The following article is a reader's response to <Luke Bodensteiner's article Outlining The USSA Development Plan. The article is followed by Luke's reply.
Your note to FasterSkier is full of descriptive sentences all explaining why we can’t do things the way we should, and how we have to manage with less. Come on, I don’t know of a person out there that can win with those limits placed on them. That may work in the day to day management of budgets, but it doesn’t begin to cut it when you are speaking about establishing a vision and tactical plan to achieve it.
Where is our nerve. We have to stop cutting back, getting by with less and abridging our programs as if that will lead to success. There must be a vision that says we are going to do more, provide better programs, set higher standards, train coaches, meet the needs of our athletes, coaches and federation with the most powerful program in the world. And, equally important, do it in a uniquely American Style.
Nobody ever lost their job for saying â€œNoâ€. Think about it. We hear about businesses everyday cutting back, making do with less, etc. But the truly successful people are the ones with the big nerve. How about, Steve Jobs for one. He developed the most elegant PC ever, lost his job and then came back and revolutionized music with the I-pod and perhaps saved the music industry at the same time by getting people to pay for downloads.
There is considerable discussion about how we don’t receive support from our government like other countries. As if that is a problem. Frankly, I can’t imagine anything easier than a hand out from Uncle Sam and yet more limiting. Do we want some bureaucrat telling us how best to spend the money and asking for a report once a month on what we did with it. This is the United States, we have more money to do more things than perhaps anybody else in the world. Here is the rub, you have to go out and find it. But that’s not such hard work. If it is the limiting factor in our current success and the proper development of our athletes than I assume raising the dollars is on the top of somebody’s â€œTo Do Listâ€ everyday. If it isn’t, it should be.
Now we get to the point about how nobody cares except us. How can we get money without people taking an interest? Isn’t that always the situation? It’s our job to make them care. We need to state our case. The story is compelling, the athletic potential terrific. Put it together, structure it and go out and sell it. The two clubs of which I have been a member in each case have raised over $70,000 in two years to fund the purchase of a snow groomer and snow making system. If a small club can do that without a professional fundraiser and nothing but a good story, well, on the national scale it shouldn’t be any harder than that.
I’ll stay away from the criticism of individual training plans, race schedules etc. They are certainly important, even critical. But first is having the tools and confidence to win. Part of getting to that position is assembling all the pieces of a successful program. We’ll need to know where we are headed when we get the funding the team requires. In fact selling the xc team without a complete program would be difficult. The experts are around to help put it together. If we are talking about a development program, get the coaches that have developed athletes from square one to World Junior Champ’s together and have them outline the program. If we are discussing club development models, look to the clubs that have been successful. There are some very good ones that are supporting their communities and developing best in the nation talent. Incidentally, we need to leave the local gunners in their club. The local fast skier sets the stage, posts the performance standards and serve as a focus for the clubs development success. Leave the gunners in their hometowns, where they benefit from the coaching that made them successful, receive the support of their community and where they can serve as icons to developing skiers and set the performance standards to which others can aspire.
There is a USST meeting coming up in PC shortly. Look at the agenda, approve this, review that, discuss reporting, confirm, etc. These are bureaucratic issues that make little to no difference in the future development of athletes and the success of our current team. Where is the attention to Job 1, items like expansion of development team, expanded team budget, report from fund raising executive, execution of regional coaches-ed program, expanding participation in club programs, USST team member event participation program, etc.
Lead from the top with energy and enthusiasm. Now is the time. It’s the year before the Olympics. Expand the USST program, offer more support, do it the very best in a uniquely American style. Be Bold
Luke Bodensteiner responds:
As you say, vision needs to drive this team. Our vision, which we established in 1998 and have held tightly to since then, is to become the best in the world by 2006, and specifically for cross country, our vision is to win an Olympic medal in 2006. When we nailed this vision to the wall, most people thought it was absurd. But with our Cross Country Committee, we laid out a “tactical plan”, as you call it. Our vision ISN'T to do more, it ISN'T to provide better programs, or to set higher standards, or to have the most powerful program or to have an American style. Our vision is to win an Olympic medal. All of the things you mention are part of what it takes to achieve that vision, and the most important of those are the things we attempt to address through our program.
But we also have to be realistic about our limitations. They are something that can't be denied, and something we have to find a way to work around. To bury our heads in the sand and say we have to have nerve and to be bold and to not cut back will dull our focus. It's important to be truthful to ourselves, recognize the limitations, address them as best we can, and then use those limits to help set our priorities. Without a clear understanding of our priorities, we will be more confused than successful.
You say you don't know a person out there who can win with those kinds of limitations, but I can tell you that they people who work most closely with this organization certainly haven't resigned ourselves to that fate. People constantly tell us that we should have more team members, or more coaches' education, or a larger development pool. And they are absolutely correct. But people also need to realize that we don't have everything we should, which oftentimes is the reason we don't do things that would clearly help us to win. It's easy to sketch out a vision and a tactical plan to win. We gather our cross country staff twice a year to update our's. Sport isn't that complicated. What complicates things is when you are forced to decide about things your competition can do, which you can't.
As our athletes have improved, we've cut back on development. But we should be careful about the term “cut back”. Even while we've cut back on our development spending so we can capitalize on the possibility of top-end results, we've generally increased our TOTAL spending. We've increased our total spending in 7 of the last 8 years. And Trond, Pete and I are working now to increase our resources by another quarter of a million, so we can kick off a full-fledged development program, to continue what's been started. But we don't do this in a vacuum. We work within an organization that raises money as a team, sells sponsorships as a team, and develops PR and media as a team. While fundraising might seem easy on the surface, it requires a sophisticated and aggressive approach. Under the leadership of Bill Marolt, USSA takes this approach with an all-for-one team emphasis. With the emphasis on team, this also means that funds are distributed to specific sports based on their plan, their ability to execute, and their ability to produce Olympic medals. As you say, selling the cross country team without a complete plan would be difficult. In fact, it would be impossible! Each year, we refine our five-year plan, and present it to the leadership of USSA. Without a clear plan, and a clear understanding of where this plan will lead us, our hands would certainly be tied. With a clear plan, which relates directly to our vision, and with a clear focus on where that plan will lead us, we've been successful in doubling our resources since our alltime low performances at the Olympics in Nagano.
Last week, we completed our latest planning session with the cross country staff, and one of the more important elements we're working on now is the National Development System. We've also now shared this plan with the members of our Cross Country Committee (they don't only deal with “bureaucratic issues”). This will also be shared with the readers of FasterSkier shortly.
It might be informative for you to read a few stories about USSA's team fundraising and education efforts:
I hope this helps give you a better understanding about the challenges we face, how we addresss them, and why we operate the way we do.