Earlier this week, the USA Handball Team announced the appointment of Lisa Dunn as Women’s Beach Handball Head Coach and Michi Mensing as Assistant Coach. However, it was not said that Juliano De Oliveira, the head coach since 2016, was ‘let go’, fired or not renewed (choose your description).
De Oliveira did, however, earn a commendation for “laying the foundations of the program” and that is indeed the case as he took the helm of a non-existent and inactive program in 2016 and under his leadership it was established as the ‘North America. best women’s beach handball team and now respected on the world stage.
Here’s a look at what the USA Women’s Team has accomplished in the four major tournaments they’ve entered under his leadership.
Juliano De Oliveira coaching record
2018 Pan American Championships
– Match record: 2-4
– Game recording: not available
– Final ranking: 6and out of 8 teams
2018 World Championships
– Match record: 1-8
– Record of games (games without shooting): 2-16
– Record of games (Shoot Out Matches): 0-0
– Point differential (matches without shots): 213-338 (-125)
– Final ranking: 14and out of 16 teams
2019 North American and Caribbean Championships
– Match record: 6-0
– Game record (games without shooting): 12-0
– Record of games (Shoot Out Matches): 0-0
– Final ranking: 1st out of 8 teams
World Beach Games 2019
– Match record: 2-5
– Record games (matches without shots): 6-8
– Record of games (Shoot Out Matches): 0-2
– Point differential (games without shots): 224-240 (-16)
– Final ranking: 10and out of 12 teams
A review of these results shows quite clearly that there has been solid progress. A team that wasn’t very competitive in 2018 turned things around in 2019. A clear sign of progress was their dominating performance at the 2019 North American Championships. A weaker field than at the Pan American Championships the previous year, but they left no doubt that they were the best team in the new Confederation.
Arguably the best performance on the world stage was more telling. In two similar events (2018 World Championships and 2019 World Beach Games), the final ranking was not very different (10and on 12 against 14and out of 16), but closer examination of the results reveals a significant improvement.
In 2018, the women were 2-16 (.111 winning percentage) in non-shootout games with an average point differential of -7/game. Translation: most matches were non-competitive and basically over in the first few minutes. In 2019, they were 6-8 (.429) and the average point differential was 1/game. Games were generally much closer and the USA suffered a shootout loss to 6th place Argentina and faced 3rd place and perennial powerhouse Brazil for a one-game golden goal. In the consolation game, they actually skipped some teams.
To be clear, playing closer teams is still not winning, but make no mistake, it is progress.
A matter of need (management expectations)
However, management’s expectations were perhaps higher for the US performance. Sure, it would have been nice to get out of the consolation bracket and rank higher, but it’s debatable whether that was a reasonable expectation for such a new program with some key players gaining their first tournament experience. high level.
Also, while competitive results are important, there were surely other goals and objectives for the program. I don’t know what was expected, but we can only assume that those expectations weren’t met. Otherwise, if the team is progressing, why change?
A matter of timing (why now?)
The timing of the move also suggests there was more at stake than just team results. Otherwise, such a change would logically have taken place right after the October tournament rather than 5 months later. Coaches everywhere know the drill. If your team is playing poorly and the season/tournament is over, they know “the phone call” might be coming. The Monday after Week 17 in the NFL is known as Black Monday for a reason. Ask French coach Didier Dinart what happens when you have a bad game (against Portugal) at the European Championships. You are often shown the door. That’s how it works. Results matter, but coach De Oliveira was only fired several months later, suggesting the move was not directly linked to competitive performance.
A matter of process
Personnel changes can be done in different ways, but a more open and transparent process might have been warranted. In 2018, the United States advertised the “short” men’s head coach position and received dozens of applications. This process ultimately resulted in the hiring of Robert Hedin. A beach head coaching job is certainly less sought after, but a more open process would likely quell any fears of personnel changes being quietly orchestrated behind the scenes.
Practice for practice
The majority of athletes likely to make the U.S. roster currently live in Southern California. Having a coach co-located with these athletes makes it easier to teach while training. There, of course, there may be training camps in other parts of the country, but such trips can be costly.
A difficult coaching change
Changing coaches is rarely easy, and with the American beach handball community being so small, it’s even harder. Everyone knows everyone very well and everyone knows that coach De Oliveira has been there since the beginning, first as the assistant coach of the men’s program and then as the first coach of the women’s program. Last summer, I saw with my own eyes the efforts to organize the Southern California Beach Handball Tournament. It takes a village to host such an event, but De Oliveira is a very big part of that village. I can only assume that he also played an important role in everything that has happened in recent years. With all that work done as an unpaid volunteer coach/organizer.
It wasn’t easy to determine that all that hard work and steady progress in international competition just wasn’t enough. To say thank you, but sorry, your assistant coaches are better equipped to take the team to the next level, it must be a very difficult decision.
The road ahead (short and long term)
In the short term, it’s all about the World Beach Championships, currently scheduled for June 30-July 5 in Pescara, Italy. (We can at least hope that the coronavirus pandemic will have died down by then). With probably a very similar roster, but now more experienced, I would have expected a better performance no matter who the coach was. In my opinion, a great result would be top 8, 9and-12and would be OK, while 13and-16and
would be a disappointment. From a few social media posts, it appears the athletes are fired up and recently met in Atlanta and San Antonio for training. Even was planning to train in Southern California this weekend, but has since been canceled due to coronavirus concerns. I wouldn’t bet against such dedication. This team will rally around who has coached before and come together for the best possible performance.
Beyond the World Championships this summer, however, serious thought is needed as to what the long-term strategy for Beach Handball should be. The big inflection point will be the IOC’s decision whether or not to include beach handball in the 2024 Olympics. I think the odds are against it due to athlete quotas, but if that happens we could have a seismic change in terms of resources and focus that will be placed on beach handball. One might even envision a residency program (perhaps in Chula Vista, CA) and an influx of talent that would make the United States a serious medal contender.
But, even if that doesn’t happen, a strategy is still needed. In particular, consideration should be given to measures to develop beach clubs, develop the elite talent pool and determine whether a geographic area should be selected for targeted development.
(Note: I reached out to USA Team Handball CEO Barry Siff for more information regarding the coaching change, but he declined to comment.)