Interview with Michael Ward - November 2003

Age 25
Born Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, resides York.
University of York 1996-2000 MEng in Computer Systems and Software Engineering
2000-200? University of York, DPhil in Computer Science.

Michael, the first ever NEUAL starts on Nov 9th with Durham v York v Bradford in Durham. Are you looking forward to the indoor season this year?

Yes. This is potentially the last year I'll be shooting as a student, and I'm shooting better than I ever have before. With the starting of the new league we will have plenty of match practice, and this will hopefully convert to more success in BUSA indoors. It would be nice to have an indoors medal to go with my two outdoors (in fact, it'd be nice to have a gold medal!).

I am intending to shoot in the first match as a guest. Am I going to be impressed?

I hope so...

How hard was the League to put together?

Not that difficult. The hardest part was contacting the clubs at the beginning of this year, what with me being away for three weeks at the start of term, and emails not sending, I only managed to contact the clubs shortly before we were due to start. Thankfully, the enthusiasm of the clubs meant that the short run-in time was not too much of a problem. Claire at Bradford had already contacted the clubs last year to find out who would be interested, then over summer we, with your assistance, sorted out the program and other details of the league.

Last year was the first year of the 5 team SWWUA League. You must have been very pleased to see that get off to such a successful start.

Yes, it is always nice to see more competition available for student archers, I hope we will be able to emulate their success, and I hope it will keep going through the tricky second year.

How hard, do you think, is the job of league organiser and how do you anticipate the workload to develop over the course of the year and do you anticipate the demand for competition in the North of England generating a self-sustaining competition?

I hope it won't be too difficult, as I am trying to write-up my DPhil this year :-) I hope that once the league gets going all I will need to do is collate the results, and remind clubs to organise their home matches. I will probably also have to help with the organisation of the championships.

There will be NEUAL Novice Coaching on November 2nd. What will be taking place here, and how are novices catered for in the NEUAL?

At present this is provisional, subject to a suitable venue being found for the day to take place. Mainly, we are hoping to provide an environment where novices from the participating clubs can take advantage of coaching from qualified coaches, and also be introduced to some of the theory of shooting.

Within the NEUAL structure there are four competitions for novices - beginners champs, indoor champs and league indoors, and outdoor champs in the summer. The league is based on five matches, three league matches held in conjunction with the senior matches, and one at each of the indoor champs. The three championships will each have individual and team competitions for novices.

We are also introducing achievement badges to encourage and reward novices for improving. These are based on reaching certain score levels for a Portsmouth round (extending the range of badges already available from Reading Archers), and outdoors being able to shoot 216 off 3 dozen at different distances. This scheme will hopefully be implemented by all the clubs in the league to provide a common reference for all our archers.

Why did you decide to follow SUSF's model so closely?

The three existing leagues all have very different formats, BUTTS requires each institution to be able to host a six-way match, which some (York included) will find difficult to do. SUSF uses a three-way match, and SWWUA a two-way match, both of which are fairly easy to host numbers wise. The three-way match was decided on as it promotes greater interaction between the clubs, and reduces the number of matches that need to be organised. The rest of the calendar (the championships and training days) was copied to provide additional competition within the North East, and hopefully help the participating universities to reach the same levels of success that the Scottish universities have enjoyed in recent years.

Given the enthusiasm the clubs have responded with, I think there will be continue to be a demand for local competition. Certainly, our beginners this year are showing enthusiasm for competition which will probably keep us going for the next few years.

York have quite regularly attended a number of SUSF Championships in recent seasons. Do you think this contributed to York's recent good showing at 2002 BUSA Outdoors.

It has certainly helped, aside from BUSA SUSF were the only competitions we had been entering, so they allowed us to have some competition practice. However, I don't think it is the main reason. This year we finally got a permanent outdoor range, so we can go and shoot whenever we want with only a minimum of time required to set up (under fifteen minutes from turning up to starting shooting). This is a great improvement over having to fight for time and space on a playing field which we then had to rope off – too much work and effort if we only had 2 hours to spare - not that that prevented footballers and cricketers from entering whilst we were shooting to retrieve balls. The new range meant that we were shooting a lot more than in previous years - over summer I was shooting 5 or 6 days a week. This level of practise allowed all of us to improve a lot - which produced the unexpected result.

How much of a difference do you think regular, albeit local, competition will really make to the quality of all seven NE League members?

Hopefully it will make a lot of difference. Some of the clubs already take part in local competition and benefit from this, others (including York) have not had so much involvement in indoor competition, and hopefully the match practice will improve their performance at major competitions. Personally, I have always found that by the time I get to BUSA I have lost the ability to keep shooting well for a round because I haven't managed to complete a round in the short time we get in the hall. After one full round I do improve (comparing my BUSA and SUSF indoor scores is always depressing... ).

Will other universities in Northern England (e.g. Liverpool, Lancaster) , not competing in the NE League be allowed to compete in the NEUAL Indoor and Outdoor Championships or shoot as guests?

I don’t know as yet. They will certainly be welcome as guests if they cannot compete in the competition.

York ran Edinburgh very close at BUSA Outdoors in June. Do you accept that York are the clear favourites to win the NE league?

No. Whilst we have shown occasional success in the outdoors (our third place in 2000 due almost entirely to the presence of Paul Rennie, silver in 2002 being more of a team effort), we have not been as successful indoors (8th place being our best so far). This, I believe, is due to the lack of hall time we get (two 2 hour sessions, one of which is a Tuesday afternoon), which makes full round practise hard to do, whereas outdoors we now have a permanent range where we can shoot as much as we want, which has allowed several of our members to improve dramatically with almost daily practise in breezy conditions. This does mean we appear to have a strong team at the moment, but we are losing Heather (our top scorer at BUSA) to the world of work, and I have never shot as well indoors as out (except for SUSF 2000). I think we have a chance of winning, but wouldn't write off Bradford or Durham, and I haven't seen some of the other clubs, who may turn out to be challengers as well.

Do you think the coaching structure and facilities at York are such that future generations of good student archers will be produced.

We certainly have the outdoor facilities to allow people to practise all year - but indoors we are severely time limited, and investment in new sports facilities has been put off by the university once again. This has led us to try and take over our local clubs indoor sessions (particularly for our leaders who don't get much chance to shoot at the moment as they are teaching all the time). Each year we try to get one or two people through a leaders course to keep up the number of qualified people who can teach the beginners to a good standard. Unfortunately, the coaches we have had for the past few years can no longer attend regularly and we are struggling to replace them due to the timing of our sessions. This limits our ability to produce top quality archers.

In April this year, the British University Games will be taking place in Edinburgh and archery has been invited as a guest sport. The competition format is still to be decided but it seems likely that it will mainly consist of a team head-to-head. Will York be sending a team?

I would think so. Edinburgh (and most of Scotland) is a cheap trip for us as we can get free accommodation with parents there. I personally have never shot a head-to-head (team or otherwise) and I doubt most of the rest of us here have either. It would certainly be an interesting experience, learning how to shot team head-to-head at the competition, though I doubt we would do any good - particularly if there are tight time limits on the shooting, and I’m in the team.

Given that three of the four regional leagues are run and organised by enthusiasts completely independently, how relevant is BUSA to student archery?

BUSA still provides the main national student competitions, and considering the attendance these had last year, I don’t see that BUSA is irrelevant, particularly as they also provide the funding for the national student trio to represent Great Britain in world-wide university competition. However, on a regional scale, the response from BUSA seems very much one of ‘if we ignore them, hopefully they will stop bothering us’. They appear to be much more interested in taking as much money as they think they can get away with than in actually being helpful with student sport (at least York AU always seem to lose out in their dealings with BUSA – be it problems with BUSA matches in other sports, or affiliation costs). As an example, last years BUSA archery champs were organised with a budget of about £4 per head, whilst we were charged £11 a head. Then the university affiliation charge for this year was based (in part) on the number of entries to these championships – so we end up paying twice for each entry. In exchange we appear to not make much impression with desired changes to the way BUSA runs our sport – novice medals, regional leagues, full national teams etc.

What changes would you like to see made in this sphere?

I would like to see a fairer charging structure for entry to the BUSA championships – or an indication of where the ‘extra’ money from the entry fees go. I would also like BUSA to be more encouraging of novices, presenting novice medals and trophies at the championships, and possibly organising a separate novice championships as well (our novices this year are very enthusiastic about competing against other uni clubs – and the sooner the better). Regional leagues should also come under the BUSA umbrella, if not run from the central office (not necessarily a good thing), then given the status of BUSA fixtures to simplify getting hall time and travel arrangements through the hosts Athletic/Sports Unions.

What, in your opinion, would the effect of changes to the BUSA Championships (e.g. new round, regional qualifying and record status) be?

I think BUSA is about right at the moment. Outdoors, the round is not as challenging as it could be, but if it is made longer (distance wise), people will stop coming because they cannot make the distance (80yds is just possible with a normal club bow – we have novices who compete with Rolans with 32# limbs – they don’t do tremendously well at 80yds, but they can reach!). If it is made longer (numbers of arrows), it ceases to be an easy trip to do in a day and this will put people off (I know it is supposed to be a weekend away, but some people don’t want to lose the entire weekend, and for us, getting a minibus and driver all weekend is tricky and expensive). Last year our novices were struggling for the last few ends, I doubt they would have managed another 3 dozen. I certainly have struggled in the past to finish the nine dozen. Yes, it is hard for a top archer to have an amazingly good day (not much chance to improve on nine points per arrow), but the winner is still the person who misses the middle the least – as it is for all rounds. Indoors, changing the round will either make it harder to host (most halls struggle to get enough room with a 20yd round), or less inviting to beginners (in my novice year – I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to do a FITA18 – I still have a score sheet for one with more misses than hits!). Going record status may not alter the difficulty of hosting the competition, but it will put people off unless it doesn’t change the way the competition is run. I think that dress code is going to be a big problem – I have struggled to find appropriately coloured clothing, mostly due to my odd shape (very tall and thin is not a shape most clothes are made for), and I think it is unfair to make beginners purchase suitable clothing before they have even taken the plunge of buying their own equipment.

Does York have many archers seriously contesting for places on the World Student Games team in Korea in July 2003?

I don't think so - but I've been too busy teaching beginners to see how good our new imports are.

Do you think the selection criteria are clear enough?

I have to admit that I don’t know what the criteria are – but I’m sure they have been written carefully to ensure that the team manager has sufficient room to manoeuvre when the team is picked.

All clubs will be familiar with the frustration of dealing with the intransigence of their Sports Unions. What position is that you hold within York Uni Athletic Union and what sort of responsibilities does this entail?

I am the treasurer of the Athletic Union, which means I have to deal with the money flowing in and out, and budgeting so that we (hopefully!) end up with slightly more at the end of the year than the beginning. I also have to work with clubs to decide what level of grant they require for the following year, and prepare the budget for the union as a whole to apply to the Students union for our support grant. The AU at York is still independent of the SU in financial management, so I also have to deal with all the claims coming from club grants, checking that they are valid expenditure (mainly checking that they match the original budget supplied by the club, and are not the bill from the committees last night out), and the club has enough money left to pay the claim. I also have to help clubs sort out their financial problems, and assist them in enforcing any controls they have to place on their spending.

What are the different type of grant and could you describe a good application from start to finish.

Unfortunately, no two unions seem to use the same process for applying for grants, but there are some general points I can make. Most unions will make two sources of money available - a maintenance grant, and equipment grants. The equipment grant (surprisingly) is intended for purchasing large amounts of equipment (e.g. a new set of bows, or a number of bosses and stands), the maintenance grant is used to make up the shortfall between club income and expenditure (essentially it is a subsidy of the club to reduce the cost to your members of participating in sport). This would be used to fund trips to competitions, cover the cost of repairing kit, providing for expendable items (e.g. target faces), and some minor equipment purchases (e.g. a new set of limbs for a club bow). When filling in the application form, make sure you write things clearly and concisely (if you do make a mess, ask for another one, don’t scribble bits out and try to fit in other items round them ) I have to deal with upwards of 40 forms – I can’t spend that much time deciphering what’s written on each one. Make sure the form is fully filled in, if parts don’t apply, say so, don’t just leave them blank, and if you are asked for totals, make sure they are accurate (out of the 40 odd forms, generally only one or two come in with all totals correct – it does make a good impression!). Hand the form in before the deadline – in fact, try to talk to treasurer first to make sure all the details needed are on the form. Generally you will have a meeting with the treasurer and president to discuss the budget, make sure you arrive on time etc., and be prepared to defend your requests. If they are suggesting cuts, (and unless your AU is unusually well funded, they will have to) be helpful – suggest what could be cut (e.g. ‘we can’t do without the bosses, but we can probably do without one of the bows’) or offer to increase income instead (e.g. ‘we could ask for a higher contribution towards travel costs rather than lose the arrows’). Also, if you can make items much more cheaply than they can be bought (I recently made 6 new stands for not much more than buying one from Quicks) say so and put the bought price in as a comparison – miserly treasurers like to see savings being made! When you do get notice of your final funding level, if you can’t survive on the amount you have been given, go and see the AU and explain the problem. On the other hand, if later on in the year you find that you don’t need the all the money you have been given for travel, ask if you can use it to fund other things, such as some new equipment – point out that this will reduce the amount you’ll need the following year. And if you do overspend on what you have been given, be quick to go in and see the AU to apologise and sort it out – if you can’t repay immediately, they will probably accept a repayment schedule so long as you stick to it!

Having seen the process from both ends, what do clubs do well and badly and what advice would you give to clubs when making applications.

The main problem with applications is that clubs don’t ask for what they need, then when they don’t get it, they complain bitterly that the AU never funds them enough, also, clubs have a tendency to be overly optimistic about their income. When asking for things, make it clear what you want, and why you need it, and make sure you include everything you need. If you need to use technical terms, an explanation is always a good idea (to a footballer, a boss is someone who employs you). If you can realistically build things (stands are possible, bosses fairly impossible) yourselves cheaper than buying them, do so, it makes a good impression. Try to overestimate expenditure – if you need 4 dozen arrows, ask for five, but be prepared to accept less, but don’t do this too much – if the AU suspects numbers have been inflated, then they might cut it back too much. On the other hand, underestimate income – if you generally get 35-45 members say you expect 35 (unless the grant is definitely based on numbers of members) – if you then get 45, you have ten extra memberships to spend on what you want. Also, rather than asking for large quantities of equipment occasionally, try to get into the habit of replacing them on an ongoing basis. At York we ask for two new bosses each year, rather than 6 once every three years (on the basis that a new boss is used for compounds / high poundage carbon shooters, a one year old boss is right for lower poundage recurves, and two year and older bosses are too soft for anyone but beginners). This gives us new bosses each year for the higher poundage bows to shoot on, and keeps our budget requests about the same each year (an unusually high request generally attracts unwanted attention from the red pen!). Explain to the AU that this is what you are doing – when I started as treasurer the AU ethos was to by large quantities of equipment occasionally – which left clubs with a lot of old and tattered equipment just before they were bought new stuff. Changing to ongoing replacement has evened out the requests from clubs, and they now have new equipment for use most of the time, and the older equipment appears when needed to cope with large numbers – particularly useful at the start of the year when all the new people turn up.

What advantages are accrued by having someone on the inside of the Sports Union, to archery (and indeed all smaller sports) clubs?

If that someone is the treasurer – quite a lot! Mainly, instead of only being told about things that are happening, you get a chance to influence the decision before it is made. We only got our outdoor range because the AU was informed that the area was free and the Vice Chancellor wanted to see it being used, I was at that meeting, so grabbed it for archery before anyone else had a chance. Your concerns can also be heard in a forum where there is chance to do something about them – rather than being treated as a bunch of incompetents that only come to the office to have a moan. You will also raise the profile of you club within the AU by there being someone from the club around the office a lot. You should consider standing for the executive committee – even if you can’t devote the time to a difficult job like treasurer, there are all manner of other jobs – ordinary members are a good way of having a say, without having to do a lot of work – but you will be expected to muck in at busy times e.g. postering for events, helping set-up for the sports fair etc.

Even without someone on exec there are ways to improve you image with the AU. Over the (too) many years that I’ve been on the exec, there is one sure way to annoy the AU office, and have to suffer the intransigence that generally results – being seen as a club that always takes and never gives or co-operates – every AU president / permanent staff member will have at least one club that they dislike because of this – don’t be that club! Make a point of going in to see your AU president – introduce yourself, have a little chat about what your club does – most presidents come from the big clubs (rugby, football and hockey – though York has been thankfully free of this source for a few years – and the ‘minor’ sports have flourished as a result!) and have little understanding of what archery is, or the needs of our sport. Having made contact – stay in touch! Keep them informed of what you’re up to – if you are going to a competition, let them know you are going, and go in the following day and let them know how you did – if you’re holding an annual dinner invite them (even if they don’t attend, the invitation produces a good impression). If they ask you to do something, do it quickly, and don’t whinge about it. And if you do have a problem with them, tell them about it; unless the president is a footballer (do you get the feeling I don’t like footballers?) they will (hopefully) want to work with you to solve the problem. And if you don’t get enough funding (not just less than you’d like, but less than the absolute minimum you need to keep going safely) go and speak to the treasurer, we’re not ogres – we don’t bite, we are just here to help.

Basically, if you think of the members in your club, the ones that you are most likely to help are those that muck in when there is work to be done – not those that turn up once everything is set up, shoot, and magically disappear before things need to be put away, the same is true of clubs in the AU – those that are helpful are the most likely to be helped, so be one of the helpful!

When do you graduate?

Probably July 2004, hopefully having completed my writeup by the end of December 2003. So long as I actually do more work than archery till then I might have a chance of achieving that.

What are your plans with respect to archery after that? Are you intending to continue as NEUAL Organiser for the "tricky second season"?

I will continue to be involved with the club here in York (I will probably keep turning up to competitions as a minibus driver), and hopefully have more time to participate in local competitions. If they can still put up with me I would be happy to continue as organiser.

And your plans outwith archery?

At present they seem to be to stay in York for a couple of years to do a post-doc, then move on to be lecturer – hopefully somewhere with a strong computer science department, and excellent archery facilities. Though some people seem convinced I will stay in York and become Vice-Chancellor…

OK, Michael, thank you very much I'll see you in Durham on the 9th.