Monday, October 3, 2011

USA Track and Field Needs a TEAM Not a Superman

imageAs I noted in my previous post, we lack a leadership presence from our former star athletes within the political structure of American track and field. Whereas other countries have former stars that are active within their federations and/or the IAAF, we have yet to capture any of that talent as we look to move the sport forward in this country.

Given that we are at a crossroads at USATF – i.e. in between CEO’s. It would seem that now is the time to look at how we might be able to recruit and incorporate the talents of former athletes, as other countries have done with Sebastian Coe, Sergey Bubka, and Alberto Juantorena.

As a matter of fact, I think it is time to look at the leadership/structure of USATF in total, because looking at the breath of the job description that has been developed for the CEO position, it really is too much for one person to accomplish. When you look at all that needs to be done, however, everything outlined in the job description needs to be accomplished, and more if we’re truly talking about BUILDING the sport in this country. That’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that now might be the perfect time to restructure USATF – because it’s really the job for a TEAM of individuals as opposed to a single individual.

Yes, I know that a CEO could indeed hirer people to get things done in various areas – that’s part of the job. But looking at the size of the United States; the number of athletes we have throughout the country; the financial needs of the organization; and the fact that we are sorely behind when it comes Grand Prix level meets – let alone hosting a World Championships – what we really need are several individuals of CEO quality working together to achieve an overarching goal! In other words a star studded TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More).

U.S.A. Basketball used the idea to bring us back into prominence on the world stage after losing several Olympic and World championships. In 1992 they put together the “Dream Team”, composed of stars Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and others who summarily pooled their talents to demolish the opposition and put U.S basketball back on the top of the podium.

Similarly, I think that instead of searching for a nonexistent Superman that USATF could look to put together a team of Chief Officers to put U.S. track and field back into a place of prominence globally. My “Team” would be composed of the following:


Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Primarily responsible for Public Relations. Would serve as the face of USA Track and Field and it’s interactions with other federations, the IAAF, IOC, et al, as well as ensuring that the overarching goals of the organization are achieved.


Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

Primarily responsible for Finance/Corporate Development. Would be responsible for fund raising fund development for USA Track and Field and its various programs through heavy recruitment of corporate funding/backing.


Chief Competition Officer (CCO)

Primarily responsible for the coordination and development of Competitions within the U.S. This would include assisting existing meets in any needed expansion as well as developing meets in new locations. The goal of which would be to expand international level competition in the United States. This would also include working to bring the World Championships to the U.S.


Chief Development Officer (CDO)

Primarily responsible for Athlete Development. This would include, making sure adequate facilities are available for training; athletes are provided with opportunities to improve their skill sets through available coaching/development seminars and cross training opportunities with other coaches; and assisting athletes in the transition from collegiate/amateur to the professional level, including athlete/coach pairing process.

These organizational “Officers” would work together in areas that overlap to ensure the organizational mission is met. For example the CEO & CFO would coordinate and often meet together with corporate leaders with respect to fundraising/corporate development issues. The CFO & CCO would work in tandem regarding developing funding for individual competitions. There are many areas where all four of these individuals would need to coordinate activities and work together, but with each having an area of “expertise/responsibility” this would only serve to strengthen the work that is being done. More importantly, all the members of the “Dream Team” that I have in mind possess all of the skills for each position in various amounts, and as such would be able to assist each other across the spectrum.

With that, here is my “Dream Team” to fill the positions and rebuild track and field in the United States:


Chief Executive Officer – Edwin Moses

A global track and field icon that has spent a great deal of time interfacing with many of the people that this organization needs to have relationships with.


Chief Financial Officer – Bill Schmidt

He’s a former athlete who has found much success in the corporate world. He has the skills necessary to sell the sport to corporate interests.


Chief Competition Officer – Mary Wittenberg

She has successfully run the New York Road Running Club and world class level events. Intimately familiar with what it takes to build events from the ground up at this level.


Chief Development Officer – Vin Lananna

Has run and coached programs at the collegiate level as well as coached elite level athletes. He understands athlete development and their needs at every level including the elite level.

Ironically the first step in this process would be to secure enough funding to hire this TEAM of elite individuals. So my first suggestion is to meet with past funding sources such as VISA, GMC, Nike and Adidas, to try and secure specific funding for these positions. I would sell it as an “investment” in the future of the sport – one that will reap all huge dividends. Obtaining four funding sources to commit to provide Chief Officer funding at the level that was being paid to previous CEO’s should be a piece of cake – especially given the names that we want to bring to the sport!

The next step would be to convince these individuals that “sharing” power would be to the greater benefit of all concerned. That taking on the full responsibility as individuals would have been tantamount to individual failure – which is what I think may have scared them all away initially – but that by being able to focus on their strengths in tandem with others of similar ability could lead to extraordinary results for American track and field as well as for each as individuals.

I know this would be an ambitious undertaking – but I do believe it is achievable. More importantly, I believe it is the kind of approach that is needed here in the U.S. Our needs are greater than can be met by any single individual. Neither Coe, Bubka, nor Juantorena could single handedly get the job done here, in the same way that they have been able to do in their own countries. Our challenges are daunting, our demographics very different. We require the collective work of our best – and I belive that this model would provide that.

Just food for thought as we attempt to move forward into yet another Olympic cycle.

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