Archive | May 2013

Things done well, things that need to be done better

This is in response to a question on to each of the candidates


3 Things USA Fencing has done well over the past year:

1) Improved Financial Position
At the start of the quadrennium, the Association continued to be in extremely dire financial shape. We had no credit, a massive accumulation of unpaid obligations, shaky financial controls and things were worse than they had been the year before.
Since then, we’ve substantially reduced our unpaid liabilities, our budget variances are under control, and we look on track to be accumulating cash by the end of the calendar year or so. This has come from the diligence and discipline of our organization and Treasurer to stick to our plan and not our desires.

2) Deploying an independent website
Faced with being locked in to the extremely unsatisfactory USOC hosted website with a very tight deadline, USA Fencing managed to bid out and acquire a website that is substantially superior to what came before, and is actually capable of producing useful information. This was probably the first demonstration of technological adeptness we showed since we adopted Fencing Time and its online results functionality and bucks the trend we’ve established over the last decades of being well behind the time when it comes to increasing our efficiency.

3) From Tournament to Tablet
Our social media strategy has does a remarkable job of increasing our communication to the membership that wants to follow along via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It’s now routine to see important bouts even non-finals posted for public consumption when not long ago we never showed anything. This has been building for more than a year but this year felt like a breakout one.

4 Things USA Fencing has done poorly over the past year:

1) Make progress on most of the Strategic Plan.
(Here’s a copy of the most recent version I’ve found)
The Strategic Plan has 6 priorities:
1. Get solvent and create a sustainable financial plan
2. Grow membership and increase service, benefits and value to our customer segments
3. Strengthen coaching development
4. Increase athlete development efforts
5. Communicate with transparency
6. Tap into and broaden volunteer base

Of these, we’re making progress on 1. Which is a big deal, but we need to make progress on all the others as well. Specifically, priorities 5 & 6 should have minimal budget impact and ought to be accomplished in parallel to the financial recovery.
I haven’t seen any sign we’ve improved our value proposition to our customer segments, we’re mostly treading water there.
We have made zero progress on coaching development as an Association over the past year and this is a significant failing and is the reason I am running for office.
Our Athlete Development is strongly tied to the funding we can provide, so I will accept that as a partially dependent variable.

2) Communications, Metrics and Customer Service
Right now we don’t have a very good idea of how happy our members are with their experiences with the Association, what parts are going well and what parts are not. We don’t know if people are happy with the tournaments we offer or if they really want something else. We need to become more of a data driven organization and get in the habit of using actual numbers when making a case for projects, evaluations and progress reports. The Tournament Committee has done a good job of presenting figures in its reports, we need to get the rest of the organization on board and make sure the data we’re using are the important ones.
3) Committee and Commission Productivity
Our committee structure is severely flawed. We are unclear what our committees duties are, what we expect them to produce, whether they are doing a good job, or if we need to make any changes. Our committees need to be holding scheduled meetings with agendas and minutes, and we them to be clear on what is within their scope of responsibility and what is outside it. We need to be clear on what they are expected to output and followup to determine if that is happening or not.

Because I cannot ignore it
4) Organizational Technology
As an organization with a substantial amount of information that needs to be processed, we traditionally do this in very inefficient ways due to a lack of institutional desire to improve efficiency. We need to identify our business processes which take the most time and staff attention, and the information that is most useful to our membership and provide automated systems to manage those tasks. There should be an continuous effort to improve our efficiency and allow us to increase our service.



Historically, I think the Board has been afraid to engage in direct fundraising because they were told by many people that the Association’s finances and controls were so shoddy no serious donor would want to be associated with them.  I don’t think this is any longer the case and we’ve made a lot of progress that we can present on paying down our debt and improving our financial controls.  I will be donating, and I know other candidates have donated as well.  To my knowledge none of our candidates are people with deep pockets who are going to make a substantial difference personally to our overall financial situation.  We have structured our Board to be member selected and responding to membership interests and the voting members have been mostly interested in organizational and operational issues.  The Board’s focus on operational issues have detracted from our fundraising mission and that’s something that needs to improve.  We need to ask people to donate, we need to offer compelling examples of what they’re funding, and we need to arrange for professional assistance to develop a compelling fundraising plan that builds a structure of giving like other nonprofits have.

National Tournaments and Volunteer Staff.

USA Fencing runs the largest and most complicated tournaments in the entire world.  There is nothing that begins to approach the complexity and scale of our Summer Nationals, and even our large NACs surpass what you see anywhere else.  To get to this position we have achieved amazing feats, from training a huge cadre of certified, professional referees, contracting for huge numbers of tournament equipment, some of the worlds best armorers, and bout committee members who process events efficiently.  If you look back at how tournaments were run years ago, we have really made things measurably better.  However most of the progress we have made has allowed our events to get bigger without breaking.  The competition experience for athletes, spectators and staff hasn’t done well.  Our finals are rarely attended or noticed by people, many of our events are double and even triple flighted to start their pool rounds, and our officials often work extremely long hours under considerable stress.  When they do have breaks, they’re often uncertain of how long they are for or when they will be needed next.  This combination leads to burnout and dissuades people who might consider volunteering from considering it.

As we look at our tournament structure going forward we need to identify what acceptable working conditions are for our officials and make sure that the choices we make respect that.  There are many people so dedicated to the sport that they will stay awake for 18 hours, on their feet almost the entire time, eating a sandwich at the strip during the breaks between bouts.  But it really is unreasonable of us to ask this of them, and practically they won’t be doing as good a job at the end of it.  So when we calculate how many referees are needed, we need to look at how many hours we need them for, make sure they get a guaranteed time to seat down and eat, and that there are opportunities for real breaks during the day.  Being told “You can go to the restroom after doing this next bout, but hurry back” isn’t a break.  We’re forced into these statements because the tournament is rolling along like a wave and taking a real break would toss everything into chaos, or take even that opportunity from the people volunteering alongside you. 

Another area that needs to improve is the professional development pathway of our volunteers.  Right now there are a number of steps along the way that might mark your progression from just beginning to whatever your ultimate goal is.  For referees that includes taking the seminar, passing the written exam, your first tournament, your first final, your first national tournament, etc.  But when it comes to how to get these, many people feel lost or uncertain.  It is often unspoken how to get hired for your first NAC.  Once you go, did anyone tell you if you did a good job, or what you need to work on to get better?  Some people get this feedback, and others do not.  We need to be consistent in our mentoring and providing feedback to everyone who volunteers their time to us.  We need a clear pathway for how to become an armorer or Bout Committee member.  

As an organization we have achieved amazing things, but every good organization is planning for how to improve, and implementing these plans.  Let’s focus on that improvement.

Candidate Statement

Hi, I am Andrew Lambdin-Abraham and I am running for the position of Volunteer Official Representative to the USA Fencing Board of Directors to focus on some important aspects of our sport that have not been priorities recently. The Board’s purpose is to oversee the management of USA Fencing and set the priorities that we focus on. Chief among these are providing coaching education programs, the customer service experience, and improving working conditions for officials. With progress on these priorities, we can achieve the financial stability and membership growth that our sport needs.

I started fencing in college and have been refereeing nearly as long, including the very tough times over the past two quadrenniums where officials reimbursements were extremely delayed. I am a regular referee in Division I Epee and started working internationally. It’s a pleasure to see athletes, parents, coaches and volunteers from all over the country and share our enthusiasm and fun in participating in this sport. I am Vice Chair of the South Texas Division and the Southwest Section and know the challenges facing our local fencing bodies. I have attended most of the Board meetings and conference calls over the last few years and kept track of the issues they deal with and demands of the position.

My primary priority is to get USA Fencing back into the field of coaching education.  Years ago we operated a summer program called Coaches College which was extremely successful. I intend to bring it back and commit to training new and existing coaches to expand our sport and allow more people to experience fencing. This is my top priority within the constraints of our budget and operational realities.

A priority I bring from my professional life at an extremely customer service focused organization is to measure and improve the experience of our members. We need to identify how satisfied our athletes, parents, local officers and officials are with our National Office, our tournaments, and our processes, and what we can do to improve the experience with each of those. We need to measure, we need to identify causes, and we need know what is working well and what needs improving.

As the Volunteer Staff representative and as an experienced volunteer for the Association, I have a special responsibility to look out for the experiences and working conditions of our volunteers.  Right now there are significant stresses on our cadre who work at our National Tournaments, and many opportunities to improve things for local volunteers as well.  I think with proper planning and preparation, we can make National Tournaments run better, less stressful for our staff and participants, and make our volunteers feel appreciated and that they have a path for progress to their goals.

Fiscally, our organization seems on the right track to becoming healthy again.  We have started controlling expenses and paying down our debt, and if we stick to this path and are responsible I believe we will become and stay solvent and can expand our programs.  In the past, this discipline has not occurred.  It is my intention to insist on a suitable surplus in the budget until we are in full fiscal health and to oppose any budget that includes a deficit until it can be made up out of our reserves.