Contribution by Toby Perry

Planning the future of fencing in NSW

I’m a fairly recent convert to fencing and as such have not been privy to any of the politics within the sport in my home state prior to 2016.

That said, I have noticed distinct fractures in relationships and opinions across the broader NSW fencing fraternity I’ve encountered, that I have no interest in buying into.

My point is, I have no agenda , and I’m a cleanskin with fresh eyes – so I’d like to offer some feedback or suggestions purely looking in a forward direction (hopefully worthy of some discussion at board level) – because I’m unable to attend the strategic forum in person. I’d like to add, that I make comments not as a club representative (in case my coach may be of strong opinion having been a long time NSW fencer, and thus affected by the past) but am voicing opinions as a single member with an interest in keeping the sport strong and the whole fraternity, across all borders as united and co-operative as possible for the strongest future.

“Strategic plans” represent us all as paid members, but I have no expectation of any involvement in that process, preferring to trust my board/state body representatives to decide upon the best game plan/s (after meaningful consultation/communication at grass roots/club/member level).

Key objective – develop fencing:

Communication and the role of the regionals:

– 2017 to my eye, has seen more consistent communication and promotion from NSWFA outwards, notably improved on 2016,and possibly re-energised by the opening of the new fencing centre and the ensuing efforts made to maximise its value and use. The new website and the online registration is a great resource too.

NSW is a big place and while the critical mass/opportunities may live in metro areas, the numerous regional clubs also appear to be stable , possibly even growing (great to see Batlow just open) – but it can sometimes feel like we are out of the big loop.  I’ve heard we have a new regional representative, Richard, I haven’t met him yet but I hope he wants to build the whole regional scene up further.

A monthly bulletin is often enough from NSWFA, but more regular regional input is desirable. If the regional instructors don’t contribute they can’t really complain about being left out, but if they do add some value/insight , it helps show everyone just how widespread our sport is. It’s sad to see a few of the regional comps not go ahead this year and the country cup was an opportunity lost again this year. The serious fencers might like regional points to bolster their ranking campaign – but more than that, a tournament that attracts state and national champions is big news in a country town, and helps bring new fencers in to country clubs when they see it on the news or in the paper. Following the tradition of leaving the country to pursue Uni or work in the city, if  regional club members  are keen on the sport and very good at it – it then feeds the next level of higher exposure fencing at metro sites. Two of our previous fencers have represented and one still represents Australia and there can be an enormous sense of pride at club level , as well as a recognition that excellence can come from anywhere and anyone, given the opportunity.

Feeling like a part of the engine:

-On that note of feeling somewhat outside the system at times, its 2017, I can’t see why we don’t get a plastic card issued to us or one we can print and put in a slip or on a lanyard . The NSW Kendo Renmei  issues a simple laminated membership card, which is used for ID and verification that you are paid up for the year, enabling entry to comps – just a thought. Being a newbie, I carry my printed registration as a senior fencer everywhere in my bag just in case one day I am asked the question at a comp or AFC. I know cards take time and money (postage, admin ,etc) but a simple “print your own” file sent to the members email would be fine – you do that for most shows when you pay online or get a flight booking now. We can just cut it out and put it in a plastic card sleeve thing. Might be handy if we get pulled over with a boot full of swords too…..but the main thing is , I then feel like I  belong to something, I am a member of a movement , or an organisation – I am “licensed” to swing a blade around and maybe I feel a bit more important –  just a thought. We need to develop the sport and attract new people, but let’s also look after the current ones if possible , no matter where they are in NSW– they are our bread and butter.

Development outreach -an annual ref coaching seminar as well as a “masterclass” for each affiliated NSW club- particularly where the regional fencers who may not travel away to do metro comps get to see that there is much bigger activity behind what they experience week to week, even pathways to Olympic games dreams and also ensures the quality of their refereeing and fencing skills is getting checked for integrity. Sorry to hark back to martial arts again, but when your master’s master comes to visit, everyone steps up a gear and stuff gets taken a bit more serious.

– I’d like to learn how to ref and be useful at regional comps when it has to be “self reffed” but something a bit more formal and consistent would ensure a better quality ref and lead to more regional people upgrading their reffing levels maybe. Lord knows being self reffed in a comp by someone you don’t know and don’t have confidence in their reffing experience doesn’t always keep your mental game strong.

 

Key objective – strengthen participation:

Fencing boot camps for corporations -its not ALL about comps – NSWFA does a great job at attracting parties, and supporting school fencing – getting them interested young. You probably also do team building for business or work units , but if you don’t, that is a massive opportunity especially if you can hire a good motivational coach to run a workshop afterwards and send them back to their company adrenalized and pumped after one visit. If done right, that company will book you every year – and some of the attendees will think – I enjoyed that enough to try it again. It’s a great sport that gets you fit without realising, and great for the mid life health – business people need stress relief, what better way than to take it out on your colleagues with a sword. Many huge Japanese companies (and public entities like their police force) have their own dojos and fencing (Kendo) instructors in the building. They offer sessions before and after work as well as times for lunch time workouts. Same principle as the gym at the fire station. Work /health balance gets better productivity and once in the door with someone like the CBA or similar, word of mouth will bring more corporates to the factilities–if it’s done right from the start. A good way to fill quiet time slots and a way to attract stayers.

Timing of state events to enable travel where possible. If something starts at 9am, to be safe, you need to stay the night before in accommodation – I think that (cost ,time needed) may dissuade a lot of regionals from making the trip to state level comps – where I have seen in my short time – low numbers at times, especially in vet events. More somehow needs to be done to drag locals along as well as out of towners to keep the state comps alive and thriving.  Anecdotally I hear that some fencers boycott comps at the new centre, for their own reasons, but if a survey for feedback was done some of those reasons might not be irreversible – some of it may be misperception and just need clarity/consultation offered. Splinter groups going out on their own and running non-affiliated comps is counterproductive, it takes away competitors from the recognised body, and is a sign that there are reasons for dissatisfaction which may need at least looking at.

Timeliness of the calendar – as a person with goals and dreams in the sport – I check the websites and facebooks of ACTFA, NSWFA and AFF on a daily basis so I can be in front of when comps are set – then I sift through the ones of most value to achieve my goals and plan my year accordingly. If the AFF can forecast a tentative calendar  and have a draft out early in the year, could the nswfa do the same based on the spots that fit around the AFC series?  Late changes to dates and times are tough on a regional , especially if you are trying to follow the rules and register early , often taking time off work, and pre-spending for accomms and even travel/flights, AND are competing in multi state comps for points . Maybe this year was a bit harder due to the moving around venue wise, and it will get easier, but it would be really helpful if there was a calendar out by feb that was pretty set in stone. Additionally, there seemed to be a lot of important junior comps on the same times as regional comps, which can be counter-productive for both.

Two way partnerships – I get that we allow ACT fencers to have a place on our rankings, and to gain points which count in their ACTFA rankings, but the knock on effect of that is loads of ACT competitors (and I love them all) come to state comps and reduce the points going to NSW fencers on their own ranking table. That’s ok, if they win, they deserve it, but why can’t we do the same and accept their state level ACT champs points as valid NSW state points and the other ACT major comps as regional points – it won’t necessarily mean that loads of Sydney fencers will get in their cars (not that it would be bad for the sport) but I would mean that many regional clubs within range of ACT (cooma, batlow, wagga, Bathurst) would drive to those ACT comps at times and compete MORE for those points – coming into contact with the excellent quality of fencers that are in the ACT . That’s strengthening participation and building skills. I’m just saying it feels a bit one way to the canberrans right now, and no wonder they come up in significant numbers to NSWFC. Can we level the piste up a bit?

Advertising – PR – Promoting the sport is great for ALL clubs. We need more Esposito’s , the NSWFA needs to be Olympic dream enablers, and to create more attention that attracts new blood to the sport. The regional clubs should be given some simple but useful resources to help promote the sport – there are less people where they live, so it’s a harder market competing with the mainstream sports :

– eg, it would be nice to have some generic posters designed with NSWFA support and logos rather than just homemade flyers – so its simply a matter of designing a cool, generic poster with a space for info on it or supplying certain logos or images for use on print and social media. Not a lot to ask and there may be more effective and economical things that NSWFA could help with.

Dynamic social media – the current NSWFA Facebook and Instagram work , they get engagement, and I find them great,  but changing profile pics more often and including more short quirky/personal videos to keep it fresh, would see that increase its appeal to the new generation. It has to remain sensible, and its main role is to communicate messages and results but it might not be quite fun enough for (younger) people to check daily/weekly. Competitions where you tag someone or share us and go into the draw to win something, or for a one on one lesson, or a duel with Antonio Signorelli during a comp, or something similar might increase exposure.

Short videos raise your profile and get more interaction and sharing.

Fencer of the week pic and profile (including regional members)– a nice way to make someone famous and watch it get tagged and shared potentially to hundreds.

Masterclass videos – the NSWFA has a facebook site, why not put up links to simple video tutorials – eg, ways to beat point in line, the basics of a weapon, some handy warmups and drills, informal video reffing tests. You betcha life they are watching it on youtube anyhow , so why not offer something home grown. Whether there’s a way to license that or seek a subscription to support it , not sure.

The social media offered is getting better each year, its not broken by any means, but a little health check is good – ask a few millennials what’s needed to funk it up.

 

Apps:

Is there any app opportunities for NSWFA to develop and launch? “Mypiste” or something where they can connect to NSWFA via their mobile device and do stuff ( all the same stuff that FB and the website allows , like registering, checking rankings, but also find coffee shops near the centre, locate the nearest affiliated fencing club to wherever they are in the city, a fencing game, who knows (I’m too old to understand app technology, but I know its what they thrive on) – but its an idea and you asked for constructive ideas.

The NSWFA shop :

– sell’s T-shirts and other clothing gear, is it possible to get either the NSWFA website addy or the facebook addy put on them so we become walking billboards – eg on the back of the t –shirt below the neck. Its nice to wear a fencing centre shirt, but that doesn’t tell people how to find out more if they might be curious, and perhaps it won’t add too much to the garment cost. It can also be seen in photo ops and footage in the paper or on the news.

-I know they are a relic from the 70’s and 80’s but we still drive cars, how about a catchy bumper sticker slogan, they would be cheap to run off a couple thousand, again with a website addy

Sponsors:

Tricky one, its hard to ask people for money, but maybe if it was strategically aimed at entities that are in the younger demographics eye or deal with a lot of young people, it could bring more first timers in. It’s not only about the young ones either, the seniors insurance industry is booming, and the senior health industry…….offering a fee/membership discount for senior card (50 +) promoted through a partnership with a health insurance or life insurance company for metro clients, might bring more adult/mid life fencers in. The medical industry would love to see the 40-60 year olds in this country become more active and reduce some strain on the health system – they have embarked on providing free preventative investigation for 40 year olds recently – maybe APIA, BUPA or HFC might sponsor something , even a single state or the AFC3(Sydney) event, or even a 12 month national competition scholarship for a NSW female and male fencer,  in return for a discount that they can add to the offering for their members to help sell more policies. You’d only be discounting something that you don’t get now, so its not really going to cost you anything – its new membership.   The PCYC, has been, and may still be a resource for many clubs to start off, and a place where young people access sport and other activities – I’m not sure how strong they are these days – Wagga is getting a new multimillion dollar facility built soon, but that’s another entity that could sponsor some things in a partnership style relationship, I reckon there must be a few fencing clubs in their buildings across the state still. We have to have sponsors from somewhere, but now the question has been asked, without being too picky and missing any opportunities like solo benefactors and businesses local to the centre,  can we push towards those organisations that would be most relevant to our sport, or the actual demographics we want to attract , and get some more two way benefit going ?  An airline might be a good idea too…… if you were able to book all team flights through them exclusively, they might jump on board with something.

 

Sorry that got a bit longer than I expected, i do hope there’s something useful in it for you.

All the best, maybe see you at Nationals ’17 !

Toby (WWFC)