Where do we stand now? In two words – with you.
There was a Pearls Before Swine comic strip last week: “Goals for today:” next frame “GET TO TOMORROW”, last frame, “These days I’ve narrowed my goals.”
I imagine we can all appreciate, and relate to, this sentiment – we certainly can at US Squash. That said, it’s not the posture we’re taking as an organization; in fact we’re taking the opposite approach as we strive to always do – looking long term. More on that later though.
We feel for all of the players in the community who are missing the meaningful part squash plays in their daily lives: staying healthy, building friendships, enjoying competition, and even the simple handshake and “great match” at the end of play. We are disappointed to not be able to host the more than a thousand competitors who were poised to compete in our national championships this spring, and are as frustrated as you are to not be able to fully know when and how we’ll return to the sport we all love.
For the last seven weeks (it’s been 45 days since we formally suspended all activity), we’ve been focused on short term stabilization and preparation for long term planning:
- Health: Our initial priority was well-being and safety of our staff. Without them, we can’t serve the community, and all of us have varied circumstances personally, and with our families and their health. We also focused on making sure our athletes competing around the world returned to the U.S. safely. We did our very best to shut things down responsibly with our vendors and partners and participants, and to communicate clearly.
- Finance: We then turned to evaluate US Squash’s financial soundness in the short and medium term to weather any scenario we may face. We quickly understood the immediate implications, and were proactive in pursuing the federal Payroll Protection Program, securing sources of funding to retain our staff in the short term. As of today we have started to offer multi-year memberships, piloting the opportunity with those scheduled to renew in the coming months. Member support is critical to our ability to weathering this crisis. We look forward to making this more broadly available in the coming weeks. We’ve built fairly sophisticated financial scenario planning models to help evaluate our options for the medium term and are working closely with our Finance and Audit Committee; the US Squash Board having been briefed in a meeting today, April 24.
- Foundation: The Arlen Specter US Squash Center project has been a major focus, with construction continuing, then put on hold, and now scheduled to resume in May. The importance of ongoing planning and collaboration alongside our design and construction teams and our partners at Drexel University in this dynamic environment has been essential to moving the project forward successfully as we target a year-end completion.
- Future: Finally, we have been focused on our future planning: what are the most appropriate strategies and the practicalities of re-launching organized play. We’ve been researching, filtering information, listening in on roundtables and carefully considering other sources of reliable information. In particular, we’re closely following CDC recommendations, and will rely heavily on U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee “Return to training and competition” recommendations which are forthcoming to aid all of us to remain safe and in compliance with local, county and state requirements.
This is certainly a crisis like nothing we’ve experienced before, and we are navigating a rapidly shifting landscape like everyone else. We are not naïve to the challenges ahead, it’s not going to be easy for anyone. However, the organization is doing everything possible to be prepared.
We believe this is going to be about adaptation and mitigation for a long time to come. That said, I am optimistic, and I feel this way because the leadership and deep engagement provided by the Board has been fantastic. I am also confident in our management team and staff, and finally I am relying on the overall strength of the squash community and their ability to be a major support during these difficult times.
We will have hard choices to make in the next few months and quarters, yet we’ve shown we can be nimble and decisive when we have to be. We led in acting to address the crisis – we were the first national sports body in the U.S. to comprehensively suspend programs – and we plan to be leaders in working with our community to chart a path back to safe and meaningful participation in the sport we all love.
To make the best choices, it is important that we use our Board and committee structure effectively, and that we make sure we’re inclusive, transparent and communicate our approach to everybody. We also need to be disciplined, methodical, thoughtful, and cautious in how we move forward. I’ve always felt that being relatively small as a sport creates advantages to leverage, and I think these circumstances bear this out. As things continue to evolve, we’re nimble enough as a sport and organization to not be forced into making immediate and underinformed decisions.
Where will we stand in the future? Also with you.
Longer term, and the antithesis of the sentiment in the Pearls Before Swine cartoon, is formulating answers to the question: what do things look like for squash when we get through this?
Part of the answer to this is another reason I am optimistic. The opportunity we have with the Specter Center now becomes even more central to us in this continually changing landscape.
We do know we’ll be coming out of this much more slowly than we got into it. We don’t yet know how the country’s response to the virus is going to proceed, or how we’ll shape our programs and their structure to re-launch. And so, again, we’ll want to be thoughtful and cautious as we adapt and plan. We must not sit on our heels – we’ve shown we can move quickly when we need to – rather, we must be patient.
Our broader organizational goals during this time include some major initiatives that we haven’t been able to get over the finish line based on the fact that we’re a fairly small staff for the scope of the work we cover. We are relaunching the US Squash website, re-inventing how we approach and support officiating, and will have to re-purpose our organized play structure so it’s fit for the future.
The website relaunch as ussquash.org in May will formally switch our domain to .ORG, which will emphasize our status as a 501c3 nonprofit organization. The site will be more integrated with Club Locker and the content will fill major gaps we’ve had including “New to Squash” onramp information, a section focusing on increasing the accessibility of squash. White paper information and examples of how to grow squash including facility models and methods to build courts will be available, in addition to program models, templates and best practices to develop squash programs.
The revisions to our officiating programs include re-working all the training and education materials, certification exams and ways to engage more people. Our final goal is to be as responsive as possible to the opportunities to launch a revised structure of competitions to serve and sustain the membership.
Other work in motion runs the gamut, from communications, programs and events, fundraising, finance, technology, the Specter Center, and governance. Central to all of this is our communications, and we’re serving as a key resource to providing advice and support for facilities and clubs. We are also working on recommendations and will be seeking broad input on a re-start process, and scenarios for junior squash nationally, which is probably the most challenging part to work through.
We’re continually doing financial scenario planning and will have an interstitial Board meeting in May to review progress and provide updates. In technology we’re making ratings algorithm optimizations, improving the tournament management system, adding streaming integrations for Club Locker and venue-based services so the system can meet all the needs of the Specter Center and other major facilities.
In short, we are working very hard to ensure that when the time comes to take the courts, we are ready to support the community.
We will leverage our Board and engage the entire community every step of the way as we plan our return to playing and competing in squash.
We will need your support, whether through membership or contributions, to be strong enough to maintain our momentum moving forward.
Please email me with your thoughts or suggestions at email@example.com.
Kevin D. Klipstein
President & CEO, US Squash