Charting a Way Forward for USA Team Handball: Part 1: Introduction: Many Options + Limited Resources = Hard Choices

Many options for developing handball in the U.S.  Which way is the right path?

Many options for developing handball in the U.S. Which way is the right path forward?

Previous commentaries have focused on the shortcomings of National Team Residency Programs, why I felt it was too soon and unwise to start a program up in Auburn and the historical debate between supporting grass roots and national team programs.  With this new series I turn the page to focus on some programs and initiatives USA Team Handball should consider as it charts its way forward.

Many Options

The old saying goes that there are many ways to skin a cat.  And, when it comes to charting a way for USA Team Handball there are indeed a number of possibilities.  For the most part this series will focus on initiatives that will help “enable United States athletes to achieve sustained competitive excellence“.  This was pulled directly from the USA Team Handball mission statement.  Granted, this is just one part of the mission statement, but as you go through the initiatives, proposed programs and broad overarching strategies you’ll see that many of them have a grass roots flavor.  But, Grass Roots with a focus on identifying and developing talent with National Team potential.

1) Modify the National Team Residency Programs to focus strictly on player development: Link
2) Increase the emphasis and support to National Team recruiting: Link
3) Develop or participate in a European based residency program to provide athletes more competition: Link
4) Upgrade College Team Handball:  Following the rugby club model to nationwide participation (Part 1; Part 2)
5) Upgrade College Team Handball:  Seeking NCAA status on the heels of the O’Bannon Ruling
6) The “Title IX Field Hockey Strategy”:  Focus 90% of USA Team Handball’s resources on Women’s Programs: Link
7) The “Iceland Strategy”:  Focus a large percentage of USA Team Handball’s resources on one geographical location (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3)
8) The “Alberta Strategy”:  Fully assess Alberta’s successful development program and fund a U.S. version in one region of the U.S.:  Link
9) Youth and Junior Teams Emphasis:  Fund U.S. participation for up and coming athletes first
10) Funding direct to clubs:  Reward high performing club programs with real and tangible financial support
11) High School Team Handball:  Following in Lacrosse and Flag Football’s footsteps
12) True Youth Movement:  Follow the AYSO soccer model to develop a massive player and fan base at even younger ages
13) U.S. Olympic Handball Festivals:  Bridging the gap between club and national teams

(Editor’s Note:  As this series evolves this list will likely see several modifications.  The intent, however, is to keep this as a home page for future reference.)

Limited Resources

Unfortunately, while a good case can be made for each of these options, the harsh truth is that USA Team Handball has very limited resources.  The last published IRS Form 990 from (July 2011 – Jun 30, 2012) lists only $512,000  in total revenue and last December former CEO Matt Van Houten indicated that USA Team Handball was literally counting every penny.  USA Team Handball’s new  Board Chairman, Dr Harvey Schiller, has many connections in the corporate sports world so there’s room for optimism that fundraising efforts will become more successful.  That instead of choosing one possible initiative soon USA Team Handball will be able to choose several options working in tandem.

Hard Choices

It goes without saying that if you have many options, but limited resources you can’t do as much as you would like to.  Inevitably, this should lead to some hard choices.  Hard choices that often no one wants to make.  Case in point, was NYAC Coach and legend, Laszlo Jurak response when I asked what should be done if you don’t have the resources to support both National Teams and Grass Roots?  His response:  “Then you have to quit.”  (Audio:  Link  (around the 21:00 minute mark)

While tongue in cheek, this is the resignation that many old timers feel.  And, unless you are on the USA Team Handball Board of Directors it’s pretty much a theoretical question, so most of us can simply refuse to contemplate such an unpleasant question.  Well, I guess Board Members could also quit, but the reality is that they are indeed making these hard choices even if, (and, this is very important) their choice is simply to continue with the status quo and not fully consider other possibilities.

There’s no getting around it.  All one has to do is follow the money and the man hours expended.  Where time and money is spent is the answer to what’s been decided.  These decisions should be tough ones to make.  Decisions based on a careful analysis of the merits of several good options.  Decisions based on a review of current programs and metrics that measure success and failure.

Could of, Would of, Should of and Moving Forward

As you read through this series chances are you might get some light bulbs turned on.  And, those light bulbs will be some revelations along the lines of:

  • The U.S. should have pursued some of these initiatives prior to starting and focusing so much of its resources on residency programs.
  • That a particular initiative is definitely worthy, but we just don’t have the funding for it.  And, the reason we don’t, at least in part, is because our residency programs are taking too big a chunk of resources.
  • That many initiatives should probably be co-located with our residency program.  And, that there are quite a few places in this country that would be better suited for implementation than a college town in rural Alabama.

Unfortunately, though, the die have been cast.  A commitment of some level has already been made to the residency programs at Auburn.  It would have been better to first methodically assess and weigh these initiatives (and others) prior to this commitment, but you can’t change the past.  You can only plan for the future.

And, in the hopes of influencing the decisions being made regarding that future the follow on parts to this series will assess each initiative, program and broad strategy by taking a top level look at its overall objective, pros/cons, risks, costs and timing for implementation as part of a coherent, long term strategic plan.  While some might think that this is an exercise in futility I’ll take the optimist’s point of view.  It’s only a matter of time before the sport of Team Handball gains traction in this country.  With good planning, though, it can happen sooner and that traction will be so much greater.