In advance of this week’s USSA Congress in Park City, Ski Racing had a chance to sit down with USSA President and CEO Tiger Shaw and discuss some of the issues facing the organization and planning for the upcoming season.
SR: USSA’s membership has high expectations for you as the new president and CEO. Do you feel like the pressure is on to make changes, or will reform in a general sense take more time? Are members going to have to be patient to see all that you have in mind and hope to accomplish?
Shaw: People are not going to have to be patient because many of the things that I wanted to accomplish in terms of organizational change have already taken place. —staffing changes, alignment and internal discussions.
I’ve been able to get out externally and talk about the vision and direction we want to go in both in development and better integration with our partners, which is obviously critical in terms of the clubs, academies and programs that produce our athletes.
I don’t think we have to be patient to see the things we have in mind, but we have to be patient to see the outcome of the things that we’re changing. A good example of that is all the work we’re doing in governance. Plenty of people say they know me, they trust and they like what I’m doing, but they’re waiting to see whether or not we affect change.
I think people are starting to see that happen — things like transparency and decision-making, whether it comes through the various committees or open forums. It’s going to take a little bit of time for everyone to verify that following through on the things that we say we’re going to do.
I think there has been a significant shift, and I’ve been working with my staff to make sure there’s been a shift in openness, attitude and communication. A lot of people know they have direct access to me — and if that’s not happening then (they have access) staff under me.
SR: Best in world: What does that mean to you? Talk about this concept.
That’s something I’ve been working on and thinking about all winter. We are best in the world in many sports and events. Of course, there are also plenty in which we are not. Those elite programs need to face those challenges and figure out how to solve them.
“Best in the World,” was the mantra that Bill Marolt in 2006 first said, and then by 2010 everyone realized, my god, he was right. We remain that way in many aspects, but what does that mean to the rest of the pipeline? What does it mean to our club system? What does it mean to all the USSA members? That was something the McKinsey study pointed out, the potential disconnect.
Every club in the country has at least a sliver, if not a pathway to our elite teams. What that means is they are truly a part of our pipeline. If you look at it from the big picture, which is how did that athlete get there, how is that athlete maturing, how is that athlete learning how to compete? It is because of his or her parents, the fellow athletes, the club administrators, all of the coaches — that whole program together exists because so many are passionate about the sport.
So, every club administrator, every coach, every board member of a club is part of Best in the World because they are a critical component of what allows the athlete to become the best in the world. That’s what Best in the World is — the entire family, all 30,000 registered athletes, coaches and officials and probably another 150,000 people directly or indirectly involved.
SR: Calendar reform is a hot topic this week, what are some of the scheduling challenges you would like to tackle as an organization?
One of the things that’s been challenging in terms of the calendaring is that there have been a lot of independent decision makers. We’re going to try to guide that from the top, so to speak.
Of course, it cascades down. What needs to feed NorAms for qualification races? And then at the FIS level, you’ve got all of the regional FIS races, so ideally there needs to be a degree of coordination, so it maximizes the FIS race opportunities for everybody in the country.
There doesn’t seem to be as much coordination as there could be. I know that we (USSA) need to be driving this because it’s really a staff function. There are a lot of volunteers out there and a lot of regions and divisions that set their own schedules. But again, because we’re the national organization, we need to make sure from above that everyone is coordinating.
SR: Thoughts on cost of ski racing and how to make it more affordable for more people?
Shaw: How do we spend the money that we have? We have a large number of athletes that we ask to pay their marginal travel and boarding costs. But we build the infrastructure, we support the team, we hire the staff, we train them, we take care of the overhead of our national training facility, athletic trainers, sports science department — all of these things that we believe we need to be fundamentally excellent.
We can put somebody on the team who isn’t totally funded, so they pay the cost of getting there, but for us to host all of that would be a tremendous cost. It allows us to have a bigger team than we would have otherwise with that same amount of money. If we funded the athletes fully, the team would be less than a third as big.
We have a $2 million challenge, which is the raise the money to fund every athlete, but I’m not sure we want to fund every athlete. We want them to have a stake in the game. I’d like to reduce it. Fifteen, 20, $25,000 is a lot of money. I’d like to get that down as low as possible. We’re working to do that.
SR: By now we’ve all heard that the elite level national team groups for 2014-15 have been thinned from last year. Was that an inherent reaction to a lack of available funding for those athletes, or is there another objective or outcome in mind with that decision?
Shaw: Yes, the named members have been thinned, but if you include invitees then it’s not that dramatic of a change. So, I let my coaching staff run with that. What they wanted to do was stick to the criteria and allow very few discretionary decisions. But there is coaches’ discretion in the form of who will be coming to the camps. You’re still invited, but you didn’t make criteria, you’re not getting a uniform, you’re not named. If you’re outside the performance band, we still believe in you. We want to you to be part of our team. We want you to train with us, but we’re not going to name a bunch of discretionary members.
It actually just changes the way the team is formed. The number of athletes is cut, but not as dramatically as it originally looks. Many people argued the D Team was way to big last year. It’s really Patrick (Riml) and the coaches under him who are deciding how they want to run their teams this year, and I’m fully supportive of what they want to do and how they want to do it.