The Pan American Team Handball Federation’s (PATHF) Junior Women’s Division 1 Championship are currently taking place in San Jose, Costa Rica. Through 2 match days, Mexico and the Dominican Republic look to be the class of this (Under 20) competition, while relative newcomers Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala appear to be at least one step down in class. Barring a major change in performance Mexico and the Dominican Republic should advance to the PATHF Junior Championship next year where they will take on Brazil, Argentina, Greenland, Uruguay, Puerto Rico and Chile. The top 3 teams from that tournament will then advance to the Junior World Championships next summer in South Korea.
Meanwhile, a U.S. Women’s team consisting of players ranging in ages from 14-25 traveled to Poland where they took on the Polish Women’s National Team and participated in an under 21 tournament against Norway, the Czech Republic and Poland. Predictably, for a very inexperienced team taking on quality competition, the scores ranged from ugly (33-12 against the Poland Jrs) to downright brutal (59-11 to Norway). While, some might argue that those scores indicate that the trip was a waste of time, I don’t fall into that camp. As I wrote back in 2006 http://teamhandballnews.com/news142.html, even the worst blowout is a valuable learning experience for the players of the losing team and nations also get a very clear benchmark of where they stand and how far they need to go.
That being said, however, when the gap becomes too great there are diminishing returns for the losing side. Ideally, a trip will include a match or two against top sides, as well as matches against comparative foes. This is why I’m a big fan of the current World Championships format which gives sides like Australia a “lesson” during group play, but then gives them an opportunity to compete on a more equal footing in the President’s Cup.
Arguably, the ongoing PATHF tournament in Costa Rica would have been just such a tournament for the U.S. In all likelihood, the U.S. would have been smoked by Mexico and the Dominican Republic, but they would have been competitive against the other 3 sides. These tournaments would also have given the U.S. players a taste of what competition is like in Latin America. On down the line as the U.S. improves one can also hope that the U.S. will qualify for World Junior and Youth championships where players get great exposure to scouts for professional clubs.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty well documented that I’m not a big fan of PATHF. But, I still have the same questions that I raised last month when the U.S. didn’t participate in the Men’s senior Div 1 Championships. Except in this case an even stronger argument could be made that the ongoing “youth movement” would have been served pretty well by this tournament.
USA Team Handball is expected to release some of its planning documentation in the near future. Here’s hoping it clearly explains what the grand strategy is in terms of which teams will play where and why?
Canadian side note: According to the Canadian Federation Facebook page, Canada didn’t even get an invite to this tournament. It should also be noted, though, that they probably wouldn’t have participated anyway due to their current focus on the Sr. Programs.
USA Team Handball: Dipping Toes in International Waters: http://usateamhandball.org/news/2009/11/22/dipping-toes-in-international-waters/29259
THN (Sep 2006): Is it Better to Get Blown Out or to Just Stay Home?: http://teamhandballnews.com/news142.html
THN (Oct 2008): Analyzing the US decision to not participate in PATHF: http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.854
PATHF Div 1 Juniors Results: http://www.panamhandball.org/index.php?option=com_joomleague&func=showResultsRank&p=8&Itemid=26
Canadian Federation Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Canadian-Team-Handball-Federation/165918018883