USA Hires Handball Legend for High Performance Director

Staffan Olsson in his younger days. One of the best right backs of all time.

Former Swedish National Team Coach and Player, Staffan Olsson has been hired to be USA Team Handball’s new High Performance Director.  He is filling a vacant position that was previously held by Dave Gascon, who had performed the role on a volunteer basis from 2013 to 2018.

While the name, Staffan Olsson, has little meaning in the U.S., he is indeed a handball legend and is regarded as one of the best right backs of all time.  His coaching career has also been solid with stints as a co-coach of the Swedish National team and one of Sweden’s top clubs Hammarby.  Most recently he was an Asst Coach for one of the top clubs in the world, Paris Saint-Germain.

Three Primary Roles

The USA Team Handball write up lists three primary roles for him as High Performance Director.

1) oversee the management and direction of USA Team Handball’s national teams,
2) determine a pipeline of new athletes at the elite level, and
3) develop the training program for coaches and officials at various levels of the sport

The 1st role seem like a pretty good fit for Olsson.  It will be somewhat “different” to manage 3rd tier national teams like the U.S. instead of a premier national team like Sweden.  Different for sure in terms of budget, but familiar.  And, then developing training programs for coaches and officials will also be something he is well suited for except for maybe the starting from zero aspect that is often necessary in the U.S.

For sure, though, the most challenging role for the new High Performance Director will be to “determine a pipeline of new athletes at the elite level.” Why, the most challenging?  The U.S. currently lacks any significant grass roots development, meaning that there are very, very few elite athlete candidates available to enter any would be pipeline.  This reality has bedeviled USA Team Handball for decades.  In fact, I would argue that it’s an intractable problem that can really only be properly addressed after grass roots programs have been patiently and sufficiently built up. 

Maybe, however, there is some secret Swedish sauce that he will be able to apply to solve this problem in some other, quicker way.  Regardless, there’s little doubt in my mind that he will do a great job of looking after the players we have. Getting them good preparation for tournaments and helping them find clubs in Europe.

Me vs White Snake Back in 1993

It’s not very often that I get to pull the “Yeah, I played against him” card, but back in 1993 I indeed played against Staffan Olsson at the World Championships.  Why, as I wrote in this commentary back in 2016, I’ve even claimed to have shut him down after a few beers on more than one occasion.  Something tells me though, that just like USA Men’s Coach, Robert Hedin, he probably doesn’t even remember playing that match against the U.S.  When you play 358 International Games, some are surely forgettable.  Whereas when your resume is just 12 matches, you remember them all. 

Oh, and the White Snake reference?:  The U.S. Men’s team honored him with that nickname back in 93.  You see there was this band in the late 1980s… “Here, I go again on my own…”  In retrospect, his hair was long, but not that long.