Charting a Way Forward for USA Team Handball (2019 Reboot): Introduction

A Not So Simple Process

Why a Reboot and Some Personal Reflection

Five years ago I started a series of commentaries that considered different strategies for USA Team Handball to improve National Team performance.  I did the series as a counterpoint to what I saw as some flawed strategic planning.  Flawed planning and a lack of process that led to the setup of National Team Residency Programs at Auburn.  Programs that were by almost any measure not very successful and have since been closed down.

But, as I pointed out in my critique there’s a basic truism regarding planning in that it is relatively easy to sit on the sidelines and critique a plan.  Especially a plan tackling a really tough problem.  So, I said to myself, if you’re going to critique something as flawed, you better come up with some alternatives.  Hence the series highlighting the pros and cons of several different alternatives.

Flash forward several years later and it appears USA Team Handball is now in a position similar to where it was in 2012.  Trying to figure out how to move forward.  On a personal level it’s gratifying to see that some of the options I’ve identified such as a focus on college programs targeted for some sort of implementation.  But, then I’ve also heard some top level ideas regarding water polo players transferring their talents and pro leagues starting up just around the corner that has alarm bells ringing loudly in my ears. I’m not saying such strategies can’t work (though I have my doubts), but, for sure, I’m wondering how well they stack up vs other possibilities.

I’ve also reflected on what I got right and what I got wrong in the original series of commentaries.  As I’ve learned more about handball’s structure in Europe and the changing dynamics in U.S. sporting structures it’s clear that some of the options need to be tweaked.  Further, on a real positive note, outside organizations like the IHF, EHF and Europe’s top professional clubs are now willing to provide resources, making some options a lot more feasible.

Big Picture:  Taking Stock of What We Have

One item I neglected in the original series was sufficient analysis as to what the current state of handball is in the U.S.  How many people, or more importantly, how many Americans are playing the sport?  How old are they?  What is the level of play?  How many American Expat players are there?  For sure, we are all capable of anecdotal assessments, but impressions can be often clouded to reflect what we want to see.  I’ve now done a real deep dive into the data and rest assured, it’s very telling data that should heavily influence any planning USA Team Handball does going forward.

  • Demographics (Men)
    • American Citizen Male Athletes (Overview): Link
    • USA Men’s Elite Player Pool (Overview): Link
    • USA Men’s National Team (Part 1: A Closer Look by Position- GK and CR): Link
    • USA Men’s National Team (Part 2: A Closer Look by Position- BC and RW/LW): Link
  • Demographics (Women)
    • American Citizen Female Athletes (Overview): Link
      USA Women’s Elite Player Pool (Overview): Link
  • USA Club Programs
    • Part 1: Understanding the USA Club Structure and At-Large Men’s Clubs: Link
      Part 2: Collegiate Men’s Clubs: Our Most American Competition with Opportunities for Growth: Link
      Part 3: USA Women At-Large and Collegiate Clubs: Link
      Part 4: Why there are so Few Clubs and Why the Rosters Mostly Consist of Expats: Link
  • Finances
    • Part 1: USA Team Handball Revenue (Grants, Contributions and Sponsorships): Link
    • Part 2: USA Team Handball Revenue (Membership and the Importance of Tracking that Data): Link

Big Picture:  Taking Stock of What We Want to Be

While determining “What we want to be” might seem straightforward it’s really a tough question.   In broad terms everyone wants to develop the sport and have successful national teams.  How developed, though, do we want the sport to be?  How successful is successful enough?  Not to mention, the two overarching goals of development and national team success can sometimes be in direct conflict with each other. 

  • Part 1: A review of the USA Team Handball Strategic Plan and National Team Targets: Link
  • Part 2: A review of USA Collegiate Development Targets: Link
  • Part 3: A review of Fundraising Targets: Link
  • Part 4: A review of Marketing Targets: Link
  • Part 5: A review of the “Big, Hairy, Audacious Project: Link

Big Picture:  How We Get There? (Or More Accurately, Can We Get There)

And, then just about everyone has different ideas regarding “How we get there.”  So, how does one decide which option(s) are better?  Answer:  Very, very carefully after a lot of assessment in terms of cost, schedule, risks, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), pros, cons, etc.  And, after all that is done another question has to be asked for each option:  Can we get there, from here?

  • Part 1: The Project Management Triangle: Link
  • Part 2: National Team Targets: Link

Big Picture:  Taking Stock of What We Want to Be… Urr, Actually Can Be

This, of course, leads to the reality that “What we want to be” and “What we actually can be” are often two very different things.  One has either to find more resources, change the time frame, or lower expectations.  (Or, in project management terms:  adjust cost, schedule or performance).  

This is often “where the rubber hits the road.”  Where decisions have to be made on how much to spend and where.  And, unless the budget in unbounded there are going to be winners and losers.  Some efforts will get funded and some won’t.  That’s just the way it is.

If all this is done properly, in the end you should get a nice flow chart where everything lines up.  The “How we get there?” matches “What we want” because we’ve tempered expectations to match what actually can be done.

An Ongoing Series

As before I will be updating this page with links to analysis.  First up, I will be tackling the “What we have” block in detail.  Yes, the demographics of our National Team programs and clubs.  Data which in stark terms shows just how minor our sport is in this country.