Former coach and player for the Swedish national team, Staffan Olsson has been hired to be the new high performance director for the US handball team. He fills a vacancy that was previously filled by Dave Gascon, who served in the role on a volunteer basis from 2013 to 2018.
While the name, Staffan Olsson, has little meaning in the United States, he is indeed a handball legend and is considered one of the best right backs of all time. His coaching career was also solid with stints as co-coach of the Swedish national team and one of Sweden’s top clubs Hammarby. Most recently, he was an assistant coach for one of the best clubs in the world, Paris Saint-Germain.
Three main roles
The USA Handball Team editorial lists three primary roles for him as High Performance Director.
1) overseeing the management and direction of USA Team Handball national teams,
2) determine a pipeline of new athletes at the elite level, and
3) develop the training program for coaches and officials at different levels of the sport
1st role seems like a pretty good fit for Olsson. It will be somewhat “different” to handle 3rd top national teams like the United States instead of a top national team like Sweden. Different certainly in terms of budget, but familiar. And, then, developing training programs for coaches and officials will also be something he is well suited for, except perhaps the start-from-scratch aspect that is often required in the United States.
Of course, however, the most challenging role for the new High Performance Director will be “determining a pool of new elite athletes.” Why, the most difficult? The United States currently lacks significant grassroots development, which means there are very, very few elite athlete candidates available to enter any pipeline. This reality has plagued USA Team Handball for decades. In fact, I would say this is an unsolvable problem that can only really be solved properly after basic programs have been patiently and sufficiently worked out.
Perhaps, however, there is a secret Swedish sauce that he can apply to solve this problem in another faster way. Either way, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll do a great job looking after the players we have. Provide them with good preparation for tournaments and help them find clubs in Europe.
Me vs. White Snake in 1993
It’s not very often that I pull the “Yeah, I played him” card, but in 1993 I did indeed play Staffan Olsson at the World Championships. Why, as I wrote in this review back in 2016, I even claimed to have quit it after a few beers on more than one occasion. Something tells me, however, that like United States men’s coach Robert Hedin, he probably doesn’t even remember playing that game against the United States. When you play 358 International Games, some are surely forgettable. Whereas when your CV only contains 12 games, you remember them all.
Oh, and the White Snake reference? : The United States men’s team honored him with this nickname in 93. You see, there was this group in the late 1980s… “Here I leave on my own…” In retrospect, his hair was long, but not so long.