Building Grassroots for Niche Sports

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend and participate in the annual Play The Game Conference in Colorado Springs.  The theme of this year’s event was Athlete Power on the Rise.

During a session titled The Global Challenge of Growing Grassroots Sports, I gave a short presentation entitled Building Grassroots for Niche Sports: An Insurmountable Challenge?  My presentation touched on several themes I’ve written about over the past several years to include the reasons why USA Team Handball’s has historically, primarily focused on its national teams instead of grass roots development and the challenges of developing a sport outside of U.S. schools and colleges.  I conclude that the challenges are indeed significant, but not insurmountable. And, that building grass roots for niche sports could be facilitated by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) modifying their funding philosophy to place more emphasis on grass roots and for the NCAA to be more innovative with the introduction of pilot programs to give non-traditional Olympic sports like handball a boost.

The presentation is embedded below and the audio from the session I participated is here: Link 


My presentation starts at 29:25 and if you open a separate window you can follow along as I speak.

The other presentations are also interesting and worth checking out.  Particularly, Top Farrey’s (Aspen Institute) presentation which highlights efforts to keep kids engaged in sports and Chris Snyder’s (USOPC) presentation on the American Development Model (ADM).  The ADM was also the main topic of discussion during presentations at the Olympic Training Center.  The ADM as presented seeks to address some of the shortfalls and challenges sports in America have in developing athletes.  Addressing the practice of early age specialization and burnout, in particular were two areas of emphasis. 

One can even see how the ADM could be eventually applied to team handball.  Certainly, we could use a coordinated strategy for developing our virtually non-existent grass roots.  That being said, many aspects of the ADM appear to be geared more for sustaining participation in established sports vice establishing participation for new sports.  For sure, right now we can only fantasize about too many young athletes specializing in team handball and getting burned out from too much competition.

Play The Game Conference 2019:  Link  (This page contains links to all presentations and video and audio.)

Play the Game Article on Grassroots session: Link

Download my presentation: Link

Side note:  Lots of excellent discussion during the conference regarding pay for play for NCAA athletes.  All the more relevant since the NCAA has agreed to review its policy for athletes to get paid for the use of their likeness for marketing purposes.