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George Mason Coach with Athletes

Handy Handerahan, George Mason University’s head strength and conditioning coordinator, worked with 12 female coaches from Argentina visiting Mason as part of the Sport Diplomacy initiative run out of the university’s Center for Sport Management.

Visiting Coaches Take Mason Sports Training Seriously

It was not unusual for George Mason University’s head strength and conditioning coordinator Handy Handerahan to be interrupted with questions as he spoke to a group of female basketball coaches.

The women did not want to waste the opportunity to gather as much information as they could from Handerahan about training techniques and philosophies.

“I want to learn about the whole setup of the program,” Janet Martinez said later through an interpreter. “I want to know how the athletes work and what their day-to-day lives are like.”

Martinez was one of 12 female coaches from Argentina visiting Mason as part of the Sport Diplomacy initiative run out of the university’s Center for Sport Management. The program, which began in 2011, is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State and brings athletes, coaches, and sports administrators from around the world to Mason for workshops and discussions about leadership, training, nutrition, team-building, injury prevention, Title IX, and inclusive sports.

“It’s taxpayer money well spent,” says Mason professor Craig Esherick, a co-principal investigator on the initiative. “It gives visitors a better impression of our country, our people, our government. It’s grassroots diplomacy.”

“It’s building relationships more than anything else,” says Bob Baker, the initiative’s principal investigator and director of the Center for Sport Management. “We’re sport people, but it’s the use of sport for a bigger purpose. The bigger purpose is understanding and building relationships.”

The Argentinians were the 74th group to come through the program. Israeli basketball coaches, on campus in late July, were the 75th. Previous groups included snowboarders from Kyrgyzstan and players from the first female club basketball team in Saudi Arabia.

Mason is responsible for logistics and programming presentations, a task that falls to co-principal investigator Pam Baker, program coordinators Niamh Connolly and Amanda Sabella, and program support specialist B. J. Durso.

The State Department pays for it all, including interpreters.

It is a highly visible program that puts Mason at the forefront in the sport diplomacy field, Baker says. “It’s not only because of our relationship with the State Department. From an academic standpoint, we’re leaders. We’re global leaders.”

But also part of something bigger, says Handerahan.

“Using sport as diplomacy as a way to make inroads with people is a big thing. It allows people to put their guard down a little bit, and we all unite in what we’re trying to learn about.”

— Handy Handerahan, Mason’s head strength and conditioning coordinator

The visitors are asked to develop an action plan that describes how they will use the information they learn back home and to whom they will speak about their experiences.

Follow-up interviews determine how much participants speak about their experiences and how their perceptions of American culture were affected.

“From the time they get here to the time they leave, we’re seeing a big growth in their perception and understanding of America,” says Baker.

That was clearly expressed by the Argentinians.

“This exchange experience is such a wonderful gesture on the part of the citizens here, demonstrating the care and concern they have for us,” coach Marcela Margaria said through an interpreter. “The things I am learning here are going to show me the possibilities of what I can bring back home.”

For more information contact writer Damian Cristodero.