"I am hoping that one of the US clubs will qualify to the 2019 Super Globe" - Bob Djokovic

Bob Djokovic (throwing) against Switzerland (Barcelona, 1984) during the last preparation tournament before the Olympic Games in LA.

Bob Djokovic (throwing) against Switzerland (Barcelona, 1984) during the last preparation tournament before the Olympic Games in LA.

An Olympian, a highly successful corporate consultant, and a well-traveled man Bob Djokovic, the current president of USATH board of directors has taken a huge task to reshape, and reenergize USATH with a goal to build an effective organization and a successful handball program to compete at a high level by 2028 LA Olympic Games.

Bob is data-driven, but he’s also passionate about handball. After all he competed in the 1984 LA Olympic games and helped Team USA qualify to 1988 Seoul Olympics.

We had a chance to talk to Bob, and here is what he had to say.

Tell us how did you get into handball, your career at club level and with the US National team? 

Bob Djokovic: I got into handball through the Air Force Academy, where handball was played as an intramural sport. Our team heard that there was a national championship in this sport, so we sent our varsity basketball team to the tournament, where we finished second. I was asked to compete for the Junior National team in Mexico in 1977, and the senior national team in 1978. I competed on the national team from 1978 to 1987 and retired from the team after we qualified for the 1988 Olympics. I played on multiple different teams at the club level (AFA, Blicks All Stars, Colorado Springs Stars, UCLA), culminating with the Sushi Masters. My last competition at the club level was in 2003 in Reno. 

Last year you were able to initiate the first long-term strategic plan for the USATH, which now is in full motion. Tell us what are the most important elements of the plan, and where are we currently with the implementation of it? 

Bob Djokovic: The strategic plan focuses on building an organization that can effectively administer the sport, and in the short term focuses on growth at the university level. There was a lot of discussion during the strategic planning process on the appropriate "entry age", and it was determined that we could be more effective at the university level (for the next three to four years) than younger age groups.

The vision is to focus on smaller geographies (four of them in the next two years) and establish sustaining leagues at the local level. Once this is established, we feel that entry into younger age groups will be more efficient because the juniors and youth will have upwardly mobility in the sport.  

USATH is currently talking to multiple countries about programs that will accept and pay American handball players in the future. This could start as early as September of 2020 with the women. Once this happens, we will have a true pipeline for the younger athletes with the potential of competing professionally.

We feel that this will help with recruitment and help us establish a larger and more talented national team pool. We also think that this will greatly benefit our clubs by providing more opportunities for competition and better competition. This will have an equal benefit for our referees and coaches. Ultimately this should lead to better tournaments and stronger levels of competition for all involved. 

Both our men and women’s US National Teams qualified to 2019 Pan Am Games, last month our Men’s National Team took 2nd place at the Emerging Nations in Dominican Republic, and our boys U21 team qualified to the World Championships. It seems like we are entering back into the golden period of US handball. What do you think are our chances this year at the Pan Am Games? 

Bob Djokovic: The strategic plan specifies a Top 4 finish for both the men and women in the 2019 Pan Am games. USATH would consider this a success. Given the recent activity with both the men and women, there is a reasonable chance that one or both of our teams could medal, which would be the first time that has happened since 2003.

Is it confirmed that Team USA received ‘wild cards’ from the IHF for the World Championship’s 2025 and 2027? If Yes, this is the greatest thing to have happened to USA. How are we taking this opportunity to make sure we are prepared for a successful showing?  

Bob Djokovic: It is confirmed that USATH will receive wild cards for the World Championships in 2025 and 2027. This is the result of a new policy by the IHF that awards wild cards to countries hosting Olympic Games during a previous cycle.  

The strategic plan that was developed assumed (or hoped) that this would happen. Consequently, there are metrics into the strategic plan for expected results in 2025 and 2027. The ability to compete in these events will obviously improve our preparation for the 2028 Olympics, where we have targeted Top 6 for both the women and men in 2028. 

The first ever Super Globe qualifiers for the NorCa region is happening in Lake Placid May 9-12. Thoughts on this event, and what do you think are the chances of a US club to get to this prestigious IHF event?  

Bob Djokovic: I am very excited that we are hosting this event and am hoping that the US will qualify for the IHF event. Having our clubs compete in IHF events would help increase the American brand internationally. 

It’s been a very busy, and efficient year for you as the president of USATH board of directors. What are the next steps you would like to see happening in the next 3-6-12 months? 

Bob Djokovic: We have just hired a new CEO named Barry Siff who will bring new energy and enthusiasm to our sport. I am confident that we will see the pace and growth of handball accelerated with Barry.

We will be working on increasing the staff of USATH in the next three months so that the organization can do a better job of administering the sport and become more effective in supporting and working with our membership. It is also our intention to significantly increase our communication and "digital footprint" to increase our brand and membership.

In the next six months I would like to see the successful launch of the university initiative. Three of the geographies have been selected, and we are in the process of selecting the fourth geography. I am also looking forward to seeing our teams compete in the Pan American Games

Twelve months from now I would like to see stability in the organization, and continued execution of the Strategic Plan. I would also like to see increased collaboration between USATH and our members. I feel this has gotten better in the past twelve months, but there remain significant opportunities for improvement.