Hockey with Team Handball, but in other places I had to do some additional modifications. In doing so, I tried to limit my editorializing deciding to simply go with what had been envisioned by the USA Field Hockey strategy even if it didn’t necessarily fit my views or how handball is necessarily structured in the U.S.

Both the original and the Team Handball version can be found here:

USA Field Hockey 2017-2024 Strategic Plan: Link

USA Team Handball 2018-2028 Strategic Plan: Link

A quick, cursory review of the conceptual USA Team Handball Strategic Plan might result in a few top level insights.  Such as:

  • That a strategic plan is kind of a “motherhood and apple pie” document. It highlights basic foundational beliefs that can set the framework for more detailed initiatives
  • That such a plan shouldn’t be created by a handful of people in a vacuum because if that’s done it’s not likely to be reflective of the community as a whole. According to the documentation, USA Field Hockey spent months listening, discussing, reviewing individual meetings, surveys and focus groups to best understand what their members wanted.
  • That a Strategic Plan, if it’s to have any value can’t simply be a laundry list of everything that might possibly be done. I suspect that that a significant amount of blood, sweat and tears were spent identifying and selecting USA Field Hockey’s four key strategic initiatives.

From a top level perspective I think it provides a good glimpse of what a strategic plan for USA Team Handball might look like.  That being said here are a few thoughts regarding the similarities and differences between the two sports.

Team Handball and Field Hockey in the U.S. (The Similarities)

First off, I won’t claim to be an expert on field hockey, but here are some common themes/issues that I think the two sports share in the U.S.:

  • Both team sports
  • Both minor sports with low participation (Men’s field hockey is particularly relevant)
  • Both Olympic sports which garner significant interest due to their Olympic status
  • Both sports have very limited television exposure
  • Both sports have a very committed volunteer base
  • Both sports have had limited international success (Men’s field hockey is particularly relevant)

Team Handball and Field Hockey in the U.S. (Some Major Differences)

But, while there are some striking similarities there also are some major differences between the two sports.  No, simply doing a “find and replace” of field hockey and team handball clearly won’t suffice, because of these major differences:

  • Women’s Field Hockey is a sanctioned High School sport in several states and an official NCAA sport. Handball has no such status anywhere in the U.S. (Men or Women)  (Translation:  A solid grass roots foundation already exists and for the most part it’s not funded by USA Field Hockey)
  • USA Field Hockey has more members and revenue largely due to its Women’s membership base
  • The USA Field Hockey Women have pretty much always been respectable on the World Stage. They’ve only medaled once in Olympic competition (84 Olympics), but they’ve been in the 2nd tier of nations
  • Globally, Team Handball has multiple leagues and some athletes earning 7 figure salaries while field hockey has fewer professional options (Translation the pro to amateur gap is much less pronounced with Field Hockey.)
  • Team Handball has an emerging discipline, beach handball, while to the best of my knowledge there is only one type of field hockey that is being played and promoted.

A Few Peanut Section Critiques of the USA Field Hockey Plan

While I really think the Field Hockey Strategic Plan is a pretty well put together plan I thought it was lacking in a few instances.

  • There’s very little in the document regarding Men’s Field Hockey and little insight as to how the U.S. can grow the Men’s game and succeed internationally. Perhaps, this was by design and a strategic decision to avoid the far greater challenges the Men’s program has.
  • While I think they’ve identified 4 good initiatives there’s no guidance as to how resources will be allocated between those initiatives. This is the same fundamental problem USA Team Handball has in regards to development vs National Team support.

Help Still Wanted

This is an online collaborative effort.  Everyone’s welcome to look, but if you want to help identify the key questions, assess the pros and cons of different options and draft documentation contact me at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Podcast: Gary Hines, Ninja Warrior and Team USA Handballer

Gary Hines in action for his club team in Germany, HSC Bad Neustadt. I wonder why they call him Hang Time?

Gary Hines has been a mainstay of the U.S. Men’s National Team for 14 years.  More recently he’s been a fan favorite on German TV’s, Ninja Warrior Germany.

In a wide ranging interview we discuss his recent Ninja escapade as well as his journey from foster care, to discovering handball with the Atlanta Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs and Condors, to the U.S. National Team to playing professional handball in Spain and Germany.  It’s quite a story and at age 33 he’s not done yet by any means.

Here are some links to more information on the topics we discussed.

  • Gary’s final course run on this season’s Ninja Warrior Germany: Link
  • Story from 2010 on the first Ninja Handball player, Japan’s Daisuke Miyazke: Link
    (Note: the speculation concerning a future American Handball Ninja)
  • Commentary from 2010 suggesting that USA Team Handball should facilitate Gary Hines signing with a higher division club: Link
  • HSC Bad Neustadt Club website: Link
  • German Handball Federation article on Gary’s Ninja Warrior Exploits: Link
  • Gary’s profile at USA Team Handball: Link

Gary in action on Ninja Warrior Germany

Gary Hines on Social Media
Facebook: Link
Youtube: Link
Instagram: Link

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If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

Planning a Way Forward for Handball in the U.S.:  An Invitation to Contribute

Julie Andrews had it right: When you read you begin with A-B-C. When you plan, you begin with a mission and vision statement. (Sorry, that doesn’t rhyme)

Readers of this website are surely familiar with the many commentaries I’ve written over the years exploring different strategies to move Team Handball forward in the United States.

I like to think that these commentaries have served a useful purpose.  To get people thinking outside the box as to what might be possible.  Or, maybe to get people to think about the underlying objectives of what we’d like to do prior to charging forward with solutions.

All well in good, but I would suggest that the time is right now to do a bit more than “thinking”.  To turn that “thinking” into “planning”.  To start weighing different options so that informed decisions can be made on the best ways to proceed.

The impetus for this change in focus, of course, is the awarding of the 2028 Olympics to Los Angeles.  This is a significant event that can serve as the catalyst to forever change Team Handball in this country.  To build a sustainable grass roots base.  To field competitive National Teams.  To make Team Handball a sport every sports minded person in this country is aware of.  And, to turn at least some portion of that sports minded public into die-hard fans.

I firmly believe that all of this can happen.

But, I also firmly believe that it’s not going to happen by accident.   We need a plan.  A good plan that’s the product of input from multiple sources.  A plan that’s the product of a structured process that first lays out the vetted goals and objectives of the organization.  Then reviews the merits of multiple options going forward based on agreed upon metrics and how well those options match established goals.  And, then, and only then, moving forward with action plans to implement.

Make no mistake.  This is not an easy task.  Especially, if one considers the divergent views of the folks that make up somewhat nebulous American Team Handball community.  Herding cats is probably easier.

But, it can be done.  It should be done.  Sooner or later it will be done.  Five years ago the USOC paid for and organized a conference in Salt Lake City to coax USATH into taking on this task.  For reasons that have never been articulated this process was short circuited and well…  Let’s just say that we have what we have.

It’s not clear to me when the “sooner or later” will happen with USA Team Handball, but I’ve decided that simply waiting is not a good option.  2028 may seem like a long, long way away, but it’s not.

Here’s Where “You” Come in

I’m starting the process unofficially, but it’s a task that shouldn’t be the product of one person or even a few people.  It should include input from all corners.  Everyone who cares should have their voice heard.  That doesn’t mean every idea or suggestion you might propose will be implemented, but it should mean that it was considered.  And, you should be able to understand why it wasn’t implemented in the big scheme of things.  And, in theory, being a part of such a process should then give you “buy in” as to what was decided.

So to facilitate this process I’ve set up a Google Drive with a few documents that you can review and provide your input. To start out I’m looking for feedback on USA Team Handball’s currently existing Mission and Vision Statements as well as some help in identifying high level questions that should be addressed.  Not the answers to such questions (yet), just what those questions are.

For you “lurkers” out there the documents can be viewed here: Link

If you want to actively participate in the document, just send me an email at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com and I’ll give you editing privileges.

What a Waste of Time?

Alright, I get it.  This is an exercise which is not in any way shape or form sanctioned by USA Team Handball.  It has zero authority and could be simply assessed as a waste of time.  “Fan fiction” for would be handball planners.

There’s some logic to that, but not if you believe it’s only a matter of time before this very necessary step is finally taken by USA Team Handball.  Because if you start such a process one of the very first things you do is review what’s been done before both for handball and for other sports.  And, if we get decent representation from the USA handball community it will have some level of legitimacy.  Adopting parts of it would seem to be a smart thing to do for anyone concerned with “buy in” from the most dedicated devotees of the sport.

So with all that in mind, I invite each and every one of you to roll up your sleeves and get to work.  To take your bar stool pontification and put it down in words.  To help lay the groundwork to forever change handball in this country.

Handball Makes ESPN Sports Center Top 10:  13 Hours Later: A Million Views, 140,000 likes and 2,600 Comments; Here’s One More Commentary

Montpellier’s Diego Simonet gets over a million views for his spectacular goal vs Metalurg

Montpellier’s Diego Simonet had quite the goal yesterday vs Metalurg in their opening match of the 2017-18 EHF Champions League campaign.  The EHF posted a video highlight of the goal and it was promptly reposted by ESPN’s Sports Center Instagram account.

13 hours later the video highlight had been viewed over a million times, liked 140,000 times and had received 2,600 comments.

From time to time I’ve written a few commentaries about handball’s very limited exposure in the U.S. and how increasing that exposure via TV isn’t just something that would be kind of nice to have, but that it is very most critical need for the sport in this country. I know I’m just “some guy” with opinions, but my goodness could anything more demonstrably show how valid that opinion is?

A million views in just 13 hours! Peruse the comments and the broken record of “what is that?” and “why isn’t that played here in the U.S.?” that’s asked over and over and over.

Now sit back and reflect that this is just one highlight posted to an ESPN Instagram account.  It’s not even clear to me whether the highlight made the TV Sports Center.  At least it wasn’t in the Top Ten Plays on the broadcast I saw Saturday night.

Now just imagine if ESPN showed handball on TV or even just on their digital “Watch ESPN” platform.  As I wrote 5 years ago from that day forward just about every discussion about handball in the U.S. would be preceded with either, “Well, before handball was on ESPN” or “Well, since handball’s been on ESPN.”  I’m not kidding.  It would be a monumental game changer.  Such a development would make everything USA Team Handball might want to accomplish easier and more effective be it fundraising or youth club development or national team recruiting.

And, before you “pooh pooh” such talk as simply wishful thinking look back at this post back in 2012 when arguably ESPN’s most prominent personality, Scott Van Pelt, wore a USA Team Handball shirt (that he had to make on his own) during the Olympics.  He and others had discovered the new sport, and perhaps with the right facilitation maybe a deal could have been brokered for U.S. broadcasts on some TV network.  Maybe, I wouldn’t be having this whimsical could of, would of, should of discussion.

It took a couple of years, but handball did land on a network in the U.S.  Unfortunately, though, it was beIN Sports US, which has very limited distribution and doesn’t promote the sport effectively.  I highlighted my frustration with beIN Sports, the EHF, USA Team Handball and other entities (including myself) in this commentary in 2015.

Two years later, things are actually worse as beIN Sports now doesn’t even bother to show the EHF Champions League Match of the Week on TV.  Although, you can view it on its digital beIN Sports Connect platform.  If you can figure out what’s channel the match is on.  For yesterday’s match between Barcelona and Rhein-Neckar the online beIN Sports TV guide said Ch 8, but I eventually found it on Ch 9.  I even watched for a bit until in the 2nd half the transmission got so garbled I gave up and watched NFL football instead.  Sigh…

I always like to think that it’s always darkest before the dawn.  That this crazy situation where handball can’t even be seen in the U.S. is just a temporary situation that will pass.  That ESPN or perhaps the new NBC Olympic Channel will pick up some handball rights.  Or that the digital TV revolution will bypass TV altogether and handball will have its own Roku or Over The Top (OTT) viewing options.

With the 2028 Olympics in LA now a certainty one can only think that it’s just a matter of time before handball finds a home in the U.S. Sports scene.  That the opportunity to promote the sport effectively will be such a win-win for everyone involved with the sport that this frustrating situation will seem passé and quaint.  I’ve been saying that now for decades, but sooner or later, I’m going to be right.  Let’s hope for sooner.

Commentaries on Handball’s lack of exposure and the importance of TV broadcasts.

  • 2009 commentary on Rugby TV broadcasts in the U.S.: Link
  • 2012 Olympic Commentary on how few people in the U.S. are fans of the sport: Link
  • 2012 Olympic Commentary regarding the Catch 22 TV paradox: Link
  • 2012 Olympic Commentary regarding Europe’s lack of engagement with the U.S. market: Link
  • 2012 Olympic Commentary regarding new European efforts to engage the U.S. market: Link

Side Note:  Back in 2013 I wrote an article on Diego Simonet’s debut with Montpellier and I speculated as to whether he might be the best Argentinian player ever.  I’ll go on record now that he is.  Sorry Eric Gull.  Question now, is whether he might be eventually recognized as the best player to come out of Pan America.  A much higher honor considering the number of Cubans that have made their mark.

Podcast: Team USA and Aulnay’s Julia Taylor (Part 2): Reflections on Different Training Environments

Julia Taylor’s handball development journey has seen stops in a collegiate program, an overseas residency, a U.S. based residency and now an overseas club. Arguably, no U.S. player has ever experienced it all quite like the way she has.

Julia Taylor’s handball development journey has seen stops in a collegiate program, an overseas residency, a U.S. based residency and now an overseas club.  Arguably, no U.S. player has ever experience it all like the way she has.

In part 2 of my interview with Julia Taylor we discuss the different training environments that we experienced as handball players.  Both Julia and I played in college, participated in a U.S. National Residency Program and played overseas.  Julia’s overseas club experience is at a much higher level and she also spent a semester at the Aarhus Academy in Denmark.

The different topics we tackle include

  • The lack of collegiate competition, particularly on the women’s side
  • Whether a residency program should focus on national team prep or preparing individual athletes for overseas opportunities
  • Division 1 athlete crossover recruitment and training
  • Challenges and rewards of playing with a European Club

Here are some links regarding some of the topics discussed:

Collegiate Handball Commentaries:
– Overview of College Handball Challenges: Link
Success at UNC and possible implementation steps to further develop the college game:Link

Foreign Based Residency Program
– Aarhus Academy Website: Link
– Aarhus Academy Podcast Interview: Link
– Commentary on European Based Residency Program: Link

U.S. Based Residency Program Commentaries
– Commentary on shifting to development: Link
– Recruiting Challenges: Link

This podcast episode was sponsored by Hummel.  Check out their Handball Portal for sales in the U.S. and Canada.

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

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