Why a Residency Program at Auburn is the Best Way Forward for USA Team Handball… and Why Those Reasons Fall Way Short in Justification”

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.50.52 AM

Back in September after Auburn was designated as an USOC Olympic Training Site I posted a plea asking for someone to explain how this was such a great deal for USA Team Handball. Six months later I haven’t gotten any takers. Somewhat disappointing, but not a real surprise. For sure, lots of folks have better things to do with their time. But, also don’t kid yourself: Lots of folks surely don’t want to get in a debate when they’ve already made up their minds and don’t have much backing up their position.

I first saw this play out four years at a 2 day meeting in Salt Lake City that USA Team Handball called to develop a strategic plan for the sport in this country. As I highlighted in this earlier commentary this meeting was a good kickoff discussion that could and should have set the table for the development of a strategic plan. As outlined by the professional facilitator who led the first day’s discussion proper Strategic Planning requires following a deliberate and structured process:

  1. Identify and prioritize the goals and objectives for USA Team Handball
  2. Develop potential action plans to accomplish those goals and objectives
  3. Carefully review and select action plans for implementation based on their merits, feasibility and alignment with established goals and objectives

As I pointed out in my commentary, however, steps 1-3 were never accomplished. Heck, it’s debatable as to whether they were even started. Instead USA Team Handball jumped straight to step 4 to implement a residency program model.

One possible action plan of many was given free ride without even an inkling of due diligence. Worse, there never really was an action plan, just a vague notion that a residency program similar to what had been done in the past was desired. USA Team Handball even went way out on a limb and hired head coaches for teams that didn’t exist without any idea where they might put a residency program.

Without a real plan in place, funding or a suitable location it looked like this concept would never get off the ground, but then Auburn stepped forward with a limited offer of support. Never mind, there really wasn’t the money to do a residency program properly, it’s what had been decided. It’s the no-brainer solution for what ails handball in America. Don’t worry about whether it matches the long term goals and objectives of the Federation. Those goals haven’t been identified let alone validated, so you don’t have to. Don’t even bother to set benchmarks and expectations for success. Just do it.

Alright… Deep breath. OK. I’ll take another… Deep breath.

Am I missing something here?

For sure, I’m confident that I know quite a bit when it comes to the topic of Team Handball in the U.S. I played at the college, club and national team levels. I experienced first hand both the good and bad aspects of a residency program. I started two clubs in the U.S. where none existed previously. I lived in France for 5 years, played recreationally there and saw how the sport was organized in Europe. I’ve followed professional and national team handball developments very closely for a dozen years. Perhaps, there’s a half dozen folks in the U.S. with a comparable resume when it comes to both national team concerns and grassroots development.

I’m also a pretty reasonable guy.  Hardly, a “My way or the highway”, type.  More often then not, when presented with data and rationale, I’m inclined to see the light. I might not agree with decisions that have been made, but I respect them when they are made with due process and after a careful consideration of all options. But, this was never done 4 years ago which is one of the reasons why this “reasonable guy” is a little upset.

Now, after 3 years of diplomatically pointing out that due process was skipped and that the resulting decision is very flawed, even I’ve had a bit of self doubt creep into my consciousness. Yes, I have rhetorically asked myself, “Could I be totally wrong here? How could smart people reach such a dramatically different conclusion from mine? How can they be so comfortable with skipping well established planning steps and jumping straight to a solution? Maybe, it is a no brainer? What am I missing? Why am I being ignored?

I’ve posed these questions to myself and in one form or another to several key players in the USA Team Handball Community. Some of those folks have been decision makers and some simply, like me, have been around a long time.  Broken into 2 broad categories here are some reasons I, and others have come up with as to:

“Why a Residency Program at Auburn is the Best Way Forward for USA Team Handball… “

And, further when you step back and take a closer look: 

“Why Those Reasons Fall Way Short in Justification”

Category 1: Actual Reasons Provided by Federation Leadership. These have been provided with perfunctory short answers (verbally and email) or can be inferred from Board of Director Meeting Minutes.

  1. Auburn is providing a great financial deal that the Federation would be crazy to turn down or leave.
    • Really? How Much “Value” is there really in Value In Kind (VIK) Funding?:  Link
  2. The U.S. had its greatest success with the Residency Programs of the 80s and 90s and therefore a Residency Program is obviously what’s needed today.
    • Part 1: True Statement, but How Glorious were our Glory Days?: Link
    • Part 2: True Statement, but Perhaps Some Key Decision Makers Don’t Fully Appreciate the Professional Aspects of Today’s Handball: Link
    • Part 3: True Statement, but that success occurred when handball was only “somewhat professionalized”: Link
  3. A Residency Program is needed because it provides a great platform to build around for sponsorship and grass roots development.

Unfortunately, there’s no documentation that I’m aware of that further defines, explains or supports why these reasons are valid.  Unless, somebody wants to step forward with that further explanation, you’ll be stuck with my analysis.

Category 2: Reading Between the Lines.   Here are a couple of reasons that I’ve come up with based on budgetary decisions and how some key decision makers might view historical relationships and grass roots alternatives. These reasons have not been officially stated, but one can infer them by reading between the lines:

  1. USA Team Handball needs a Residency Program because of USOC expectations.
  2. Grass Roots development is at best a secondary goal for a sports federation and accordingly should receive less funding and attention.

As the title of this series of commentaries indicates I have assessed each of these reasons as faulty to one degree or another. And, this wasn’t summarily done. I’ve considered each of these reasons carefully looking at possible rationales only to repeatedly come up empty. Some reasons are just totally out to lunch while others at least on the surface, have a kernel of legitimacy. In the coming months I’ll be posting new commentaries addressing these reasons. I’ll first do my best to present the logic behind the given reason and then some counter-reasons as to why that logic is faulty.

As always, if you think that I’m not playing the role of Devil’s Advocate sufficiently feel free to chime in with some more coherent arguments. This can be done on the Facebook page or as I’ve said before, I’m more than willing to post to the website anyone willing to write a thoughtful commentary.