My report this week is atypically long. So, please bear with me as I reflect on the past week; which I considered a week of top-shelf experience. Over the past seven days, I continued my orientation with USA Field Hockey through office work and meeting individually with staff members in Colorado Springs, and by traveling to Moorpark in California. The Moorpark visit was of particular interest as I hear of some of the philosophical differences that are within the organization concerning support, Grassroots development and other topics. By the way, differences of opinion are often healthy. Progression eventually occurs as people are willing to understand differing perspectives and then try melding them into the fabric of an organization. And, differences seem to always circle about the allocation of resources. My caveat is that solutions should always revolve around the universality of a sport. More on that later in this report.
Friday evening I spent with Tom Harris, Tom's family, various members of the Men's National Team, Field Hockey Federation (an independent entity located in California) president Jackie Scally, and USA Field Hockey board members Martha Jordan and Pat Cota (Pat was also there as a representative of the Men's National Team). Tom is truly iconic in the world of field hockey as he, his family, and friends have developed an impressive facility at Moorpark College. Tom and I met late in the afternoon and he shared the schematics of the Moorpark facility plus information revolving around Cal Cup. He has a great deal of pride in both, and he should. They are huge labor-laden efforts that have rendered great results. Later that evening we joined everyone else for dinner.
Saturday morning I participated in the USA Field Hockey Futures program being conducted by a large number of the Men's National Team at the Moorpark facility. Around sixty young women of various ages participated in the day long two-session technique drill sets. Also, that morning Jackie Scally extended to me an invitation to attend the Field Hockey Federation's board meeting, and I did.
The meeting was an extraordinary example of what I think a Grassroots effort should be. Much time was focused on local club team scheduling and it was obvious that the individual board members had a great deal of local knowledge of individual athletes and how to continually nourish the "inner fire" of those athletes continuing on with field hockey.
During the board meeting, a board member presented to me a list of questions he wanted me to answer. It seemed his set of questions painted the concerns/philosophies that he and perhaps others have. And, they were questions that were positively presented. His list was long so I paraphrased below:
1. We seem to be investing a lot of resources in coaching. Why not divert some of those funds to male athletes?
2. Our male athletes are often self funding a portion of their trips to international competitions. Why doesn't USA Field Hockey totally fund those athletes similar to other countries' field hockey NGBs as USA Field Hockey has funded women teams?
3. How about providing other benefits to male athletes such as health insurance?
Great questions. His questions really do revolve around allocation of resources.
If anything, I am a pragmatist and am fairly familiar with the unfortunate fact that there is never enough money or other resources to do everything that we should be doing as a national governing body. I am also a great believer in accountability and the need to perform to achieve more funding.
The first question deals with costs associated with the USA Field Hockey high performance coaching staff. Remembering that I am the new guy on the block, but that I have been around the block of many other sports a time or two, the reality is that you get the results you pay to get. Looking back over time, prior to the current set of coaches USA Field Hockey has now, USA Field Hockey efforts often resulted in non-qualification to compete in the Olympic Games. Olympic Game potential/participation/performance and medal acquisition are essentially the only metrics the USOC uses as a basis of funding. The funding being received from the USOC as described in an earlier weekly report (a little over one million dollars for 2010) is a total of a number of components. One of those components is a huge portion of the payment of the USA Field Hockey high performance coaching staff. So, whilst it appears we are investing a substantial USA Field Hockey dollar number with our coaching staff, a lion's share of the coaching investment is paid through a restricted portion of the USOC's grant to USA Field Hockey. To me, the grant demonstrates a great deal of confidence the USOC has with the USA Field Hockey high performance staff; and the USOC is vastly qualified to measure qualities of international coaching. Bear in mind, that USOC grants are particular to components of the high performance plan and are generally restricted for use in the elements that have demonstrated certain levels of success. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that high performance brings much more to the table than just coaching. In USA Field Hockey's case, our high performance team has developed and improved sports development programs such as Futures and on-line programs revolving around coaching certification which greatly benefits young players, schools implementing programs and clubs teaching novices. It actually rubs off in many areas to improve all programs. And, one other clarification. Within our available health benefit packages (numbering 28), we provide 6 packages to male athletes.
In answering the questions pertaining to athlete funding/self funding, I would suggest that the self-funding by male athletes to compete in international competition and to provide other benefits such as health insurance underlies a more fundamental set of problems that are cultural, revolve around performance, and the size of the NGB (i.e. the size of the business). Let me take each separately and briefly:
1. Cultural-the majority of nations competing in the Olympic Games are supported by governmental entities such as Sport Ministries. The club program system throughout Europe and Oceania supports Olympic sports and many other sports through governmental allocations. That system is culturally different than our support system in the USA. Our system is principally privately supported with some support coming through universities using some governmental subsidy (not much though many would argue). The USOC has proudly stated throughout the years that it is supported by Americans (not America). In other words, the USOC is driven by corporate donations (well, okay, really sponsorships so we can spend a lot of time selling bank cards, et cetera), television rights money, and donations from everyday Americans. As the economy is shifting, the USOC is now considering a new paradigm that may include requesting governmental investment. But, currently as a practical matter, it is not fair to compare what the USA (via USA Field Hockey using this sport as an example) and comparable sport NGBs in other countries can do for their elite level athletes. But, if the Federal funding paradigm shift does take place, we may see a completely new approach.
I would like to add another clarification at this point, and that is even though there are cultural differences throughout the globe, we see even with Sport Ministries providing funding for athletes that the provided funding frequently does not hit the amount needed. For instance, the New Zealand Women's Junior Team World Cup players had to contribute several thousand dollars each to compete in Boston.
2. Performance - From my brief experience with USA Field Hockey, it is obvious that due to the large female participation in this sport better performances have been produced very likely due to the larger pool of available athletes in addition to the high performance work currently taking place. Fundamentally it stands to reason with a larger pool of male athletes that we could eventually see higher ranked international performance. Even with the limited pool of boys/men, males seem to be improving and much of that has to do with high performance work. While within the letter concerns are expressed speaking to the immediate problem of allocations to male athletes, it seems the real question should be how to grow the pool of male athletes. We will discuss that in subsequent weeks in this report. But, it is worthy of mention that what Moorpark is doing is a great template of what can occur nationally. I know; easier said than done.
3. Size of the NGB (the size of our business) - Fiduciarilly, we have the responsibility to operate this business to the size of business that it actually is. In other words, don't spend more than you can develop. Through the process of having a company, corporate decisions are made on approaches and how to spend limited resources. No business can do everything anyone associated with it wants it to do. Often, patience is required to build resources to accomplish all parts of the mission of the organization. That is where USA Field Hockey is. We will need to on a go-forward basis continue to build the sport through membership and resulting programs that benefit all members.
So back to allocations again. Revenue streams through a variety of means will need to be increased or established to support more programs such as greater allocations to male athletes, plus performance needs to be in place to justify the greater investment (and, if USOC sees greater performances generated by our men they will invest further). I suspect the above long winded answer is not quite the answer that is wanted. But, it is truthful, and as a matter of course, USA Field Hockey is taking a practical and accountable approach.
Last week on Friday, the New York Times published an article in its sport section dealing with the mainstream demise of Figure Skating as a top of mind Olympic sport. If you would like to view the article, go to www.nytimes.com and look through the archives for Friday's sports section. The thesis of the article is that the sensational attack staged by Tonya Harding's conspirators on her rival Nancy Kerrigan brought unprecedented attention to the sport. The mainstream attention attracted many new skaters into the sport and through the years elevated the sport internationally.
Now I am not advocating that we take this recruiting approach, but it certainly is an interesting mindset of the American mind that we are so attracted to controversy or the dark side. However, many sports have experienced just the opposite effect. Witness what appears to be the current affect Tiger Woods may be having on golf; witness what happened to the Indiana Pacers after the fight in the stands in Detroit several years ago; and witness NASCAR's efforts to regulate the behavior of their athletes (they want a family orientation, and fights in the pits and purposely taking out another competitor on the track just doesn't measure up...any longer).
So, there is a fine line to presenting personality in a sport. It is necessary to finds hooks that media types will gravitate toward especially if the sport involved is not a main tier sport on America's sport pages. Our intent over the next several months will be to try to find those athletes that are interesting personalities (maybe doing something a little out of the ordinary beyond their field hockey lives) and obtain placements in niche publications or sites. The reality of getting on sports pages with exclusively sports info is often a challenge, so we will try style, fashion, general athletic, and other formats. It would help to get underway identifying interesting people. So, do you know of any? If so, let Jeff Gamza, USA Field Hockey Communications Director or me know. Jeff's email is firstname.lastname@example.org; and mine is email@example.com
Have a great week!