Where is Handball Popular? And, Just How Popular is Handball Compared to Other Sports?: North America and the Caribbean

Handball’s Popularity in North American & the Caribbean
Closeup: Handball’s Popularity in the Caribbean

Some Notes on Handball in North America and the Caribbean

As a resident of North American and a long time follower of the sport I feel that I’m in a pretty good position to assess the relative popularity of the sport in this hemisphere. At the bottom of this article is the rationale that was used to make this assessment and, for reference, it is the same methodology that was used to create similar assessments for Europe and Africa

  • Popularity assessments for other continents
    • Europe: Link
    • Africa: Link
    • South and Central America (In development)
    • Asia (In development)
    • Oceania (In develpment)
  • Geography Lesson: You’ll notice that I haven’t color coded the Central American nations. This is because when the IHF split the old Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) into two Confederations, Central America was grouped with South America to form the South & Central American Handball Confederation (SCAHC). While North America and the Caribbean were combined to form the North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC). I’m not entirely sure why the split wasn’t made at the Panama-Colombia border, but I suspect the intent was to even up the total number of countries and to split up the nations very new to handball more equitably.
  • Soccer is not king: With the exception of Mexico the nations of this region do not put soccer on a pedestal above all other sports. Indeed in nations like the U.S., Canada and many of the Caribbean nations it’s further down in the pecking order. Why one even gets into debates as to whether it’s the 3rd, 4th or 5th most popular sport in the U.S. Many Caribbean nations have either baseball or cricket at the top. I know this seems quite strange to the rest of the world, but that’s just the way it is. And, isn’t it refreshing?
  • Greenland: It’s my assessment that Greenland is the only nation in the world where handball is the #1 team sport. I’ve heard that with the introduction of artificial turf fields that soccer is making some inroads, but for now handball is still king. If one saw the crowds at the 2018 Pan American Championships held in Greenland one got a sense of the hold this sport has on it’s 56,000 inhabitants. And, back in 2007 I heard and saw firsthand how this nation backs its team at a World Championship.
  • Martinique and Guadeloupe: These two Caribbean islands are outposts of France and have produced several French national team players including arguably the GOAT Defensive Specialist, Didier Dinart. Luckily for the nations of the NACHC there are no significant movements for these Departments to become independent nations… because if they did become independent they would both be instant medal contenders in NACHC competitions. They have entered competitions as associated members and club teams from Guadeloupe have beaten the U.S. national team in competition.
    • Olympic Channel Documentary on Didier Dinart: Includes visiting the abandoned house he grew up in and the dedication of a new arena named in his honor: Link
  • Cuba: After Greenland, Cuba is the one other NACHC handball nation where handball means something. This is evidenced by the significant number of Cubans that have played professionally overseas and in many cases played for their adopted new countries in international competition. It’s a long list with some notables being Carlos Perez, Rolando Urios, Rafael Capote, Frankis Marzo and Alfredo Quintana who tragically passed away earlier this year. For many years a Cuban athlete that played professionally overseas could no longer play for Cuba internationally. The good news/bad news story is that the Cuban government has changed the law and Cuban athletes can now leave Cuba for professional careers and still play for Cuba internationally. (Good news for Cuba… Not so good news for the rest of the NACHC.)
    • For many years I thought this Cuban handball success was mostly attributable to the the Cuban sports factory model manufacturing players for the national team. This, however, was a bad assumption and USA interim Women’s national team coach, Julio Sainz, set me straight in this interview from 2018 on handball in Cuba: Link
  • Minor, very minor or virtually non-existent: What’s the difference between handball being considered a minor, very minor or virtually non-existent sport?: For the rest of the nations in the NACHC that was essentially the question. As I’ve pointed out before in this series there are no hard metrics for these popularity assessments and the difference between minor and very minor is really debatable and open to opinion. I could make the case that handball is but a curiosity in every other remaining nation in the NACHC. In the end, largely based on relative population size, I decided that a couple of nations were more orange than red.
  • Canada: Over the years I’ve played or coached against handball teams from all over Canada and it’s always struck me that handball in the U.S. and Canada was pretty similar. That perspective, however, began to change with the development of youth programs and high school programs in the province of Alberta. Handball is still a minor sport there, but significant progress has been made. The other province where handball has a foothold is Quebec. Again, handball is not a huge sport, but it has a following in those two provinces. As far as the rest of Canada goes… it is pretty much like the U.S. In fact, if one were to color code the provinces of Canada, outside of Alberta and Quebec, the rest of Canada would be a see of red. It was a close call, but I decided that those two provinces boosted the country up to orange
    • Commentary on handball development efforts in Alberta and whether the U.S. should apply them: Link
  • Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico is another country that I was on the fence about in terms of red vs orange. Handball is not super huge there, but in terms of national team competitions they’ve punched way above their weight. Yes, this territory of the U.S. with 3M people has typically fared well in comparison to the U.S. (100 times bigger) and even qualified its women’s team for the 2015 World Championships. And, while the U.S. has bolstered its national teams with dual citizens Puerto Rico has relied on home grown talent. Finally, here’s some context for you. In a contest where both nations had to rely entirely on homegrown talent… I would bet on Puerto Rico. Take into account the relative population sizes and the reality that Puerto Rico is actually part of the U.S… and, you might be saying, “What the hell?”
  • Dominican Republic: I considered the Dominican Republic for orange status, but they missed the cut. They are also a smallish nation (10M), but have dropped in performance the last decade in national team competitions.
  • USA: No one has to tell me that the U.S. has a small, but very dedicated handball following. That said, in the context of a nation with 330M people, it really is a very, very small following. Further context: Outside of our handful of college programs the bulk of our club teams consist mostly of expat athletes from other countries. Even more context: Almost all of the players on our national teams (Men Women) are either dual citizens that learned how to play the sport in another country or are products of quick fix, residency programs. I know this sounds negative… but, let’s be clear: it’s also our reality.
    • The positive spin: As we have been saying for years, handball is a sport Americans should love. Americans, by and large, have not rejected handball. The reality is that most Americans are unaware the sport even exists. The opportunities for growth at the grass roots levels are very real. And, that growth could be dramatic.
  • Mexico: Much like the U.S. handball in Mexico has a small, but dedicated following. I’ve seen and played against Mexican club teams a few times and the level of play is comparable to the U.S. Sometimes even better as this highlight video from the 2010 U.S. National Championships shows. (The graphics say Houston, but the team was actually mostly Mexican nationals.) However, with a sizable population of 128M people Mexican national teams have usually underperformed in national team competitions.
  • The Other Caribbean Nations: As far as the other Caribbean nations go there should be little doubt that handball in those countries is either very minor or virtually non-existent. To the IHF’s credit they are legitimately trying to grow the sport in these nations. With the IHF’s help nations like St Kitts & Nevis and Trinidad & Tobago have fielded teams in competitions for the very first time. Further, the IHF is also encouraging the development of beach handball which is a natural fit for these nations. For this map if a nation was an official member of the NACHC I classified that nation a red. If they weren’t even a member I classified that nation as white.
  • Overall Assessment: If you compare this popularity map to Europe or even Africa it clearly shows how far behind the sport is in this region and provides some understanding as why many see handball as mostly a European sport. There’s two ways to look at this situation. 1) We can pretend this isn’t the reality and try to mask the shortcomings as best we can or 2) We can view it as a tremendous opportunity for the sport’s growth. For many years, pretending or ignoring was essentially the strategy adopted by the handball world. Credit to the IHF, the Forum Club Handball (FCH) and others for starting to address the need for development. It won’t happen overnight, but I’m genuinely optimistic that this see of red will eventually turn orange and yellow. Check back in 5 years.

  • Where is handball popular?
  • How popular is handball compared to other sports?

Those are definitely a couple of questions that I’ve been asked quite a few times. In 2005 I tackled those questions in one of my very first blog posts. Back then it was often stated that handball was the 2nd most popular team sport. Well, it would be totally awesome if that were true, but alas it’s not… not even close. In fact, even in Europe where handball is most popular there are only a handful of countries where our sport definitely takes 2nd place.

Methodology (or the Lack of One)

As an engineer I generally prefer to deal with data as opposed to gut feelings and anecdotal information. For sure there are a lot of different criteria that one could use to measure popularity. Here’s a laundry list for you:

  • # of participants
  • # of registered federation members
  • # of clubs
  • Attendance at matches
  • Frequency of TV broadcasts and ratings
  • Existence of a professional league
  • The salaries of professional players
  • Interest in national team performance
  • Social media interest.

Each of those criteria have merit, but there are several problems.

  • This data is not readily available on a country by country basis
  • The accuracy of the data that is available is often suspect or open to interpretation
  • The relative importance of each criterion is wide open to debate

Bottom line: An exercise to carefully weigh all of these criteria in a systematic reliable way is pretty much impossible.

That being said in most cases it’s fairly easy to weigh all those criteria and to come up with a ranking of the top 3 sports in just about any country. And, a ranking that most objective sports fans of that country would agree on without a whole lot of debate.

There’s a couple of reasons why this is true.

  • In most countries there is one dominant team sport and that sport is football (soccer). Practically no one will even credibly argue against soccer’s dominance. So off the top, we’re now only talking about 2nd and 3rd place.
  • And, again in most (but, not all) countries, #2 is often pretty well established based on the criteria above. Even without hard numbers the answer is obvious to people that live there.

All this being said, there are some countries, however, where handball’s place in the pecking order is open to debate. A debate, for the reasons listed earlier is pretty hard to resolve. So, instead of resolving I’ve decided to use the lack of a resolution as a way to help classify the sport’s popularity.

Classification (Key)

Here’s a few notes on how I’ve classified popularity.

  • Definitely the 2nd most popular team sport:
    • Countries where handball is 2nd in a preponderance of the criteria
  • Either the 2nd or 3rd most popular team sport:
    • Countries where there could be a legitimate debate between 2 sports as to which is 2nd or 3rd
    • Countries where handball is clearly 3rd
  • A major sport with a significant presence
    • Countries where the ranking becomes muddled from 3rd place on down, but handball is still clearly a major sport that captures significant attention
  • A minor sport with some presence
    • Countries where the ranking becomes muddled from 3rd place on down, but Handball is more of a minor sport with a small, but dedicated following.
  • A very minor sport with a limited presence
    • Countries where the sport’s ranking is somewhat moot because it’s hard to compare perhaps the 6th or 7th most popular team sport. Overall, participation numbers are small and the sport is seen as a curiosity by most of the citizens of that country.
  • A sport that is practically non-existent
    • Countries where there are no national teams, leagues or clubs.

A few more thoughts

  • There is a rough pecking order from top to bottom. Blue is top; Green is next, etc.
  • This isn’t a perfect representation. And, one could argue for even more gradation. For instance, one could take the nations in yellow and create a rough pecking order.
  • What about individual sports? If you really wanted to further complicate matters we could add Formula 1, UFC and Tennis. I didn’t want to go there.

What do you think?

This compilation/depiction isn’t set in stone. It’s just one man’s opinion influenced by feedback. If I’ve missed the boat let me know via email or social media and I’ll reconsider updating the map.

Email: john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com
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Breaking Down the U.S. Women’s National Team 2021 NACHC Championships Preliminary Roster

This past Wednesday, USA Team Handball released a preliminary roster for this summer’s North American and Caribbean Handball Championship. The roster lists 28 athletes and here’s a breakdown by age and where they first learned to play handball.

USA Preliminary Roster (Youngest to Oldest)

USA Preliminary Roster (Youngest to Oldest)

The ages on the roster range from 15 to 39 with an average age is 25.1. This is quite the range and is considerably more spread out then the typical women’s national team roster which is more bunched up with the bulk of the athletes in their 20s. For comparison, take a look at the rosters of the 24 nations at the 2019 IHF Women’s Handball World Championship

USA Provisional Roster (Nation Where they First Played Handball)

USA Preliminary Roster (Nation Where they First Played Handball)

All of these athletes are Americans, but the U.S. is a large nation with a global population. Estimates vary, but as many as 9M American citizens live in another country so it’s no real surprise that some of those 9M learned to play handball where they grew up. In fact, 57% (16 of 28) of the U.S. roster originally played handball in 8 different countries. Norway leads the way with 4 athletes followed by Germany with 3. Other nations: Cape Verde (2), Denmark (2), Sweden (2), Canada (1), Israel (1), Japan (1).

The fact that the U.S. has so many dual citizen athletes is sometimes seen as controversial, but it shouldn’t be. I addressed this reality and its implications for the U.S. National Team and the sport’s development previously in a series of commentaries Part 1Part 2Part 3)

In terms of the 12 U.S. athletes that were raised stateside, 3 athletes (Kaffka, Stewart and Taylor) are products of Collegiate Clubs, 6 athletes (Lombard, Hartnett, Vallone, Fithian, Gascon and Darling) primarily first learned how to play at a Residency Program (Cortland or Auburn University) and 3 athletes picked up handball either on their own or with a club (Da Cruz, Faulkner and Smet).

Final Roster Projection

My projection for the Final Roster is a mixture of logic and guesswork. The logic portion is primarily looking at the last major tournament roster (the 2019 PANAM Games) and penciling in any name from that roster that is also on the preliminary roster. Of course, just because someone made the team last time doesn’t guarantee that they will make the team again, but it’s usually a good starting point. Further strengthening this logic is the COVID-19 pandemic as it has somewhat frozen things in place since March 2020 with many athletes not even playing handball much since then. There are 11 potential returnees and assuming that 16 athletes will be allowed for this tournament that means 5 newcomers.

And, this is where some major guesswork is required as I am not familiar with many of the other names on the roster nor do I even know what positions some of them play. So, keeping this in mind here is a top level assessment of which athletes might make the final roster. To be clear, though, I’m not actually going to make any hard projections other than that I think all 11 athletes from the PANAM Games will make the final roster. I just simply don’t know enough about the newcomers.

Goalkeepers: Sophie Fasold was one of the 2 goalkeepers on the PANAM Games roster and the other GK, Bryana Newbern is not on the 28 player preliminary roster. Fasold has also been able to play a full season with her club team, Nord Harrislee in the German 2nd Division, so I think she will likely get the the bulk of the minutes. The coaching staff will have to choose whether they want 2 or 3 goalies on the roster and both Sanna Wheeler and Emily Mrymo have previously made Jr team rosters. Also, identified as a GK is McKenna Smet who is very new to handball.


Left Wing: Julia Taylor was the 3rd leading scorer for the U.S. at the PANAM Games and Maria Vallone was her backup. It would seem that these two spots are fairly locked in, but I’m not familiar with the other potential options.

Left Wings

Right Wing: Zoe Lombard and Elisabeth Hartnett were the U.S. PANAM Games participants, but they may be joined by 16 year old, Eden Nesper who played on the U.S. Youth team in 2019 and plays for both the U17 and U19 for her club team, Hannover Badenstedt in Germany. The Hannover U17 team won the Germany cup title this past weekend. She’s a capable player with a bright future, but that’s still a pretty young age to be playing against grown adults. It will be interesting to see what the coaching staff decides.

Circle Runner: Veterans, Sarah Gascon and Jennifer Fithian, should both make the roster and they will be joined by Shani Levinkind. Levinkind was selected to the PANAM Games roster, but did not participate due to injury. Karen Schultze, 20, plays in Germany and had previously been added to the player pool, so one can assume that she’s also a strong candidate. This position may seem to be set, but because there are some major question marks at backcourt some of these players might end up playing there instead of at circle.

Circle Runners

Backcourt (Left, Center, Right):While the other positions appear to be somewhat settled there are a lot of question marks as to who will be playing the three backcourt positions. Well, not all question marks. Left Back, Nicole Andersen, the 2nd leading scorer for the U.S. at the PANAM Games returns and will likely be called upon to assume a greater leadership role with the team. Also returning are veterans Kathy Darling and relative newcomer Sif Skov Christensen. And… that’s it, (as far as I know) when it comes to returning back court players.

Logically, this means some newcomers are probably going to be expected to play some really important minutes at the key backcourt positions. And, really not knowing these players means some major guesswork. I’ve heard some good things about Emma Ready and I’ve even played quite a few times vs her father long ago in California so perhaps she’s inherited some of his feisty quickness. Despite being just 17 she could be an option at Center Back. Cecile Brown and Emilie Johansson are also possibilities and as dual citizens perhaps they’ve gotten quite a bit of playing time despite their relatively young ages.


But, really for all I know several names on the roster that I haven’t even mentioned (see below) could well be the athletes the selection team goes with.

Roster Candidates (Unknown Position)

But, here’s one thing I do know: U.S. success or failure in Elgin this summer will likely hinge on these newcomers and their ability to make meaningful contributions at backcourt.

Roster Churn

Much of the above commentary focused on the likely returning players from the 2019 PANAM Games and some new gaps where newcomers will need to step up. So, for context I’ll highlight some players that were not on the preliminary roster and the contributions that will be missed.

First and foremost, center back Jence Rhoads, the U.S. leading scorer (24 goals in 5 matches) from the PANAM Games is not on the roster. Anyone who’s seen the U.S. play for the past several years knows that she’s developed some solid skills and has been the point guard directing traffic on offense, making the players around her more productive. Also, not returning are left back Julia Sayer and right back Ashley Butler. All told, those 3 athletes accounted for 44% (40 of 91 goals in 5 matches) of the live action goals scored at the PANAM Games. In terms of backcourt productivity they accounted for 74% (40 of 54 goals) of the backcourt scoring. Further limiting experienced options is the news that the long awaited return of right back Karoline Borg will be delayed due to pregnancy. Borg, age 30, plays right back for Aker Topphåndball in Norway’s top and league and had previously played for the U.S.

While these roster changes will impact the U.S. it’s more than likely that the U.S. won’t be alone with this problem as other NACHC nations are also surely encountering similar roster churn. Such change is inevitable and it will be interesting to see how successful teams are in integrating their newcomers and getting their teams ready after a long pandemic layoff.

Note: If there is any information in this table that is incorrect, drop me a line at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com and I will update it.

USA Men’s Preliminary Roster prior to the 2021 WC: Link

Shaquille O’Neal Reportedly Interested in Supporting the Development of American Handball

Gauthier Mvumbi, Detroit Handball Club Ambassador… Shaquille O’Neal, American Handball Ambassador At-Large?

Gauthier Mvumbi, Detroit Handball Ambassador

During the 2021 World Championships this past January, Gauthier Mvumbi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a media sensation and was christened the “Shaq of Handball”. This got the attention of Shaquille O’Neal and he even reached out to Mvumbi via Instagram. For a while Mvumbi was the darling of the handball media world, but I figured his 15 minutes was going to be up pretty soon.

Then a few weeks ago, Detroit Handball announced on social media that Mvumbi had agreed to be a handball ambassador for the club. I greeted this announcement with skepticism and, in part, it directly led to a recent podcast discussion on social media with Detroit Handball Club President, Joey Williams. During the podcast, I tried to get a straight answer as to just what this “ambassadorship” entailed, and from my perspective I never really got a satisfactory answer. Being somewhat old school, I wrote the whole thing off as pretty much attention for attention’s sake.

The Two Shaqs are Still Talking

But, then I read that the two Shaqs have continued their friendship and according to a recent interview in the French newspaper, L’Echo Republicaine, they are still in contact with each other. Further, Shaquille O’Neal apparently has some interesting in helping out handball in the U.S.

Here’s a translation of a portion of the interview

Gauthier Mvumbi, you will become the ambassador of US handball. Explain to us!
I will help promote handball in the United States, help its development. I will participate in internships, summer camps, gala matches. I will go back and forth, but I remain above all a handball player in France or in Europe.

In which big American city?
The Detroit club contacted me. In the near future, Shaquille O’Neal also wants to be involved and take on some responsibilities. Shaq would like to explore possibilities to help make handball more attractive in the U.S.; With a 5 year time frame.

Are you still in touch with the NBA star?
We talk to each other regularly. The plan is to go to the U.S. in July and meet each other in person. That will be something!

Shaquille O’Neal as a Handball Ambassador?

Shaq wants to help make handball more attractive in the U.S.? Wow! It true, that would be a godsend of epic proportions. A few years ago I highlighted what USA Team Handball should look for in terms of new Board Members. I identified a need for millionaires (or even better, billionaires) and handball gospel spreaders, who could help educate the U.S. Shaq would be both in one package.

Shaq made a small fortune as an athlete ($292M on salary alone) and he continues to add to that fortune as a pretty effective ad pitchman for a number of different products. He’s got a fair amount of cash that could be put to good use. With the USA Team Handball budget at around $500K he could effectively buy out the organization if he wanted to.

But, where he would really shine is as a handball pitchman. He has millions of followers on social media and one Tweet or IG post from his Shaqness would effectively reach more new fans and players than a year’s worth of carefully crafted social media campaigns from various handball outlets in the U.S. and world-wide.

How Shaq Could Help Handball in the U.S.

Shaq as an ambassador and proponent for the sport could be an epic game changer in so many ways. Here are just a few ways he could help out:

  • Athlete recruiter: With a few targeted social media posts Shaq could reach hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of potential new handball athletes at all levels. Which, of course, would be really cool, but hopefully such a message could be coordinated with U.S. clubs nationwide so that they could be effectively prepared to engage with the new Shaq recruits.
  • TV and Web Streaming advocate: There currently is no TV home for handball in the U.S. beIN Sports TV and ESPN+ have failed to meet expectations. Shaq works for TNT and coincidentally, play by play for the Olympics will be provided by Matt Winer with NBA TV. Both properties are owned by Turner Networks which has been bought out by AT&T and will now be combined into a new to be named conglomerate with Warner Media and Discovery. A new media behemoth which will likely have a new streaming platform.
    • What if Shaq advocated for this new streaming platform to carry the EHF Champions League, the World Championships and other handball events?
    • What if they had Shaq, Kenny, EJ and Charles Barkley do an Inside the EHF Champions League show? And, maybe Matt Winer (with his newfound handball experience) could replace EJ as he has done in the past. Yes, those guys know nothing about handball, but, trust me, it would still be really entertaining!
  • Sponsor a college program: The interview states that Shaq wants to make the U.S. “Championnat” more attractive. Literally, that means the “National League” and the U.S. doesn’t actually have such a league. Our vast size and the amateur status of the sport pretty much makes that impossible and creating a pro or even a semi-pro league would require some major investment. While Shaq has the resource to create such a league, a more practical effort near term would be to beef up the U.S. collegiate competition. In particular, Shaq could support one college program with the intent of turning that program into a national power. As, I wrote last year a modest investment could very quickly create a national title contender. What college to choose, though? His alma mater, LSU is a candidate, but an HBCU would also be a possibility.

Those are just some possibilities. Share your ideas on social media: Twitter Facebook Instagram

Earlier commentary: “What if Shaq had played handball?”: Link

USA Men Fail to Qualify for Olympic 3×3 Hoops: Putting Another Nail in the Coffin of the “Basketball Cast Offs Can Win Handball Gold” Strategy

Another humbling USA Basketball defeat… another nail in the coffin for the basketball cast offs can win Olympic Handball Gold strategy

Another USA Basketball Failure

From the “In Case You Missed It” department, this past weekend the USA Men’s National Basketball Team failed in their quest to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Before you have a heart attack, rest assured that this was not the 5 on 5 traditional version of the game that Americans have dominated since the it was invented. No, this was the 3 on 3 version (3×3) of the game that was recently added to the Olympic Programme.

And, make no mistake, it’s not the same as the traditional game of basketball. 3×3 is played with just 3 players on on a half court so there’s more of a premium on 1v1 skills and long range shooting. Matches are played to 21 with baskets inside the arc worth 1 point and baskets behind the arc worth 2 points which effectively makes a 5×5 “3 pointer” the equivalent of a “4 pointer”.

But, despite the gimmickry, this is still basketball and it’s a little hard to fathom that the the U.S. failed to even qualify for the Olympics. This is our sport and we were eliminated in the Qualification Tournament Quarterfinals by the Netherlands… The Netherlands? Not a basketball country by any means. There have been only 6 Dutch players in NBA history and the Netherlands had never qualified for the Olympics before and even for the World Championships just once back in 1986.

Not Our Best Athletes…

Of course, the #1 reason (or excuse) for U.S. failure was that we didn’t compete with our best athletes. The U.S. 3×3 roster consisted of Dominique Jones, Robbie Hummel, Kareem Maddox and Joey King. Don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize anyone. These guys aren’t household names. Only Hummel has played in the NBA and that was just 2 nondescript years with the Timberwolves. It’s not like they aren’t good basketball players and probably very good 3×3 basketball specialists. In fact 2 of these athletes were part of the U.S. roster that won the 2019 World Championship.

Still… there’s little doubt that a select group of NBA players wouldn’t do better. Can you imagine Steph Curry or Damon Lillard playing the 3×3 game? For sure there are practicalities that preclude NBA participation. Although, it should be noted that the U.S. Women’s 3×3 team consisting of WNBA athletes qualified for the Olympics.

Basketball Cast Offs vs Basketball Cast Offs

So, who did our cast off basketball pros lose to in this basketball variant? The giant killers from Netherlands featured a roster that would not strike fear in anyone: Julian Jaring, Dimeo van der Horst, Arvin Slagter, and Jessey Voorn. If you research these guys just a little bit you’ll discover that they’ve had rather nondescript pro basketball careers, mostly in the Netherlands and best I can tell they aren’t playing 5×5 hoops anymore. I’m not sure what sort of salaries or more likely stipends they get for playing 3×3 basketball, but I doubt that it’s very much. One of the players even appears to be a personal trainer. So, the Netherlands didn’t send their best basketball players either. Yes, basically our USA basketball cast offs lost to Netherlands basketball cast offs. Good athletes whose pro careers didn’t pan out, but their skill set was ideal for the 3×3 variant. On the whole, I would bet USA cast offs are generally superior to the Netherlands, but as we can plainly see now, not that much better and clearly beatable.

The Relevance to Handball

So, why am I writing yet again about a Team USA Basketball Failure? Because it really, really illustrates just how absolutely and totally absurd the back of the napkin strategy that cast off U.S. pros from other sports could easily win Handball Olympic Gold.

Good gracious. I am getting sick and tired of explaining just how BAT SH** CRAZY such notions are. But, here goes with a little context and perspective.

We didn’t even qualify for the Olympics in a variant of basketball with cast off pros. A sport that we have totally dominated since it was invented. And, you think we can take similar cast off athletes from basketball and other sports and teach them to play handball, a sport they’ve never played before in a month, 6 months, 2 years, 4 years. That’s more than a little tougher than learning the aspects of a modified game of basketball for sure. Oh, and get this. Your manufactured team isn’t going to get to compete against other similar cast off pros. No, no, no, They will get to take on full time handball professionals that have been playing the sport their entire lives.

How can one even begin to reconcile the failure in 3×3 basketball with the idea that handball gold would somehow be a piece of cake?

Honestly, you know what the parallel is here? It would be roughly the same as former Netherlands handball players taking a crash course in basketball and planning on Olympic 5×5 basketball gold. Better start working on your long range jump shot, Luc Steins!

Previous Commentaries regarding the “Cast Offs” strategy and the need to understand that handball is a professional sport

  • USA Basketball with a Worst Ever World Championships. Does anyone Still Think that Similar Athletes Can Lead us to Handball Greatness: Link
  • Why a Residency Program at Auburn?: Reason #2: The U.S. had its Greatest Success with Residency Programs… True Statement, but that Success Occurred when Handball was only “Somewhat Professionalized.” Link
  • Could Lebron James Really become the the Best Handball Player in the World in Just 6 Months? (Part 1): Do I really have to Explain how Crazy that notion is? Link
  • Could Lebron James Really become the the Best Handball Player in the World in Just 6 Months? (Part 2): Why it’s just not Going to Happen; but what about Lebron Lite? Link

An Olympic Slot for the NACHC?

Could a New Distribution of Olympic Qualification Slots be Coming?

Last Friday, (21 May 2021), European Handball Federation (EHF) President Michael Wiederer gave a wide ranging interview with the Mannhiemer Morgen, a newspaper in Germany. For the most part the interview covered topics directly pertaining to the pandemic and EHF competitions. However, I bulls-eyed in on a couple of questions pertaining to handball’s place on the world stage:

Mannheimer Morgen: You are the representative of European handball interests, recently more and more nations like Argentina, Brazil and Egypt have drawn attention to themselves. How do you rate that?

Wiederer: This development is important for the sport, especially for the international market value of handball. Because as long as we are a sport with a European character, the marketing opportunities remain limited. Many international corporations are not based in Europe. I therefore welcome developments on the other continents. It was a very important step to expand the World Cup to 32 teams.

Mannheimer Morgen: Because handball is so European, the Olympic status is discussed again and again. Are you concerned about this?

Wiederer: We don’t have to worry about this status any more or less than many other sports. We aroused great interest at the Olympic Games in Rio five years ago. But this is also about internationalization. The world association is trying to get more starting places for other continents, that would be at the expense of Europe. As you can see, this is also about a balance, about different interests in terms of the product and a possible narrowing to a few markets.

Great IHF Support, but no Olympic Ticket

What makes Wiederer’s response newsworthy is that to the best of my knowledge it was the first time in print that I’ve seen it publicly acknowledged that the IHF was considering a redistribution of Olympic slots and the logical impact that such a redistribution would have on European nations.

The IHF, of course, has made no secret of its desires to develop new markets in the U.S. and China. Steps taken to help the U.S. include:

  • The U.S. Development Project, headed by former EHF President, Jean Brihault that has provided some grant funding for the U.S.
  • The dissolution of the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) into two new confederations, the North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC) and the South & Central American Handball Confederation (SCAHC).
  • Selecting the U.S. as the NACHC representative to the 2021 Men’s Handball World Championships when a competition couldn’t be held due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, while the PATHF split into the NACHC and SCAHC resulted in separate new qualification paths for the World Championships there has been so similar change announced regarding Olympic qualification. Both the NACHC and SCAHC were still grouped together for qualification via the 2019 PANAM Games.

And, anyone who follows handball in Pan America knows that presently it’s very unlikely that a NACHC nation will qualify for the Olympics via the PANAM Games. Any NACHC Men’s team hoping to qualify would likely have to beat both Brazil and Argentina, two nations that would likely be double digit favorites against any NACHC nation. For the women, it would mean beating Brazil and right now staying within 10 goals would be a major accomplishment for any NACHC women’s team. For reference Brazil beat the USA 34-9 in a 2019 semifinal.

But, if the NACHC were to be given its own slot? Well, that changes the equation entirely. Cuba would instantly become the NACHC favorite for both Men’s and Women’s Olympic Qualification, but the U.S. wouldn’t be far behind. And, every other NACHC nation that has been playing handball for awhile could also envision a legitimate shot at Olympic qualification.

How a Separate Olympic Qualification Slot Would Help the U.S.

For the U.S. a new Olympic Qualification path would likely lead to changes in terms of budget and budgetary priorities. For the past 20 years or so funding from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has been primarily tied to medal prospects. With the U.S. not even having realistic chances of qualifying for the Olympics this has resulted in minimal support from the USOPC. This could change with Olympic qualification suddenly being realistic and feasible as USA Team Handball could make a legitimate case that increased support in key areas could result in Olympic qualification.

In turn, it could also increase the quality and quantity of athletes pursuing handball in the U.S. Historically, one of the big enticements for athlete recruitment has been the possibility of being an Olympian some day. Indeed, at one time making a U.S. national team roster was tantamount to being an Olympian. Over time, however, as U.S. Olympic qualification prospects changed from likely to very unlikely this recruiting pitch became less effective as did the quantity and overall quality of the athletes recruited.

IOC Pressure and Potential European Backlash

It’s never been officially stated, but reportedly the IOC has expressed to the IHF its concerns about handball being too European. And, it has been rumored that this concern even included a warning about handball perhaps being taken off of the Olympic Programme. It’s hard to believe that handball would really be removed from the Olympics, but there is some validity to the underlying point of handball being too European. And, if a little IOC pressure has served as an impetus to put more focus on developing a U.S. handball market I sure won’t complain. And, I also wouldn’t complain about an Olympic slot being awarded to the NACHC as that would be a phenomenal development for the U.S. and the entire NACHC.

But, who would complain… and loudly? The European Handball nations; because in most instances it would result in a slot being taken away from a European side.

Current Olympic Qualification Slots

For reference, here is how the 12 Olympic slots are currently awarded for both the Men and Women:

  • Host Nation (1)
  • Reigning World Champion (1)
  • Europe (1)
  • Africa (1)
  • Asia (1)
  • Pan America (1)
  • Qualification Tournaments (6)

And, here is how the different continental federations have fared in the Olympic Qualification Tournaments since the current format was implemented in 2008.

  • 2020 Olympic Qualification Tournaments
    • Men: Europe (5); Pan America (1)
    • Women: Europe (6)
  • 2016 Olympic Qualification Tournaments
    • Men: Europe (5); Africa (1)
    • Women: Europe (6)
  • 2012 Olympic Qualification Tournaments
    • Men: Europe (6)
    • Women: Europe (6)
  • 2008 Olympic Qualification Tournaments
    • Men: Europe (6)
    • Women: Europe (5); Asia (1)

So, it hasn’t been a clean sweep for European nations, but it’s been close. If a slot were to be given to the NACHC it would likely remove a European team. A European team that would probably have made the quarterfinals and would have had a legitimate shot of medaling.

A Change in Time for 2024?

Because of the likely ramifications, I’m not very surprised that this hasn’t been publicly addressed by the IHF. It’s more often the sort of thing that’s discussed informally at coffee breaks and dinner parties. Not the sort of thing that gets promulgated until there’s an agreement in principle by the parties affected. Wiederer’s response in the interview is simply confirmation that this discussion has taken place and Europe is aware of it. Actually, likely been a party to the discussions since they would face the negative impacts.

However, if this change were to be made in time for the 2024 Olympics the clock is definitely ticking. Under the current qualification system the 2023 PANAM Games would again serve as qualification for the Olympics for the NACHC and SCAHC. That may be two years away, but qualification for the PANAM Games would start next summer with regional qualification in South, Central and North America. So, basically, just a year is available to change course and for the NACHC and SCAHC to come up with new separate qualification plans. This is doable, but action would be needed fairly quickly.

And, barring a change in time for 2024 one might wonder whether a change would be made for 2028. This is because the NACHC would already have a representative due to the U.S. hosting. Such a change would in fact result in 2 NACHC nations participating in the Olympics. Yes, given the sometimes glacial pace of change… this might end up being a change for the 2032 Olympics.

What’s Your Hombrados Number?

6 Degrees of J.J. Hombrados. My Hombrados # is 2. What’s Yours?

This past weekend, as I do almost every weekend, I watched a variety of different handball matches featuring U.S. National Team players. One of those matches had circle runner, Drew Donlin, and his Spanish club team Leon taking on Guadalajara. And, in goal for Guadalajara was a blast from the past, Jose Javier Hombrados. I say a “blast from the past” in that he was playing back when I was playing, but I guess if you’re still playing… well, then you’re still the “present”.

And, at age 49, he’s still getting the job done in the Liga ASOBAL. His reaction speed is still pretty decent and as many matches as he’s played he’s got a ridiculous experience advantage over every player he’s up against. He read Drew Donlin pretty well on this wide open 6 meter opportunity. See how he leaves one side of the goal covered and one side wide open. Except it’s not so wide open because he’s moved out from the goal. He patiently waits for the shot and deftly stops it with his arm.

More highlights from the match: Link

Side note 1: Laligasportstv and it’s streaming of the Liga ASOBAL is just awesome. Check it out and follow my twice weekly updates with the start times and direct links to matches.

Side note 2: If you want you can check out Hombrados yourself he plays live on Wednesday as Guadalajara takes on Cuenca at 2000 before the EHF CL Quarterfinals: Direct Video Link

6 Degrees of J.J. Hombrados

Kevin Bacon has been in a lot of movies and it’s been noted that just about any actor can be connected to him pretty quickly. As the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon Wikipedia explains with this example:

  • Ian McKellen
    • Ian McKellen was in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) with Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy
    • McAvoy and Fassbender were in X-Men: First Class (2011) with Kevin Bacon
    • Therefore, McAvoy and Fassbender have Bacon numbers of 1, and McKellen has a Bacon number of 2.

For Handball it works the same way. Here’s 1 example;

  • John Ryan
    • I played for the U.S. vs Sweden (Stefan Olsson, Robert Hedin, etc) at the 1993 World Championships
    • (Olsson, Hedin, etc) played for Sweden vs Spain (Hombrados) at the (I’m sure they played against him several times)
    • Olsson and Hedin have an Hombrados number of 1, I have an Hombrados number of 2

I suspect almost every pro or national team player for the last 40 years or so has a Hombrados number of 1 or 2. Amateurs all over the world have an Hombrados number of 3.

In some respects this is less remarkable than it might first appear. If one plays even just 1 match vs a big star it opens one up to a lot of possible connections because that big star has probably played a lot of matches vs a lot of teams. One could do this with a number of other players and get similar results. Kiril Lazarov and Nikola Karabatic would be two examples for sure.

However, what separates Hombrados is the length of his active career. He’s been playing professionally for 31 seasons. 31 seasons! Kiril Lazarov was just 10 years old when he started out. Think about it… Back in 1990 he probably played some matches against some players in their mid to late 30s. Somebody, say 37, who would now be 68 years old today. That senior citizen, via Hombrados, is now directly connected with 18 year old players just starting their careers in 2021. Some old guys on the couch in Spain are watching, surely chuckling to themselves and feeling a little bit younger with the comforting knowledge they can still say, “Yeah, I played against him” when they watch a match.

2 Generations, 3 Generations… Do I Hear 4?

Here’s another way of looking at it. There are a number of father-son handball player combos where the father and son have played against common players. Think Talant Dujshebaev and his sons, Alex and Daniel. Or Jackson Richardson and his son Melvyn. They’ve all played against or even with athletes like Lazarov or Karabatic. But, the length of Hombrados’s career pushes it to the possibility of 3 generations all playing against him. Yes, it wouldn’t surprise me if indeed it’s true, that some grandfathers in Spain can share personal experience tips on Hombrados with their grandsons. And, it one wants to stretch the generational math just a little bit… 4 generations (great grandfather, grandfather, father and son) could theoretically be possible.

If Hombrados keeps making saves like he did this past Saturday and if he wants too keep playing that just might happen in a few years.

Faroe Islands Handball Success and What it Means for the U.S.: Paradoxically, the Right Conclusion isn’t so Obvious

Elias Ellefsen á Skipagøtu is a real life handball Jimmy Chitwood (From the Movie: Hoosiers)

As someone who has a keen interest in both geography and handball it should come as no surprise that I’m a bit fascinated with the Faroe Islands and their recent handball success. Geography wise it’s a country so far off the beaten track that most people don’t even know it exists. In between Scotland and Iceland, the Faroe Islands have 52,000 citizens and similar to Greenland they are an autonomous territory of Denmark.

Handball wise they won the first two IHF Emerging Nations Championships in 2015 and 2017 and more recently they played several competitive matches against much larger nations in 2022 European Championship qualification, including a 27-26 win over the Czech Republic. Their most impressive accomplishment?: winning the European U17 Championship in 2019. And, it was not a fluke, they clearly were the best team at this tournament, beating the likes of Norway, Spain, Hungary, Belarus and Sweden.

Further Proof that Small Nations can Compete Effectively in Handball

In the past I’ve highlighted how Iceland with a small population (368,000) has been a pretty successful handball nation. They’ve yet to win a major title, but they are often in the running and they won the silver medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. And, now the Faroes Islands (1/6th the size of Iceland) are taking this concept of small nation handball success to even further extremes.

But, what does this remarkable success mean for a much larger nation like the U.S.? There are a couple of conclusions one might come to. One wrong; one right.

The Wrong Conclusion: If the tiny Faroe Islands can win with modest raw talent… Then the U.S. can accomplish even more with top notch raw talent

If one watches a bit of the Faroe Islands matches from European Championship qualification vs Russia or the Czech Republic it is absolutely striking to see the size disparity of the teams playing. From wing to wing, the Faroe Islands are giving up several inches in height and overall size in general. If you’ve played handball even just a little bit, you know that size isn’t everything. Plenty of smaller, quicker and craftier players have put bigger players in their place.

Case in point, is 19 year old, Elias Ellefsen á Skipagøtu. Check out these plays from Euro Qualification: As Rasmus Boysen pointed out on Twitter: The hype is real part 1; The hype is real part 2 He sure doesn’t look like much, but he’s a big reason behind the Faroe Islands success.

That being said… while size may not be everything, it’s still something. And, not even considering size (which can be easily seen) I think the Czechs and Russians, with the exception of Skipagotu, are also better in terms of raw talent. I don’t think there are any Faroe Islands athletes that would get much playing time if they were playing for the Czech Republic or Russia. Actually, there are probably only 1 or 2 players who would even make the Czech or Russian roster. That’s not a knock on the Faroe Islands handball team. No, on the contrary, it’s the ultimate compliment of their spirit and team play. The old saying that sometimes a “team” is more than the sum of it’s parts really applies here. Big time.

And, here’s where an American watching the Faroes Island’s success might come to a bad conclusion as to what it means for American handball. That train of thought goes something like this:

“Why look at what the Faroe Islands have accomplished with the limited talent they have to work with. Oh my God!  We can easily find 16 better athletes in the vast U.S. and put together an even more competitive handball team.  Bigger, quicker and stronger athletes. They are all over the place in the U.S.  It doesn’t even matter if they’ve never played the game.  We’ll just take athletes that don’t turn professional from other sports and assemble a team.”

Coming to this very wrong conclusion is somewhat understandable. Seriously, more than once during the last two matches, I said to myself, how are the Faroes doing it? But, the more you know about handball… the more you know it’s a very naive and arrogant perspective. One that totally doesn’t understand how hard it is to learn how to play handball at the highest level against professional athletes that have been playing the sport all their lives.

The Right Conclusion: The Faroes Island’s success against more gifted athletes shows what would likely happen with a “quick fix’ American team composed of great raw talent athletes. Perhaps we should instead focus on long term grass roots development.

No, paradoxically we shouldn’t be zeroing in on the raw athletic talent shortcomings of the Faroe Islands as much as we should be looking at their strong technical handball skills and team play. That train of thought goes something like this:

“Look at what the Faroe Islands have accomplished with modestly gifted athletes that have played the sport for several years.  They even compete well against teams with significantly better athletes that have also been playing handball for several years.  I wonder how the Faroe Islands would fare against a bunch of great American athletes that haven’t played handball for very long?   Answer:  The Faroe Islands would beat such a team… relatively easily.

I know this logic runs counter to American exceptionalism. And, if one were to contemplate the juxtaposition of the Faroe Islands squad facing off against a bunch of former NCAA Division 1 athletes who weren’t quite good enough to go pro in basketball, football or some other sport in a game of handball it’s hard to imagine such athletes getting schooled. The size disparity would be dramatic. The quickness and athleticism would also be clear. During warmups one would look at the two teams and think the Faroe Islands has no chance… but dollars to donuts they would school such a team of raw talent transfers.

Why wouldn’t they? After all, they’ve shown they can compete just fine against the Czech Republic and Russia. Pretty good athletes that already know how to play handball. And look closely… the raw athletic talent level of those Czech and Russian national teams is very comparable to the type of raw athletic talent one might see at a number of NCAA Division 1 basketball programs. Guys not headed to the NBA, but maybe to European pro leagues if they want to. Exactly the type of athletes the U.S. has recruited to varying degrees of success for the last 50 years or so.

So when we see the inevitable string of articles, podcast commentary and tweets this summer during the Olympics about how Lebron, Mahomes and others would easily win handball Gold keep in mind the following:

  • We’re never getting that level of athlete… we would instead have to settle for good, but lower level talent probably similar to the Czech and Russian teams.
  • The Czechs and Russians didn’t even come close to qualifying for the Olympics and they had some real trouble with the Faroe Islands.
  • It would probably take a couple of years for such a team to be even capable of beating the Faroe Islands.

Turning Raw Athletic Talent into Handball Players

I’m not saying it’s impossible to take athletes with great raw talent and turn them into handball players. It’s been done many times before… But, always at a significant cost over a long period of time. We can debate as to how much it will cost and how long it will take in today’s current handball landscape. A handball landscape that is way more professionalized today than it was during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

We can and we should have that debate… Put some real dollar figures in terms of cost per athlete per year of specialized and focused training. And compare that cost to the costs to implement various grass roots programs. Maybe, after one runs the numbers it still makes sense to focus on a program similar to our residency programs of the past. Maybe it’s rebranded as more of a European style Academy effort. Maybe a very few, very high quality athletes are identified and sent quickly to Europe. Maybe, but let’s also consider the Faroe Islands and what they have accomplished with a radically different strategy.

Our Dual Citizen, Faroe Islands-like National Team

Also, needing to be factored in: A pretty decent talent pool of dual citizen American athletes which are sort of a Faroe Islands unto themselves. They’ve grown up playing the game, but they are dispersed all over Europe: USA 20 Man Roster for the 2021 WC

It would actually be pretty interesting to see this current U.S. team play the Faroe Islands. The U.S. would probably be around 5 goal underdogs, but we could beat them… probably not in Torshavn though.

  • Previous related commentaries
    • The “Iceland Strategy”: Focus a large percentage of USA Team Handball’s resources on one geographical location Part 1Part 2
    • Expatica Americana: In recent years, Americans that first learned to play handball in another country have played an ever increasing role with U.S. national teams.  This series takes a closer look at what can be expected from this key cohort. (Aug-Sep 2019)
      • Part 1:  What is a handball American Expat and Philosophically, What is an American?:  Link
      • Part 2:  Understanding this 51st state and its handball demographics: Link
      • Part 3: Can a small, but determined handball nation be competitive against larger nations? Can they win a title?: Link
  • For more insight on the Faroes Islands and Portugal (another smallish nation making noise) check out this session from the Scottish Handball Association Conference: Link

Handball Airing 9 Times/Week in the U.S. on the All Sports TV Network

Handball on TV in the U.S. (With a Few Caveats)

Since mid-April a relatively new start up TV network, the All Sports TV Network, has been broadcasting handball 9 times/week in the U.S. If that headline sounds too good be to true, let’s just say that it does come with a few caveats. Probably the biggest caveat (for already converted handball fans) is that the handball being broadcast is simply repeats of the IHF Olympic Qualification Tournaments that took place in March. Matches that we’ve already seen and can re-watch anytime on the IHF YouTube channel: Link

Another caveat is that the network isn’t available on traditional cable or satellite packages. Instead their strategy is to focus on digital over air channels and on Over the Top (OTT) options like Roku and Amazon Fire. Their website indicates plans to reach up to 70 million homes, but it’s not clear whether that target has been met.

When and How to Watch

The All Sports TV Network is currently showing handball on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 0300, 1100 and 1900 (US ET).  I think a different Olympic qualification match is being repeatedly shown each week and this week it’s a rebroadcast of the Germany vs Sweden Men’s match.

I checked it out via my Roku. To do that first search and add the All Sports TV Network to your channel lineup. Then click on the channel and watch. It’s a pretty decent stream with an HD picture.

Any Handball Exposure is a Good Thing

While this handball viewing opportunity isn’t a big deal for the handful of dedicated handball fans in the U.S. the old adage any promotion is good promotion applies here. The U.S. is a big country and undoubtedly some folks out there unfamiliar with handball are being exposed to the sport for the first time.

Here are a few quotes from the press release highlighting those opportunities:

“We are very excited about having the opportunity to bring team handball to American viewers,” stated ALL SPORTS President Roger Neal Smith. “We truly believe that the United States could, and should, become a major force in team handball. To that end, we plan to do everything we can to help make the American public become more aware of its existence.”

“This is a fantastic opportunity for an American audience to watch top tier handball as the sport continues to gain momentum leading up to the Olympic Games this summer”, stated Ryan Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of USA Team Handball. “The more exposure we can get for this sport in the US, the better. We’re grateful for ALL SPORTS’ efforts to make this happen.”

Future Opportunities?

Again, while today this isn’t a big deal for the dedicated handball fan it does point the way for future opportunities. More and more TV viewing is shifting away from cable/satellite towards streaming/OTT options. Inevitably more handball will be finding its way to channels like the All Sports TV Network. Indeed beach handball has already been shown there and one could envision U.S. National Team matches and our Collegiate and Open Club National Championships eventually finding their way to channels like the All Sports TV Network. Maybe international viewing options too.

Would I prefer to have more prominent OTT options like ESPN+, Peacock and Paramount+ show handball instead? Of course; the more eyeballs the better. That being said sometimes networks like ESPN+ don’t provide the sort of promotion we would like. Case in point: ESPN’s promotion (or lack thereof) of during the 2021 World Championships.

Time will tell, but with handball’s low profile and very small fan base it might be necessary to first start at the lower end of the spectrum and then gradually work our way to more prominent networks. Further, as TV options become more and more fragmented and available for free/low cost a big name network might not even be a requirement to get the handball “foot” in the door.

Scottish Handball Association Hosts International Conference

Sign Up for this Handball Conference

The Scottish Handball Association is hosting an International Conference on Wednesday and Thursday (28-29 April). The theme of the conference is “Beyond Winning and Losing: Collaborating for More Important Results” and all of the briefings and interviews can be viewed online.

  • Conference Website: Link
  • Speakers: Link
  • Schedule: Link
    • Start and Stop times both days
      • 1600-2000 CET
      • 1500-1900 Scotland
      • 1000-1400 US ET
  • Registration: Link

There are several interesting items on the schedule (check it out), but here are a few that I’m looking forward to seeing

  • Wednesday, 28 April
    • 1800 CET: How to build participation in Handball within Scottish Schools
    • 1900 CET: Big Sport, Wee Countries, Big Ambition: What Scottish Handball and other ‘minority’ sports can learn from success of Faroes and Portugal in growing their game
  • Thursday, 29 April
    • 1600 CET: Challenges of Growing Handball: A North American perspective (with yours truly, John Ryan)
    • 1930 CET: British Handball – past, present and future (with handball TV Commentator and British Handball’s Paul Bray)

Challenges of Growing Handball: A North American Perspective

A few notes on this, as it was a fun, informal discussion with yours truly and Scottish Handball’s Stephen Neilson. We covered several topics including the following:

  • How the U.S. and other English speaking countries have tried to varying degrees of success to capitalize on Olympic Opportunities
  • Whether the need to field competitive national teams can be a “distraction” that negatively impacts grass roots development
  • Which English speaking nation might be best on track for a “breakthrough” in the handball world
  • How the current U.S. reliance on dual citizens might impact stateside development… (My perspective might surprise you)

The conference is free and available to all who register.

USA Team Handball Opens Job Search for a Women’s National Team Head Coach… And a Whole Lot More

USA Team Handball seeks a U.S. Women’s Coach that can both build a Women’s National Team program and coach them too. Is there a Handball Bill Belichick out there willing to work for $4,800/year?

On Monday, USA Team Handball posted a job announcement for a Women’s National Team Head Coach.  While the job of a national team coach might be a be a relatively straight forward position in most countries with the U.S., the title of head coach has often come with extra responsibilities.

The main job responsibilities of a coach are pretty well known: They are responsible for selecting the best handball athletes available, preparing them during training windows and then coaching the team in international competition.

And, while U.S. National Team coaches have had those responsibilities, historically, this model was insufficient due to the reality that very few people in the U.S. know what handball is, let alone play the game. In other words, there have been few athletes, if any, to select. And, historically, that has meant the added responsibility of creating a team from scratch.

A Nice Addition to the Coaching Search: An Actual Job Description

I’m not exactly sure how the U.S. hired its coaches in the past. I suspect it was mostly done behind the scenes with word of mouth recommendations, followed by lengthy discussions about how the U.S. job would be “different” and how the coach would be responsible for teaching gifted athletes from other sports how to play handball. A not to unreasonable approach given the circumstances and the course of action that had been chosen.

But times change. Circumstances change. And, I think it’s great that USA Team Handball is having an open search and has more clearly defined the job with an actual job description that lays out these extra roles.

First there is a Scope section that summarizes how the job is different:

“Under the general supervision and with the support of Chief Executive Officer of USA Team Handball
(“USATH”), the Head Coach of the Women’s National Team will lead the planning and implementation of the Women’s National Team Program, including, but not limited to, design and implementation of an athlete identification and transition pipeline.

In contrast with athletes that participate in many U.S. sports and the handballers that grow up in Europe, most U.S. athletes will join handball later in life (between 16 and 22 years old). Athletes will oftentimes have elite sport experience in other disciplines (such as basketball, baseball/softball, volleyball, or water polo), prior to starting a career in handball. It is, therefore, the chief responsibility of the Head Coach to facilitate the recruitment of athletes into the USA Team Handball pipeline and to provide the path for their transition into an elite handballer.”

And, then some of these extra responsibilities are further defined:

  • Work  in collaboration with USATH CEO and the designated High Performance staff of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (“USOPC”) on the development of annual and quadrennial high performance plans.
  • Recruit and retain elite athletes for the Women’s National Team pool, both domestically and internationally.
  • Leverage existing global handball infrastructure for placing athletes with professional clubs, handball academies, or other similar situations to enhance athlete development opportunities outside of Team USA training camps and competitions, and to establish team opportunities for tournaments and training camps.
  • Evaluate the athlete talent pool and continuously upgrade the pool to improve the national team’s competitiveness in international competitions.

The State of U.S. Women’s Handball

Laying out the added responsibilities is all well in good, but probably what’s missing is some context as to just how hard it will be design and implement an athlete identification and transition pipeline.

A while back I started a series of commentaries to address some much needed planning that USA Team Handball needed to undertake.  This series, Charting a Way Forwards for USA Team Handball (Reboot), first identifies “What we have”, then takes a look at “What we want” and then tries to figure out “How we get there”.  I’ve got the first two steps covered, but had paused on the very difficult and challenging 3rd step.  I paused for a number of reasons, but one of those reasons was the enormous chasm between “What we have” and “What we want.”

The series covers everything from National Teams to finances to marketing to grass roots development, but here are the commentaries that specifically address Women’s Handball:

  • Demographics: American Citizen Female Athletes (Overview): Link
  • Demographics: USA Women’s Elite Player Pool (Overview): Link
  • USA Women At-Large and Collegiate Clubs: Link

There are a number of factoids in these articles regarding the current state of the U.S. Women’s program, but underlying everything is the reality that world-wide, there are maybe around 100 American Women that play handball on a regular to semi-regular basis. And, that number will go up or down depending on how loose or strict you want to define “play handball”.

Reality… And, these estimates error on the conservative side.

So, if you’re an outside observer, not familiar with handball in the U.S., you’re reaction might well be, “What the hell? I knew handball wasn’t very popular in the U.S., but that’s ridiculous.”

I could go into a long diatribe on why the U.S. is in this position, but that’s not the point here. (If you are interested, there’s plenty to read up on: Link) No, the point here is simply to understand that it is, indeed, reality. And, it’s why the USA Team Handball since it’s inception has almost entirely relied on “transfer talent” from other sports to field it’s national teams. Because…it’s the only way we could even field a team. Further, I should point out that the ages of talent transfer (ages 16-22) listed in the job description are more “aspirational” than a reflection of current reality. Historically, there have been only a handful of stateside national team athletes that first started playing handball prior to graduating from college. And, for the past 20 years or so the average age has been creeping up to somewhere in the mid 20s.

The U.S. Men as a Reference Point: A Focus on Dual Citizens as an Option?

This stateside challenge, as described, is not just a problem for the U.S. Women, it’s also a problem for the U.S. Men. This is perhaps mostly clearly demonstrated by the rapid transformation of the U.S. Men’s National Team from a mix of stateside/dual citizens to almost exclusively a dual citizen squad. Notably, the final 20 man roster for the 2021 Men’s World Championships was comprised of 17 dual citizens and just 3 athletes that had first learned to play the game stateside.

There’s been talk about conducting tryouts and expanding opportunities for stateside athletes, but the reality is that such athletes either entirely new to handball or training at levels significantly below European standards will struggle to make a U.S. roster for years to become. Not because our state side athletes aren’t dedicated or lacking in terms of raw talent, but because the U.S. has been gifted with a pretty good, if not golden, generation of dual citizen athletes. This generational good fortune has meant that very quickly U.S. Men’s Coach Robert Hedin has been able to put together a respectable side that I think would have surprised some folks at the World Championships. Further, the bulk of this roster is actually pretty young and will be around for years to come. That’s not to say I don’t see stateside efforts being built up and eventually more stateside athletes making U.S. rosters. It’s just that it’s going to take several years.

Could the new U.S. Women’s Coach follow the same blueprint as Coach Hedin? Well, undoubtedly whoever’s hired is going to take a look at his current talent pool and try to duplicate it. Unfortunately, while, the U.S. Women have some solid dual citizens they can rely on they have nowhere near the quantity or quality that U.S. Men’s coach, Robert Hedin can rely on. At least, I don’t think there are any hidden Hueter sisters that will magically appear out of nowhere, but I’m open to being pleasantly surprised.

Lacking this dual citizen option and a very thin talent pool means the very difficult task of creating a team from scratch has to be more aggressively pursued. Because if it’s not pursued the U.S. Women will struggle to field a competitive side.

Maybe Coaches Should be Hired to… Coach?

Having been around awhile and having observed and experienced first hand U.S. efforts to create national teams mostly from scratch I’ve come to a conclusion. You can call me old fashioned if you like, but personally I think coaches shouldn’t be hired to design and implement an athlete identification and transition pipeline. I think coaches should be hired to… well, coach.

There’s a couple of reason for this. First, the skill set inherent in planning, designing and implementing a National Team Program doesn’t match the skill set of most coaches. Coaches conduct practices, prepare their teams and lead them in competition. They really know the game and they know how to make their players better handball players. Some of those raw skills could be applied to the very complicated task of planning and designing a National Team Program, but I would argue that it’s a different job requiring greater planning and organizational skills.

The second reason is directly related to the “different mind set” most coaches have. Coaches, at least any coach worth his salt, are hard wired to focus on winning matches. Maybe in the back of their minds they are taking long term goals into consideration, but the focus is primarily figuring out how to win their next match. It’s what they do. It’s what’s expected of them. At the end of the day it’s how their performance as a coach will ultimately be judged. This reality is in direct conflict with the long term goal of building a National Team Program. And, in the unique case of the U.S. with a 2028, seven year timeframe to consider the required mindsets couldn’t be more different. Yes, smart long term program building decisions could in some instances be extremely detrimental to the prospects of near term results.

The analogy (while imperfect) that applies here is the General Manager (GM) / Coach roles and responsibilities split typically used in professional sports organizations. The GM makes the decisions that affect the long term direction of the organization. He ultimately decides what players are acquired and at what cost while the coach is responsible for taking the players he’s been given and… coaching the team. This doesn’t mean that the GM and coach don’t work closely together, just that there is a lead/follower relationship in terms of long term/near term responsibilities.

A Bill Belichick for USA Team Handball?

But, maybe there’s somebody out there in the Handball world who can actually do both the way that Bill Belichick is both the GM and Coach of of the New England Patriots? I guess he’s been relatively successful. That remains to be seen, but I’m guessing he might have higher salary requirements than the $4,800/year currently being offered.

Handball on ESPN (Final Review: Part 2): My Long Standing Prediction was Wrong… Here are some Reasons Why

Totally Bewildering: ESPN promotes handball to new fans… but, does so only after the World Championships on ESPN+ are over.

In Part 1, I documented how ESPN’s broadcast of the 2021 Men’s Handball World Championship was a disappointment in terms of viewership and buzz. In Part 2, I look at some of the reasons why it came up so short of my expectations.

So, why weren’t handball broadcasts on ESPN+ a major game changer like I predicted? Here are some reasons that I’ve come up with:

Reason #1) ESPN+ Viewership is Nowhere Near Traditional ESPN’s… Yet

It’s hard to predict the future, but there are a lot of signs that streaming or Over the Top (OTT) video is the future. More and more content is being placed on streaming platforms, be it Netflix, ESPN+, NBC Peacock or Paramount+. But, the future is not the present and in the present world we live in regular TV is still king, especially for sports.

A recent NY Times article on the NFL’s new TV rights deal highlights that money is the primary reason this is the case:

“Streaming is the present of movies and TV series and the future of sports, and growth in that sector is what is currently rewarded by Wall Street. But the number of people who pay to stream sports, and the amounts they pay, are dwarfed by the tens of millions of American households that still spend $50, $100 or even $150 each month for a television package.”

The number of Cable/satellite subscribers has been steadily decreasing. At one point the traditional (or linear) ESPN channel had over 100M subscribers, but it’s now closer to 80M. But, while that number has been dropping, it’s still far more than the number of ESPN+ subscribers, which just passed 12M. Don’t get me wrong, 12M is still a lot of people, but it’s not as many we’d like and it’s on a streaming platform that’s just starting to get traction.

Reason #2) ESPN+ “Discovery Opportunities” Were Very Limited

When it comes to marketing team handball in the U.S. the sport has a huge awareness problem in that the vast majority of Americans are not even aware that the sport exists. Over the years, TV broadcasts, particularly in the Olympics have been the single biggest way to dampen that awareness problem as it exposes millions of people to the sport.

I had hoped that placing handball on ESPN+ would have a similar, albeit smaller, effect. Unfortunately, this failed for a couple of reasons. First, I suspect that many ESPN+ subscribers are not in the habit yet of wandering around looking for something to watch the same way many of us are now when it comes to finding something to watch on Netflix. That’s somewhat to be expected and I would bet that changes over time.

What was really disappointing, though, was how hard ESPN made it to find handball on ESPN+. During, the World Championships I fielded dozens of messages from worried handball fans wondering where the next handball match was on ESPN+. Heck, I myself, was worried a couple of times as I scrolled all over the place trying to find a match that was scheduled to start in 15 minutes or so. However, as I came to learn, ESPN typically did not post the icon for upcoming matches until 5 minutes before they started. Worse, even though it was a live event it was often nowhere to be seen on the main page and only viewable after scrolling past several basketball games that were scheduled to be played later.

And, we can forget about the possibility of “forever content” that I was hoping for as there is no handball icon next to the rugby or cricket icon for potential new fans to discover handball. Just a few weeks after the World Championships, all handball match replays have already disappeared so, for sure, no one poking around ESPN+ is going to stumble upon handball.

Reason #3) ESPN’s Promotion of Handball on ESPN+ was Very, Very Limited

But, the most disappointing, frustrating and at times bewildering reason for ESPN+ having little if any impact was ESPN’s lack of promotion on their TV, radio and social media platforms.

In fact, over the course of the tournament, to the best of my knowledge there were zero handball mentions on radio and zero social media posts about handball. And, the only TV mention I’m aware of was Swedish GK Andreas Palicka’s great save against France making Sports Center’s Top 10. That was nice… But why couldn’t ESPN have turned that great play into an Instagram post with a USA Team Handball tag and a reminder to their 22M followers to head over to to ESPN+ to watch more handball?

That would have been such an incredibly simple and smart thing for ESPN to do… But, instead we got nothing… nada… zero… zilcho. It was almost as if ESPN was purposely hiding its handball content.

What really has me shaking my head, is that in the past ESPN had been responsible for some of the greatest handball promotion ever in the U.S. Yes, the 2 most viral handball related social media post are still 2 old ESPN SportsCenter Instagram posts: Sigurdsson’s penalty rebound goal with 2.2M views in January, 2018 and Diego Simonet’s nifty behind the back goal with 1.2M views in September, 2017. Each of those posts also have thousands of comments along the lines of, “What a cool sport!”; “That looks like fun.”; and “Where can I play this?” And, these videos were posted when handball broadcasts actually were on another TV network. Yes, ESPN was inadvertently advertising for beIN Sports.

So, why on earth couldn’t we even get one (just one) handball shout out when handball was actually having 2 matches broadcasted daily on a ESPN platform?

You would think that would be a no brainer, but, we couldn’t any love, until, get this: ESPN randomly posted some top plays from the EHF Champions League a couple of weeks ago with the words, “Handball looks too fun”. This timing is just so puzzling. It’s as if someone is mocking me, but the reality is probably simpler. The right hand doesn’t talk to the left hand at ESPN or they just don’t really care much about promoting their own content on ESPN+. Regardless, sometimes I just don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Reason #4) Team USA did not Participate in the World Championships

Finally, there’s also an underlying reason that perhaps more than anything resulted in less buzz overall and promotion at ESPN. And, that reason is that due to multiple positive COVID test results the U.S. had to withdraw from the World Championships. We don’t know how well the U.S. would have done, but, Team USA participating for the first time in 20 years would have drawn more interest in the halls of ESPN and I’d like to think better promotion across the board. More mentions and some highlights on SportsCenter. Some handball talk on ESPN radio. Maybe even an interview or two with the U.S. coach and some players. Instagram posts, Tweets, etc., etc., etc.,

At least that’s what I like to think would have happened. Alas, with the U.S. dropping out we’ll never know if it would indeed have been significantly different. Or, as I had hoped an epic game changer.

But, hopefully there will be more chances for handball to make some TV waves in the not too distant future. In Part 3, I’ll take a final look at the ESPN experiment and explore some other possibilities coming up in the not too distant future.

European Nations at the Olympics: A Gradual Shift Westward is Now Fully Realized

2020 Men’s Olympic Qualifiers: The West has Won. No Eastern European Nations. No Balkan Nations Either

Christer Ahl has retired from handball journalism and commentary, but I still get the occasional email from him regarding the latest competition.  The latest missive sent last night was simply titled:  “Remarkable” and started off like this:

“Never thought I would see it happen in my lifetime: all the European men’s team in the Olympics either Nordic or Latin; absolutely nobody from the Eastern part; Of course, many decades ago, Austria was the easternmost team where handball existed; but then the idea of Portugal playing handball, or even Spain…..”

Christer, who was involved with the IHF in one capacity or another from 1977 to 2009 has seen it all and indeed this is the first time there will be no nation from Eastern Europe participating in the Olympics. For that matter it joins 1992 as the only Olympics in which no nation from the former Yugoslavia has qualified. And, prior to that Yugoslavia participated in every Olympics from 1972 to 1988.

A Gradual Shift

Yes, indeed, if one looks at the 1970s and 1980s maps below the 2020 map does look a bit strange. It didn’t happen overnight and if one looks at the maps below, it’s been a gradual shift westward. There surely are a number of reasons this has occurred, but for the most part I think it mirrors the growing professionalism of handball in Western Europe and the corresponding decreasing state support to national team programs in Eastern Europe.

This doesn’t mean that handball isn’t being played in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. One just has to look at the rosters on pro clubs to see that isn’t true. But, what has changed over time has been the ability of Western European nations to develop better home grown talent. Gone are the days of club rosters totally reliant on ringers/jokers from Eastern Europe. For sure those ringers are still on rosters… but, they are more complimentary than dominant. They help bring up the overall quality of play which in turn develops more talent across the board.

Momentary Blip or a Trend for the Future?

So is this just a momentary blip or a trend for the future. I’m thinking it’s a blip, but only because Eastern Europe is looking more and more like Western Europe as the clubs and leagues become more commercialized. Poland and Hungary have decent leagues and top clubs like Szeged are building new arenas. The SEHA league is also enabling some of the clubs in smaller nations to get better competition. More talent will be able to stay home and that will trickle down and support the development of more in country talent.

European Nations Participating in Men’s Olympic Handball Competitions (1972-2020)

USA Team Handball Parts Ways with Coach Latulippe: The Right Decision… but, Why Did it Take 8 Years? and is the Timing Right with a Big Tournament Coming Up?

Coach Latulippe addresses the U.S. Women. After 8 years as coach his contract was not renewed.

Yesterday, USA Team Handball announced that after 8 years it was parting ways with USA Women’s Coach, Christian Latulippe. There are a lot of euphemisms for getting fired and “parting ways” is one of them. My understanding is that his contract was up and that the decision was made not to renew it. Here’s my take on this decision:

A Strange Hire to Begin With

I’ll make no secret that I didn’t think coach Latulippe should have ever been hired in the first place.  The U.S announcement didn’t mention it, but this was actually Latulippe’s 2nd stint with the U.S. Women as he was also coach from 2004-2007.   As I pointed out in this commentary back in 2013 his first stint with the U.S. was less than stellar.  The metrics included a poor W-D-L record, mediocre recruiting and a failed residency program at Cortland, NY.  He was also fired (or resigned) just prior to a PANAM Games qualification tournament in 2007.  Based on all those factors I saw little rationale for bringing him back in 2013.

A Closer Look at the Latulippe Record

Coach Latulippe’s 2nd time around has produced better results than his first, but there clearly have been far more low points than high points.  Here’s a summary of results from all the major competitions that the U.S. has played in under his tenure.  (Major competitions being defined as events that are either part of World Championships or Olympic Qualification.)

A 19-2-22 record can be described as mediocre or disappointing depending on one’s perspective.  The U.S. has not come close to beating Brazil or Argentina, but can be considered roughly on par with the half dozen teams below those two regional powers.  That being said, more often than not, the U.S. has come up short in the big matches between those similar foes.  Probably the biggest and most disappointing was losing the 2 match PANAM Games qualification series to Uruguay in 2015.  At the time, Coach Latulippe was running a full time residency program and most of the team was practicing together on a regular basis.  To not even qualify for the PANAM Games was a major failure, one that arguably and reasonably suggested that it was time for a major overhaul.

Instead, the U.S. Women’s program has muddled along for the past 6 years.  It was never clearly reported, but the nature of Coach Latulippe’s coaching role shifted in 2015 from a full time residency coach to more of a part time role.  He moved to France, but still coached the team in major competitions and in periodic training camps combined with friendly matches.  The U.S. National Team also started to recruit and add more dual citizens to the roster.  It’s not clear how much Coach Latulippe was paid and what his fully defined responsibilities were, but arguably he did a pretty decent job cobbling together a National Team program with very limited resources.  Certainly the U.S. was travelling and playing quite a few matches vs respectable competition all on a shoestring or nonexistent budget.

Still, the results in the big competitions never materialized.  Meanwhile, similar teams also with limited resources managed to qualify for the World Championships.  Puerto Rico in 2015, Paraguay in 2017, Cuba in 2019.  The 2019 North American & Caribbean Championships were another big disappointment.  The U.S. had qualified for the PANAM Games, but with a World Championship berth on the line the U.S. ended up finishing in 5th place behind Cuba, Puerto Rico, Greenland and the Dominican Republic.  With then recently hired CEO Barry Siff in place, it seemed like a logical time for a coaching change, but no change was made. I’m not sure why, but I suspect with the PANAM Games coming up it was assessed that there wasn’t time to effectively install a new coach before a major tournament.

2019 PANAM Games (The Best U.S. Performance in Years)

At the 2019 PANAM Games the U.S. Women arguably had their best performance in the Christian Latulippe era.  Handed a favorable draw, they took care of Peru and the Dominican Republic and qualified for the semifinals.  It was no surprise that they got overwhelmed by Brazil, 34-9, but they came very close to a bronze medal losing a close match to Cuba, 24-23.  Yes, ironically, Coach Latulippe is getting fired after arguably the best performance by a U.S. Women’s team in a major competition since the 2003 PANAM Games (where the U.S. also placed 4th). 

The Right Decision… Why Did it Take 8 Years?

How a team performed in the last tournament is pretty important, but coaching changes should still be made after assessing the entire body of work. And, if one assesses the entire body of work it’s hard to argue that the U.S. had made great progress or was headed on an upwards trajectory. Results were mediocre at best and really the only logical question is why wasn’t the trigger pulled earlier?

There are likely several reasons, but here are a few that probably came into play:

  • Tempered Expectations: With limited resources being applied to the Women’s program could anyone realistically expect significantly better results? No, not really. Slightly better results could and should have been possible. The U.S. should have qualified for the 2015 PANAM Games and probably attended 1 World Championship since 2015. But, qualify for an Olympic Games? Beat Brazil or a European team? Not a chance.
  • Minimal Compensation Requirements: It’s not clear what Coach Latulippe’s compensation was during his 8 years at the helm. Initially, he was paid an annual salary, but after 2015 I suspect he was paid minimally. In the USA announcement, National Team player Jennifer Fithian is quoted as saying, “Time and again, Christian has donated his time, money and efforts to give us the opportunity to compete over the past 15 years.” I’ve bold-faced the “donated his time, money and efforts” and that’s pretty telling. Certainly, no handball power National Team Coach is in the practice of donating time and money. Volunteering on some level, however, is a somewhat common practice for developing programs like the U.S.
  • Lack of Other Options: Again, the donation of time, money applies here. Behind the scenes, I suspect Coach Latulippe was actually pretty effective at running a shoestring operation. Over the past few years, the U.S. women managed to play quite a few friendly matches in Europe and S. Korea. He also seems to have a great relationship with a core group of athletes that he’s managed to keep together. Could a new coach have been hired to do the same sort of job with the same sort of compensation?

The Right Decision… The Right Time?

The U.S. has a big tournament hopefully coming up this Summer: The North American & Caribbean Championship. The winner will qualify for the World Championships and it may even be hosted in the U.S. The favorite will be the 2019 winner, Cuba, and Coach Latulippe and the U.S. Women came very close to beating that Cuba side at the 2019 PANAM Games. Having coached the U.S. Women for 8 years he knows his roster and his competition inside and out.

We’ll see who the new coach is, but if they are a newcomer to the program they will be coming in blind with a roster and opposing foes they are not familiar with. Making the transition to a new coach even tougher will be the COVID situation likely making it challenging to prepare for the tournament. Maybe they will get a good training camp with some competitive friendly matches before the tournament… Maybe they won’t.

Regardless, it goes without saying that a new coach can be a catalyst for better performances. Heck, it often doesn’t even matter if the new coach is a better coach. Change, in and of itself, is what’s needed. But, on the other hand, sometimes the disruption that results from change presents new problems that can’t be overcome. Assuming there is indeed a Championship this summer it will be very interesting to see how the U.S. Women will respond and perform.

While the upcoming North American & Caribbean Championships are important, the far bigger question is what the plan is for the U.S. Women’s program going forward. Arguably, figuring out that forward is more important than selecting a U.S. coach. In fact, the U.S. probably shouldn’t even hire a long term coach until it figures out what that coach will be responsible for. This will be discussed in more detail in a follow on commentary.