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Executive Director Blog: The Evolution of National Events

05/05/2015, 4:45pm CDT
By Kris Ekeren

Over the last year, USA Fencing has made several key changes to how our national tournaments (and their associated qualification systems) are structured. This topic has generated more discussion in meetings and on social media than almost any other during the last 18 months and so I thought this blog would be a good place to discuss USA Fencing’s vision for national events and how these tournaments should run in the future.

At the heart of the discussion surrounding national and regional tournaments is the following issue:

USA Fencing needs to refine and in some cases, create, an event structure that allows for appropriate athlete development. What does that mean? We need an event pyramid that allows for athletes to compete at the local level, then move to the division and regional level, and, finally, to qualify for the national level and/or international level.

I know there has been some debate in the fencing community regarding whether the athlete pyramid model is what’s best for the growth of our sport and development of our athletes.  

As USA Fencing’s membership grew rapidly over the past few decades, we tried to make national events accessible to as many athletes as possible.   This model had its advantages and we have received feedback like “It is good for all athletes to have high level competition” and “the great thing about fencing is that everyone can go to national level competitions – it creates a relationship among all of the athletes.”

This approach made our national events incredibly popular, but it’s now time to take the next step in the evolution of a sports organization by having an event structure that allows athletes to compete at their skill level.  

Many of you are now asking: “Are you telling me that some athletes may never make it to a national competition?” Yes. Just like every athlete won’t be able to make an Olympic Team, not every fencer can compete at a national event. But there will be a qualification system put into place where all athletes who choose to strive for the top levels of competition can know what it takes to get there. And all athletes will have the opportunity to compete at an appropriate level with the possibility of reaching the goal of ultimately competing on a national stage. After receiving feedback from all categories of our membership, I’d like to address some of the myths that I’ve heard:

The move to limiting qualification at national events is being driven by the fact that USA Fencing does not have enough officials, bout committee members, armorers and they are tired of working long days.
First, USA Fencing is immensely grateful to the many individuals who make it possible to host our national events and, in order for any organization to be successful, we must work at growing not only our athlete pipeline, but developing a system that allows us to recruit and retain officials, bout committee members, etc. But the fact that we need to develop more referees and other tournament officials was not the catalyst for creating an event structure that makes sense for our athletes –it is a consequence of growth. The development of officials is a key piece of managing national events, regardless of how the qualification system is structured.  

It is good for beginning athletes to compete against elite athletes as it encourages them to work harder to get to that level.
While it is good for beginning athletes to have role models, it is often discouraging to be beaten badly and pushed vastly beyond your ability level. Being challenged is a positive thing for all athletes, but consistently being pushed too far outside of your skillset too frequently results in athletes who become frustrated and leave the sport. On the other end of the spectrum, our elite athletes do not benefit by fencing individuals who are not challenging them to compete at a high level and a structure that results in a severe imbalance of skill sets in the same event can result in injuries for both elite and less experienced athletes.

USA Fencing should have expanded their regional events before limiting national event competitions.
Perhaps you agree that we as a sport should grow the event structure, but you feel that we should have expanded regional events first. Unfortunately, it is a chicken and egg situation, and in most people’s opinion, there was not a good way to grow regional events without changing qualification paths in order to encourage more athletes to attend the regional events. During the next few seasons, as our regional structure expands, not only will there be more regional opportunities, but those tournaments will become deeper as well.

USA Fencing is trying to get rid of divisions, and changing qualification paths is the first step in the process.
False – there is no plan to eliminate divisions. As the local administrative units of USA Fencing, divisions are incubators not only for fencers and clubs, but for new coaches and officials too. We need the divisions to assist in growing fencing at the grassroots level and, in fact, want to provide additional support for the divisions.

You didn’t get input from the membership on what these changes mean.
The discussion to make changes began more than a decade ago with discussions among various committees, but shifted into high gear over the past two seasons through the hard work of the Tournament Improvement Project team. The group came from a number of constituent groups, with varied opinions. The discussions were long and often heated, but the group was able to come to a consensus on the first steps to implementing the event changes.  The National Office has not made any changes to our tournament structure without getting input from the organization’s committees and many other sources. We are always open to suggestions and listening to differing opinions as we are aiming for a tournament structure that can adapt to our continuing growth and the evolving needs of our membership. As our sport continues to grow and change, so will our regional and national events.

I’ll be the first to admit that there have been mistakes made as we made changes this season and we don’t have every answer to perfecting the tournament structure yet.  The National Office, the Tournament Committee and related committees, and the Board of Directors made a commitment to begin the tournament changes knowing that course corrections would occur.

I can promise you that while more adjustments are coming in future seasons, we will do a better job of communicating the changes to our membership through our website, email blasts, and social media.

For those of you who would like to provide feedback on the event structure or ask additional questions, please contact the National Office or me directly

All the best –

Tag(s): News