The U.S. Can Be Great at Handball

September 6, 2016

Handball Players PracticingAt the recent Olympics in Rio, commentator Robin Young stated that team handball is a sport made for Americans, although it is not yet very well known in this country. Team handball combines running, jumping, and throwing. Well, it’s not that simple. LeBron James is a great athlete and basketball player; but to be great at handball, you must start at a young age and play for many years. We heard Robin Young’s Here and Now segment, “Handball is Underway in Rio, But The U.S. Is Still Not A Player.” After a 20-year hiatus, we too, want to get America “back in the game.”

Why are we so bad at handball?, asks Adam Kilgore, writer for The Washington Post. Because kids here don’t grow up playing the sport. LeBron started playing basketball at an early age and was pretty much a star by his freshman year in high school. It takes more than being athletic to be a great handball player.

Have you tried playing handball? It’s hard! I was a three-sport athlete in high school (soccer, basketball, and tennis) and a two-sport athlete at a NCAA Division 1 institution (soccer and basketball) and thought handball would come naturally. I quickly found out I needed to learn how to throw a handball, understand the movement and patterns, and simply learn the rules. I had to think about every step and every movement. It takes years to master this sport.

If we want to be good at handball, then let’s get children playing it in physical education class in elementary school. Start a parks and rec league, or an after school program, or a club team in your area. There is a lot you can do in your own community.

Twelve handball teams in the world qualified for the 2016 Olympics for each the men and women. Approximately 84 countries play handball.

We cannot expect to pluck college athletes from other sports and turn them into handball players in a few weeks or even in four years. Handball players must start the sport at a young age and grow up playing it. It took soccer over 30 years to really take off in America. If Americans play the game in their youth, they are more likely to continue playing it or to be avid spectators and supporters, increasing the demand and popularity of the sport. Rather than thinking that the U.S. is bad at handball, can we turn that energy into a positive force to do something to help us improve and create a sustainable program for the United States?

It takes a village. Let’s do this together. Let’s get Americans back in this sport. The rest of the world thinks we would be amazing. It’s time for our own citizens to believe we can be amazing, too.

The U.S. Residency Program at Auburn University

In 2013, USA Team Handball (USATH) signed a contract with Auburn University to establish a residency program here. Athletes from all over the world have moved to Auburn to train year-round on a daily basis. Offering their support to USATH, Auburn University provides services, facilities and resources to both the men’s and women’s national teams at essentially no cost to USATH.

The Auburn University School of Kinesiology was designated a U.S. Olympic Training Site in 2015 and provides scientific sports performance services to the U.S. athletes. USATH and Auburn University knew that qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in two years would be difficult, but they had their sight set on 2020. The partnership with the School of Kinesiology is through 2020, thereby providing six years of development and preparation.

Handball player back of jerseyAuburn University provides USATH with the opportunity to train and condition in Auburn facilities. Both national teams practice and compete at the Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum and use the Watson Fieldhouse for strength and conditioning. The estimated in-kind training site costs are nearly $200,000 annually, including the use of both facilities, prorated insurance, athletic training services, sports medicine and orthopaedic services, and strength and conditioning coaching. USATH receives these benefits at no cost, thus providing the opportunity to raise their game to the next level.

Another key benefit of the partnership is the exercise science expertise of Auburn University’s School of Kinesiology. The athletes have daily access to biomechanics assessments including upper extremity biomechanics testing to analyze throwing mechanics. Body composition analyses are also offered to evaluate change in lean and fat mass over a training period, as well as bone density. Additionally, to help athletes achieve optimal performance, Graduate Assistant Cody Haun designs specialized strength and conditioning programs to ensure the athletes are increasing their strength and power while attaining adequate rest.

Auburn University also provides USATH athletes with academic benefits. Upon being selected to the USA National Residence Program, athletes may apply to Auburn University and, if accepted, receive in-state tuition. This is a great opportunity and extremely beneficial for many of the USATH athletes to continue their education and love for the sport. Ian Pinson, a member of the men’s national team from California, is one of the athletes who benefits from this opportunity.

“Receiving in-state tuition is a huge advantage to training here in Auburn,” Pinson said. “It allows athletes from across the country like me to focus on developing and pursuing the Olympic dream without the burden of worrying about tons of student-loans piling up. It’s a game changer.”

The services, facilities, and resources Auburn University offers both the men’s and women’s national teams provide USATH with the opportunity become an

international player in the handball arena and prepare for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and beyond.

For more information about the residency program, visit

Kristin Roberts