Contribution by Richard Emmerick
STRATEGIC PLAN 2017-2020 SUBMISSION
All of the points of the Strategic Plans are constrained by one common problem, and that is the availability of coaches. Currently there are 33 clubs in NSW and 39 coaches.
Firstly, there must be an understanding of what “participation” means. It can be assessed in two ways; the number of people entering competitions, or the number of members in each club. If the first definition is the aim of NSWFA then the best approach is to encourage the majority of fencing club members to enter competitions. This is the approach that has been attempted since the formation of NSWFA in 1946 and has lead us to the position we are now in.
The second definition, and I believe it is the one the AFF have chosen, means that the number of participants in the clubs must be increased. An increase in participation must be the focus of the clubs assisted by NSWFA. Currently there are a number of obstacles in the path of expansion. A major obstacle is the number of coaches; there are 33 clubs in this state, 23 in Sydney and 10 in regional NSW, and a total of 39 coaches. To increase the number of clubs, and hence participation, we need a lot more coaches. At the same time the AFF appear to be in the process of down-grading the Level 0 (Community Coach) to a plastics only level. If we want more coaches, we have to make the procedure to qualify coaches both easier and cheaper. NSWFA need to liaise with the AFF to ensure this happens and to look at its own procedures to provide the training of new coaches at little or no cost to the trainee. This free training of coaches is provided by most major sports, cricket, soccer, volleyball etc., and like it or not these are our competitors in the sport provider market. I have previously heard the argument that coaches will make money once they have the qualification so they can be charged for the course. Consider what our competitors do and consider that a lot of coaches, especially those in regional clubs, do their coaching on a voluntary basis. A further problem is the way in which clubs operate. Most are simply fencing venues where various coaches give private lessons while bouting is in progress. If we wish to expand participation we need community clubs, run by volunteer coaches who run warm ups, footwork and drills while emphasising that participation is a fun and social activity and not full on training for the Olympics. Most clubs have a large number of members that do not wish to be more than social fencers and if we wish to retain them we must cater for their needs. This will expand participation and provides a number of benefits such as the income required to run the club and the larger the base the more fencers who will compete in competitions which will increase the coffers of the NSWFA, and increase the standard of fencing in the state. If the cost of registration is reduced it will result in more of these social fencers actually registering which will increase the reported numbers to the AFF and hence to the bodies that control state and federal funding.
There is a need for coaching support to the regional clubs, and hopefully new coaches. Antonio has been extremely generous in the time he has contributed to this cause and is in the process of generating training videos for coaches. However, there are other high level coaches in NSW and their services need to be acquired to assist in training coaches. The load must not be placed entirely upon Antonio.
I believe that the CBDcentric approach that we currently have is an historic relic and needs to be changed. I suggest that we consider a district approach as is done by most sports. We should have the state split into districts, Sydney Central, Sydney North, Sydney West, Sydney South, New South Wales North, New South Wales West and New South Wales South. In each of these districts there should be one club that is the hub where high level coaching can be provided to the best fencers in the area while the other clubs work at a community level (social, fun) and train up their committed fencers who can then go to the hub club for advanced training. Yes, this is an elite training squad concept which can be overlooked by the NSW Head Coach.
The population centre of Sydney is now Blacktown and yet this area does not have its share of clubs. As previously stated a problem of starting new clubs is the availability of coaches. The NSWFA needs to actively encourage and support new clubs in this area.
NSWFA competitions also need review. Looking at 2017 competitions we see Men’s Foil numbers below 20 and only 9 in the State Championships. This appears to be the case in all weapons. It has been suggested that the move to Alexandria is the cause of the problem, but a review of previous years’ entries does not support this view; it has been a problem for quite some time. When the Rankings are reviewed it shows that, to use Men’s Foil as an example, the number is greater than 100. I believe that we need to survey fencers to find out why they are not attending competitions and possibly reduce the number of competitions or combine more competitions on the one day. We also need to survey fencers who have recently left the sport to find out why they left and what they require to return to the sport. This would make the Centre available for “fun competitions” such as Italian Relay which will support the social fencers and introduce them to the Centre and allow them to see the standard of competition in a less threatening manner than in an individual competition.
DEVELOPING SCHOOLS FENCING
School fencing is the obvious route to increase participation but its major constraint is the availability of coaches as sport days for public schools in an area are on the same day as they are established for inter-school competition. The previous comments regarding the supply of coaches applies. There is a need to provide a low level coaching qualification to schoolteachers, and not necessarily teachers in the PE Departments. The public schools have the most enrolments in the state, much larger than the private school sector, so this is the area to be targeted. The ready availability of Chinese fencing gear which is both high quality and low priced means that the provision of equipment should not be an issue and I believe that the NSWFA has some kits they will loan to start up clubs.
FINDING NEW MARKETS FOR FENCING
The idea of finding new markets is sensible but first it is necessary to find the coaches who are prepared and capable of doing this.
I believe the concept I proposed of community clubs run by volunteer coaches is the way forward. Such clubs will secure new fencers of all ages and encourage past fencers to resume their sport. However older fencers returning to the sport should be encouraged to become coaches. This will make them a more valuable asset to the sport than being just another fencer.
I am not an accountant but you state that overall the NSWFA is financed by its members so if the base of the sport is expanded than the finances of the NSWFA must also expand. The concept of community clubs staffed by volunteers costs the Association very little. The loss of income from free coach training will be offset by the numbers of fencers paying registration fees, even if those registration fees are reduced.
At the club level, those coaches who are concerned with the loss of income due to volunteer coaching should realise that a number of these fencers will want individual lessons and will pay for them. The larger the base the greater the number of fencers wanting individual lessons.
The problem of a low profile is caused by a number of factors, few of which we can control. To obtain TV coverage and sponsorship we have to have something to offer and the only thing we can offer is the number of people interested in the sport. Once again it comes back to numbers and increasing the number of people who have engaged in the sport is the only way of achieving a higher profile. The only suggestion I can make is to emphasise team fencing, including Italian Relay, coupled with wireless equipment and a reduced number of hits required. Hopefully this may make a more attractive spectacle for the general public.