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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Team Handball: Will it Get Traction the U.S.?

Stefan Fatsis writes an excellent piece in today's New York Times on team handball, a game which the cognoscenti call handball, a game which is big in Europe but is hardly mentioned in the United States. Make no mistake, Fatsis is a cheerleader for handball, and in his article he laments why it hasn't gained traction in the U.S. Part of the problem is political -- the U.S. has been a mixed bag as far as support for the sport and the International Handball Federation has had more accusations leveled against it than the people who ran the prison in Gitmo.

I have watched handball, and it is a great game. Yes, in person, because a good friend was on a California team that played in a national tournament at the St. Joseph's University Field House in Philadelphia about ten years ago. This friend played football and baseball in college and played minor league baseball, and for him, life after baseball meant trying to find another competitive outlet (he did, in the form of handball; now he's old enough that he's playing competitive ping pong, but that's a story for another day). In any event, I've also watched it on TV during the Olympics, and the people who play it are good athletes who, no doubt, could have excelled at other sports had they opted to do so.

I don't know what handball hasn't grown in popularity in the U.S., especially because a) basketball is so selective that there are plenty who can't excel at basketball at the highest level who could excel in handball, b) football is a brutal game with short careers, c) baseball has waned in popularity and d) hockey, when you get past the diehard fans, isn't all that popular. That said, lacrosse has become more popular among men and women, and, to me, the variety and interesting aspects of competition that handball offers get surpassed by lacrosse for one particular reason -- it gets played outdoors. Then again, what's to say that in addition to basketball, volleyball, wrestling and indoor track schools cannot offer handball. Sure, we'd have to train teachers to coach it, but how hard should that be?

I suppose another reason is the oversaturation that exists already. Kids have tons of distractions and requirements today. Some are overscheduled; others have too many stimuli, whether they are overscheduled or not. For example, today's kids aren't as knowledgeable about what base to throw to in baseball because they have many more distractions from video games, TV shows, commitments to scouting and musical instruments than we did as kids. Back in the day, there were fewer options, so we watched NBC's game of the week with rabid attention and picked up on the nuances of the game and prided ourselves on it. Today's kid isn't as "baseball ready" in the field as a kid from 30 years ago, and once his game is over the last thing he probably wants to do is watch his local professional team (unless, of course, they're among the elites).

It sounds like USA Handball is better organized and has better backing. The best thing to happen to it would be a) many colleges adopt it at a club level and b) getting elite prep and private schools to adopt it as another winter sports option. It's hard to see, in this economy, public schools adding a program like this, and it's hard to see parents supporting a kids' league in a sport with which they aren't that familiar (especially if neighboring communities aren't likely to do so). So, if USA Handball were to establish its grass roots in the way I just described, they can teach the game nationally and help build a better appreciation for it.

2 Comments:

Blogger Welcome to Streethandball - We take outdoor handball serious! said...

Hello and welcome here. Where we take team handball serious! :o) www.streethandball.com

5:13 AM  
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