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Thread: Grass roots v Elite Development

  1. #1

    Default Grass roots v Elite Development

    I was listening to an interesting bit of commentary on Radio 4 yesterday about the success of the Icelandic football team. With such a small population of footballers to chose from it seemed to me that it could be analogous to fencing in the UK.

    The interviewee put the success of the team down to investment in grass roots football along with a humble and hardworking attitude.

    Perhaps this is something we could learn from in Fencing? I know we don't have the funding anymore but rather than putting money into centralised purpose build salles and training regimes for our very 'best' fencers shouldn't we be ploughing money into the regions. Training coaches, filling school gyms and increasing participation by youngsters?

    I propose a rethink of the way funding is allocated. Invest in grass roots fencing above ALL else or see a continuation of the decline of British Fencing.

    [Source: https://www.theguardian.com/football...inals-success]

    Thoughts?

    Note: By grassroots I mean school fencing clubs, amateur fencing clubs, fencing taster sessions, country training days, regional compaetitions etc. I do not count centralised 'talent' pathways as grassroots.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by FencingMove View Post
    I was listening to an interesting bit of commentary on Radio 4 yesterday about the success of the Icelandic football team. With such a small population of footballers to chose from it seemed to me that it could be analogous to fencing in the UK.

    The interviewee put the success of the team down to investment in grass roots football along with a humble and hardworking attitude.

    Perhaps this is something we could learn from in Fencing? I know we don't have the funding anymore but rather than putting money into centralised purpose build salles and training regimes for our very 'best' fencers shouldn't we be ploughing money into the regions. Training coaches, filling school gyms and increasing participation by youngsters?

    I propose a rethink of the way funding is allocated. Invest in grass roots fencing above ALL else or see a continuation of the decline of British Fencing.

    [Source: https://www.theguardian.com/football...inals-success]

    Thoughts?

    Note: By grassroots I mean school fencing clubs, amateur fencing clubs, fencing taster sessions, country training days, regional compaetitions etc. I do not count centralised 'talent' pathways as grassroots.
    One thought is why do you put quotes around the words 'best' and 'talent'. Makes it sound like you have a grudge.

    As I understand it the type of 'elite' funding has gone and so have the elite facilities at Leigh Valley was it?

    The grass roots funding you have to be careful about because many professional coaches make their living from teaching in schools and local clubs so putting in money at that level would be a mine field.

    The current approach *is* to offer regionalised support and they are going down the rankings further so it is more inclusive. Personally I'm very satisfied with the way things are going. Plus there have been a number of GBR medal success stories of late across all weapons at the cadet and junior level. Not down to the current talent program changes of course because they have only recently come on stream but certainly a positive sign that we have talent to move forward with.

  3. #3

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    If only it was that simple eh?

    By grassroots I mean school fencing clubs, amateur fencing clubs, fencing taster sessions, country training days, regional compaetitions etc. I do not count centralised 'talent' pathways as grassroots.
    For a very long time in BF all you had was grassroots fencing. That was it: no funding no pathways.... just coaches doing their thing. In fact this is what we have now, you've got your wish.

    I remember someone saying that we have more fencers than Italy & Hungary (we're going back a few years now so my stats are probably out of whack). If that's the case why are they so much more successful?

    It's true that fencing in the UK suffers from the chicken v egg problem. To get success you need money to get money you need success. Put that aside for the moment.

    It's not about grassroots or elite, it's about culture.

    You could [for example] have 1000 new kids start tomorrow but if you don't have good coaching and good clubs then you won't have good fencers. In fact you won't have fencers because you will lose almost all of your 1000 kids. I put it the OP that we don't have a good culture for this sport in this country.

    Also be very careful about saying "If country x has success in sport y then all we have to do is replicate those conditions." It's not always crystal clear why some countries have more success than others...

    For the record I don't think that there's anything wrong with a good social fencing club.
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  4. #4
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    Culture - yes! Recent quote from a world class coach - if you are training less than five days a eeek you are a recreational fencer.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gav View Post
    It's not about grassroots or elite, it's about culture.

    You could [for example] have 1000 new kids start tomorrow but if you don't have good coaching and good clubs then you won't have good fencers. In fact you won't have fencers because you will lose almost all of your 1000 kids. I put it the OP that we don't have a good culture for this sport in this country.
    I completely agree. I propose putting the money into making good clubs with good coaches. What's wrong with the NGB sponsoring clubs or giving grants to establish clubs in regions where the sport is under-represented?

    Coaches just doing their thing has arguably given us our contemporary success in the men's foil department.

    More coaches doing more things would surely give us a greater chance of more success stories? In my eyes a large part of getting success back into the sport is the numbers game.

    In addressing your point about us having more fencers than Hungary or Italy, this may well be true but our coaching standard and our drive to make fencers competitive in this country is likely to be far lower. It's a pickle for sure.

  6. #6
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    Its not a bad idea, but there are some practical issues.

    Firstly, funding does not come without strings. Funding bodies, particularly Sport England and UK Sport do not just write cheques to sports NGBs and let the NGB decide how to spend the money. I'm a bit out of touch these days, but in my experience there are usually very stringent conditions to funding from this sort of source.

    Secondly, England Fencing in the period 2011 - 2013 tried very hard to give away money for grass roots projects in clubs, counties and regions. We seriously struggled to get applications which were worth funding, and we always under-spent the grant development budget.

    From the perspective of retirement, I still believe that it is the nature and quality of the experience of fencers who are new to the sport which is the key. The first exposure, the transition from beginners course into continuous participation, the early competition experiences - its here that the difference can be made.

    I first fenced in about 1976. I returned to the sport in the late 1990s, and was actively involved in its running until 2013. I saw essentially the same beginners course being run in 2013 as I had attended as a teenager in the 70s, and again in the 1990s.

    When I see success stories, it is usually clubs who have either broken the mould and do something differently, or by individual coaches who are so committed, and are so engaging, that the force of their personality is enough to make a difference.

    We have no problem getting people to start fencing, but we are monumentally bad at getting them to keep fencing.

  7. #7

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    About five years ago, each region was allocated funding from Sports England to develop grassroots fencing which had to include all aspects of the sport; refereeing, armoury, coaching and of course opportunities for fencers to train. Proof of development was required by Sport England and if successful, further funding was allocated. Before this time, my region, Eastern, only ran a yearly Youth Championships/BYC qualifiers. We didn't even put teams into the any of the Winton Cup competitions. Five years on we now have teams in each of the Winton cup competitions, youth championships (with record numbers attending), training sessions for all levels/ages, an annual BIG weekend, which includes coach education, refereeing course, armoury course and a senior championships and anything else we can organise or have the space for; we usually have a guest speaker from BF attend. We have in the past year subsidised the cost of attending a coaching course run by Prof. Bob Bales (on condition that those attending pass the course). This year we added our first ever team foil competition (which we would like to expand next year to include sabre). Any profits raised from what we organise is ploughed back into the sport to create further development opportunities and to raise and expand the profile of the sport.

    All of this is organised and operated by a very small committee who all have full time jobs. Yes, it is a hell of a commitment but each of us want to see the sport improve and expand. We have many great coaches and clubs in our region who support the aims of the committee and also want to see the sport improve. Everything we have achieved has taken a long time but slowly we are seeing more of our cadets/juniors represent England U15's/GB Cadet/Juniors and get picked up by talent pathways.

    Change can happen either from top down or bottom up, If you want change to happen, you shouldn't always wait for initiatives from the NGB, it can be done at club/county and regional level;which should then feed into elite pathways/opportunities run by BF.

    Dave Cook
    Eastern Region Development Officer

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by harsnett1 View Post
    About five years ago, each region was allocated funding from Sports England to develop grassroots fencing which had to include all aspects of the sport; refereeing, armoury, coaching and of course opportunities for fencers to train. Proof of development was required by Sport England and if successful, further funding was allocated. Before this time, my region, Eastern, only ran a yearly Youth Championships/BYC qualifiers. We didn't even put teams into the any of the Winton Cup competitions. Five years on we now have teams in each of the Winton cup competitions, youth championships (with record numbers attending), training sessions for all levels/ages, an annual BIG weekend, which includes coach education, refereeing course, armoury course and a senior championships and anything else we can organise or have the space for; we usually have a guest speaker from BF attend. We have in the past year subsidised the cost of attending a coaching course run by Prof. Bob Bales (on condition that those attending pass the course). This year we added our first ever team foil competition (which we would like to expand next year to include sabre). Any profits raised from what we organise is ploughed back into the sport to create further development opportunities and to raise and expand the profile of the sport.

    All of this is organised and operated by a very small committee who all have full time jobs. Yes, it is a hell of a commitment but each of us want to see the sport improve and expand. We have many great coaches and clubs in our region who support the aims of the committee and also want to see the sport improve. Everything we have achieved has taken a long time but slowly we are seeing more of our cadets/juniors represent England U15's/GB Cadet/Juniors and get picked up by talent pathways.

    Change can happen either from top down or bottom up, If you want change to happen, you shouldn't always wait for initiatives from the NGB, it can be done at club/county and regional level;which should then feed into elite pathways/opportunities run by BF.

    Dave Cook
    Eastern Region Development Officer
    Great to hear that Eastern has a vibrant regional committee again. Well done to all involved.

  9. #9

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    It is not a secret that I was highly critical both pre and post London 2012 about the way British Fencing's so-called elite programme was being run and funded and the consequential impact it had at the time and still has today.

    I was not alone in those opinions. Indeed I think that there were plenty of others including people who ran clubs,
    coaches and also elite fencers who were equally concerned.

    The UK Performance Programme was poorly run and received a disproportionate amount of money with little return and end product.

    Baldric makes some points about the lack of demand from clubs for funding from England Fencing. Sorry I have to disagree. The lion size share of that money which was incidentally a small fraction of what was being allocated by UK Sport went into Head Office and covered the cost of several failed Talent Programmes and more importantly a burgeoning staff, which at one point exceeded 20 in number. The average salaries + expenses exceeded at one time in excess of 50K per annum.

    I don't want to be too critical of England Fencing, because I know that Baldric will come to their defence, but they receive annually a sizeable chunk of the subscription income. Yet for a very long time their annual income
    remained unspent and the bank balance grew.

    Fencing has been forced now to cut its cloth according to its means and for the first time in many years operate
    like an amateur sport reliant on its volunteers and their goodwill. Frankly there is now very little money in the
    pot.

    This means that there needs now to be a level of realism in how the sport is being run. Clubs need to improve their growth potential. I retired in 2014 from running Camden, but since September last year I was asked to
    help, because of external financial pressures on club.

    The club has now secured a decent sponsorship package from the Borough and GLL for next three years and has
    also applied and secured grants for specific projects. These included ones from England Fencing who I am sure
    are well aware of the problems facing the sport, and are I believe sympathetic.

    The main priority of England Fencing as it has always been is "Growth", "Training of coaches and referees" and "Development". Those are also the requirements of the sponsors at Camden. The club is focussing at the moment on expansion so that it can cover its costs and train up people to coach and referee.

    One of the key changes which is being made also is that several clubs are now working very collaboratively together. The members of the National Senior Sabre Squad [WCP] came mainly from Camden and Truro and are continuing to train together in London with the support of their club coaches.That project has received some
    private funding.

    Fencing is a very small sport and it needs now to pull together. The era of professional fencers is gone, but that
    does not mean that the sport cannot progress at youth, cadet and junior levels.Frankly those areas were totally
    ignored by the former PD and during her term of office the competitive level in this country shrank and underperformed. If you discount Richard who managed similar results as an amateur and James Davies who
    trained in the USA there was bluntly very little return for the massive investment in WCP.

  10. #10

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    Sorry in para 3 I meant Sport England and not England Fencing.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by coach carson View Post
    Culture - yes! Recent quote from a world class coach - if you are training less than five days a eeek you are a recreational fencer.
    And what would be wrong in having a bunch more recreational fencers?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fencing is Fun Scotland View Post
    And what would be wrong in having a bunch more recreational fencers?
    Nothing. Not sure what your point is?

  13. #13

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    It's really great to see such improvement from the Eastern Region. I'm from the East myself and I learned to fence there. I used to love the weekend regional training days and the dedication of the coaches in the area. I'm glad that has continued.

    It's disappointing to hear that the NGB funding for regional development was not taken advantage of.

    I think it's right that this isn't something that we can sit back and let the NGB handle on it's own. I myself am currently in the process of setting up a junior club in South East London.

    Does anyone have advice on how I would go about getting financial support for such an endeavour?

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by FencingMove View Post
    I completely agree. I propose putting the money into making good clubs with good coaches. What's wrong with the NGB sponsoring clubs or giving grants to establish clubs in regions where the sport is under-represented?
    Baldric makes the important point when he mentions that he struggled to hand out money to development opportunities that are worthwhile. You need to ask why that was happening?

    There's no point in throwing money at projects that are bad and you are risking the perception of your sport if you do that.

    You can't impose a good culture, you have to grow it and recognise that it's a long term project. 10+ years before you will see results? It can happen over a shorter period but you need enough dedicated, high quality and enthusiastic workers to make it happen.

    Coaches just doing their thing has arguably given us our contemporary success in the men's foil department.
    Again this is slightly simplistic reading. Yes we have "just a coach doing his thing" but that is a world class coach in an area of opportunity who works hard.

    More coaches doing more things would surely give us a greater chance of more success stories? In my eyes a large part of getting success back into the sport is the numbers game.
    Yes, in very simple terms. But lots of coaches doing lots of things very poorly doesn't work either. You can have all the numbers on your side and still produce crap. You need excellence too.

    Quote Originally Posted by FencingMove View Post
    In addressing your point about us having more fencers than Hungary or Italy, this may well be true but our coaching standard and our drive to make fencers competitive in this country is likely to be far lower. It's a pickle for sure.
    Exactly. That's my point.

    They have a good culture that they've built over the lifetime of the sport. It's possible to build culture quickly but it comes back to good coaches doing good things. Look at Korea. They were fairly good but nothing special for a long time and now? Near the top of the tree in Sabre and Epee. Their foilists haven't matched that success but I wouldn't rule it out. It didn't happen over night for them but (as far as I know) they literally sat down and asked the question "How can we be better?" and built it from there. Their coaches work hard (very very very hard from what I've seen) and they pull in largely the same direction. I can't say whether Koreans have a high number of fencers but I suspect not.

    So you need: to get your coaches up to speed, enthusiastic and pulling the same direction. You will probably need some entrepreneurial elements (and/or wealthy patrons), good management at the top level, a drive to bring in kids and make them enthusiastic about the sport. There are other elements I've not touched on but if you do these things I believe you will see success.

    I'll say this now. I think that there are too many fiefdoms in our sport in the UK and it's holding us all back. If we can stop the war we might win the peace.
    Last edited by Gav; -13th October 2017 at 10:10.
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