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

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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

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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

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

Podcast: Team USA and Aulnay’s Julia Taylor (Part 1)

Team USA and Aulnay’s Julia Taylor

Julia Taylor, has been playing handball in 2010 for the University of North Carolina.  She is now a Left Wing on the USA Women’s National Team and for the Aulnay Handball Club in France.  In Part 1 of my interview with Julia we discuss how she started playing handball and the career path that led to her playing in France.  We also discuss the different tournaments that the U.S. Women have played this year including this past Summer’s Pan American Championships and the recent friendly tournament played in South Korea.

Links
UNC Handball: Link
Aarhus Academy: Link
Aulnay Handball: Link 

This podcast episode was sponsored by Hummel.  Chectk 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

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 Next Olympic Hopeful: NBC with a Reality Show on Cross-Over Athletes: Handball not Included

The 8 athletes selected for NBC’s Next Olympic Hopeful. Rugby 7s, Bobsled, Skeleton and Track Cycling were the chosen sports. (Handball Not Included… this time around)

As previously reported, NBC was considering the possibility of a handball based reality show that would see former athletes in other sports try handball with the hopes of making the U.S. National Team and eventually the Olympics.  Unfortunately, the handball reality show has been shelved for the time being, but NBC and the USOC have given some air time to a similar concept: a scouting combine focused on identifying athletes for Rugby 7s, Boblsed, Skeleton and Track Cycling.

I saw the 2 hour show this past weekend and a rebroadcast is scheduled for the NBC Sports Network on Tuesday night at 8:30 PM ET.  90 athletes were identified for participation through multiple channels to include a partnership with 24 Hour Fitness.  Over 3 days the USOC conducted a series of physical tests to measure raw athlete performance, as well as introduce athletes to the basics of the sports involved.  These tryouts/sporting combines appeared to be somewhat similar to what USA Team Handball periodically conducts at Auburn.

As entertainment, I found the show lacking, as it’s pretty hard to manufacture much drama out of such tests of speed, strength and endurance.  Old timers might find it nostalgic as it takes place at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, even if it’s hard to recognize the place.  About the only drama I found interesting were the end of the day conferences which featured coaches and representatives from each of the Sport NGBs discussing the athletes and in one instance trading a prospect from Rugby to Bobsled.  In the end 8 athletes were selected, 1 male and 1 female for each sport.

As to why handball wasn’t included, Mike Cavanaugh, the CEO of USA Team Handball indicated to me via email that just about every other NGB had asked the USOC the same question.  The USOC response was that they wanted to maximize the chance of success and that’s why the 4 sports, 3 of which are already medal producing were selected.  Indeed, one of the athletes chosen for Bobsled even has an outside chance for making the 2018 Olympic Team.

The good news is that the USOC is already planning for another edition in 2018. And, who knows, maybe the USOC and NBC will throw a bone to USA Team Handball and include Handball next time.  Interested hopefuls can apply here: Link

Summary of Results:  Korean Friendly Tournament

Kathy Darling and the U.S. Women had a solid performance at the Korean Friendly Tournament in Busan. Darling had 9 goals vs Danish Club Aalborg and was selected for the tournament all star team.

 

The USA Women recently participated in a friendly tournament hosted by South Korean Club, Busan BISCO.  Overall, they had a solid tournament, highlighted by two easy victories over Australia and Taiwan, as well as relatively competitive matches against Busan Bisco (S. Korea), Erd (Hungary) and EH Aalborg (Denmark).

USA Results

19 August Busan BISCO (S. Korea) 32, USA 19
Scoring: Jence Rhodes 5, Kathy Darling 4, Nicole Andersen 4, Liz Hartnett 2, Ashley Van Ryn 2, Shani Levinkind 1, Zoe Baird 1
Video: Link

20 August Erd (Hungary) 26, USA 17
Scoring: Kathy Darling 3, Nicole Andersen 3, Ashley Van Ryn 3, Jence Rhodes 2, Liz Hartnett 2, Ashley Butler 2, Zoe Baird 1, Lisa Dunn 1,
Video: Link

21 August EH Aalborg 23, USA 19 Video: Link
Scoring: Kathy Darling 9, Nicole Andersen 2, Sarah Gascon 2, Jence Rhodes 2, Julia Taylor 2, Zoe Baird 1, Shani Levinkind 1,
Video: Link

22 August USA 27, Australia 9
Video: Link

23 August USA 23, Taiwan 13
Video: Link

Note: If the video links don’t work for you, you may want to try different platforms and/or web browsers.  I couldn’t get them to work on my Chromebook for some reason, but had no problem with my Microsoft desktop.

Final Tournament Standings

 

Analysis

I’ve had an opportunity to view parts of all 5 matches, but I’ve focused primarily on the first 3 matches vs the club teams.  For the most part in those 3 matches the U.S. played pretty good defense.  Things got out of hand a bit while playing BISCO, but that was often due to fast break opportunities.  Sophie Fasold had an outstanding tournament with several saves helping to keep the U.S. in contact with its opposition.

The highlight, in my opinion, was their performance against Erd, the eventual tournament winner and 3rd best pro team in Hungary.  I wouldn’t classify them as an elite club team, but right below the highest tier with a few players on their roster also playing for their National Teams in Europe.  While the outcome of the match was never in doubt, the U.S. stayed within striking distance most of the match.  Yes, a moral victory, but a significant one if you compare it to the uncompetitive matches the U.S. played this past January against French Club sides with less pedigree than Erd.

This surprising performance had me thinking that they could beat EH Aalborg, which is an average team in Denmark’s 2nd Division.  Unlike Erd, the Danish club team features several young players and could be classified as mostly semi-professional.  Unfortunately, the U.S. did not have a particularly strong performance with turnovers and inconsistent play, losing 23-19.

Overall, I would assess this tournament as an improvement over their efforts this past June at the Pan American Championship.  In my opinion, if they had played this well in June they could have well secured 3rd place and World Championship Qualification.

Looking Ahead

The U.S. Women have no important qualification events until December, 2018 at the earliest.  At which point there will be several events related to Olympic and World Championship qualification.  Olympic qualification will start with PANAM Games Qualification, which will likely be 2 to 3 matches vs Canada and assuming that goes well the PANAM Games in late July/early August.  World Championship qualification should with a North American & Caribbean (NORCA) Championship in the spring followed by the Pan American Championships in June.

In the intervening time, I suspect the USA Women will try to play some friendly matches vs Puerto Rico and other Caribbean teams as well as a training camp in Europe.  This lean time could be problematic as a lack of residency program athletes and infrequent competition could see player skills atrophy.  I personally would like to see some players that have developed stateside head to Europe for more frequent and better competition.  Additionally, the U.S. can’t afford to lose any players as there is no real depth at any position.

I’ll have more to say on the current player pool and residency program recruiting in the coming weeks.

USA Women Participating in Friendly International Tourney in South Korea

Busan International Friendly Tournament: USA Women to take on 3 club teams and 2 national team sides.

The USA Women are in Busan, South Korea where they are 1 of 6 teams participating in an International Friendly Tournament.  Korean club teams are sponsored by companies and the Busan Infrastructure Corporation (BISCO) sponsors a club team that plays in Korea’s top league.  Other teams participating including ERD HC from Hungary, EH Aalborg from Denmark and the national teams from Taiwan and Australia.

Based on pedigree ERD and hosts BISCO should be the two top teams.  ERD HC placed 3rd in Hungary’s top league and qualified for the EHF Cup (Europe’s 2nd level competition below the Champions League).  EH Aalborg finished 7th last season in Denmark’s 2nd Division and should be a notch below those 2 teams.  As these clubs are professional or semi-professional they will likely present stiff competition for the U.S.

The two other national teams participating, Taiwan and Australia, however, should be teams the U.S. can match up with as neither side has performed particularly well recently in International competition.  Taiwan’s most recent Asian Championships appearance was in 2012 where they placed 7th out of 12 participants.  I’m not very familiar with Taiwan handball and it’s not clear as to why they haven’t participated since then.

Australia has been the dominant team in Oceania and regularly qualified for the World Championships until their automatic slot was eliminated in 2015.  That being said, they never won a match at the World Championships and often lost the 23rd place match to the weakest Pan American side participating.

The tournament is scheduled to take place over 5 days and will be a full round robin with 3 matches played daily.

USA Match Schedule (Korea is 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time)

Saturday, 19 Aug 1700 (Local) / 0400 ET USA vs Busan BISCO (South Korea)
Sunday, 20 Aug 1500 (Local) / 0200 ET USA vs ERD HC (Hungary)
Monday, 21 Aug 1300 (Local) / 0001 ET USA vs EH Aalborg (Denmark)
Tuesday, 22 Aug 1300 (Local) / 0001 ET USA vs Australia
Wednesday, 23 Aug 1400 (Local) / 0100 ET USA vs Taiwan

2017 Pan American Championships Review (Part 2): The Best Performance in Years- A Sign of Progress or More of the Same?

Which projected trend line makes more sense for the USA Women?

In Part 1, I provided a summary of the results, questioned some coaching decision and highlighted the average age of the women’s team.  In Part 2, I take a look at what this recent result portends for the future.

The Best Performance in Years.  The Beginning of an Upward Trajectory?

The 5th place finish at the 2017 Pan American Championships was the best performance since the women finished 4th in 2003.  In those intervening 14 years the results can only be described as disappointing with several “Did Not Qualifies” or near the basement finishes.

If we simply plot out these results one could possibly surmise that after 3.5 years of Residency Program training at Auburn the hard work is starting to pay off.  That things are looking up for Team USA and that if we were just to add a couple of more quality players we could soon challenge Argentina and Brazil for Pan American titles.

A Better Performance than 2015 (How Did that Happen?)

For sure the 2017 performance and final placement was way better than 2015’s 10th place flame out.  But, if you’ve been following the Women’s program it should have you scratching your head a bit as to how that happened.  Here’s why:

  • It’s essentially the same team, just a couple of years older. 10 players returned from the 2015 roster and while the U.S. added Nicole Andersen as a scoring threat they were missing Karoline Borg (2015’s leading scorer) due to injury.
  • Many of the players have been training in subpar circumstances. The U.S. still has a residency program, but I’ll diplomatically state that it hasn’t been very “robust” for the past 2 years.   Many players, and even the coach, departed Auburn in 2015, leaving just a handful of players to train in less than ideal circumstances.  Best I can tell the women’s roster featured only 4 players who had been training at Auburn, 4 U.S. based players that weren’t practicing regularly at all, 6 dual citizens and 1 stateside developed player practicing with a club team in France.  So, over half of the team wasn’t scrimmaging on a regular basis, let alone honing their play with regular competition.  And, I don’t care how hard you are working individually and in small groups, if you’re not playing 7 on 7 regularly you are not in a good training situation.
  • It continues a puzzling trend of better performances when the team isn’t practicing together on a regular basis. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the residency program model, but I still think it should work better than nothing.  Bizarrely, however, that hasn’t been the case.  When the program was in full swing in Cortland, NY the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2007 PANAM Games.  Then four years later without the benefit of a program the team managed to qualify for the 2011 PANAM Games.  And, most recently in 2015 with a solid year of training, competing and living together as a group the U.S. Women failed to qualify for the PANAM Games and placed a disappointing 10th at the Pan American Championships.  And, now with essentially the same team they have their best performance since 2003.  Huh? Go figure.  The available data points even suggest that a robust residency program is somehow detrimental to performance.

How did it happen?  Answer:  Too few data points and a whole lot of parity

I’ll take a stab at answering my own question.  Here’s why the results look a little backwards:

  • The USA Women haven’t played enough competitive matches to establish a definitive trend. In terms of official tournaments the USA Women are pretty much limited to World Championship qualification tournaments every two years and Olympic qualification events every 4 years.  Teams don’t always perform on the same even keel and they can have good tourney and bad tourneys.  And, if you don’t have enough data points it’s hard to know what’s a fluke (bad or good) and what’s to be expected.  Personally, I think that the 2015 performance was on the bottom end of the scale and that 2017 might have been average.  Those are just educated guesses, though, because there’s just not enough games.
  • Once you get past Brazil and Argentina there’s a whole lot of parity in Pan America. If one looks at the results from the past few Pan America Championships and throws away Brazil, Argentina and the Central American entrant you’ll notice that the match scores between those teams are remarkably close. That the gap between the 3rd best team and the 11th best team isn’t very great.   It’s possible in any one tournament that a team can exceed expectations (Paraguay this year) or fail to meet expectations (USA in 2015).  Generally the best team wins, but luck, injuries, matchups, group placement all factor into the actual result.  Because these teams are so closely matched it doesn’t take much to have wild swings in performance.  Maybe some side will emerge to challenge Argentina, but right now it appears that teams are just taking turns in WC qualification.

And, keep in mind that for the past several World Championships that the 3rd or 4th place team which joins Argentina, Brazil (and sometimes Cuba) at the World Championship has been consistently non-competitive.  Puerto Rico was thrashed by double digits in all of its matches except its surprising win over Kazakhstan.  Argentina’s only victories were over Congo and Puerto Rico.  Cuba could only manage a win over the Congo.  Going to a WC is a great opportunity and experience, but right now and for the past several years it’s basically been a participation award.

What does it mean going forward?

Back in 2015 after the U.S. women failed to qualify for the PANAM Games and placed 10th place at the Pan American Championship I wrote a commentary that it was time to reassess the future of the Women’s Program and look for a new coach and a new High Performance Manager.   Well, needless to say if there was any assessment done by USA Team Handball, it concluded everything was just fine and that staying the course was the best option going forward.  And, if that’s what was decided in 2015 with totally disastrous results one can only assume that with better results now 2 years later it’s unlikely there will be any changes this time around.

So, if past is prologue one can assume similar results going forward the next few years.  In 2015 several athletes left the Residency Program.  There have been periodic tryouts, but it has yet to repopulate the program there.  Best I can tell is that in the past 2 years the U.S. has added just one new stateside athlete to its player pool, 26 year old Maria Vallone.  That’s pretty dismal recruiting especially when one considers the publicity boost that the 2016 Olympic TV broadcasts should have provided.  And, while it’s always smart to take advantage of dual citizens competing in Europe, there’s only a small, finite number of such athletes available. Perhaps recruiting will start to pick up, but even if it does it’s hard to see any newcomers having a significant impact in time for the next series of qualification tournaments in 2019.

In terms of World Championship qualification the U.S. will get another crack at qualifying.  As discussed, if they play well they will have a shot at one of the 3 WC slots for Pan America.  For the Olympics there’s only one Pan American slot and that will go to the winner of the PANAM Games which will be staged in Lima, Peru.  Last time around the U.S. failed to qualify for the PANAM Games, losing a two game series to Uruguay. This time around the U.S. will play Canada and as they are an easier foe qualification for the final tournament is more likely, but by no means guaranteed.   And, of course, Brazil and to a much lesser extent Argentina will stand in the way of Olympic Qualification.

To sum up, not surprisingly, I pretty much see the U.S. Women getting similar results for the next couple of years.  We should qualify for the PANAM Games and with a bit of luck maybe we’ll see a WC qualification.  Hopefully, we’ll add a few more players that can contribute to the team for years to come.  I know such projections of mediocrity aren’t what people what to hear, but I just don’t see much right now to support a different conclusion.   And, as always, don’t interpret this to be a critique of the hard working, dedicated athletes making big sacrifices to represent the U.S. International competitions.  To a player they are all athletes that we can be proud of.

That sums up my review of the most recent qualification tournament.  In the coming weeks I’ll have a commentary that assesses the prospects for future Olympic qualification and whether a change in national team development strategy makes sense.