Why isn’t the USA Participating in Junior and Youth Competitions?

The USA is not participating in any of the four ongoing PATHF Junior and Youth competitions. The rhetorical question is, “Why not?”

Well, with the USOC‘s decertification of USA Team Handball, there isn’t a functioning National Governing Body (NGB) to organize and send teams to this competition. The USOC could theoretically field teams, but this would be extremely challenging with the current state of affairs. I know that the US has sent teams to Junior competitions in the past and hopefully they will be able to participate in future events.

Participating in these age based championships, however, is challenging for the US for a number of reasons.

The most glaring reason, of course, is the relatively late age that players have traditionally picked up the sport in the US. For many, myself included, the first exposure to the sport was in college after their career playing one or more of the traditional American sports has ended. If an athlete is only beginning the sport at age 19 it is unrealistic to expect that he will be competitive against athletes that have been playing the sport for years. There are and have been some youth programs in the United States, (notably the Rock Handball program http://www.rockteamhandball.org/ and the Community Olympic Development Program in Atlanta http://www.communityteamhandball.com/ ) but this is still a pretty thin talent pool to work with.

Another challenge for US teams is the scheduling of the Pan Am Championships. Often this tournament has taken place while schools are in session. As the tournaments are currently ongoing it might not have interfered with some school schedules, but it would have interfered with classes at West Point and the Air Force Academy- two programs that have contributed several players to previous championships.

Finally, there is the issue of cost. Funding a trip down to South America isn’t cheap. With limited resources sometimes choices have to be made concerning which tournaments and programs will be supported. It would be nice if there was enough money to fund everything, but unfortunately that is not the current state of affairs.

Participating in Youth and Junior competitions should become an integral part of the US program as these players could then become the core of the Senior Programs. Additionally, if talented athletes were to participate in these World Championships they could also parlay strong individual performances into contracts with European Clubs. The American athletes playing overseas could then become the stars that US teams could be built around (like Bruno Souza for Brazil and Eric Gull for Argentina).