U.S. Women’s National Team: What’s Next? (Part 1: Intro)

As the graphic indicates, since the 2019 PANAM Games the U.S. Women’s Sr National Team has not won a game in a major official competition. And, I’m not 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure we also haven’t won a friendly match either. Further, the scorelines have either been bad or downright ugly. We’re losing badly to peer nations (avg loss is 11 goals) in our hemisphere and getting totally clobbered (probably in the high 20s) by better competition. In short, over a two year period this has been the most uncompetitive team that the U.S. has ever fielded. The results starkly demonstrate this. It’s not even debatable.


All that said, let me very clear about the following:

  • I don’t blame the athletes. They’re doing the best that they can and most, if not all, have made ENORMOUS sacrifices to represent their country. And, often they are paying to do so out of their own pockets. We’re talking thousands of dollars.
  • I don’t blame the “coaching” that the coaches have done. A coach works with the athletes they have to help them perform the best they possibly can. I’ve seen quite a few matches. As bad as things have been… they could’ve been worse. There were opportunities for things to go totally off the rails, but they’ve managed to keep the team fighing and competing under very challenging circumstances.

Management (or a Lack of Management) is the Issue

Of course, this situation is disappointing to anyone that cares about handball in the United States. For some old timers it’s hard to wrap their heads around the reality that the U.S. is so uncompetitive. That it’s commonplace now for the U.S. to lose badly to nations that we used to easily beat without even breaking a sweat. Others look at a clearly more competitive U.S. Men’s team and wonder why the U.S. Women can’t simply duplicate their success.

These top level assessments are pretty simplistic, but they do point to straightforward management strategies that have either worked in the past or are working today. (Well, “worked” to some extent.) Unfortunately, while the Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS) strategy is often a smart way to go… it’s just not in this case. There are multiple reasons why the U.S. Women’s program can’t simply roll back the clock or copy the U.S. men’s “strategy.”

I won’t get into all of the management issues in this introduction. Quite frankly, there are just too many to capture in one post. This is a complex problem with a lot of moving parts. Heck, it’s not even easy to define what the “problem” is exactly. Sure, we want our Women’s team to perform better. But, what does “better” mean exactly? How much better? What’s the timeframe? And, at what cost?

And, that gets to the crux of the matter. As a close observer of all things handball in the U.S., if any of these questions were considered and defined it has been done so very quietly. Certainly, no plan or strategy has been publicly articulated. It’s one thing to watch our national team get beaten, but know it’s part of a structured plan to get better. It’s another thing to watch and get the sense that I’m watching a team thrown together by happenstance based on whoever happened to be available from our very, very small talent pool.

Burning Questions

So, I’m certainly not going to get to all the answers with this introduction, but I’ll try to identify some questions that need to be answered. Questions that I’ll address in follow-on posts.

  • Partner Related Questions
    • Does the IHF have a minimum performance expectation for the U.S. Women’s team? (i.e. Would the IHF actually consider not awarding the U.S. a slot for the 2028 Olympics?)
    • What might the IHF contibute to improve U.S. National Team performance prospects?
    • Will the USOPC increase funding and support to impove U.S. National Team perfomance at a U.S. hosted Olympics?
  • Philosophical Questions
    • Should the U.S. implement “quick fix” solutions to improve national team performance?
      • If so, how much funding and resources should be diverted from grass roots related efforts?
    • If the U.S. switches to a focus on talent transfer athletes who’ve never played handball how should it communicate this to current handball athletes that have made significant sacrifices?
  • “Out of the Box” Questions
    • Could a reality style documentary help fund and support U.S. National Team efforts?
    • Does it make sense to have non USA Team Handball organizations address ways to improve U.S. National Team performance?
      • If so, how should these organizations coordinate with USA Team Handball and it’s partners like the IHF and USOPC?
  • Dual Citizen Focus Questions
    • Why have efforts to find and recruit talented dual citizen handball athletes for the U.S. Women fallen way short of the U.S. Men?
    • How coud efforts related to dual citizen utilization be ramped up?
  • Competitive Performance Related Questions
    • How do we best define performance levels or how “competitive” our national team is?
    • How do we best define the peformance level of individual athletes and their potential to improve over time?
    • What metrics should be used to quantify and assess performance?
    • Why is our currrent national team performing at it’s current level of competitiveness?
    • Given the current talent pool, how much can our team improve over time?
    • Given a group of high quality raw talent prospects what performance level could they achieve over time?
  • Athlete Development Program Questions (Note: whether it’s called a residency program, development center, academy, or some other name this refers to any special effort to identify and train athletes for national teams.)
    • How successful can these programs be at identifying and training athletes to be national team athletes?
    • What types of athletes should be targeted?
    • How quickly can they bring athletes up to speed?
    • How much will these different programs cost?
    • Where should these programs be located?
    • How should these programs be managed?