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State of the Association: 2010 v3

04/17/2010, 12:40pm CDT
By No Author

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State of the Association – US Fencing:2010 vol. 3


Here we are again, a couple of weekshave passed since I’ve talked with many of you, but as I’d prefer, I’ve grabbeda cup of coffee, and am ready to share yet another installment of what’s goingon inside fencing.  As you know,we’ve been working through our business model: Build, Support, Achieve.  Since this is the third time we’vetalked, I’d like to focus a bit on the ACHIEVEment portion. 


Most find it difficult to think aboutachievement apart from competition. I understand… as a guy who’s devoted almost his entire professionalcareer to the world of sport, achievement is typically measured in wins vs.losses, points per game, RBI, or even on a scale of 1 to 10.  It’s a bit different in my current role,where achievement in our internal high performance department is related to howwell we as a staff are able to equip & support the national team coaches toenable them to deliver sustained competitive excellence on the strip ininternational competition.  That’sdifficult to quantify, but I have a simple goal that is measurable and will beevident: as we step onto the floor in London in ’12, we do so as 1 team – TeamUSA.  More specifically - that wehave developed a team of coaches, each with their own strengths, thatcontribute to the team at large. 


Think about a college footballteam.  (I know – many of you haveshared with me that you can’t relate at all to sports that include a ball or apuck…that’s ok, please bear with me.) A college football team typically is led by a coaching staff, consistingof a group of coaches, each that has a specific responsibility.  The head coach is responsible forleading the team of coaches, and finding a way to best utilize theirstrengths.  You’ll find an offensiveline coach, a strength coach, a quarterback coach, a special teams coach,etc.  You’ll also find coordinatorsthat specifically look at strategy and determine the best approach to achievingthe goal – to win the game.


Individually, each of the coaches isgood at what they do – but there’s no way they’d be expected to win the game ontheir own.  They must to operate asa team, while capitalizing on their individual strengths.  The same goes for the players.  Each player must understand hisspecific responsibility and be able to execute flawlessly.  One wouldn’t expect the offensive linecoach to be able to effectively improve the kickers’ ability to make a fieldgoal.  That would be the specialteams coach’s responsibility. Likewise, one wouldn’t expect the head coach tobe able to work directly with each athlete to improve a certain part of his orher play.  No, the head coach isexpected to lead the group of coaches collectively to achieve a desired objective.  To do so though – EVERYONE has to buyin to the chosen system.  When aproblem is presented – all discuss, input is provided, and opinions arevoiced.  However, when a decisionis made, EVERYONE  – athletes,coaches, managers – must be on board and operating within the decision.


The same must be true of us at USFencing as we step into the arena, the Excel Center, right on the docks inLondon.  It’s not a bunch ofindividual coaches and individual athletes rallying or elbowing their way for aspot in the limelight.  No.  Rather we must be an integrated whole –a unit – all behind 1 team.  Wewon’t be successful if we arrive as three weapons.  To achieve our goal, we must be 1 team.  That’s what I hope to achieve - staff,volunteers, coaches, athletes, parents, members, sponsors…All Team USA – headsheld high.  United, supportive ofour athletes, to achieve what we believe they’re capable of – encouraging themto compete with EXCELLENCE.


So what’s my role in all of this?  Well, it consists of putting togetherthe necessary professional staff to serve our team effectively.  When considering London specifically,it includes spending time in London – setting the stage with Bob Largman (ouridentified Team Leader for the Games) helping our National Coaches learn whatto expect.  It involves working onhousing for support staff and replacement athletes, and evaluatingpossibilities for pre-games training sites and city partners.  And ideally, it includes working onfriends/family program.  That’sjust one small part of what my role is.


In reality, that’s only a smallcomponent of what my role is. Ultimately, it’s to make sure that we, as an organization, are moving inthe right direction towards achieving our mission.  The last time we talked our conversation revolved around theSUPPORT aspect of the business model. This week, I realized that the ACHIEVE component I wanted to talk aboutstemmed from our ability to SUPPORT you, and the manner in which we go aboutit. 


One reason for the ideas@usfencing.orgis to encourage you to share your thoughts with me.  When I take the time to casually sit and read what you haveto say, and I do this weekly over a latte of some sort, I am required to listen– I can’t interrupt (though there may be times I’d like to).  Since I haven’t met all 25,000 of you,I attempt to “hear” your voice, and try to discern your tone and inflection,and actually picture how you might present it if you across the café table fromme. 


Why?  Two reasons. First – relationships matter to me, and the more I can put myself in aposition that I can listen and learn from you, the more I might gain from theconversation.  Secondly, I’mconfident that the requests and thoughts that really should matter to us as anorganization – those we should focus on – are those that I hear over, and over,and over.  (and over andover….)  I’m confident that YOU areour memory… reminding us… showing us WHAT we need to worry about.  I am grateful for those who have spentthe time to write. I appreciate the candid feedback, as well as the well-timedencouragement, from those that have shared their thoughts. 


Some of you may have thought – “sowhat… I’ll write, it’ll sit in an inbox… who knows if it’s read… and what wasthe point.”  Well, here are acouple of examples of how it’s played out to help you recognize that we areindeed listening to you.  Throughoutthe course of the last year I kept hearing “we need timely info… we needcurrent and relevant information…. It would be nice if the USFA cared enoughabout the success of our athletes to provide timely updates aroundinternational competition…”


Well, as some of you noticed and havecommented, we made a concerted effort to have timely results from the Jr/CadWorld Championships posted on our website.  Relative to the way it was – we did much better…and yet, weknow we can do better, and that we must keep delivering on this priority.  So, that’s one example… How else? 


Since I arrived I 2008 I haveconsistently heard, “Why don’t we have online registration?”, or “Wouldn’t itjust make sense for people to be able to sign up for an event online?”  Though it’s been a long and arduousprocess, we finally have provided a solution.  Is it perfect? Not yet.  Will it beimproved? Undoubtedly.  BUT – it’sthere. It’s available for Summer Nationals, and it’s tied to our onlineregistration database.   It’snot only being used for Summer Nationals, but also for the Jr/Cad/Youth Pan Amevent in Mexico in a few weeks…It will be used in the future for internationalcompetitions as well as training camps, coaches educational sessions, etc.  Sure, there are MANY more ideas that wekeep hearing about.  I want toassure you that we are definitely listening.  We’ve just got to be intentional about HOW we invest ourresources (finances, time, people) and correctly prioritize how we moveforward.


Guess what…we are at an advantage inthe NGB world - our ability to change course is to our advantage because we’rea small to mid-sized NGB.  If youstop for a moment and consider what it might take for Swimming, Hockey,Volleyball, Triathlon, or Lacrosse (all with hundreds of thousands of members)to adjust their course, we SHOULD be way more capable of making quick, sweepingchanges (for example:  It’s myunderstanding that USA Swimming invested nearly $1MM on their website alone justto be able to serve their members in the way that met the needs of theassociation.)  This is great news.


Because it should be easier for us toadapt quickly, we also need to be careful not to get too caught up in the “whatifs”…we’ve got to pay attention and not spend too much time, money, or energyfixating on problems that may never materialize.  That’s not to say that we need not plan, nor be aware of therisks and opportunities that we face as a sport.  No – both are important.  We simply need to be sure to keep adaptability as a corecomponent of who we are that we might not become paralyzed by the “whatifs”. 


Here’s what I’m getting at.  There is a challenge that nearly allNGBs face – the state of the economy. It has changed spending habits across the world of sport.  In a meeting I attended this week, oneof the statistics presented indicated the increase in families who werecombining their vacations with their children’s sporting activities.  (Believe it or not, someone referred toit as “sport-cation”).  This meanswe have to consider how our National Events are structured – including timing,location, size, etc.  If I combinethat challenge with what I believe I have heard from you this past year and viayour email messages, many of our members would LOVE to have their competitionsin conjunction with other offered “outings”. 


Many of the vets have shared theirdesire to have an outing attached to their competition – whether it be to thetheatre, or a winery, or for some a hockey game.  I’ve had that idea since I attended the competition at theBroadmoor in Colorado Springs, and I was glad to know that many of you havethought the same thing.  We’d haveto make some changes for this to happen. We’ have to work with cities prior to going in to make sure theseoptions were available; we’d have to make sure the schedule allowed competitionto be completed in time for those members to clean up and head out at areasonable hour.


Likewise there are many different ways wemight facilitate this for families who bring siblings to the competitions aswell.  The bottom line is that ifwe’re going to build our relationship with you, we need to spend more timeconsidering HOW we might best SERVE you. Conversations are occurring at theNational Office – the good news is that they’re not just occurring when I pressthem…I hear ideas from our staff for ways to improve your experience on aregular basis..  Many of our staffhave come to me with an idea of better ways to address your needs. However, aswith any change, these ideas will take time – and resources – to implement. 


So what changes are necessary? 


Well, there are quite a few.  At the national office, we are lookingat ways to improve the level of customer service you receive.  For those who didn’t know, our teamfound a way to add virtual fax lines to help alleviate our members from hearingthe dreaded busy signal when they try to send in their information.  Additionally, instead of rippingthrough boxes and boxes of paper, and then consuming hours of resources to scanthose faxes, as the fax comes in, it is immediately converted to a pdf and thenemailed to the necessary individuals. 


Additionally we’re looking in to waysto improve our phone system to be able to take your calls more often.  YUP – you heard me – I know we have aproblem.  Over the past threeweeks, I have personally kept track, having called the office 39 times duringnormal business hours – and only three times reaching a live person.  That’s a PROBLEM… a HUGE problem. Ishudder to think of the number of cell minutes that have been consumed by ourmembers leaving messages or trying to weave their way through the phoneinstruction system. 


I recognize that one of the weeks wehad staff in Dallas for an NAC. And another of the weeks other staff was in Columbus for aconference.  And during the entiretime Paul Fitzgerald was in Azerbaijan serving as the team manager for theJr/Cad World Championship – but that’s a totally different discussion.  There have been times that I have hadto laugh when I pick up the phone and I hear “oh…. ummm…give me a sec’…Iexpected to leave a message…”, and then the caller stumbles to share with methe reason they called if in fact they can remember.  The take away message - It’s something that will be lookedat.


It is a phone system problem –possibly.  Currently, if someone ina department is on the phone, the call does not roll over to the next person inthe department, it just heads to voice mail.  Will our current system allow the roll over – we’re notsure.  It’s the USOC system so weare somewhat limited by the features they have arranged for the NGBs, but wealso may not know how to effectively program it.   Does that mean we simply say, “Oh well…it’s out of ourhands?”  No – that’s not righteither.  We will assess what can bedone to serve you more effectively, and I received confirmation before writingthis that our staff is looking into it.


It also might be a staffing issue –knowing that currently there are limited bodies that can be devoted toanswering the phone.  We’ll assessthat too.  We’ve been operatingaround 65% staffed for the last couple of months and it is beginning to takeits toll.  You matter to us – youreally do.  We’ve just got tofigure out the best way to serve you.


That’s a quick look at what’s needed atthe National Office.  What about atthe board level?  Well, we’re awarethat a change is necessary.  HatsOff to the Bylaws Task Force who have done an excellent job of working throughthe bylaws and providing the necessary revisions that line up with therecommendations of the USOC, that reflect the best interest of theorganization, and that are modeled after established practices of goodgovernance of the organization. 


Now, I’ve heard rumblings on the streetabout the bylaws…some have claimed that they didn’t know about the changes…somehave vocally said that there was going to be a strong protest.  (Since I was at the registration boothwhen the individual made the claim I have a sense he had no idea the guy sittingthere was yours truly.)  I’ll behonest with you, I do know that Kalle, along with other Task Force members,made themselves available time and time again, at various national events, toget member input. 


I assure you that it hasn’t been a“secretive process” as some have claimed. Could it have been promoted more? Sure.  Should it have? Possibly.  Could moremeetings have been held?  Well, I’mconfident more meetings could have been hosted, BUT when only a handful ofpeople attended the meetings that were offered, knowing that they were offeredat various events, at various times, and in various locations, it is hard tojustify the additional resources, knowing the amount of time that group wasalready putting in on a weekly basis to help us move forward.


As a whole, I truly believe the membersof task force, through the bylaws revisions, have done a stellar job ofpositioning our organization, at the board level - at the policy level - toeffectively navigate the waters that lie ahead.  Similarly, I am committed to putting together the best teamin order to carry us beyond the next two Olympic cycles, and it is exciting tosee the progress we’ve made.  I’mlooking forward to introducing our staff team soon, to help you know who mightsupport you most effectively.  Thattruly is our role, to find ways to support you in your endeavor to achieve yourgoals. And to be effective as an organization – collectively between theprofessional staff and the board – we have to assess our current situation andwork to ensure we’re making the right changes to achieve our collective goals,grounded in our mission as an organization, and regulated by the resources wehave available to us.


This will take time – but it will beworth it.  We can and will improveone step at a time. 


All in all, I hope these posts arehelpful.  It’s one way that I candemonstrate transparency with each of you.  I am grateful for those who have responded, your commentshave made into a discussion as opposed to a lecture.  And I’m thankful for those who have shared encouragingwords; your support has helped give us strength to press on knowing that we arepart of a much larger family.


It has not been an easy year and fouror five months…but it’s getting better. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to be a part of it.





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