How We Get There… Or, More Accurately, Can We Get There? (Part 2): National Team Targets and Assessment Methodology

USA Men’s results at the key Olympic Qualifier (The PANAM Games)
Can the U.S. take Gold in 3 years time at the 2023 PANAM Games in Santiago, Chile?

This is part of an ongoing series: Link

A Little History: Ambitious Targets that have become Increasingly Difficult to Meet

Since I’ve been following USA Team Handball the goal has always been to qualify for the Olympics. And, then once at the Olympics to medal or to reach the quarterfinals. Up until the 2000 Olympics these goals were perfectly reasonable. Qualification was expected. Indeed the only failure to qualify prior to 2000 was the Men falling short in 1992. Getting a medal was a bit of a stretch, but the 1984 Women’s team came close as a win over West Germany would likely have earned a bronze medal. (The U.S. lost 18-17)

But, since hosting (and automatically qualifying) for the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, neither the U.S. Men or Women have come close to qualifying for the Olympics. There are multiple paths to Olympic qualification, but in practical terms for nations in North and South America it has meant winning the PANAM Games Handball tournament in the year prior to the Olympics. Neither the U.S. Men or Women have made it to the title game since 1995 and the few teams that we’ve made the semifinals it has resulted in a double digit loss. In 2007 and 2015 the U.S. even failed to qualify for the PANAM Games. (Historical PANAM Games Results: Link) Here is a summary of the U.S. performances since Handball started being included at the PANAM Games in 1987.

U.S. National Team Targets for the 2024 Quadrennial

Going forward, USA Team Handball appears to have similar targets. As a review here are the Strategic Plan targets for the National Team

  • Qualify for the IHF World Championships by 2024
  • Top 12 Finish at IHF World Championships by 2024
  • Top 2 finish at 2023 PANAM Games
  • Qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games

Additionally, there are some top level plans identified as potential ways to support achieving these targets:

  • Project France, whereby the U.S. National Team would compete as a team in a French league
  • Identifying up to 200 athletes new to handball and sending them to Europe for additional training. I’ll call this the Great Leap Forward Elite Player Pool Project.

Past Projections

Being the analytical type, I’ve done my best to project U.S. chances for Olympic Qualification for the past two quadrennials (2016 and 2020) and I’ve even already projected out to 2024. Here’s a summary of those assessments and when they were made:

  • March 2013: Assessment of U.S. Chances for 2016 Olympic Qualification: Link
  • September 2015: Assessment of U.S. Chances for 2020 and 2024 Olympic Qualification: Link
  • October 2017: Assessment of U.S. Chances for 2020 Olympic Qualification: Link
  • November 2017: Assessment of U.S. Chances for 2024 Olympic Qualification: Link

The cliff notes summary is that I’ve been pretty spot on with only a few things surprising me a bit. (i.e. Perhaps, I just might know what I’m talking about.)

Methodology for 2024 Quadrennial Assessments

While, reviewing my assessments, however, I noticed a couple of shortcomings. First, I didn’t fully characterize and define the “What We Have” starting point that USA Team Handball was working with. Perhaps it was obvious to some readers, but I’m not so sure. In particular, I don’t think key decision makers fully comprehended just how low of a starting point USA Team had been working with for years.

The second key shortcoming was the lack of actual targets and benchmarks to shoot for. This has now been rectified with the Strategic Plan. Again, it’s not a perfect document, but it does provide structure in terms of what we want.

Finally, I’m going to try and take a look at what happens to the “Can We Get There” if we change cost, schedule or performance constraints. Of course, we can’t always actually change them (the 2024 Olympics most likely will occur in 2024), but such analysis can provide further insight as to the feasibility and rationale for different projects

First up: A closer review of how feasible it is for the U.S. Men to qualify for the 2024 Olympics and other targets in the 2020-2024 Quadrennial.