Last week I had the opportunity to have lunch with an old friend. He was a US Squash board member who served in the “early years” having been on the board when I started in late 2004 and staying through the transition years. During that time, the board was reduced from thirty-eight directors down to ten, and we started the process of rebuilding the association which has yielded solid results a decade later.
We had not seen each other for several years, and at lunch, he asked me a simple question, “So, what have you learned?” While I am normally fairly well prepared for these kinds of questions, including “what’s been the biggest challenge” or “what has surprised you the most,” I completely blanked. In this moment, given the depth and duration of our relationship, and knowing that he knew what we’d been through over the last dozen years, where could I even start?
I will spare you the extended agony of my initial scatter-shot response, and let you know where I ended up—what I’ve learned over the last decade is the basic idea that mission matters, and that focusing on fewer things, while also collaborating through partnerships, yields the best results. For-profit companies have a clear mission—maximize profit. PepsiCo long sought to achieve this mission by having one goal: “Kill Coke.” Very unambiguous.
Nonprofit organizations have as many varied missions as there are organizations. The two essential components of success are therefore to articulate mission—and be singularly focused on achieving it—and to partner effectively with other organizations with interdependent missions.
For US Squash, it’s a challenge to have a singular focus given the broad scope required of every national sports governing body, including grassroots development and growth, delivering value and services to participants, ensuring National Championships are of the highest standard, elite development, and our National Team’s performance on the world stage.
Our mission is to lead squash’s growth and development by increasing access and awareness, supporting meaningful lifelong engagement in the sport, and encouraging sportsmanship while achieving competitive excellence at the highest levels. And we want to be the best.
Our version of “Kill Coke” is sustained positive engagement of our community, and doing whatever we need to so you have excellent experiences in squash, including partnering with other organizations with related missions: high school and college squash—a fair, level playing field with a focus on sportsmanship; pro squash—entertainment, excellence and the highest standard of play; and urban squash—higher education and advancement for underserved youth.