To my colleagues within the USFCA—
I am pleased to submit the following responses to the organization’s questionnaire. As one of the few candidates in this upcoming Board election who is a member of the USFCA (and a recently certified Maestro of Epee), I have a strong familiarity with our organization’s processes, procedures, and strategic vision that Maitre Vinnie Bradford is seeking to accomplish as the organization’s Executive Director.
While the USFCA did not ask for this specifically in the below responses—I want to be crystal clear to my colleagues: as long as I am on USA Fencing’s Board of Directors, there will be no “merger” with USA Fencing and the USFCA. The independence of our organization is of the utmost importance to ensure it remains void of political influences and that we’re able to continue doing what we do best: certifying and empowering coaches to be the best coaches they can be.
My full Board of Directors platform can be found by visiting my website. And while some of you may disagree with some of my responses below, I invite any spirited debate and discussion. Just as I did when I was a candidate for Maitre, I commit to listening, learning, and inviting discourse with any of my potential constituents—whether we agree or disagree.
What role do you see fencing coaches playing in the growth of the sport of fencing and where do you see that growth happening?
Not only do fencing coaches play a role in the growth of fencing, but they are the single most important catalyst in growing our membership. There are nearly 700 registered fencing clubs in the United States of America—a testament of the entrepreneurial spirit of our coaches and their ability to instill a love and passion for our sport in all who enter their clubs. We as the USFCA are a critical enabler for our members, as we serve as the gateway not only to certification and accreditation through the Academie D’Armes Internationale, but our thought leadership and intellectual capital that we provide the global fencing community positions us to innovate with our students and change the way that the world thinks about the sport of fencing.
More growth in our sport is rarely a bad thing, but where I’d like to see growth both for the USFCA and USA Fencing is an expansion of women and minority coaches in the sport—especially those certified as Maestra’s (for which we currently have six). With Vinnie’s leadership in the institution of the National Coaching Development Program (NCDP), I believe we are on the right path to breaking down barriers and encouraging a process of collaborative learning, positive mentorship, and making our certification process less daunting for all. We have an opportunity to make the USFCA more appealing across generations, more open to people from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds, and to empower more coaches across the gender spectrum. Growth in coaching diversity and putting women into more positions of fencing leadership will only stand to grow the sport in our country, and this is where I see the biggest area of opportunity.
How do you see USA Fencing and USFCA working together to provide educational and professional development opportunities for fencing coaches?
A strategic partnership (no, not a merger. Absolutely, positively, never a merger!) is a must between the USFCA and USA Fencing. I currently sit on the Coaching Development Steering Committee with USFCA Executive Director Vinnie Bradford, where we are working with the NGB to develop a comprehensive integrated Coaching Development Strategy between both organizations that feeds seamlessly between the National Coaching Development Program (NCDP) and USA Fencing’s professional development goals.
Under its current Strategic Plan, USA Fencing lists “Coaching Development/Education” as an initiative under their objective of “Sustain a High Level of Sports Performance.” We as the USFCA are crucial partners in the optimal delivery of that initiative, as the national governing body (NGB) simply lacks both the resources and expertise to deliver coaching development in the United States. As a (prospective) Board member and a certified Maestro, I will work to ensure that our voice as the USFCA is at the table and that we are able to work jointly with the NGB to deliver a comprehensive coaching development solution that will be vital for all American coaches. I will also advocate to ensure members of the USFCA are grandfathered into the new requirements and not forced to take additional, redundant training that does not add to that coach’s current body of knowledge.
How do you envision USA Fencing working with USFCA on the recruitment of NCAA colleges to add fencing teams? If not, why not?
Under USA Fencing’s current strategic plan, the NGB lists “Grow the sport of Fencing” as an objective. When we look at the explosion of membership numbers in the last quadrennial, USA Fencing has certainly exceeded the metrics outlined within that goal.
However, there is a significant opportunity for member retention, and it begins with expanding our NCAA opportunities. Take a look at the below chart of USA Fencing membership by birth year (as of March 9, 2023), and you will notice a staggering trend: once our fencers hit 18, membership begins to rapidly plummet.
There is a possible combination of reasons why this might be, including: not having opportunities to fence in an NCAA program, burnout, not wanting to continue into the senior division/not having as many competitive opportunities after they age out of juniors, and cost-prohibitions after no longer being supported by the parents/guardians.
If I am sitting in the room when it comes to refreshing the next strategic plan, I believe that “Make fencing a sport for life” must be considered as a critical objective so that we are able to not only grow membership but give more pathways to continue in the sport beyond the junior division, and more NCAA programs is a huge part of making that happen.
As for the USFCA’s role in that process, beyond offering our members as candidates for job vacancies at NCAA programs, collecting statistics, and awards (as outlined in USFCA’s 2023-2027 Strategic Plan), I believe that growing NCAA fencing is not in the purview of the USFCA, whose mission is to “empower coaches to advance the sport of fencing through professional development, certification, and leadership.” To that end, I believe that the objective of collegiate program growth is not in line with our organization’s mission or current strategic priorities.
Except for USA Fencing, NGBs in all major sports organizations require certification and continuing education units every year to teach in their respective sports. Do you support a strategic alliance between the USFCA and USA Fencing in support of coaching education, training, continuing education, training, certification and ultimately a licensing requirement for all US Fencing Coaches? Why or why not?
As aforementioned, I am in favor of a strategic alliance between USA Fencing and the USFCA in which the NGB serves as the program administrators, and we serve as subject matter experts (SME’s) and content creators. Further, I am in favor of requiring continuing education both for USFCA Members (regardless of title) and for Professional Members of the NGB who are non-USFCA members.
As coaches, we have an obligation to our students to be up to date on current trends in fencing, fitness, nutrition, mental wellness/self-care, inclusivity, and even sports psychology. Just as any professional certification such as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) has continuing education requirements, it’s of the utmost importance that these are instituted so that we can remain a relevant organization both for our students and for aspiring coaches who seek to learn from us.
This strategic alliance especially presents an important opportunity for membership and revenue growth for the USFCA. As of my writing this response, the USFCA has 739 active members (only 195 of whom are certified), and yet there are approximately 2,100 USA Fencing members who have a Coaching membership. In other words, only ~35% of USA Fencing members with a coaching membership are USFCA members. If the USFCA ends up becoming the deliverer of continuing education for coaches, we have an opportunity to capture more of that available market and increase our membership significantly in the not-so-distant future.
However, I am not in favor of certification requirement for all US Fencing Coaches (such as the ones that are required to open a Salle in France and Italy, for instance). I believe in lowering the barriers to entry for our sport and creating a more egalitarian Fencing community. To require licensure for coaches would not only be unenforceable, but it would be antithetical to the direction I believe our sport should be going in. There are opportunities to potentially incentivize certification without making it a requirement to teach. These opportunities include insurance premium discounts for clubs that have a Maestro on staff and/or lower USA Fencing Coaching membership dues for obtaining the highest levels of certification.