USA Team Handball: Mid Term Report Card

Last September as missives criticizing the new USA Team Handball Federation ratcheted up in the Forum section on our website I commented that I thought folks were jumping the gun a bit too much on a brand new organization. Instead I laid out my expectations for the new Federation in a number of areas along with what I considered some reasonable target dates for completion. I ended my commentary with this statement: “And if my patience wears thin 6 months from now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.”

Well, it’s now been 6 months and it’s time for a review. My original post had 16 items. The original text is in black; my grade and a status update is in blue.

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: D
A competition rulebook was indeed provided by the target date, but the vetting process was less than satisfactory. An opportunity to comment was provided, but vetting was limited to the staff in the National office. Worse, the rulebook was modified in February and the residency requirement for foreign players were changed without any feedback from the membership. Faced with a protest on the last minute change, USA Team Handball backed down and reverted to the original wording. Finally, plans for teams to qualify were thrown out and teams were simply allowed to enter the National Championship tournament on a first come, first served basis.[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: A
This requirement was clearly met. I should point out though, that the announcement for College Nationals was a little later than the subject date. Enough time to make plans, but I’m sure teams would prefer to have known sooner[/color]

[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).
[color=#0000cc]Grade: TBD[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: B
As I recall it took awhile for this page to get added to the website. Additionally, this page could use some more graphics such as an interactive map and club logos (where applicable).[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: D
The competition rulebook has been posted, but other documentation is clearly lacking. There’s more commentary on this topic in items 12 and 13[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: B
A club handbook has been developed and placed on the website. It’s a workable document with some good information in it. However, I’d prefer like to see an interactive page on the website to address club development. Clubs could ask questions like, “What kind of goals should I buy?” and the Q&A would be viewable in a forum like section for other clubs to see.[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: C
A bare bones online store has been up on the site for several months. There aren’t very many items available, however, and the functionality isn’t the best. For instance, I was confused as to how to purchase a yearly membership. Expecting to see a discount (price/year) for signing up for more than 1 year, I actually learned through email correspondence that it was actually more expensive to buy a multiple year member membership.[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: F
The website currently identifies only 3 of the 7 independent members. A Mr. John West has been added in the intervening 6 months since I first wrote this. There is also still no indication as to how these Board Members were or will be selected. The By-Laws that were submitted when the Utah Team Handball Federation (UTHF) indicated that a nomination committee would be formed and that a Board would be selected prior to January 1, 2009. As far as I know there is no actual nomination committee and I would speculate that Pastorino, Esch and Krassner are the individuals actively seeking potential members. The Active Athlete members of the board have been selected via vote, but that is the only positive development that has taken place so far. The Federation website does indicate that the rest of the board members will be named soon. This is good news, but it has taken too long and with no transparency in the process. Hence the failing grade.[/color]

[b]6) First National Board of Directors Meeting[/b] (Target Date: January 5, 2009).
[color=#0000cc]Grade: F
The first Board Meeting has now been called for 31 March, but it’s way overdue and it’s simply not appropriate for a Sports Federation to have operated this long without a Board of Directors (BoD) meeting. The BoD is supposed to provide direction and guidance for the management staff. Without that direction, the Federation may or may not be headed in the right direction. Bottom line: without an active BoD, the Federation has not been following its own by-laws and the spirit of its own proposal bid to bring in independent directors with business acumen.[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: C
For all I know a plan has been developed. Certainly, there have been a number of tryouts and athlete identification camps. It has not been articulated, however, how those athletes will be trained and how Team USA will prepare for international competition. Several of the athletes identified at these camps also appear to be college graduates. Past experience has shown that molding inexperienced handball newcomers in the 22-26 age range into world class players is problematic in that those athletes tend to leave the program prior to fully developing as players. The Men’s team will travel to Puerto Rico in 8 months for the PATHF Div 1 Championships. What’s the plan, Stan?[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: C
Again, for all I know a plan has been developed and the same concerns in regards to training athletes and preparing for international competition needs to be addressed. To the Federation’s credit, they did field a team at the PATHF Div 1 Championships. Some have criticized that move as a waste of resources and feel vindicated by the very poor showing of the women’s team. I was disappointed and surprised by the results, but support the concept of Team USA [b]ALWAYS[/b] fielding a team for WC or Olympic qualification. Say what you want about the poor results, they should help inform USA Team Handball on where the program currently stands and how far it needs to go.[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: C
Again, many of the same issues discussed with the men’s and women’s teams also apply. In addition, the youth and junior team program plans will require some “outside the box” thinking to be successful. Some player identification camps have been identified, but the overall plan has not been articulated. Additionally, resources are being spent on an under 23 team. While this may align with our collegiate programs international competitions are focused on under 21 and under 19 programs.[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: C
The regions have not been 100% staffed, but a lot of people have been hired. From website reports they appear to be getting involved with their region’s development and organization. Could they be doing more? Sure, but there are some inherent challenges with the geographic size of the United States and the limited resources of USA Team Handball. I was never convinced that this organizational structure made sense with the current Handball demographics of the U.S. I also won’t be surprised if there is a significant reorganization at some point in the future.[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: TBD[/color]

[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.
Grade: F
Six months later this documentation and/or guidance has still not been developed. The UTHF Bid by-laws have not been posted on the Federation website nor is there any other statement of accountability. A precursory look at several other Federation websites shows that most of them post their By-Laws for everyone to see. (For more on this topic see #13 below) [/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: F
As far as I know there are no new bylaws being developed. And if by some chance they were being developed, it clearly isn’t being done with any transparency as I and other members of the USA Handball community are unaware of it. In essence, USA Team Handball is currently being run independently without any formal input or accountability to its members. Say what you want about the previous incarnation of USA Team Handball and its dysfunctionality, but there were committees and board members that were accountable to the membership. It was also often messy and in the end self-destructing. Because of that self-destruction, I thought that it made sense to give the new regime considerable leeway to clean up the ashes and rebuild the Federation with minimal interference. That time has now past in my opinion. It’s high time for more transparency and a clear understanding of how the outside business people are going to work with the USA Handball Community at large. And the key words are “work with”. USA Team Handball is a non-profit, amateur sports federation. It is not a for profit sports franchise (Real Salt Lake) or a modeling company (Wilhelmina) and that means there is accountability to that nebulous Handball Community. I am not calling for a return to the old way of doing business as clearly that was not working. All I’m saying is that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: F
As far as I know, such a Strategic Plan has already been developed. But, if it has been developed it’s been done in-house without much membership input. So the negative grade is for 1) either not having a plan or 2) not sharing it with anyone.[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: B
The 2009 World Championships were on TV in the United States for the first time this past January. Granted, it was Web TV (ESPN360) and only available in a sliver of the American market, but this was still great news. The new Federation has also kept everyone informed of new sponsors such as Grundfos and SnapSports. Would I like to see more sponsors and ESPN prime time telecasts? Sure, but the trend is in the right direction.[/color]

[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.
[color=#0000cc]Grade: TBD/Unknown
Putting a grade on fundraising is difficult without seeing some budget numbers. Since this was written in September, the financial crisis also should temper everyone’s critique of this critical area. Finding sponsors to shell out money for an unknown sport is challenging enough in a flush economy. Getting them to fork over money at the same time they’re laying workers off might well be impossible. Additionally, some wealthy individuals with money to burn 6 months ago may have seen their net worth’s decline by 40%. Suddenly, a contribution to USA Team Handball is competing not only against other good causes, but against dwindling retirement and college education plans. So far the Federation appears to be weathering the financial storm as there have been no staff cutbacks and a team is still being sent on tour to Europe this summer.[/color]

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.

[color=#0000cc]Well, as you can see by this fairly negative review, my patience indeed is starting to wear thin, particularly in the areas of governance and planning. In my opinion, there’s been more than enough time to straighten up the Federation’s basic organization structure and to start articulating the Master Plan that will lead Team Handball in the USA out of the wilderness.

But, while my patience is wearing thin, I still have some left in the tank. The Federation is making progress in some areas, even if it’s not as much as I and others would like to see. Next week, the Board of Directors will also be meeting for the first time, and in all likelihood, these and other issues will be discussed in detail. If the Board of Directors functions like it’s supposed to, they could very well jump start the Federation with some good top level guidance and direction.

So, I’ve said my piece for now and I’ll be waiting to see how the Board of Directors takes charge. My hunch (hope) is that there could very well be a flurry of activity and increased levels of transparency in the next few months. Stay tuned.[/color]