Contribution by Eddie Bridge
Response to NSWFA Strategic Forum discussion prompt
Eddie Bridge (Volunteer Coach and competitive fencer, Newcastle PCYC Fencing Club)
Strategic Imperative 1 – Increase Participation
Newcastle PCYC Fencing Club (NPFC) has a number of regular participants who do not compete and/or are not registered or affiliated with NSWFA.
Regular promotion of competitions, has seen some increase in the number of participants who are registered or affiliated with NSWFA. However, our measure of “participation” is based on participants who buy their own equipment. The cost of just doing this shows that those who buy their own equipment are prepared to stay in the sport for a while.
Having a “critical mass” of fencers of different age groups and in both genders is also important for keeping participants in fencing, as also the people in the critical mass being welcoming and supportive of new people.
Being a regional club also means considerable travel time (and some cost) to compete in competitions. This usually means very early morning get out of bed times – something junior participants find very difficult, or are unwilling, to do – to attend events that start at 8:00 or 9:00am. Even some of us adults do not compete regularly because of this issue.
Developing Club Fencing
The key constraint on NPFC is coaching. We currently have 3 volunteer “community level” coaches (and one upcoming “community Level” coach) and are desperate to do Level 1 training. We have been in contact with NSWFA on this matter for a year, and so far no workable arrangement has been developed.
As is typical with most fencing clubs, finances are always limited. Increasing the amount of club equipment and maintaining club equipment is always difficult.
Raising the profile of fencing at grass-roots: we have 3 times this year paid for regional-targeted ads on Facebook for a 5 week beginners course. These ads have been paid for by the kindness of some club members. The ads have been very successful: participants in the beginners course have increased from 10 initially to 20 in the last offering. At the time of writing this response, a large number of the participants in the most recent 5 week course have continued on with the club. We recommend other clubs doing similar, whether on Facebook or other social media sites.
We could work with schools to facilitate the take up of fencing, but see below.
Access to our venue (PCYC Newcastle) places limits on what NPFC can offer: we cannot use the venue in the afternoon directly after school, and there are many activities that compete with each other for evening space at the venue.
Developing Schools Fencing
I and my family were first made aware of the availability of fencing in the Newcastle area some years ago because of it being offered as a sport at my children’s school. Unfortunately the arrangement did not materialised, but 2 years later we found the existence of NPFC.
The immediate problem for schools fencing in Newcastle and the wider Hunter region is the availability of coaches. Currently, all fencing coaches in Newcastle are employed (or students) and do not have the time available in school hours for coaching.
Cost of equipment will be another factor. Schools that can send students to the PCYC Newcastle centre do not obviously need to buy their own equipment.
Finding New Markets for Fencing
All the suggestions, in relation to Newcastle, require things I’ve already mentioned: people with lots of time available to coach, and venues that have suitable times of use. Doing the sorts of things suggested may require NSWFA, for example, to fund equipment and then be repaid over time.
Currently our Facebook ads are broad-based targetted, and so people, young and old, take up fencing for already existing personal reasons (fitness, fun, something different).
Fencing is something that could be targeted to children who do not like, or don’t fit in with, the traditional/popular sports (e.g. the football codes, cricket, netball, basketball).
NSWFA is brave to raise this matter!
We in Newcastle do gripe about NSWFA fees, esp. the large increases this year in affiliation and State competition fees. We feel we get little back.
A particular gripe we have is the doubling of the club affiliation fee for when 10 or more fencers become Affiliated. Why this? What privilege does a club get for paying the extra amount? I wonder if regional clubs are not that interested in promoting Affiliation to their fencers and therefore State competitions because of the potential of this increased impost. Sorry to gripe, but NSWFA is getting the money anyway from the individual fencers’ Affiliation fees.
On a personal note, as someone who competes in 2 swords at State Opens and Veterans, and Regional competitions, and now some AFF competitions, I pay a very large cost each year in competition fees and my Affiliation fees, not to mention travel from a regional area to competitions (time and money) and costs for accommodation in some places. Not everyone can afford regular competing. Do people struggle to pay the high performance training? Are there sources of funding to mitigate these costs?
NPFC this year has lost 2 junior members because of their family’s inability to pay for competitions.
Strategic Priority 2 – Improve elite performance
I agree: medals in Olympic and other international competitions = money (i.e. funding) for fencing. NPFC has a now-actively competing member who took up fencing because she was inspired by the Espositos’ success in the Pentathlon at the last Olympics.
Nevertheless, I miss meeting at NSW competitions now-international fencers such as Douglas Sholto and Jesse Morris. I wonder if those who get funding for elite training and international competitions should be encouraged (or made!) to visit clubs or schools, rather like what many of our celebrity athletes do, to actually inspire fencers. Yes, they “set a standard to which others can aspire”, but aspiration won’t occur if the others never see them or hear their stories. We need to see our elite fencers as one of us.
I am of the view that elite fencers visiting us to share their stories and tips would do a huge amount to inspire our younger and new members.
Strategic Priority 3 – Raise profile
As mentioned above, NPFC this year has paid for Facebook ads to promote beginners’ programs, with great success so far.
My view on this matter (see above also) is that clubs need to be encouraged to do their own social media marketing. NSWFA can also market online to raise the profile of fencing, but I think it is best done in conjunction with the clubs – e.g. promote beginners programs of the clubs; list a contact detail either of clubs or someone who can forward expression of interest to relevant clubs.
Strategic Priority 4 – Act professionally
I have no comment to make on this matter, except that what is proposed and being worked towards will only work well when the volunteer officeholders and delegated officials have the desire to make these succeed.
Strategic Priority 5 – Be positive
Yes, I agree.
One matter on “agreement on how things might be done”: please may next year’s competition schedule be more stable than this year’s? I recognise teething issues with the NSWFC this year, but the sometimes short-notice changes of competitions made it a nightmare for some of our adult fencers trying to plan for competitions and led some having to make the decision at times to not compete because of prior commitments. Being at a venue with restrictions on day and time slots means that NPFC also has to propose a date for the Northern Regional Championships well in advance, so I need to know the NSWFA comps dates well in advance and be assured they won’t change. Encouraging the regional clubs to set their respective Regional Championships dates early will also be helpful.