My Expectations for the New USA Federation

A lot of opinions have been expressed recently on our website as to how well the new USA Handball Federation (aka USA Team Handball) is performing. As we’ve been without a Federation for a couple of years there clearly is a pent up demand for national support and expectations are high. I’ve been an advocate for more patience, but that doesn’t mean I’ll my expectations are being met. For example, I’d certainly like to see more features on their website and I thought the competition rulebook that was posted on the website wasn’t ready for “prime time.” (By the way, if you thought there were problems with the rulebook, I sure hope you took the time to send in your comments and suggestions.)

I’ve considered a missive about the current state of affairs, but instead I decided that it would be better to first lay out my expectations as to what tasks the Federation should be working on and what timelines are reasonable for completing those tasks. After all, it’s a little unfair to grade performance at the start of the semester, especially if you haven’t fully spelled out what’s expected.

So with that being said here’s what I’d like to see and when:

[b]1) A clear and organized plan for USA club competition. [/b] (Target date: December 1, 2008). Successfully completing this goal would be to have a revamped competition rulebook that has been vetted, by and large, by the USA Handball community. This won’t mean that everybody will like everything in the competition rulebook, but it should mean that all the major clubs in the USA find it acceptable. As a minimum, every club should have a clear understanding as to what they need to do in order to participate in the 2009 National Championship Tournament.

[b]2) Announcement of the 2009 National Championship Tournament (Dates and Location) [/b](Target Date: January 30, 2009). Sooner, of course, would be better, but this should allow enough time for teams to make airfare and lodging reservations.

[b]3) A well organized and successful National Championship Tournament. [/b] There are many elements that go into running a well organized and successful tournament, to include, facilities, the scheduling of games, fan attendance and convenience (lodging and gym location).

[b]4) An improved website with the following content:[/b]
[b]a) A club information page [/b](Target Date: September 19, 2008). This page would include links to websites and Point of Contact information for all clubs in the U.S. You might notice that this target date is only a week away. This, however, should only take a couple of hours and quite frankly it should have been done a month ago.
[b]b) Guidance documentation page[/b] (Target Date: September 19, 2008). Any overarching documentation (e.g. the by-laws submitted in the UTHF bid; competition rulebook) that highlights how the Federation conducts business should be posted on this page.
[b]c) Club Resources page [/b](Target Date: October 17, 2008). A “best practices” section of the website that provides information on how to best organize a new club is needed. This section would include Points of Contact for club development and information on how to request funding grants from either USA Team Handball or the USA Team Handball Foundation.
[b]d) An online store with discounts for members[/b] (Target Date: December 1, 2008). This service would be a welcome addition, especially for new clubs that need to purchase balls and goals.

[b]5) National Board of Directors Fully Identified[/b] (Target Date: November 1, 2008): Another hallmark of the new Federation organizational structure is 7 independent Board of Directors with business skills who would contribute $50,000 each to USA Team Handball. The website currently lists only 2 members, Dieter Esch and his business partner, Brad Krassner. Additionally, the new Federation should make clear how it will identify/select other members of the Board, who are not part of the $50,000 club.

[b]6) First National Board of Directors Meeting[/b] (Target Date: January 5, 2009).

[b]7) Senior Men’s National Team Program Plan [/b](Target Date: March 1, 2009). A well thought out plan on how the U.S. will organize and prepare the Men’s National Team needs to be clearly articulated. Such a plan should clearly identify strategies for player identification and development, training and competition schedules. A key element of this plan will also be a decision on whether to develop players in the U.S. or whether to foster opportunities for players to be placed on European club rosters.

[b]8) Senior Women’s National Team Program Plan[/b] (Target Date: March 1, 2009). As with the Men, a well defined plan is needed. Additionally, if the Women, participate in the PATHF Div 1 Championships later this year a near term interim plan should also be developed.

[b]9) Youth and Junior Team Program Plans [/b](Target Date: March 1, 2009). These plans will need to mesh with the Senior Team Plans. They will also require a substantial amount of thought as the U.S. has very few players in these age categories and limited resources to support their rapid development.

[b]10) Fully Staffed Regions[/b] (Target Date: January 5, 2009). A hallmark of the new Federation organizational structure is their plan to have a dedicated Regional Director and Coach for each of the 5 regions. I would expect that personnel will actually start to be hired and identified in the near future. And I would expect the regional staffs to have a very active and hands on role in helping new clubs to get on their feet and in organizing regional competition.

[b]11) Regional Board or Directors Fully Identified [/b](Target Date: September 1, 2009). As with the National Boards, I would expect Directors to be identified in the coming months. As the Regional staffs have not been identified yet, however, this will take some time. Additionally, it may be challenging to come up with Regional Board Members due to the financial requirements.

[b]12) Interim Over Arching Guidance Documentation [/b](Target Date: September 19, 2008). To the casual observer, the new Federation appears to be currently operating with no formal written by-laws. By-laws were submitted during the certification process, but I suspect that these by-laws are not being followed to the letter. It should be clear to the USA Handball Community what “rules of the road” are being used to guide the new Federation. Simply posting the UTHF Bid by-laws would be a start, along with a general statement of accountability. Right now my assumption (in the absence of a Board of Directors) is that Dieter Esch is calling the shots, but that GM Steve Pastorino has been given a significant amount of latitude to do what he thinks best. This is to be expected in a start-up situation, but that construct should transition as soon as possible to a more formalized structure.

[b]13) Finalized Over Arching Guidance [/b](Target Date: February 2, 2009). Step 1 for the new board should be to approve new bylaws for the Federation. It should be clear to everyone what the roles and responsibilities are for Board Directors, Committee Members and Staff. Additionally, members at all levels should understand how they can influence and participate in the process.

[b]14) Strategic Plan [/b](Target Date: March 20, 2009). The strategic plan would be a top to bottom plan that identifies the goals for USA Team Handball and how it plans to achieves those goals. This is something that should be developed with at large membership input, but may very well also require outside the box thinking.

[b]15) Marketing Plan[/b] (Target Date: January 5, 2008). The new Federation has indicated that they will expend significant resources in this area. I don’t expect for them to provide the members at large a detailed copy of their marketing strategy, but I would like to see regular reports highlighting current ongoing efforts in this area. My metric for success in this area will be successfully getting Handball on TV in the U.S.

[b]16) Fundraising.[/b] This is without a doubt the big kahuna, in that sustained success hinges on creating sufficient income to meet expenses. With the dramatic increase in paid staff (when compared to the previous Federation), as well as plans to field youth and junior teams there’s simply no way for the numbers to add up without significant new funding streams being developed. The metric for success in this area will be an Income side of the balance sheet showing significantly more $ than that of the $300,000 – 500,000 budgets common in the waning years of the previous Federation. I won’t expect the Federation to provide detailed information, but as a non-profit, top level budget numbers should be available for public review. Additionally, it will become readily apparent that there is a cash flow problem if there are staff cutbacks and/or the USA fails to send teams to International competitions.

So, that’s it in a nutshell. Of course, the folks in Salt Lake City don’t take orders from me, so I’m not expecting them to jump all over my metrics. But hey, as soon as I send my $60 in for membership, there’s got to be some degree of accountability. And if my patience wears thin 6 months from now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.