Vin's blog: Community engagement key to successful events

TrackTown USA President, Vin Lananna speaking to 300+ middle school track and field athletes.
TrackTown USA President and U.S. Olympic men's head track and field coach Vin Lananna cites community engagement as the key to any successful event. He's shown here speaking to a group of more than 300 middle school students from Portland public schools at the Oregon Convention Center before the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships. (Photo courtesy of TrackTown USA)

(This is the second of a series of monthly blogs written by TrackTown USA President and U.S. Olympic men’s track and field head coach Vin Lananna. The topics reflect his positions on subjects of critical interest to the local, national and global track and field community. May’s theme: the importance of community engagement.)

The 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field are almost upon us.

In less than two months, for the third consecutive Olympiad, and the sixth time in history, the athletes who represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games will be chosen at historic Hayward Field.

It is truly a wondrous event.

Eight years ago, we watched in amazement as a trio of runners from the Eugene-Springfield area – Nick Symmonds, Andrew Wheating and Christian Smith – captivated a crowd of more than 20,000 by providing what most people consider the signature moment of the 2008 Trials with their famous hometown sweep in the final of the 800 meters.

To me, however, the best moment of those Trials came much earlier.

It occurred when I arrived at Hayward Field on the first day of competition. Everywhere I looked, I saw swarms of smiling volunteers, all from different backgrounds, dressed in green shirts, answering questions and providing assistance to visitors from all across the country. It was a heartwarming display of civic pride, and it underscored the importance of one of the pillars of our organization at TrackTown USA – community engagement.

It has been my experience that people want to be insiders.

They want to know what’s going on from the earliest stages of the planning process. They want to be associated with a winning team and they want to take ownership of big, important events which allow them to connect with the athletes. All of this is possible within the sport of track and field, but I have found that first you have to invite the local community to get involved at every level. You have to find out what’s important to them by asking the right questions and then listen to what they have to say.

Community engagement, after all, is not about an event or a place.

It’s about people.

In Eugene, and other stops in my professional career, I’ve been both fortunate and privileged to be able to bring the right people on board by first articulating our mission and then getting everybody to believe in the mission.

Once we’ve established those objectives, we can tap into the collective expertise of the local community by asking leaders from all walks of life to serve on a volunteer “steering committee.” Those leaders are then asked to recruit additional people with knowledge and skills in areas that are essential to the staging of a successful event – security, transportation, housing, media, athlete services, hospitality, youth initiatives, etc.

It’s a long list, but because our goals are noble and clear, and they impact an entire community as opposed to a single individual, most people are eager to jump in and be associated with a winning cause.

In my experience, this is a spirit that is common throughout the track and field community.

Even though we’re hosting the Trials for a third straight time, the Eugene-Springfield community is just as engaged as ever, perhaps even more so, because people understand what a transformational event this is, and they want to be a part of something which raises the profile of the place they call home to a worldwide audience.

We followed this model of community engagement when we hosted the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland last March. As soon as people realized what the meet was all about, what our objectives were and how this could impact the city in a positive manner – especially through our many youth initiatives – they were more than happy to climb on board and help us achieve them.

Together, we created a highly successful event which energized the entire state of Oregon.

We have used a similar approach when seeking input on the renovation of Hayward Field.

This is hallowed ground for our sport, steeped in authenticity, and the overwhelming message we received from all of the client groups we engaged was the critical importance of maintaining the history and tradition of the stadium – especially the look of the East Grandstand – while at the same time, modernizing the facility to bring it into the 21st century.

We reached out, we listened to what was important, and now, it’s up to us to deliver. We intend to follow that blueprint of community engagement with everything we do at TrackTown USA.

Vin Lananna
President, TrackTown USA
2016 Olympic Head Coach – Men’s Track and Field