Interview: USA Team Handball General Manager, Steve Pastorino: Part 1: National Team Planning

Over the course of the past few months I’ve had a lengthy email exchange with USA Team Handball Manager, Steve Pastorino. We cover a lot of ground in the interview and it will be broken up into several parts. Herewith is the first part of the interview which addresses USA National Team Planning. In the interview Steve addresses upcoming plans for qualification, as well as long term plans heading towards 2016.

[b]National Team Planning[/b]

John Ryan: At the Town Hall Meeting it was noted that USATH would not expend funds in an attempt to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, but that the Federation would also not stand in the way of athletes self financing a qualification attempt. How exactly would a self financed trip effort work in terms of coaching and player selection?

Steve Pastorino: USATH created coach and player selection processes in compliance with USOC. The head coach, technical director and a representative chosen by the AAC rep will comprise the player selection committee. Women will make their selection after Tar Heel Invitational in October; Men will make their selection after camps in LA and Birmingham (Oct). The selection committee will have to balance reports from European players/tours, the various camps, etc. Both teams are receiving substantial grants from USA Team Handball Foundation, so “self-financed” is not exactly the right word.

JR: What competition format is envisioned for PANAM Games qualification? When would it take place?

SP: Canada at USA on Dec. 21; USA @ Canada on Dec. 23. Times/venues TBD. We’re pushing for West Point; and they will host in Montreal area. Lake Placid is on hold as our backup choice. In event of tie on points, aggregate goal differential is the first tiebreaker, followed by most away goals. If still tied, we’d go to a mini-game, then shootout.

JR: Should the U.S. lose to Canada will the U.S. Men and Women participate in the 2nd chance tournament? Would the U.S. be a potential host?

SP: We haven’t made this decision yet.

JR: The Men didn’t attempt to qualify for the 2011 WC, but the Women could still try. Will the USA send a Women’s team to the D-1 Championship in Cuba this November?

SP: This is being discussed as we speak. Most likely not.

JR: What about 2013 WC qualification for the Men’s and Women’s Programs? Will attempts to qualify for these events be self funded?

SP: We’ve set 2013 as the timetable to formally re-enter international competition. However, as you know, PATHF qualifying starts 12-18 months beforehand, which really means those funds are required next fall (Men’s D-1) and then fall 2012 (women’s D-1). If USATH cannot fund these competitions, we will encourage US TH Foundation to assist

JR: How hard a decision was it to forgo 2012 Olympic qualification?

SP: The Board of Directors has been consistent as far back as summer 2008 that participation at the 2012 Olympics was not planned for, nor anticipated. That being said, if this young group of athletes qualifies, it will be a very positive reflection on our direction – as the majority of athletes are new.

It’s very hard – when we have committed athletes that want to demonstrate what they can do; but at the same time, if we don’t get a lot more players into the game at a young age, we’ll just be repeating the mistakes of the past. So we’ve focused less on immediate results and more on long-term plans.

JR: What about the argument that the U.S. could use 2012 qualification as a test run for 2016? In theory at least some of the athletes involved in the 2012 run would still be around in 2016 and they’ll be more prepared as a result.

SP: We anticipate that the majority of athletes in the 2012 Qualifying process are young enough to be candidates for 2016 as well.

JR: Yes, but I was referring more to the level of resources being expended. Qualification for and participation in the 2011 PANAM Games would be an excellent dry run for the task in 2015. We’ve funded friendly trips to Germany. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have funded qualification events first and then if there was money left over use it to fund friendly tours?

SP: We have our sights set on competing with European national teams, not just Pan Am teams. The caliber of games, facilities, training sessions, coaching, support that we receive in Europe dwarfs what we can achieve in the Pan Am region, so we made the strategic decision to attempt to compete there instead of here.

JR: Let's discuss the plans for 2016 qualification. Will there be a resident national team program in the U.S.? When?

SP: Not necessarily. That being said, we have 10-12 men living and training daily (in better conditions than we can offer stateside) within driving distance of one another in Germany. I think we can get this number to 30+ by 2015; and our numbers are catching up on the women’s side as well. The athletes are starting to get together to train on a regular basis – and we’ve had men and women conduct multiple tours in Europe since 2009. I wouldn’t rule out extended camps/residential program in Europe.

JR: When will the U.S. have full time coaches? Will they be U.S. based?

SP: When we can afford salaries that full-time coaches require. F/T coaches also need players to train, facilities to use, funding for travel, and multiple other areas of support.

JR: What age range do you envision for our 2016 rosters?

SP: Men: 22-35; Women: 18-30; Average age of women’s team in Bremen last week was 18.5!

JR: Will USATH have the necessary funding to proceed with this plan?

SP: We have built a business model in two years based on events, sponsorship, television, membership, donations, etc. We have to prove we can sustain it, but the intention is that the funding will continue to grow.

JR: Can you give me rough idea of where you expect the U.S. program will be in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016?

2013: More teams competing (youth/junior/senior) in a variety of international competitions at home and abroad; Longer camps, broadly defined player pool; More athletes in Europe at higher levels; Progress in USA developmental programs producing international-caliber young athletes for competitions, international training opportunities; First USATH-funded Pan Am and/or World Championships competitions. Women finish Top 3 in Pan Am Championships to qualify for 2013 World Championships

2014: Continuation/expansion of 2013. Ramp up activities, camps, tours towards Pan Am Games Qualification matches (if necessary) in fourth quarter. Men finish Top 3 in Pan Am Championships to qualify for 2015 World Championships

2015: Continuation/expansion of all programs; Focused team preparation with narrowly defined potential player pool for July 2015 Pan Am Games (could include residential camp[s] and/or protracted tours in USA or Europe). Vast majority of our PAG athletes playing at highest level possible in Europe. Women finish Top 3 in Pan Am Championships to qualify for 2015 World Championships.

2016: Virtually every 2016 USA Handball Olympian competing in Europe with a self-sustaining contract (salary/job, housing). Full-time camp/residency in January, May-July, most likely in Europe.

JR: That’s a lot to get done in 6 years time. Is this perhaps more realistically a plan for 2020?

SP: The program is a basis for decades to come. It’s a change in mentality, a focus on youth development, a raising of the profile of the sport in the USA; not just a 2016 plan.

This concludes Part 1 of the interview. Part 2 will discuss USATH efforts to place players with European clubs and its Futures Program