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Dutch Handball Federation takes new course thanks to SOS-programme


SOS - responsive organising of sports
Slagvaardig Organiseren van Sport (SOS – responsive organising of sports) is the name of a project – developed by several medium-sized sports federations and financed by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports – that should help smaller and medium-sized sports federations become more responsive and better equipped to anticipate changes in society. To start with, twenty sports federations took part in the SOS programme. Over the next six months Sport Knowhow XL will feature a series of articles on how those sports federations experienced the programme, describing, among other things, how one federation executed the change process, the effects and any follow-up steps. Previously we published the change process of Royal Dutch Cricket Union and the change process of Badminton Nederland. Below you can read about the change process of Dutch Handball Federation.

by: Leo Aquina | 28 May 2020

'We thought we had it all figured out', says Danny de Ruiter of the Dutch Handball Federation NHV. 'Over the past years our women’s national team repeatedly achieved international success, membership was growing again and we were organising successful new types of handball like Beach Handball, Walking Handball and Wheelchair Handball.' But when De Ruiter was taking a closer look at the need for change and the possibilities for doing so within the NHV, he changed his mind. 'We are still pretty traditional, both structure-wise and culture-wise.' Time for a change. With 'Slagvaardig Organiseren Sport' De Ruiter set to work on beach handball.

SOS-nr.1-1The NHV celebrates its 84th anniversary. Since the eighties membership had been declining steadily from over 100,000 to around 50,000. Over the past decade the organization was overhauled completely. 'In 2013 we went from a decentral organization with eight different districts to one central organisation', De Ruiter remembered. 'After that unification we worked hard to improve all kinds of other aspects. The NHV’s finances were straightened out, the head office was reorganized and professionalised.' The reorganisation was effective and slowly but surely the NHV pulled itself up. Membership, too, was rising cautiously.

Ingrained traditions
Despite the growing membership and the world title won by the women’s national team in 2019, there was still room for improvement. When studying at the Action Learning Academy to become a certified manager, De Ruiter came to the conclusion that his organisation was often hindered by ingrained habits. 'Most federations and clubs have been around for a long time, comparatively. We have to deal with all kind of traditions and unwritten rules. Although we work centrally from the head office, we do not share a culture. Until last year the five teams at the head office were like separate islands. Sometimes the teams interpreted general agreements differently. What’s more, our future vision and core values were little known among colleagues and clubs. How do you make connections and how do you handle that as MT?'

'As a federation we had let it slide, despite the huge potential'

In his research De Ruiter focused on the differences between regular indoor and field handball, and a new type of handball, beach handball. 'Turned out those differences were pretty major, and not just visibly, in terms of rules and materials, but also mentally, the mindset, the needs and behaviour of the players and the organisation. Until a few years ago beach handball did not have a breeding ground within the organisation, or within the clubs for that matter. Such a waste, for internationally beach handball is growing fast, and by 2024 it could be an Olympic discipline. For a while there was talk even that beach handball would continue without the federation. As a federation we had let it slide, despite the huge potential.'

Beach handball as driving wheel
De Ruiter’s research was an eyeopener for many within the NHV, eventually resulted in an application for subsidy under the SOS project. Initially, the project was directed mostly at beach handball, but eventually the impact widened. 'We wanted to see if we could come up with specific concepts that could act as a driving wheel for change within the federation', De Ruiter explains. Six potentially practical beach handball concepts were tested by means of experiments and interviews with the parties involved. The outcome was that the main challenges for a successful rollout of those concepts were for the most part internal: sufficient support commitment, change skills and the joint search for synergy.


Ultimately, the SOS project resulted in an application for subsidy from the Innovation Fund 2020. 'In the end it became a different application from the one we had in mind', De Ruiter reports. 'We did not build on the six beach handball options that we had explored, but started an entirely different project: JESP (Educational Sports Platform for Young Adults), targeting young people between 12 and 18. This is a group with high dropout rates, and comparatively frequent switches between sports. We offer an online platform for secondary education pupils to get to know different types of organized sports.'

JESP was created in part based on the SOS study, and with the help of The Brown Paper Company the NHV understood it had to find partners. De Ruiter: 'We have to cooperate because we just can’t do it alone. Connecting with other sports and partners like NOC*NSF and the KVLO is essential to make the project a success.'

In its application the NHV had a critical look at its own role within a changing society. 'In its traditional role the federation organises and facilitates competitions, but in this project we are more like an enterprising platform', so De Ruiter. 'We are there as a federation, not only for handball players, but also for non-players and fans. We explore various new match concepts and types of tournaments. We should focus not just on ourselves, but precisely on the cooperation with municipalities, schools, companies as well as other sports.'

'The plan says we will change from a traditional work organisation into a platform organisation, with an increasingly facilitating role'

JESP is a project to introduce pupils to different sports through education. The NHV would like to start in the municipality of Deventer. De Ruiter: 'We want to launch in national sports week (September 2020). With JESP pupils can learn more about a variety of sports through the subjects at their own schools. Besides handball, we are thinking hockey or other indoor sports.'

Strategic plan
The intensive cooperation with and the support of The Brown Paper Company within the SOS project gave a major boost to a new Strategic Plan NHV 2020+. The ALV will adopt the plan soon after the summer of 2020. De Ruiter: 'Our new mission statement is: Everyone experiences handball! The plan says we will change from a traditional work organisation into a platform organisation, with an increasingly facilitating role.'

In this way the SOS project will help the NHV to reposition itself as part of the transition in the sport. De Ruiter: 'With beach handball, for instance, we might provide the platform and facilitate the competition, but leave the execution to different other parties.' The question arises what would be the added value of a federation after the transition? De Ruiter: 'As a federation you will always be the leader in your sport. You have all the knowledge and will always be the authority in terms of content. What will change is that as an organisation we will be much more enterprising, and help people reach their full potential. We can translate those changes into our products and services.'


In drawing up and detailing the Strategic Plan NHV 2020+ the NHV used six building stones for successful change from The Brown Paper Company’s philosophy: Ambition, Analysis, Strategy, Business Case, Succession, Responsiveness. 'That will be our guideline for all projects within the federation from now on', De Ruiter confirms. 'When drawing up the strategic plan we found out that everyone at the head office had his or her own method for projects. These six building stones provide frameworks that are the same for everyone. With the same language, and makes it much easier to go back and forth.'

What were the main stumbling blocks for the NHV in starting the SOS change programme? De Ruiter: 'The main thing is that you always have to bring people on board before you can actually take them along. Initially I was the first at the NHV to take the course of The Brown Paper Company. Later someone else did the same course, and now our general director is taking the course. If you have more people who believe in it, it is easier to convince the organisation.'

'Change causes a shock but is necessary to forge new ways'

When he started his research into the culture within the NHV in 2019, De Ruiter had no idea where it would lead. 'Much has happened and we still have a long way to go. In 2019 our director also started a Human Resources Management project, to prepare the NHV head office as well as possible for a viable future. It will be completed in the next few months. Next season our management structure will be reformed as well. I no longer see SOS as an isolated project but as a movement that we have set in motion to make the federation more robust and more responsive. Change causes a shock but is necessary to forge new ways.'

SOS-nr.1-4Danny de Ruiter (41) is manager sports participation with the Dutch Handball Federation (NHV), based in Papendal since December 2019. He directs a team of nine that concerns itself with support to clubs, product development, training and stimulating handball. For questions about the SOS project or his research into the organisational culture of the NHV, you can contact Danny at For more information:

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