USA Weightlifting - Las Vegas International Open 2019 Weightlifting

Dane Miller Criticises USAW Personal Coach Funding

Dane Miller, head coach at Garage Strength, has posted an open letter to USA Weightlifting in which he raises concerns about the way USAW is using its resources to support elite weightlifters. This follows a blog post that he posted the previous day that made similar arguments about the allocation of resources, specifically around the Tokyo Strong project.

The blog post and open letter contain a lot of separate concerns, including some around administrative issues, but his main points of contention appear to be:

  • USAW has not convinced Dane that the Tokyo Strong project is the best use of resources
  • USAW is over-prioritising the current top senior lifters and thus not providing enough support to younger lifters with future potential, such as Jordan Wissinger (who is coached by Dane)
  • Personal coaches are not supported enough to go to international competitions with their athletes

The Tokyo Strong project is a donation campaign with which USAW plans to build dedicated facilities in Tokyo for USA weightlifters to train in the lead up to competing at the 2020 Olympics.

Dane’s concerns about how athlete funding is distributed are summed up in this passage from the letter:

Sadly, we are at a point now where an athlete like Jordan Wissinger, an athlete who made two senior World teams, does not receive a stipend of any sort and is still eligible for the Olympic Games but his coach is not funded to support him in Thailand in achieving his goals. Jordan isn’t the only one.

We contacted USAW CEO Phil Andrews for comment and he provided his reply to Dane’s open letter (included in full at the bottom of this article). It includes detailed responses to the specific problems that Dane raised, along with some thoughts on the more general issues in the open letter.

Some key points from the USAW response:

  • USAW is spending more than ever on supporting athletes and coaches
  • Changes in weightlifting (specifically requirements to compete more often and more weight categories) make it challenging to fully fund everyone
  • USAW is funding more personal coaches at international competitions than in the past but can’t afford to fund all of them
  • Funding provided by USAW compares favourably to that in other Olympic sports

Phil also included a defence of the Tokyo Strong project, pointing out that relying on the Olympic Village and competition venue would limit the opportunity for athletes to train with their personal coaches.

Phils Andrews’ complete response to Dane Miller’s open letter:

From: Phil Andrews
Sent: Saturday, August 10, 12:12
Subject: RE: Blog
To: danemichael.miller@gmail.com
Hi Dane

Thanks for sending this over, I’ve looked into a number of the issues you raised, and here are a few items to raise back to you.

Firstly, let me be clear -we are on the same page, the same team – we both want Weightlifting to grow, both at the elite and grassroots level.

I’d still like to speak by phone, but I spent a good deal of time last night and then again this morning looking into the issues you raised as well as speaking to some other individual sports and how they handle some of the issues you raise.

Your feelings on all these matters are of course valid, and it’s important we continue to listen to coaches and athletes in the field in how we allocate resources. Since taking the CEO post in very late 2015/early 2016, we have really strived to be service driven and centering that service around those in the field. Most of the time, I believe we’ve been successful, but there are times we’ve not been so. You are also correct to demonstrate with a club in a non-major metro area you’ve produced outstanding results at various different levels of our sport, as well as both Track and Wrestling.

First, let’s deal with where we clearly have dropped the ball. I take personal responsibility for taking care of bonus payments for medals. I typically draft that email during the meet as each medal is won. In the case of the Junior Worlds, for whatever reason, I failed to do that. As a result, it was missed. Upon your raising yesterday the issue was taken care of within the hour. I apologize to you, Hayley and to the other medalists in the total. Bonus award winners from other meets so far this year were paid in a timely manner, but that doesn’t excuse not being successful in doing so.

Second, you are correct the initial email did not contain – as it typically would – details regarding personal coach funding, and that could have come quicker. The personal coach funding scheme has not changed since originally being published in April 2018, and is publicly available. We generally therefore assume personal coaches are aware of the funding level they will receive for a particular meet. With that said, it’s fair to say that information could have been confirmed quicker. With regards to estimates, we will do our best to provide these but to provide flight estimates I simply go to Kayak.com (or Travelocity or similar) and take an estimate from there. 

The changing nature of Weightlifting
Fundamentally, our sport has changed in the last couple of years. There has been bumps along that way, and we’ve got somethings wrong over that time, and some things right. The need to compete so often, together with the expansion of our sport to 20 bodyweight categories has provided huge challenges. This blog/email exchange is a great example – essentially you are displeased with funding allocation despite us spending more than ever on both personal coaches and of course on athletes. We have many lessons to learn as we move into 2021-2024.

OPTC Tokyo 2020 and PAG 2019 
Your feedback on this is appreciated, if the weekend was not useful to personal coaches and athletes we can easily not do this again in the 2020-2024 quad. I will say we’ve often found webinars are simply not attended, and written documents are often not read. I am sorry to hear so many personal coaches, according to your feedback, felt this was a waste of time. With so many weekends already taken up with competition both domestic and international, just like our coaches, our staff is more than happy to be able to spend another weekend together. I do believe, with all that said, there is always value in bringing coaches together and to some extent athletes.
The reason why we trained at Colorado College, about a mile or so from the OPTC, was that Weightlifting is not permitted to use the OPTC workout room because there are so many of us. The reason why we took an early workout was in an effort to fit everything in over the weekend. 

We are of course sorry that the bus back to Denver Airport broke down, clearly this was not our expectation for our transportation vendor, and the resulting Ubers were promptly reimbursed.
Changing Stipend Funding
In specific response to athlete and coach feedback to attempt to have information earlier, we have tried to have funding information out early. We did make a change in April 2018, November 2018 (to limit to 2 per category), and then adjusted again in March 2019 (11 months later). You are correct, two documents were posted on 20 and 25 March. The first simply clarified Snr Worlds was meant in the document, the second was a larger change. 

We spent around $750,000 in direct stipend funding in 2018, against a $480,000 budget. We will less but an overage this time as well. One of the areas we did change was that World Team members became Silver to the end of the year. We changed that just as a matter of budget to be quite frank and honest. The biggest reason for the change in March was to address the fact that some athletes who were, in particular, in non-Olympic categories were receiving Gold funding while not being able to rank as high in the Olympic category.

From the 2019 World Championship team – Cummings, Maurus, Kitts, Osorio, Cantrell, Wilkes, Nye, Delacruz, Ritchey, Sasser, Rogers, Robles, Arthur, Lucero and King are all currently on a stipend (which is a higher amount than last year), together with Meredith Alwine who Is a reserve on a account of her Top 8 finish last year.

As we look forward, the question becomes as we spread that financial amount around – what is the priority, less athletes at a higher amount or more athletes at a lower amount? This is particularly relevant as the USA continues to improve its’ result on the international stage, and therefore athletes (reasonably so) earn more money. Similarly, should some of that money go to the coach? What about prize money?  

Personal Coach Funding for Worlds 2018
In 2019 and 2018, we’ve funded more personal coaches than the previous 10 years combined. You mentioned you were impressed with the fact that so many coaches were funded to the Junior Worlds in 2018. For that event we funded 7 personal coaches, where as for the upcoming 2018 Worlds we are funding 10 (Wilkes, Spitz, Arnold, Mash, Ester, Camargo, Galloway and Doherty) and 4 are not funded. All of those are in line with the athlete funding model, except for Travis Mash who has 3 athletes on the team. You would similarly have been funded if, for example, Jake Horst and Hayley Reichardt both made the team as well as Jordan.
It is definitely ideal to have every personal coach present, no question there – but ultimately there is simply only so much money to do it. I can live with the idea of USAW covering the entry fees in the same way you mention USATF does, that makes sense. Get yourself there and we’ll pay the credential fee at least.

I did look back at Worlds for the last few years and how many personal coaches were funded;
2014: 2, 2015: 2, 2016: 0, 2017: 5, 2018: 9, 2019: 10

The Youth and Junior ranks show a similar increase, though 2019 does dip down from 2018.

Funding for Youth Pan Ams
You are correct, for 3 years we fully funded the Pan American Youth Championships. Part of the rationale for going to this meet back in 2014 for the first time in many years was that we can win medals there and provide that first sense of success for young athletes like, as you pointed out, Kate Wehr.

These days it might be reasonable to say we have similar levels of success at the Youth World Championships, which this year was fully funded. Indeed, two members of that team upon discussion elected not to go – recognizing that the Youth Worlds is the primary meet for this age group. 

We are funding a number of athletes (and coaches) to Ecuador as part of the athlete funding level, as well as the data-based funding available in the funding procedure, of course these athletes are generally at the high end of the ranking list.

I also have no question in your judgement that Anna Mcelderry will turn out to be an outstanding athlete. Your judgement has proven good on this subject historically, but one of the perhaps downsides of objective procedures is precisely that they are objective. It was for this reason we included, specifically for the Olympic Games, any time an athlete goes self funded to any competition and later makes the Games, we will refund any dime they’ve spent.

With the growth of teams to 20 rather than 16, and then funding some ad-hoc events and then personal coach funding – again it comes down to the question of what do we fund and what do we not? 

We also don’t see that it’s a good idea to not allow self-funded events, one option is to say we fully fund it or we don’t go. 

What do other sports do?
I took a bit of time to try to track down what others do, big and small.
USA Judo and USA Taekwondo do not allow personal coaches with the team, funded or not. Neither fully fund their World team.
US Fencing allow a max of 4 personal coaches and they fund each of those.
USA Wrestling are permitted a max number of credentials for their personal coaches by the UWW, and to that number they do fully fund personal coaches. However, their stipend program is lower than ours, and this is specific to Senior Worlds. 
USA Track and Field, I could not find a clear policy but it seems like approximately 8 coaches are funded with personal coaches welcome self funded at least to some extent.
USA Swimming, again, I could not find a clear policy but it seems like around 8-10 coaches for a team of around 40 or so. 

In any of those cases, we are funded over and above the amount of personal coaches.

Why are we doing Tokyo Strong?
The reason we have the Tokyo Strong program, is an attempt to provide a training facility where our personal coaches and their athletes can train together. The reality of Tokyo is it is very difficult to drop weights in downtown Tokyo, which is why this expense is large. The USOPC do provide some sports an off-campus place to train, however in the case of Tokyo this is over 1hr from the Village and our venue. While we have been successful in getting accreditiation for personal coaches for the day of competition (which was not possible in 2016, though we did get some luck with Kyle Pierce having a Ghana credential), this is not necessarily the case throughout the entire Olympic Games period. 
If we did take this approach, we may be able to secure one or two credentails for the whole time, which we would need to allocate to just one or two personal coaches. I believe that each Olympian should have their personal coach present. Athletes (and, where possible, personal coaches) can still train at the Venue which is not too far away where their credential allows.
In Rio, we also had an offsite training venue for the same reason but it was 45 minutes drive and last-minute. Therefore, quite ineffective. 
It’s worth noting that athletes are not permitted to stay in the Village after the end of the team’s competition, since we intend to march in Closing Ceremonies then we would still need an off-site operation in order to house the athletes, and also the personal coaches.
There are definitely down-sides, but my goal here is to try and have the best possible environment for our athletes and coaches to perform well.
Phil Andrews | Chief Executive Officer

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