2014 USSA Congress Address - Tiger Shaw
Welcome to the 2014 USSA Congress. I can’t tell you how much I, along with the USSA team, staff and board, appreciate all of you being here. Many of you are long standing volunteers, selflessly giving to the USSA, your region, division and clubs. You represent a wealth of experience and wisdom across many important positions including officials, competition administrators, race organizers and many other roles. I know many of you personally and I understand how you have served the USSA for many years. This national organization, your region, your club, my staff and I cannot possibly thank you in a way commensurate with your efforts, time, knowledge and contributions. Certainly, we have lot of “contributors” to the USSA, but the way in which you all contribute is exceptional.
I understand this commitment and its significance, as I have also been a volunteer gate judge, race worker, club administrator, and club board member for many years. Balancing budgets, hiring coaches, running fundraisers, procuring insurance, working with hundreds of parents and athletes. I appreciate what it takes from us all – as my mother, father and siblings have done the same throughout the years as well.
On a personal note, I am very honored to stand in front of you here today. I take the responsibility of my role with USSA very seriously. The USSA is a diverse organization, one that serves many sports with numerous purposes within these sports. We are the National Governing Body as defined by the USOC and the IOC. We are the National Federation as defined by the FIS and the IOC. We field some of the most elite teams in the world. We try to foster participation in our sports; we nurture our athletic pipelines by partnering with our clubs and academies that form the very foundation of our athletic existence. These clubs, along with the coaches, volunteers and parents, produce our talent who become our superstars who represent us worldwide.
So what does Best in the World mean? Well, it started as a 1997 rally cry. Bill Marolt had a vision. He was bold enough to state what he thought we could do and what we SHOULD be able to do. Bill had his doubters. Was this goal attainable? Well, history has answered that question with a resounding YES. We ARE Best in the World in many of our sports and events. We eventually achieved it by 2010, and we proved again in 2014 that we have the focus and the conviction to lead the world.
In addition to this Olympic success, we had countless podiums and won many event titles. Proven winners across the board. Wow, it really takes your breath away!
As success breeds success, we remain committed to achieving success time and again and beyond. The major, unwavering focus of our national teams is and always will be to be the BEST in the WORLD..
Okay, so what does this overarching vision mean to you? You may be a club director, a technical delegate, a judge or an official. You may be a parent, a coach, an organizer or an administrator. You may or may not have influence on a future Olympian, or for that matter even know many. You have an event to judge, the club banquet to handle, a budget to balance, cash flow and bank accounts to juggle, employees to manage and lead or a fundraiser to pull together. The elite pipeline seems distant. Yes, you work with great kids, serve loving, enthusiastic parents. You have enthusiastic and dedicated help. But what does Best in the World mean to you? It seems distant.
Well, it is not as distant as you might think. It is no disconnect. Rather it is a tight connection to a dream that only some might realize, but with mere pursuit, you become an intrinsic and even critical part of it. Let me explain.
Consider the elite pipeline that leads to world level competition and becoming the world’s best. Every club, school and academy supports the few who make it to Best in the World. Some clubs have a portion of their members shooting for the top. Some have very few. Nonetheless, the few who ascend into that elite track are supported by all. The elite kids have friends and mentors who, had they been without, may have exited their sport. These friends and companions are critical to the elite kid’s success because of the support system they form as peers, playmates, fellow competitors and older mentors. You see, without friends in all of these sports, they would never get there. It takes camaraderie, companionship, shared experiences, special times and pure joy to keep all the athletes going. It is the love of one’s own sport that drives the world’s best to high achievement. Repetition, practice, participation – achieving excellence. The world’s best athletes love these aspects of their sport as well as their pals who chase dreams with them. Friends, mentors, parents, coaches and clubs launch elite careers.
Parents who cart kids around, buy the equipment, organize the gear and outings. And it’s the coaches and club administrators, the fundamental leaders on the ground level who provide the infrastructure that makes it all work. The athletic excellence, the coaching staff, the training gear, resort operating agreements and the endless competitions. This community forms an ecosystem that gestates and generates talented competitors, keeping all of the requisite components together year after year for young athletes. This ecosystem provides the pathway and nurturing, challenging environments that both feed the elite pipeline and provide a system in which competitors of all abilities can pursue their dreams. Dreams that might include World Cups, the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix or the X Games. Dreams that might include high school racing, winning a local ski race or just learning how to ride well, go fast or catch big air. It’s the love of “doing it” that feeds the passion and makes for lifelong fans; spectating, following and participating.
You see, it is the organization of and the simple pursuit of our sports that drives excellence, world-class events and Best in the World performances. So while Best in the World sounds remote or means something different to each of us, it does have relevance and a direct connection to all who love our sports. That’s the connection. Pursuit of excellence and joy in our sports. Impacting kids, regardless of the level means being part of Best in the World. Its not just about the top, its about being part of the ecosystem that changes lives, develops great individuals and enables all to develop and pursue their passion.
How can the USSA improve?
The McKinsey Report released a year ago illuminated many areas in which the USSA can and needs to improve. Chief among those things were:
1. Club, member value and services provided
3. Governance and organization
Club, member value and services provided
Last summer, the USSA embarked on improving club programs. The hiring of Brian Krill, USSA Club Development Manager, has proven very successful. Brian has led much change, including projects and initiatives that have helped address this effort. The new USSA Club Certification process has also worked well, and most clubs have wholeheartedly embraced it.
Coach’s education has made great strides. Jon Nolting and his staff have been on the ground and in the field delivering a growing offering. They take input daily and blend these ideas and innovations into their programs. Delivery systems continue to improve, and the number of certified coaches has grown considerably. I am proud of their achievements and I hope they are as well.
The USSA’s Club Liability Insurance Program has been revamped and improved. The USSA has listened to your needs and, as a result, has worked in partnership with our insurance companies to provide a program to qualifying USSA member clubs that will lower your costs, simplify participation and meet the requirements of your resorts and landowners.
The value of Membership in USSA is growing. We recently partnered with Global Rescue to provide travel and medical assistance hotline for our members. A simple call by traveling members to the Global Travel Hotline provides:
Further improvements to member value include discounts on equipment, service and useful products.
McKinsey illuminated the need for better communications from the USSA. Transparent, clear, consistent, timely, engaging, single source, targeted and structured. These are the ways in which USSA communications must improve. We have listened and reacted, and we are continuing to evolve and improve on this aspect of our organization.
Transparency is key, and I know we have improved considerably in this area. We have been in the field, and we are communicating our intentions and plans. Our regional staff, much increased this year, has been reaching out, visiting, organizing and communicating at new levels. USSA staff has been attending functions and events, listening and engaging, much as we do here at Congress. We will continue to improve and continue to listen, both in the field and through committee structures. Our intent and efforts are changing, and we are interested to hear how we can continue to improve. My staff is working to communicate in a timely and consolidated manner. We welcome and value your input.
Additionally, internal processes are being refined and developed to drive continual improvement. A current example of this is the recent focus on the National Training Groups. Bill Gunesch of PNSA focused on issues arising out of the USSA’s desire to name national training groups at the U16 and U18 levels in alpine. Communication from the USSA had been, as Bill recounts, not as collaborative as it could be considering the need to decide on athlete selection/participation. As a result of this and other feedback, we convened internal discussions to develop an external communication concerning junior development that will explain what we believe our mission to be, what we think are the best ways to pursue that mission, and how we plan to execute. We plan a national forum in which we can discuss and debate the best practices for this initiative, considering the goal of producing world class athletes while considering the financial, social, logistical and wellness constraints of young athletes.
Our communications department has undertaken efforts to improve targeted communications and updates. Tom Kelly’s team proved its ability to enable reporting from the field and to post results and stories. New leadership in information technology has enabled communications to undertake a ground up process to redesign its communications with USSA constituencies and what and how it communicates, whether by social channels, media, web, email or apps.
It was determined that governance changes would best be completed in alpine, to be mimicked later by the other sports. A task force was formed by the Alpine Sport Committee to tackle the job of formalizing in an agreement with the divisions, the relationship that has existed for decades. This group met for more than 25 hours over 11 months to formulate an affiliation agreement that the divisions could adopt. This was certainly the most collaborative effort I have been involved with. Many people trying to reach middle ground to set the stage on which we can move forward - clarifying, modernizing and simplifying our governance structures while preserving relationships that have existed for many years. The ASC will be vetting its own operating procedures here at Congress, setting an example that we hope can lead to replication once best practices are agreed and settled. It has taken the spirited work of many to get this far, and I look forward to continued progress that can be made in the coming months.
I was at a VARA meeting this fall and they said, ‘Tiger, we know you and trust you. We know you’re going to Park City to run the national organizational. And we’re going to wait and see what happens.’ It’s not easy to change an organization or the perception. I think we changed immediately, but that’s the way it looks to me inside. We want to make sure you trust usas a national organization. We want to be collaborative. We want the entire family to be aligned. Alignment is critical. I want everyone to be aligned as much as possible.
The costs of our sports and the elite pipeline and sustainability
Bill Gunesch’s recent posting on Ski Racing about elitist attitudes threatening the future of ski racing has generated a lot of discussion. I would propose that this attitude threatens all of our snow sports. The costs of pursing the elite levels can be staggering. This drags UP all competitors, as they try to keep up with the athletes who can afford to travel to the southern hemisphere, chase early season snow in Europe and spend months in Colorado early season. I understand the worry. These sports cannot continue to grow in cost until only the wealthy are engaged. We MUST have a pathway for a young mountain kid, to the club, Team and beyond. We MUST have less expensive alternatives, especially for those who might not be headed to the World Cup or the Grand Prix. Kids who might just love to compete and to see how much better they can get. Ski or ride in high school competition, an NCAA or USCSA school. Not all want to pursue the elite pipeline. Waiting for the snow to fly locally is not all bad. USSA must provide local and regional competitions that make sense and serve the non-elite athletes. These competitors love their sports; they should be able to pursue them successfully, without high cost. This is an issue that has not been addressed fully as attrition in, for instance, alpine, is concerning at the U21 level. We know we need to bring focus to identifying the issues, and solving them.
Elite pipeline costs are quickly rising. We do not have the answer today, as elite skiing and riding requires international travel, well-trained and seasoned coaches, and lots of time on snow off-season. We are doing our best to fund and support our teams, but we can do better. We have our revenue departments: Foundation and Marketing, working to grow and find new sources to fund more feet on the snow, and lower cost to athletes. I am confident that we can solve this financial challenge, but it is going to take time, diligence and patience. Again, we do not have the answer today, or this season, but I guarantee you that we are working very hard to find it.
It all comes back to the kid waking his parents up in the morning and telling them to get out of bed. That makes me smile. You guys all make that happen.
The alignment is critical to me. We’re one big family. It has to work as a unit. It will take a lot of openness and collaboration from us.
In closing, I want to thank you again for your incredible work and dedication to our sports, your community, and most importantly, your kids! I look forward to facing our challenges ahead in collaboration and open communication with you.
President and CEO
U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association