USA Handball Talk (Episode 19): Roam Around the Handball World

JD and John discuss USA National Teams in action on three continent: The USA Men friendly matches in Europe, the USA Men at the NORCA Championships and both Men’s and Women’s Beach National Teams in Brazil.

Here’s a summary with links to some of the items we discussed:

  • B-52’s Roam (Around the World): Link
  • Athens (GA) Rock Lobsters: Link (actually a minor league ice hockey team)
    • B-52’s Rock Lobster: Link
    • Note: Next week’s music segment will continue to discuss the Athens alternative music scene of the 1980’s and will feature R.E.M. as John has their entire discography
  • The Savanna Bananas: Link (Yes, they’ve transitioned to a travelling road show)
  • Ichthyosaur: John’s proposed nickname for the Las Vegas Handball Club he helped start: Link (His suggestion did not gain traction and Scorpions was selected. He still has the DC Diplomats, though to claim)
  • The originations of the Wild Card: Germany was eliminated in 2015 World Championship qualification and it became very apparent that this would be very detrimental to the value of the TV rights in the largest handball market. Australia was removed on shaky grounds: Link
  • France vs USA Video highlights: Link
  • Abou Fofana Highlight Reel: Link
  • Handnews.fr match summary: Link
  • 2024 NORCA Championship: USA Men’s Goals Scored
  • 2024 NORCA Championship: USA Men’s Goals Scored by position
  • IHF Beach Gloabal Tour Stage 1: Link

Watch on YouTube or listen/download the mp3 file at the top of the page

If you have any suggestions for future topics that you would like us to consider please let us know on social media.


Don’t miss an episode:

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And, be sure to check out the podcast archive with interviews and great handball discussion going all the way back to 2006: Link

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USA Handball National Championship Review (Part 2): Mercenary Teams Flying in Pros to Win a National Championship; Are we Really OK with this?

In part 1 I addressed the low American participation rate at our National Championships. In part 2, I take a closer look at the eclectic California Eagles roster which won the National Title. It’s time for USA Team Handball to put a stop to this nonsense.

Correlation Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Causation…

When you write a lot of commentaries sometimes you wonder if anybody even reads them. For sure, quite a few people see the social media post, think, “just John Ryan complaining about something again” and swipe until they get to something more entertaining. Yes, in a TLDR world, it’s easy for my commentaries to get skipped.

But, sometimes they do get read and sometimes they can even be a catalyst for change… maybe? After the IHF Super Globe this past fall I wrote a commentary which criticized the composition of the San Francisco CalHeat roster which was composed mostly of athletes that weren’t American and/or didn’t live anywhere near San Francisco.

I’m not sure the exact timeline of events, but not too long afterwards, SF CalHeat and their long time coach, Danilo Rojevic, parted ways. (Keep in mind, SF Cal Heat had won the last 3 national championships.) Rojevic then became the head coach for the California Eagles which are (sort of) based in Southern California, even though, Rojevic, as far as I know still lives in the Bay Area. Probably, not coincidentally, several athletes, many with mercenary like attributes also transferred from SF CalHeat to the California Eagles

And, then as a contrast we have the rosters for SF CalHeat at the recent National Championships. Best I can tell, SF CalHeat’s 1st team roster is mostly composed of Bay Area residing athletes and their 2nd team had more Americans than any other team at nationals.

Maybe some folks at CalHeat took my commentary to heart? Maybe? It could be just a coincidence in timing. It could also very well be that they might have been thinking along the same lines and my commentary just distilled the full extent of the “problem.” Again, it’s all a big maybe.

A Closer Look at the California Eagles Roster

But, just in case my commentary from last November helped people make some decisions here’s another roster breakdown to perhaps again serve as a catalyst for a change in direction.

First a quick note on the methodology (or lack there of) used. The roster information comes from the USA Team Handball Sport 80 National Championship Page and the Results file. I then did Google searches and checked social media websites to assess nationality and place of residency. And, no, I didn’t contact anyone directly with these nosy questions. There could well be some errors as social media data could be old or inaccurate, but I think this summary is accurate enough to get a basic picture of the team’s composition.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • The California Eagles had more athletes from the 2023 SF CalHeat Super Globe roster on their team than the SF CalHeat team participating at the National Championships.
  • The bulk of the scoring came from athletes that didn’t play for the California Eagles prior to this season,
  • Best that I can tell nine of these athletes don’t live in Southern California and four of those nine athletes don’t even live in the U.S.
  • Two new additions (Bjorn Christensen Mathiassen and Marcus Rene Næss Soltvedt had just finished their season playing for Bergen in Norway’s top division. Mathiassen, in particular, appears to have played a pretty big role, leading the team with 25 goals, including 12 in the gold medal match
  • At first glance, one addition to the roster, former Montpellier Right Back, Maxime Bouschet, looks like an obvious mercenary. But, his LinkedIn profile makes it pretty clear he’s not. He’s living in Southern California and doing post doctoral work at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). That’s pretty cool and this is exactly the type of expat that helps grow the game.

“Powering Up” and the “Need to Make Compromises”

On a recent Red, White and Glue podcast, California Eagles Coach, Danilo Rojevic, reflected on the SF CalHeat Super Globe experience and its roster composition. The addition of athletes who were neither American nor living anywhere near San Francisco was euphemistically referred to as “powering up” and he indicated that it was pretty much necessary to be more competitive at a Super Globe.

And, of course, he’s correct. A North American club consisting of amateurs who live in the same geographic area is almost always going to be a weaker team than one that “powers up.” Case in point, the Mexican Club, Ministros, was the North American & Caribbean representative at the 2022 Super Globe. They went 0-4 with an average Goal Differential of -19 goals. Whereas, CalHeat went 1-3 with an average Goal Differential of -8.25.

But, there’s no requirement to add ringers, jokers, mercenaries or whatever you want to call powering up your roster. Ministros has proven that. They didn’t get the highly coveted win over the Oceania entrant, but I don’t think they made any compromises. The reality is this: There is no NEED to compromise a club roster so that you can win a championship. But, sure a club might WANT to compromise their roster so they can win a championship. Bottom line: need and want are two very different things.

Two Key Points to Reiterate

I guess I should first reiterate two key points that I’ve made previously:

1) Nobody is breaking any rules: I highly doubt that the California Eagles broke any rules. The U.S. rule book has a requirement for athletes to participate in one other sanctioned tournament to qualify for “Elite,” but, since there was another enitity organizing domestic competition this year the championship was actually a Div 1 championship instead of an an Elite championship. And, then there are no residency requirements. Athletes can live anywhere and play for any club. And, “anywhere” literally means anywhere (Europe, Antartica, etc.)

2) Plenty of room for whataboutism: And, the Eagles aren’t the first team to power up. SF Cal Heat has done it before, but apparently has decided to change course. The New York City Team Handball Club has also added players including 2 athletes from Montpellier’s Academy last year. (Kylian Prat receiving the MVP award) NYAC, which is only loosely connected to New York City, has athletes from all over the U.S., so by default they are pretty much a mercenary squad that never even practices.

Multiple Issues of Concern- Let’s Recognize them and Avoid Conflating them

There are several issues related to club rosters in terms to both the nationality and locality of the athletes. And, while the nationality and locality of athletes are somewhat intertwined, we shouldn’t conflate them as all just one big issue. Below is an attempt to first describe the situation we have with club rosters without identifing the concerns we might have with each situation:

  • Some clubs have athletes on their rosters who don’t even live in the United States
  • Some clubs have athletes on their rosters who live nowhere near the club’s geographic location
  • Some clubs have no real geographic location and simply get together for competition
  • Many clubs have rosters which are almost exclusively expats

To varying degrees I have concerns with each of these issues. Here are some of those concerns:

  • Fairness: To varying degrees adding players skews the competition. Intrinsically I don’t think it’s “fair” for a club relying on local players to compete against clubs that are “powering up” with players from anywhere in the U.S. or even from Europe.
  • Arms Race: I guess one could say that all clubs are free to power up. But, this results in an arms race to secure players. Is this where we want clubs to focus their energy?
  • Lack of American participation: I think the current structure of adding players to rosters contributes to fewer Americans playing, particularly for clubs seeking to compete for a title. This is because with only a handful of exceptions adding an American means a weaker team Because of this USA Team Handball should consider the addition of citizenship quotas and/or age requirements to incentivize player development.
  • Player free agency and it’s detriment to regional growth: With athletes free to play for any club, anywhere they often seek the best deal for themselves. This has resulted in the somewhat strange situation of an athlete choosing to be a mercenary for a better club nowhere near where they live rather than play for the nearby weaker club.

Time for Decision Makers to Review this Situation… and Make Decisions

Depending on where you stand you may or may not be concerned with any or some of these issues. Or, perhaps you might be concerned, but believe that not much could or should be done about it. After all, these sort of roster manipulations have been taking place for quite awhile. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it…

Except I think it is pretty broken. Perhaps like the proverbial frog in the slowly boiling pot we’ve just slowly become adjusted to more and more manipulation to the point where it just seems perfectly normal to fly in pros from Norway or France to play in a U.S. National Championship.

Well, I say it’s time jump out of the boiling pot. It is not normal to fly in pros to win an amateur handball competition. It is silly and it should not be allowed. Full Stop.

Seriously, it just makes a total mockery out of our national championships and our would be club system. It accomplishes nothing and is detrimental to what should be the primary goal for handball in the U.S. Namely, growing the domestic game in the U.S.

At least it all seems pretty damn clear to me… But, then again, I’m just some guy with a website and a bunch of opinions. I don’t make the decisions… I just try to put the information out there for others that are empowerd to make decisions.

Individual clubs can decide to change direction, but doing the right thing will result in a decrease in performance. With a significantly weaker roster the 3 time defending champs, SF CalHeat finished in 4th place at this year’s nationals. Not every club is likely to make similar changes so creating a fair playing field across the board is clearly the purview of the USA Team Handball Board of Directors and it’s administrative staff. Perhaps some board members weren’t aware that several athletes fly in from overseas to play at the U.S. Championships. Or, maybe some were aware, but slowly boiling in the pot. Or, maybe they’ve thought about it and are perfectly Ok with that reality.

Regardless, the board should review that situation and decide if they are OK with it. And, if they aren’t OK… what they are going to do about it. Then, if they are going to take a look at that aspect it would also make sense to look at the other locality and nationality issues. And, whether any tweaks to roster requirements would make sense to help put a bit more of a U.S. stamp on the U.S. National Championships. And, to help grow the game domestically.

At least that’s what I think should happen. Ignorance should be no excuse and very importantly… doing nothing is also a decision. A decision to stick with the status quo.

What will happen, though? Well, a few months ago I would have thought nothing, per usual. But, then again maybe the SF CalHeat change of direction might just spur the USA Team Handball Board of Directors to also make some changes.

(Note: An earlier version of this commentary incorrectly identified the two players that played for NYC last years as professionals. They were actually members of Montpellier’s Academy program.)

USA Handball Talk (Episode 18): Oh, America

JD and John discuss the USA Men’s opening match vs Mexico at the NORCA Championships, handball streaming and the USA National Championships which actually had more Canadians than Americans participating in it.

Here’s a summary with links to some of the items we discussed:

  • 2024 Men’s NORCA Competition website: Link
    • Competition Schedule: Link
    • Results: Link
  • January 2008 commentary on the 2008 European Championships (The last and perhaps only time the EHF charged for streaming): Link
  • Streaming platforms
    • USA Team Handball’s Joymo streaming platform: Link ($4.99 this past weekend)
    • Typical High School streaming service: Link ($79.99/year or $11.99/month; also available per event)
    • ehfTV: Link (Free)
    • HBL-TV: Link (39.99 Euros/season)
  • USA National Championship Results: Link
  • John’s commentary on more Canadians than Americans playing at the recent USA National Championships: Link
  • Social media post on San Francisco CalHeat’s 2nd team which had more Americans and younger athletes than the typical USA club team: Link

Watch on YouTube or listen/download the mp3 file at the top of the page

If you have any suggestions for future topics that you would like us to consider please let us know on social media.


Don’t miss an episode:

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  • Follow the Team Handball News podcast on Spotify: Link
  • Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

And, be sure to check out the podcast archive with interviews and great handball discussion going all the way back to 2006: Link

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USA Handball National Championship Review (Part 1): Low American Participation- Does it Matter?

The USA Team Handball National Championships took place this past weekend in Spokane, Washington. I didn’t attend, but still have a few thoughts regarding this competition. In part 1, I take a look at the demographics of the participating teams.

Overview

A total of 20 teams participated this past weekend at the U.S. National Handball Championships .There were 6 men’s team in Divsion 1; 9 men’s teams in Division 2 and 5 women’s teams taking part. Thee California Eagles won the Men’s D1 title. The Prairie Selects from Canada won the Men’s D2 title and the NYC Team Handball Club took home the Women’s title. All the results can be accessed here: Link

Methodology

To create a demographics snapshot I reviewed the rosters that were available for viewing online in USA Team Handball’s Sport 80 platform: Link (Note: this link will probably disappear shortly after the tournament is completed).

I then reviewed the names on the rosters, using a mixture of personal knowledge and an “assessment” as to whether the name was likely that of an American citizen. Of course, anyone familiar with what a melting pot the U.S. is, knows that such an assessment is going to have errors. To counteract such errors if a club had 10 “foreign looking” names I figured that at least 2 or 3 of them might be deceptive and factured that into the totals. So, while this data has precise numbers they most certainly aren’t. Still for the purposes of this snapshot look these numbers are probably not too far off.

For the 2024 College National Championships held in April I used an average of 12 athletes/team and feedback from players and coaches as to whether any participating students didn’t have U.S. citizenship. Again, not perfect data, but useful.

Demographics Snapshot

Here’s an overview of the nationality for both the men’s and women’s athletes at this year’s championships:

With two Canadian women’s teams and five Canadian men’s teams participating in Division 2 I also thought it woud be interesting to assess Canadian participation. As suspected, there were likely more Canadians than Americans participating at the U.S. National Championships. This assumes the Canadian teams were mostly Canadians. Not to mention the fact that based on social media posts I think Boston might have had more Canadians than Americans playing for them.

Low American Citizenship Participation

Optically, this data should raise a few eyebrows. The athletes at the U.S. Men’s Handball Championship are only around 20-25% American citizens. The Women’s Championship had only around 5-10%. More Canadians than Americans participating in a U.S. Championship. Really? How can that be?

Well, it’s just the reality of handball in the U.S. And, it’s nothing new. It’s pretty much been this way for the last 20 years or so. I did some similar analysis back in 2019:

  • USA Club Programs
    • Part 1: Understanding the USA Club Structure and At-Large Men’s Clubs: Link
    • Part 2: Collegiate Men’s Clubs: Our Most American Competition with Opportunities for Growth: Link
    • Part 3: USA Women At-Large and Collegiate Clubs: Link
    • Part 4: Why there are so Few Clubs and Why the Rosters Mostly Consist of Expats: Link

If one looks back at the 2019 data you’ll find similar percentages for the Championships that year, albeit a bit higher in terms of American participating. As both the data for the 2019 and 2024 championships are snapshots one shouldn’t see either year as definitive. And, for sure, this year is a bit quirky with the Championships again being held in the harder to get to location of Spokane, Washington and another entity (the US Handball Union) organizing most of the tournaments this year.

It would be super interesting to see this data tracked year to year, but anecdotally with some authority I’ll just say that the U.S. Open Club Handball Championships could be pretty much described as an expat handball festival with some Americans sprinkled in for good measure. That’s not necessarily a bad thing… or a good thing. But, that is what it is.

For old timers this reality is somewhat hard to stomach. This is because our national championships in the 80s and 90s were essentially the reverse: Mostly American citizens with some expats sprinkled in for good measure.

At this year’s championships I think only San Francisco CalHeat’s 2nd team and, possibly the Wolves (based out of Denver) had teams where the majority of the athletes were American citizens. If you took all the male U.S. citizens (~40) that particpated and put them all together you could probably form a total of 3 teams. And, I don’t even think we could have fielded a single U.S. women’s team. Further, if one wants to separate out naturalized American citizens and Americans that grew up in other countries the numbers would be even worse.

Low American Participation: Does it Matter? Should anything be done about it?

But, do these low American participation rates actually matter? The answer to that question depends on your perspective. Intrinsically, I think everyone, even expats, would really like to see more Americans playing. That said I’ve seen a number of different reactions to include:

  • Action is needed to address the problem: A handful of people would like to see regulations to increase American participation. This could include the elimination of foreign clubs participating and limiting the number of foreign athletes on rosters.
  • Simply not a problem: Some people get annoyed with the mere thought of “binning” athletes by their nationality “It’s devisive and it just doesn’t matter… we’re here to play handball and we don’t care where anyone is from.”
  • Resignation: The old, “It is what is is” mantra applies here. We may not like it, but there’s not a whole lot that can be done about it. I think most people probably fall into this camp.

My Perspective: Staus Quo on Adult Clubs, All in on Collegiate

A part of me would like to see some regulations and incentives that would incentivize U.S. clubs to increase their American citizenship numbers. A combination of “carrots and sticks” with hopefully more carrots than sticks. Right now there is little to no incentive for a club to make such an effort. Organizing and running a club is hard enough as it is. Convincing American citizens to play and then teaching them to play, all while being competitive is next to mission impossible. Most clubs are not likely to really tackle this challenge unless they get some help or are essentially forced to.

But, while USA Team Handball could implement an incentive strategy I’m not so sure it would work. Carrots to incentivize developing American players would probably be received favorably, but there would certainly be resistance to any sort of roster control. And, I don’t think carrots alone would be sufficient enough to do the trick.

Because of this reality, I’m inclined (or perhaps resigned) to maintaining the status quo. Provide our expat teams and even Canadian clubs the opportunity to compete in a National Championships. Competition is good and who knows maybe some old school, primarily American citizen teams will also start to emerge.

Instead, I think efforts to expand the number American citizens playing handball should simply follow the data. All one has to do is look at the percentage of Americans playing college handball which is near 100%. And, the resources and structures that colleges provide to their club sports. And, the multitude of students all living in the same location looking for a club to join. It is a no-brainer as to where the focus should be if one wants to gets more Americans playing the sport: It should go towards expanding and improving the collegiate game.

So, while the low American participation rate at the U.S. National Championships is a concern I would be hesitant to enact new rules to increase the numbers of Americans playing. In part 2 of this series I will take a closer look at the super clubs that often take home the title.

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USA Team Handball’s “Lack of Funding” and Why that May Soon be Changing

This is part of an ongoing series, “Charting a way forward for USA Team Handball” which is a series of commentaries exploring different initiatives to help move the sport forward in this country.

Recently USA Team Handball CEO, Martin Branick was interviewed on the Red, White & Glue podcast. One of the questions he was asked was, “Why does the USATH seem to suffer from a lack of funds?” Branick responded with this explanation:

“I think the number one thing that we always have to remember that’s different in the U.S. compared to well, every other country except the others is that Olympic sports in the U.S. are not government funded. Right. So there’s no government entity. There’s not a department of sports or a ministry of sports that supports all of these Olympic disciplines or non-Olympic disciplines. So we rely on the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee as a private enitity, non-profit entity, we rely on private contributions and partnerships to fund our entire Olympic movement in the U.S. And, I think that’s one of the biggest differences is when you don’t have government funding you’re just subject to a different set of parameters in getting resources”

This explanation includes several true statements, but it’s also misleading. Here’s why:

  • The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) is, indeed, not a government entity and the implication is that a U.S. Ministry of Sports would make different funding decisions. While it’s true that some countries (with a sport ministry) provide support more equally across all sports, it’s also true that that many countries (just like the USOPC) provide far less to their handball federation. Just ask any Canadian or British handball fan… And, this is not just a handball issue. For instance, I suspect that handball nations like Denmark and Germany shortchange less popular sports like baseball and rugby.
  • The lack of U.S. government funding support doesn’t mean the USOPC coffers are empty. On the contrary, the USOPC is flush with cash. The 2023 financial report shows $345M in annual revenue. There’s plenty of money to go round… the decision has simply been made not to “go round” to all the sports under their umbrella. (more on that topic below)
  • For the USOPC there’s also no real hardship in “relying on private contributions and partnerships.” The private contributions don’t amount to much, but the partnerships the USOPC have are first rate. These partnerships include Olympic sponsors and the biggest ticket item of all… the payments from the IOC as part of NBC’s TV broadcast rights.

So, what’s the answer to the question, “Why does the USATH seem to suffer from a lack of funds?”

The short answer is two fold:

  • The USOPC has decided to provide minimal funding support to USA Team Handball (compared to many other National Governing Bodies (NGB))
  • USA Team Handball has had minimal success in developing its own indpendent revenue streams

I’ll expand on this, but for anyone interested here’s more background on the “lack of funding” question. These commentaries were written several years ago, but not a whole lot has changed.

  • 2012 Series: Why Aren’t the U.S. National Teams at the London Olympics?: Link
    • Part 3: A Lack of Funding: Link
    • Part 4: A Lack of Funding: Where are the Sponsor and Donors?: Link
  • 2019: Charting a Way Forward for USA Team Handball: Link
    • What We Have: Finances (Part 1): USA Team Handball Revenue (Grants, Contributions and Sponsorships): Link
    • What We Have: Finances (Part 2): USA Team Handball Revenue (Membership and the Importance of Tracking that Data): Link

USOPC Decisions to Minimally Fund USA Team Handball

Before we tackle the question of USOPC support let’s first take a closer look at what USA Team Handball’s total annual revenue has been over the years. After all, if we’re going to talk about a lack of funding, it’s probably a good idea to understand what that funding level is.

I created this graphic in 2019 and there are now four more financial reports available on the USA Team Handball website. Here’s the annual revenue for those years:

  • 2018: $513K
  • 2019: $612K
  • 2020: $628K
  • 2021: $705K

There are some peaks and valleys with this chart, but the trendline since the 1996 Olympics has been in the $500-600K range. Contrast those amounts to the years leading up to the 1996 Olympics and you might well be wondering: WTF? (And, keep in mind… inflation is not even factored in on this chart!) What caused this sharp decline? As CEO Branick mentions later in the interview, the USOPC provides significantly more funding to sports that have better chances to win medals. It’s that simple.

What this chart demonstrates is that this was not always the case. USA Team Handball and other sports used to get a more equitable share of funding. But, after the 1996 Olympic Games the USOPC changed direction and decided to link funding to NGBs with the chances that NGB could produce medals. And, ever since USA Team Handball has been in a Catch 22 situation: Funding is tied to its chances of winning medals… It takes more funding to improve its chances of winning medals. A no win situation that saw the rich (swimming, track & field) get richer and the poor (team handball) get poorer. Or, at best move sideways.

This dramatic change in funding support from the USOPC, inevitably led to a significant decline in national team performance. This is because the lion’s share of funding had gone towards our national teams which for the most part consisted of cross over athletes that were trained with full time residency programs. Lacking the resources those programs closed down and the U.S. had to field national teams consisting of athletes coming from either its very small grassroots programs, its austere residency programs or, increasingly over the years, dual citizens growing up in other countries.

As a long time follower of handball in the U.S. I’m often amused with the athletes from the pre 1996 era not fully appreciating or comprehendng how the funding profile has changed so dramatically. While the level of support they received for their endeavors was modest, it comparatively was “Fat City” to the more austere support national team athletes have received for the past two decades. Old timers often jokingly referred to their experience as “Play handball. See the world.” To some extent that applies today… The athletes just have to pay for much of it out of their own pockets.

So, the simple short answer to the question, “Why the lack of funding?” at least in terms of “big brother” support provided is the USOPC decision to focus on supporting NGBs that can win medals.

USA Team Handball Stuggles to Develop Independent Revenue Streams

While funding provided by the USOPC is significant many federations also bring in significant revenue on their own from sponsporships and memberships. While it is, of course, desirable to develop such revenue streams it’s easier said than done. As I wrote in 2012 there is not a magical sponsorship tree where one can just pluck the dollar bills off of it.

If only it were so easy to get funding from these sources.

Finding sponsors and donors is very challenging for any minor sport. More could and should be done, but success is often contingent on other factors. For example, Verizon’s much bally hooed sponsorship was largely the result of their CEO (Hans Vestberg) coincidentally being a huge supporter of the sport. It was hoped that it would lead to more sponsors jumping on board, but that never materialized. Not yet, anyway.

This points to one harsh reality any minor sport needs to come to grips with: Sponsors are looking for a return on their investment. This “return” can’t always be neatly identified with specific metrics, but if your sport is virtually unknown and seldom seen it’s hard for a sponsor to see the cost benefit of sponsoring it. This means that better marketing to get handball better known is needed to help make the case to major sponsors.

A Change to the Funding Profile?

While USA Team Handball’s revenue profile has been mostly going sideways for the past 28 years I think there’s a strong possibility that will change over the next four years. And, of course, that reason is the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

It’s been a long time since the U.S. hosted an Olympics. The sports landscape has changed and is more splintered in terms of what interests people and how they watch or follow it. But… the Olympics are still a big deal. And, a hosted Olympics should still be a really big deal.

Even More Money to Go Around

While the USOPC has been very stingy with its funding for over two decades now it’s soon going to become really flush with cash. The sponsorship deals for LA should really help their top line and make it relatively painless to provide more help to the smaller federations. Further, a hosted Olympics should change their perspective for minor sports like team handball. When a national team doesn’t qualify for the Olympics it’s easy for the USOPC to decide not to provide funding. However, when a national team is guaranteed qualification…it’s not so easy to deny that team support. And, this is probably not said aloud… if a team might be perceived as a potential embarrassment on home soil it might even get more resources to help prevent that from happening.

Sponsors May Come out of the Woodwork

In theory, the next four years leading up the to the 2028 Olympics should be a gold mine of sponsor opportunity. There’s nothing like hosting an Olympics and it will be the closest to a sponsorship tree that our sport will ever have. In 1994, in the lead up to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, the Weather Channel (yes, the Weather Channel) stepped in to sponsor USA Team Handball with a million dollars. Even without inflation it’s still the biggest cash haul we’ve ever had. The weather channel even had a commercial they’d play periodically touting their support of USA Team Handball. (I still can’t hardly believe it) I like to think that a similar sponsor for 2028 will emerge, but it’s not guaranteed.

So if the funding profile is likely changing… should that also change USA Team Handball’s planning? If so, how? And, what could be done to possibly speed up the process? To get more funding sooner? I think there is an elegant solution on the horizon…

USA Handball Talk (Episode 17): March Madness Meets April Awesomeness

JD and John discuss the USA Men’s roster for the upcoming NORCA Championships, the College Women’s results and whether the College Handball Championships should change formats to an Elite Eight knockout format. results of last weekend’s Collegiate Handball Championships.

Here’s a summary with links to some of the items we discussed:

  • The Sportico Podcast: Link
    • We’ve copied their show opening and practice of giving a name for each episode
    • It’s a great podcast if you’re interested in sports business
  • The USA Team Handball roster announcement: Link
  • Collegiate Women’s Handball results: Link
  • A profile on the Women’s MVP, Ariane Clerc: Link
  • John’s proposed new format for College Nationals: Link

Watch on YouTube or listen/download the mp3 file at the top of the page

If you have any suggestions for future topics, a title for our podcast or have some intro music you would like us to consider please let us know on social media.


Don’t miss an episode:

  • Subscribe on YouTube: Link (Earliest Availability)
  • Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes: Link
  • Follow the Team Handball News podcast on Spotify: Link
  • Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

And, be sure to check out the podcast archive with interviews and great handball discussion going all the way back to 2006: Link

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USA Handball Talk (Episode 15): College Nationals Preview

US Handball Union Executive Director, Michael King joins the podcast to discuss this weekend’s College National Championships. Here’s a summary with links to some of the items we discussed:

Current News Items

  • The ongoing North American Beach Handball Championships:
    • Video (Live and On Demand): Link
    • Canada’s remarkable comeback vs Mexico: Link
    • Results:
  • USA Sr Men Friendly vs France on May 11th: Link

College Nationals Preview

  • The Men’s Tournament Divisions
    • Pittsburgh will play in D1 if they North Carolina Friday night; they will drop to D2 if they lose
    • San Jose St will play in D1 if they beat West Point (Black); they will drop to D2 if they lose
  • Tournament Schedule: Link

  • Men’s season record with college vs college matches in parentheses
    • D1
      • West Point (Black)  8-1 (5-0)
      • West Point (Gold)  9-5 (4-1)
      • Air Force 5-6 (0-1)
      • North Carolina (Carolina) 7-5-1 (5-2)
      • Ohio St (Scarlet) 19-0-1 (18-0)
    • TBD (Will play in D1 or D2)
      • Pittsburgh  13-7 (11-6)
      • San Jose St  0-0 (0-0)
    • D2
      • James Madison 9-6 (12-9)
      • Case Western Reserve 11-8 (10-7)
      • Ohio St (Gray) 9-14 (9-11)
      • North Carolina (Tar Heels) 3-10 (3-6)
      • Miami (OH) 7-16 (7-15)
      • Auburn 0-5 (0-3)
      • Olin 0-0 (0-0)
      • SUNY Cortland 0-0 (0-0)
  • D2 Format
    • Matches with 1 solid and 1 dashed line have both the winner and loser moving on in the bracket
    • Matches with just 1 solid line are “elimination” matches; the winner advances, but the loser is either finished or will play consolation matches
  • Women’s Teams
    • West Point (Black)
    • West Point (Gold)
    • North Carolina (Carolina)
    • Ohio St
    • North Carolina (Tar Heels)
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Another New Podcast for Handball Fans

A new podcast, Red, White and Glue is now available for handball fans (see links at the bottom). It’s a production of the US Women’s National Team and it’s co-hosted by USA Women’s National Team Assistant Coach, Hendrik Schultze and national team left wing, Viva Kreis. Here’s my perspective on the new podcast.

A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats

Folks might not realize it, but Team Handball News had the first ever handball focused podcast. Yes, off and on, I’ve been doing podcasts since 2006. And, during that time I’ve seen other handball podcasts come and go. I suspect there are a couple of reasons for this. First off, it can be quite a bit of work. It especially was in the early days, but technology improvements have sure made it easier and easier to get an episode out. The second reason is that there’s not a very big market for English related handball content. There’s a market… it’s just a very niche market. My latest iteration with Ohio St coach, JD Orr, USA Handball Talk currently gets around 100 combined YouTube views/mp3 downloads. The Handball Hour currently has around 150 Patreon subscribers, but surely has a lot more listeners for its free podcasts. So, there’s an audience. It’s just not a huge audience.

So more often than not handball podcasters do podcasts because they like to talk about handball and share their views with others. Certainly that’s the main reason I do it. While some see “competition” as a negative I just see a great opportunity to hear views from others. And, I’m also a big believer in the saying that “A rising tide lifts all boats.” The more people talking about handball… the better it is for anyone doing a podcast,

An Opportunity to Refresh Old Content (e.g. Wall Handball)

When you’ve been running a handball website for 17 years you can often get the sense that just about every topic has been addressed multiple times and from multiple different angles. Case in point: The first podcast addresses the long standing semantic problem handball unfortunately has to deal with the U.S. Over the years I’ve addressed the handball semantic problem multiple times. Here’s a sampling:

So, while I might get annoyed with newcomers covering well trod upon ground… it’s just a little annoyed. After all, newcomers are coming into the sport all the time. They may not be aware that I’ve addressed something in the past, so it’s an opportunity to update the Handball FAQ and refresh old content.

A Catalyst for New Commentaries

Probably, of greater interest, though, for me and many readers will be any discussion on USA Team Handball plans. I’ll go out on a short limb and state that no one has thought as long and hard about USA Team Handball planning as much as I have. That could mean that I’m just some old guy who thinks he know everything. Could be… Although, over the years, I think my track record assessing different initiatives and what will likely happen is pretty solid.

Most recently, I’ve started some commentaries on the U.S. Women’s Team and the need to refocus the program as soon as possible on both expanding and improving the quaility of our very, very small talent pool.

USA Women’s National Team: What’s Next?

  • Part 1: Introduction: Link
  • Part 2: The Looming Decision Can’t Wait any Longer: Link

And, now there is an Official USA Women’s National Team podcast that surely will be discussing some of the same issues and concerns I have. This is an awesome development and I Iook forward to hearing what’s planned. I suspect the new podcast will tend to have a “positive, can do” approach to the many challenges USA Team Handball faces so it will provide a nice contrast to my more measured (OK… some would say critical) approach that we simply can’t do everything we might want to and that we really need to prioritize what we should do first.

It’s all good. Different perspectives are welcome. And, hearing some different perspectives will surely serve as a catalyst for me to write some new commentaries. Even better it might help serve as a catalyst for the USA Team Handball Board of Directors to start making some important resource decisions that are long overdue.

So welcome aboard fellow handball podcasters. The more, the merrier.

Red, White, and Glue: The U.S. Women’s National Team Handball Podcast

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Spain (U21) – USA 27-23 (16-12)

The USA Men’s national team held a training camp in Spain last week and played a friendly match vs Spain’s Jr Team. Spain’s Jr Team won the match 27-23 and the match video is available on YouTube: Link

Here is an unofficial roster with goals scored for the USA

  • 1) Pal Merkovski, GK
  • 2) Oliver Edwards, LW, 1
  • 3) Sean Corning, RW, 4
  • 6) Joey Stromberg, RB, 3
  • 7) Alex Chan, CB, 3
  • 9) Lukas Hansen, LW
  • 10) Daniel Hunyadi, CR
  • 14) Ian Hueter, CB, 3
  • 16) Doug Otterstrom, GK
  • 17) Drew Donlin, CR, 3
  • 25) Patrick Hueter, CR, 2
  • 33) Sam Hoddersen, RB, 4
  • 48) Max Binderis, RW
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USA Handball Talk (Episode 12): G-G-G Unit; G League

Pat Spencer, was the top Collegiate lacrosse player in 2019. He then used his 5th year of eligibility to play college basketball, played basketball professionally in Europe and now has signed a 2 way contract which allows him to play in the NBA and the NBA’s G League. He was a good high school basketball player (so not entirely new to the sport), but this is still a remarkable talent transfer story and was our entry point for a broader discussion on talent transfer and NCAA scholarships.

Here are some topics and links to what was discussed:

  • Article on USA GK, Sophie Fasold signing with Buxtehuder SV  Link 
  • The challenges of a 3 GK and 2 GK tandem
  • Andreas Wolff with the greatest “caught” save of all time: Link
  • USA Women’s National Team Instgram: Link
  • Article on Pat Spencer signing with the Golden State Warriors: Link
  • Pat Spencer Lacrosse highlights: Link
  • JD on why lacrosse is a good sport to find handball talent transfer athletes
  • John on why he sees basketball as the best candidate sport for talent transfer
  • JD on how one’s basketball shooting ability (lack of) might logically steer an athlete to handball
  • NCAA sports and scholarship discussion: Wikipedia
    • Key point 1: Some sports have more scholarships available
    • Key point 2: Some sports are “Head Count” (all full ride scholarships) and some sports are “Equivalency” (scholarship awards can (and, usually are) split into partial scholarships)
  • Why, on average “Head Count” sports are more likely to have more talented athletes

Watch on YouTube or listen/download the mp3 file at the top of the page

If you have any suggestions for future topics, a title for our podcast or have some intro music you would like us to consider please let us know on social media.


Don’t miss an episode:

  • Subscribe on YouTube: Link (Earliest Availability)
  • Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes: Link
  • Follow the Team Handball News podcast on Spotify: Link
  • Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

And, be sure to check out the podcast archive with interviews and great handball discussion going all the way back to 2006: Link

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USA Handball Talk (Episode 11): What’s it all about, Alfie?

Here are some links and notes from what we discussed in the podcast:

  • (Un)Informed Handball Hour interview with Swedish-American dual citizen Alfred Jonsson: Link (Starts around 23:40)
  • Alfred Jonsson: Highlight Video Wikipedia (Swedish) Wikipedia (English)
  • Alfie: Song Original Movie Remake
  • EHF European League: Link
  • Carolina YouTube page: Link (Note: If anyone has the video with the injury we discussed please DM either JD or John)
  • The pros and cons of college clubs having 2 teams at college nationals
  • The pros and cons of grouping all college teams (despite big gaps in quality) in one big competition
  • This weekend’s Trailblazer Conference tournament: Link
  • The pros and cons of the weekend tournament format
  • The “pod” concept of 3-5 colleges in close proximity playing a double round robin over a season
  • The factors to consider when assessing which colleges to assist in starting a handball program
  • My Caitlin Clark – Ashley Joens tangent: Link
  • Tom Brady: How good of a handball player would the American Football GOAT have been? Wikipedia

Watch on YouTube or listen/download the mp3 file at the top of the page

If you have any suggestions for future topics, a title for our podcast or have some intro music you would like us to consider please let us know on social media.


Don’t miss an episode:

  • Subscribe on YouTube: Link (Earliest Availability)
  • Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes: Link
  • Follow the Team Handball News podcast on Spotify: Link
  • Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

And, be sure to check out the podcast archive with interviews and great handball discussion going all the way back to 2006: Link

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Charting a Way Forward for USA Team Handball (2024 Reboot): Yet Another Reboot

Team Handball is a great sport and virtually everyone introduced to the sport has wondered why this most American of sports hasn’t caught on in the U.S. As someone who has followed handball development (or the lack thereof) in the U.S. for over 35 years I have been continuously frustrated with the overall lack of planning to move the sport forward. Our small community is very committed and has been willing to work hard, but without a plan… we’ve mostly been spinning our wheels in place or worse, regressing backwards as other niche sports have passed us by.

Retrospective

While I’ve been having the typical after match, barstool discussions on these topics since the late 1980s I didn’t start to document those opinions until I started this website. In 2014, I first systematically addressed planning with the identification of several alternative initiatives for consideration. These options included strategies for improving out national teams, placing more emphasis on collegiate handball, on women’s handball and the adopting a regional (instead of nationwide) development strategy. Links to these initiatives and others from the original series are at the end of this post.

In 2018, USA Team Handball developed and approved a Strategic Plan. While not a perfect document the organization now had a documented starting point to guide efforts to move the sport forward in this country. In 2019, with new leadership in place I took the opportunity to reboot the original series and to first assess where USA Handball stood as an organization and how that might fit in with the goals and objectives of the strategic plan.

I covered what “What We Have” and “What We Want to Be” pretty thoroughly and those links are at the end of this post in the First Reboot (2019) section. Surprisingly… or not surprisingly the What We Have section is still pretty accurate 5 years later.

The New Reboot

The 2019 Reboot ended, however, with my just barely having started the hard task of assessing “How We Get There” and the necessary changing of “What We Want to Be” to “What We Actually Can Be.” This incomplete effort was partly due to the COVID Pandemic and partly due to my actually working for USA Team Handball for a brief time.

Now in 2024, with the COVID pandemic clearly behind us and Olympic qualification guaranteed for 2028 it’s high time to move forward. The next four years present a lot of challenges, but also a lot of opportunities the sport in this country has not had since the 1990s. Honestly, the opportunities are so great we could basically muddle through the next four years haphazardly and still make progress. We could… but, we don’t do that. Instead we need to maximize these four years as much as possible with a constant eye towards actions and initiatives that can help lead to sustainable growth after 2028.

Bottom Lines… Up Front

While I generally prefer a methodical process without pre-ordained answers there’s not a whole lot of time to waste. Honestly, this sort of effort should have started in the midst of the pandemic when all we could do was plan for the future. That said, I’m alreadly leaning towards several bottom lines that could inform a Strategic Plan update as well as follow on actions that should be implemented. I’ve even already written some commentaries addressing one of the topics. Here are some bottom lines… up front:

  • National Teams
    • The U.S. Men’s Sr national team is already sufficiently competitive for the upcoming 2028 Olympic Games. The team should continue to be supported at roughly the same level
    • The U.S. Women’s Sr national team is currently not on a path to be sufficiently competitive at the 2028 Olympics. A plan to effectively broaden the existing talent pool and train newcomers should be developed and implemented as soon as possible.
    • The level of support to Jr and Youth national team competitions and training should be reassessed based on our expected Return on Investment (ROI)
  • Domestic Competitions
    • Collegiate handball is the “sweet spot” for development in the U.S. The bulk of available resources should primarily be focused on establishing/sustaining new collegiate clubs, improving the overall level of play, and promoting collegiate handball
    • Support to adult, recreational handball competitions should be limited to basic organizational support. These competitions, while important to existing members have very limited prospects for growth and/or promotional benefit,
    • Support to any professional league efforts should not be provided or encouraged. The current sporting landscape in the U.S. makes it all but certain that such an effort will be unsuccessful.
    • Support to youth, recreational activities should be focused towards the establishment of sustainable local competitions or some other follow on target.
  • Marketing and Promotional Activities
    • Team Handball currently has a very small footprint with major sports entities with a linear TV, streaming and social media presence. A plan should be developed and significant resources should be applied to improving this footprint for international national team, professional and collegiate competitions
    • Based on the current TV landscape a strong case can be made for a documentary/reality show focused on the development of the U.S. Women’s National Team. A plan should be developed and significant resources should be applied towards making this happen.
  • Fundraising/Revenue Generation
    • Sponsorship opportunities should increase as we approach the 2028 Olympics. A plan should be developed to maximize those opportunities. This may or may not necessitate a contractual arrangement with an agency.
    • Membership dues provide other sport NGBs with a significant portion of their overal revenue. USA Team Handball should fully assess whether that model can also apply for handball and, if so, develop a plan to facilitate membership growth.
  • Beach Handball
    • As long as beach handball is not on a path for inclusion in the Olympic Games, resources applied to support beach handball should be minimized. This is because there are simply not enough resources and manpower to be applied towards one discipline… let alone two disciplines.

I’ll be putting some more “meat on the bones” on these bottom lines and you can already see two posts that I’ve written on the challenges facing the U.S. Women below

Picking Winners and Losers

It goes without saying that these proposed bottom lines are going to make some people unhappy. The good news for everyone is that I’m just some guy with a website. I’ve got some influence, but the reality is that this is a Board Member/CEO driven process. The bad news is that these things take time and USA Team Handball has historically been a risk averse, keep as many people happy as possible organization. One that has often avoided picking winners and losers. And, the really bad news is that indecision is essentially just a decsion to maintain the status quo.

I’ll go on record that my intent here is to hopefully be read and to stir discussion towards decision making. Preferably, adopting what I’m proposing, but I’ll take actually making a decision as a little victory too. Because, the reality is that there isn’t always one clearly right answer, but multiple possibilities to choose from… Pick one and move out.

Subject to Revision

I’ll also go on record that I’m more than open to having my mind changed. To be introduced to new data that makes me rethink my bottom lines. One thing that I’ve learned is that when one starts to go beyond yakking over a beer and puts their thoughts down on paper… what was once certain can become a bit fuzzy. Can even lead to a full 180 degrees change of view. That’s happened more than once and that’s a good thing. We’ll be discussing many of these topics in upcoming podcasts, sometimes with guests that are sure to have contrary views. So don’t be surprised if over time this post get revised.

Yet Another Reboot (2024)

  • U.S. Women’s National Team (What’s Next?)
    • Part 1) Introduction: Link
    • Part 2) The Looming Decision Can’t Wait any Longer: Link

The Original Series (2014)

In 2014, I wrote several commentaries on the newly implemented Residency Program at Auburn. Over and over I hammered away with all the concerns I had with this well intentioned, but poorly conceived effort. After some reflection, though, I thought it would make sense to identify some alternative strategies. Here are some links to the commentaries from that series… and some missing links as I never finished this effort:

  • Introduction: Many Options + Limited Resources = Hard Choices: Link
  • 1) Modify the National Team Residency Programs to focus strictly on player development: Link
  • 2) Increase the emphasis and support to National Team recruiting: Link
  • 3) Develop or participate in a European based residency program to provide athletes more competition: Link
  • 4) Upgrade College Team Handball:  Following the rugby club model to nationwide participation (Part 1Part 2)
  • 5) Upgrade College Team Handball:  Seeking NCAA status on the heels of the O’Bannon Ruling
  • 6) The “Title IX Field Hockey Strategy”:  Focus 90% of USA Team Handball’s resources on Women’s Programs: Link
  • 7) The “Iceland Strategy”:  Focus a large percentage of USA Team Handball’s resources on one geographical location (Part 1Part 2; Part 3)
  • 8) The “Alberta Strategy”:  Fully assess Alberta’s successful development program and fund a U.S. version in one region of the U.S.:  Link
  • 9) Youth and Junior Teams Emphasis:  Fund U.S. participation for up and coming athletes first
  • 10) Funding direct to clubs:  Reward high performing club programs with real and tangible financial support
  • 11) High School Team Handball:  Following in Lacrosse and Flag Football’s footsteps
  • 12) True Youth Movement:  Follow the AYSO soccer model to develop a massive player and fan base at even younger ages
  • 13) U.S. Olympic Handball Festivals:  Bridging the gap between club and national teams

The First Reboot (2019)

Introduction: Link

What We Have

  • Demographics (Men)
    • American Citizen Male Athletes (Overview): Link
    • USA Men’s Elite Player Pool (Overview): Link
    • USA Men’s National Team (Part 1: A Closer Look by Position- GK and CR): Link
    • USA Men’s National Team (Part 2: A Closer Look by Position- BC and RW/LW): Link
  • Demographics (Women)
    • American Citizen Female Athletes (Overview): Link
      USA Women’s Elite Player Pool (Overview): Link
  • USA Club Programs
    • Part 1: Understanding the USA Club Structure and At-Large Men’s Clubs: Link
      Part 2: Collegiate Men’s Clubs: Our Most American Competition with Opportunities for Growth: Link
      Part 3: USA Women At-Large and Collegiate Clubs: Link
      Part 4: Why there are so Few Clubs and Why the Rosters Mostly Consist of Expats: Link
  • Finances
    • Part 1: USA Team Handball Revenue (Grants, Contributions and Sponsorships): Link
    • Part 2: USA Team Handball Revenue (Membership and the Importance of Tracking that Data): Link

What We Want to Be

  • Part 1: A review of the USA Team Handball Strategic Plan and National Team Targets: Link
  • Part 2: A review of USA Collegiate Development Targets: Link
  • Part 3: A review of Fundraising Targets: Link
  • Part 4: A review of Marketing Targets: Link
  • Part 5: A review of the “Big, Hairy, Audacious Project: Link

How We Get There

  • Part 1: The Project Management Triangle: Link
  • Part 2: National Team Targets: Link
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USA Handball Talk (Episode 10): Hueter Goes to Hamm

On the podcast we discuss the following topics:

  • USA National Team player Ian Hueter’s move to ASV Hamm-Westfalen next season: Link
    • Hueter Brother’s interview from 2021: Link
  • USA GK Billy Kessler interview: Link (I don’t think he ever played in the HBL)
  • A tangent on the HBL from my 1993 education:
    • “Coach, what’s the Bundesliga?” Link
    • Video of Finland’s Michael Kallman in action (watch a minute: You’ll see a 2 minute call followed by the exact same jump shot that caught me woefully unprepared): Link
  • A couple of high level players, reportedly with USA citizenship
  • Video of NYC Handball’s Togba Aboubacar in action at the Samala Cup this past December: Link
  • More discussion on U.S. competition structures
    • Upcoming Carolina Blue Cup: Instagram
    • Should handball in the USA have a shorter “season” similar to other U.S. sports? (instead of the long European season model that over time has gradually been adopted)
    • List of U.S. urban areas by population: Link (Very highly correlated with existing U.S. Handball clubs)
  • Our new and likely recurring topic assessing how good athletes from other sports would be if they played handball. First up: Serbian and Denver Nuggets basketball player, Nikola Jokic
    • JD’s brief discussion with Barstool’s PFT commenter on Jokic: Link

Watch on YouTube or listen/download the mp3 file at the top of the page

If you have any suggestions for future topics, a title for our podcast or have some intro music you would like us to consider please let us know on social media.


Don’t miss an episode:

  • Subscribe on YouTube: Link (Earliest Availability)
  • Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes: Link
  • Follow the Team Handball News podcast on Spotify: Link
  • Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

And, be sure to check out the podcast archive with interviews and great handball discussion going all the way back to 2006: Link