the dean comes clean

the dean comes clean

Despite the frequent criticism of the US Sailing Team we’ve featured on the Front Page over the past few years, outgoing USST Chairman Dean Brenner has long seen the value in engaging the biggest online sailing community in history (you can see my 2011 interview with Dean here). With the humbling performance turned in by the team in Weymouth, Dean might’ve wanted to run and hide until his tenure is up in a few weeks, but with all credit to him, he’s manning up right here in the SA forums to answer your questions about the team’s performance, the organization supporting them, the sponsors, the future, whatever.

Give him your best shot; personal attacks won’t be censored, but they’ll probably be ignored. Here’s the note Dean sent us to explain what he’ll do, and the thread to chat with him is right here.

It’s no secret that the 2012 US Olympic Sailing Team did not perform at the Games in Weymouth this month. We failed to medal in a single class, for the first time since 1936. Lots of questions are being asked, and that’s good. We would have conducted a thorough program review after these Games, regardless of how the team did, because of the imminent leadership transition that has been in process for several years. But the performance has added some urgency to the review.

I know there are many members of the SA community who have some questions they want to ask, opinions they want to share, and disappointments they want to vent. I’m here to have a discussion about it. But let me share a few macro thoughts first:

  1. I am proud of our progress overall. While our poor performance these last two weeks is undeniable, our four-year progress as a program is equally undeniable. Our budget is, on average, about 400% bigger than it was eight years ago. Do our athletes still have to fundraise? Of course they do, but some of them have to fundraise a lot less than they used to. We’re not where we need to be funding wise, but we’re proud of the progress thus far.
  2. We made a decision four years ago, that we had to change the culture of the US Sailing Team to a more collaborative, team-based culture, and we have significant progress there. We have moved away from an “everyone for yourself” mentality to a “we’re in this together” mentality. It is clear to anyone who has been around the team. We have a cohesive, collaborative group. This lays a great foundation for the future as our new talent comes online, they will have a squad culture waiting to take them in.
  3. We also made a decision four years that fitness had to improve. It did, significantly, by any measure. But we can always do better there. But we made great progress, with more to do.
  4. Our biggest weakness? Our talent pipeline. We need more and better young talent, and we need to do a better job retaining them once they are in our system. We created a Development Squad five years ago, still only in its fledgling stages, but it has produced some good results over the last three years. We did not win any medals in the 2012 Youth Worlds, but we won three bronze in 2010, and three silver in 2011, topping the medal charts at each event. We have a lot of work to do there, and I expect that the next administration will look hard at our talent pipeline. It needs more resources and some serious strategic thought.
  5. Some will criticize our Trials. I’ll largely leave that to the Forum discussion. But the OSC thinks that international events are the way to go. Does it help domestic class development? No. But I remain unconvinced that class development should be the purview of the OSC. Class development is the purview of the class, and the OSC should conduct whatever Trials system it determines will select the best possible team. We’ll come back to this topic, I’m sure.

I know there are other topics to be discussed and I’m happy to get into them. But here are my rules: ask me a legitimate question in a respectful way, and identify yourself by name, and I’ll happily discuss. Rudeness and personal attacks will be ignored, and I’m going to politely decline to engage in debate with people who don’t identify themselves by name. I also will not criticize any sailor or staff member directly. We win as a team, and we lose as a team. Clearly we have lots of things that need to be done better. My eyes are wide open to that fact.

Dean Brenner