USA Swimming President Bruce Stratton addressed the USA Swimming House of Delegates on Friday, September 13. The full text of his speech is below.
Good evening everyone. It is my pleasure and privilege to address you this evening. It is difficult to believe another year has gone by and this is the end of the third year of my term as president. It seems like every year gets better and this was no exception. USA Swimming continues to enjoy enormous success in all aspects of the organization and the sport.
First, hearty and sincere congratulations to our World Championship Team. Our athletes represented us very well, coming away with 29 medals in pool swimming and 2 medals in open water - 14 gold, 8 silver, and 9 bronze. Of particular note are the two world records set by Katie Ledecky in the 1500 and 800 freestyle, along with an American record in the 400 freestyle. In addition, Jessica Hardy set an American record in the 50 breaststroke, as well as Michael McBroom in the 800 freestyle and our women in the 4x100 freestyle relay. As always, our athletes continue to impress the world not only with their performances in the pool, but also with their character and integrity out of the pool.
Our National Junior Team also had a great showing at the Junior World Championships in Dubai where they came away with highest medal count of the competition – 9 gold, 7 silver, and 12 bronze for a total of 28 medals. They also won the Championship Trophies for the men’s, women’s, and combined competitions. The future continues to look bright for USA Swimming.
The success of our teams is not only a tribute to their hard work, but also a tribute to the great coaches we have in USA Swimming. All of these athletes began their careers in club programs at the local level and the importance of our club coaches cannot be overemphasized.
In addition to our great competitive successes, USA Swimming has had great success in all aspects of our organization. Our Executive Director will expound on these in more detail in his address tomorrow and I don’t want to steal his thunder, but our membership numbers are up more than they have ever been; all of our sponsors have renewed and we have added some new ones; our relationship with the USOC is great; our Safe Sport Program continues to be recognized as one of the best in the country; we are financially sound; and I could go on and on.
An area in which I believe we are continuing to make headway is in our international relations efforts. As part of the FINA General Congress held in Barcelona this year, elections and committee appointments were made for the next four years. I am extremely happy to report that Dale Neuburger was re-elected as a vice-president and Carol Zaleski was reappointed as Chair of the Technical Swimming Committee. In addition, every name we put forward as recommendations for members of other committees were appointed. We now have 19 individuals from the United States serving on various FINA committees, commissions, and panels, which is more than twice as many as any other Federation. Even though we are only one country out of 202 and have little influence when it comes to a vote in the General Congress, I believe we will have significant influence in the day-to-day workings of FINA.
I can’t talk about the successes of USA Swimming without mentioning our volunteers. I am convinced we have the greatest volunteers of any National Governing Body in the U.S. Olympic Movement. There are too many for me to single out, but I do want to recognize and thank Jill Chasson, Buddy Pylitt, and Anthony Ten Haagen. I don’t believe any of them are here, but all three devote an enormous amount of their personal time to our National Board of Review Process. Jill has served as the Chair for the past three years and Buddy, who has been serving as the Vice-Chair, has agreed to take over as the Chair. Anthony serves as the Chair of the Background Screen Appeals Panel. Jill…. Buddy….. Anthony… thank you for all you do!
As I look forward to this next year, there are three things I believe are critical to both the short-term and long-term success of USA Swimming.
First is our Safe Sport Program. As you may know, our Safe Sport Program is recognized as one of the premier programs of any youth serving organization and especially within the USOC family. As good as it is, it will always be evolving and we will always be looking for ways to improve it. Although there are many facets to our program, I believe the key to success in protecting our athletes lies in the continued education of our coaches, volunteers, athletes, and parents.
Along with our education requirements for our non-athlete members, we now have separate education programs available for our parents and our athletes. These are very good programs and completely voluntary, but they can only be effective if parents and athletes actually take them. As of last week, only 2,628 parents have taken the course and only 395 athletes have done so. With more than 400,000 members, this is very disheartening to me. We absolutely must get more of our parents and athletes to take these courses. The people in this room, all of you out there, represent the top leadership of our sport at all levels. We must educate our athletes and parents to recognize potential abuse situations. I am calling on you, and challenging you, to do whatever you can to increase the participation in these critical education programs.
Increasing participation and growing our sport is one of our key priorities. An interesting statistic is that in the 12 and under age group category, our retention rate is 61.7 percent. However, in the 13 and over age group, our retention rate is 91.1 percent. We must work on retaining our young participants. I am convinced one of the biggest reasons for losing young athletes is the length of our meets for 12 and under swimmers.
Based upon my personal experience as a parent of a 12 and under swimmer and now watching my son (that same 12 and under swimmer) with his young swimmer, I believe it is not the swimmers who are adversely affected by a long meet. My children and grandchildren could have happily stayed at a meet all day long and played with their friends. It is the parents who dislike the long meets! Who wants to sit around a pool all day long so they can watch their child swim for 4 minutes and 28 seconds? Especially when virtually every other sport lasts from 1-2 hours and your child is typically involved in play the entire time. If I were the parent of a young swimmer today, I think I would be trying my hardest to convince my children to participate in another sport or simply demand that they do.
Article 205.3 of our Rulebook requires that with the exception of championship meets, all age group competitions for swimmers aged 12 and under must be conducted in four hours or less. This was put into our Rulebook for the specific purpose of trying to retain young swimmers in our sport. When it was put in place, it was recognized that every LSC has differing circumstances and so the rule was intentionally vague in order to give LSCs a great deal of latitude and flexibility in implementing it. However, the intent was, and still is, to limit the amount of time 12 and under swimmers, and maybe more importantly, their parents have to spend at a swim meet.
I am telling you all of this is because we are getting increasingly common complaints about the 4-hour rule being violated or that the spirit and intent of the rule is being disregarded. Dan McAllen, the chair of our Rules and Regulations Committee, will be issuing an interpretation regarding the 4-hour rule in an attempt to provide some needed guidance. However, it is still up to each LSC to enforce it.
The retention of our younger swimmers, especially those 12 and under is critical to the growth of our sport. We must make swimming as attractive to parents as soccer, baseball, and tennis or the parents will drive kids out of the sport. Our LSCs must recognize this need or we will continue to lose swimmers at an early age. As the recognized leaders of your LSCs, I challenge you to go back to your LSCs and clubs and to look for innovative and creative competition formats that will be more family friendly. Retaining our younger swimmers is a key component to growing our membership and to the future success of our sport. I am convinced that making meets fun for young swimmers and their parents will be a great help in this endeavor.
The last and most critical item of importance to the continued success of our sport and USA Swimming is the dues increase you will be asked to approve tomorrow at the House of Delegates meeting. When I talk about the dues increase I need to take off my USA Swimming President hat and put on my CPA/businessman hat. It may surprise you to know that the $2 dollar a year increase was not initiated by our staff, but by me, who as your president believes it is necessary for the long-term, continued success of USA Swimming. USA Swimming is a business. We are in the business of growing our sport, developing athletes, and winning gold medals. We cannot do that unless we are financially successful. I have always advised my clients that they need to raise prices at least a little bit each year. Regardless of what kind of business you are in, costs increase every single year and if you don’t cover at least some of those costs with increased prices, you are taking a step backwards. It is much easier for customers, members in our case, to tolerate small annual increases as opposed to hitting them with a substantial make-up increase every 5-10 years.
I speak as a volunteer and businessman who only wants our organization to be stronger and better each and every year. I participated in the budget and business planning process for four years in my capacity as your treasurer and now three years as your president. I can tell you it is thorough and transparent, but a difficult process. Programs and services are continually evaluated and every year difficult decisions have to be made about cutting those that are ineffective and adding new ones. There is never enough money to include all the programs and services that we would like to add. Holding down costs is always in the forefront of every budget discussion we have. As you can see by the information we provided in the brochure you received when you signed in for the convention, there are many ideas for new programs, but we do not have the funds to put them into place.
We are also always concerned about unnecessarily growing our staff and I believe we have managed that very effectively. For example, since 2007 when we fully implemented all the new programs attributable to the dues increase we had in 2004, our staff size has increased by only three people. And yes, we do pay our staff well, but our compensation levels are on par with similar positions in similar organizations. If we want to recruit and retain the best, we need to be competitive with the rest of the business world. Each year, our compensation levels for all staff are evaluated to make sure we are being competitive and, at the same time, reasonable.
As I said earlier, our budget process is both thorough and transparent. The work begins early in the year with staff reviewing their programs and costs. All during the process, our Board of Directors is kept informed. Our Executive Committee always meets in conjunction with our summer National Championships, where the primary purpose of the meeting is to review in detail and approve the budget before it goes to our Board of Directors for their review here at convention. After review by our Board, the budget goes to our House of Delegates for approval. By the time it gets to the House of Delegates, it has been fully vetted and reviewed by the volunteer leadership you have elected.
One of our key missions is to grow the sport, but with that growth comes increased responsibilities to our membership. This modest increase, which amounts to less than 17 cents a month and certainly less than the Starbucks many of you purchase every day, will allow us to maintain, improve, and expand our existing programs. And, by us continuing to carefully monitor and control our budget, it will also provide additional funds for new programs and services which will benefit all of our members.
The House of Delegates will vote tomorrow on the proposed dues increase and I am asking you for your support and vote in approving this very important component to the continued future success of USA Swimming.
This room is full of the greatest volunteers, coaches, and athletes in the world. Together, with our many other volunteers and coaches, USA Swimming has an unbelievably bright future and I want to thank all of you for your individual and collective contributions to our sport.
Also included in this room is the greatest staff in the Olympic family. I have said this before and will most certainly say it again, but one of my greatest pleasures in serving as your president is working with all of the staff at USA Swimming. They are, without question, the most professional, hardest working, and dedicated staff we could ever hope to have. It is the culture of USA Swimming! It starts with our Executive Director and extends to every member of our staff. Would everyone on staff please stand so we can recognize and thank you.
There is one staff member I want to recognize separately. Carol Burch has been on staff at USA Swimming for 31 years, the longest continuous stretch of anyone on staff. Sadly, for USA Swimming, she will be retiring this year. I suspect she has helped nearly every person in this room at some point. Carol, you will be sorely missed and words cannot describe how much we appreciate everything you have done for USA Swimming the past 31 years. Would you please stand.
The other person I must recognize is our Executive Director, Chuck Wielgus. It is difficult to imagine the challenges that Chuck has had to deal with this year. We all know he is hard working and dedicated to Swimming, but he is also one of the bravest men I have ever encountered. I would describe what Chuck went through this year a pure hell, but he faced it with an unbelievable determination and positive attitude. His approach to these challenges exemplifies his leadership of USA Swimming and is one of the primary reasons we have been so successful. We are indeed fortunate to have him back in Colorado Springs going full throttle at making USA Swimming a better organization and taking our sport to the top of its game. Thank you Chuck!
In closing, I want to thank all of you for your support of me and of USA Swimming. I continue to be humbled and appreciative of your confidence in me and of the opportunity to serve as your president. With all of your help and support I know USA Swimming will continue to have tremendous success this next year and beyond. Thank you!