So Bad It Hurts

August 19th, 2019

The CEO of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ), Steve Johns, has been at it again. This time he tackled the relatively simple task of passing on to NZ swimmers, about to take part in the World Junior Championships, his best wishes. The Championships begin on Tuesday 20th August 2019. Surely nothing could go wrong in wishing the team well. All it takes is, “Best wishes, you guys. Have fun. Swim well.”

But, oh no, here is what SNZ’s fearless leader said.

The opportunity to represent your country is the highest honour in the sport, to be able to do it at the World Championships, competing against the very best in the world, is the icing on the cake.

The individual kiwi athletes and coaches have spent many months building up to next weeks races where they will have the opportunity to show us and the world how good they are. To the entire team, all the very best for the days ahead.  You will have huge support back home and we will all look forward to watching you in action. Good luck and race hard, Kia Kaha,

There are some people who know what to say to athletes about to compete. There are others who are walking disasters; men and women who should never be let loose anywhere near athletes about to race. Whether it is a local Chocolate Fish Carnival or a World Championships these unfortunate supporters, probably with the very best of intentions, have a gift for saying the wrong thing to the wrong people, at the wrong time. Steve Johns is one of those.

You can tell those who know what is right; what to say and what to leave alone. Arch Jelley knows what to say.  So does Steve Hansen. Arthur Lydiard knew what was needed. So did Ross Anderson. Their words are simple. They provide comfort and confidence. They reduce anxiety. But most of all they are brief. Lydiard once told me to keep race day instructions to a minimum. Avoid filling the athlete’s mind with complicated advice.

So what does Steve Johns do? He increases anxiety and pressure. I suspect without knowing what he is doing he suffocates swimmers under a pillow of pressure. Let’s look at some examples taken from his email.

The opportunity to represent your country is the highest honour in the sport,   

Immediately Steve Johns, lays on expectation number one. What he is saying to each junior NZ swimmer is to swim their events conscious of the fact that they are representing four million New Zealanders. They had better not screw up. There is nothing they will ever do in swimming that will have higher expectations than this. What’s the point of that? Every one of those swimmers knows they are representing the country for the first time. Steve Johns laying it on with a shovel is the last thing they need. Well done Steve. How do you imagine that is going to help?

to be able to do it at the World Championships, competing against the very best in the world

Second line and second expectation – isn’t Steve doing well. This time it’s a reminder that this meet is a World Championships and the competition is the best the world has to offer. Instead of normal human beings with two arms and two legs like the New Zealanders, according to Steve Johns, the competition is made up of super-heroes; the very best of the best. That should inspire every NZ junior with confidence. I’m beginning to see why Steve gave up competitive swimming after his high school swimming sports.

The individual kiwi athletes and coaches have spent many months building up to next weeks races

Apart from missing the apostrophe needed in the word “week’s”, here we have Steve’s expectation number three. In this case it is not what Steve has said, it’s more the way he says it. The implication is that the swimmers have done all this work; Steve Johns has provided them with all this support – they had better not waste it. The same thought could just have easily conveyed the message that the team can confidently take on anyone because of the quality of their preparation. Expectation or confidence – and Steve chooses expectation; of course he does.

where they will have the opportunity to show us and the world how good they are 

I wish Steve would stop using this line. He used it before the recent senior World Championships. It is an expression with such a double meaning. “How good we are”, can mean bloody awful or pretty good, depending on the results. Sadly New Zealand swimming has returned from international events recently showing the world how good they are. And it has not been good at all.

Besides I don’t think I have ever gone to a swimming competition for the purpose of showing anyone, except me and the swimmer, how good we are. The arrogance in Steve Johns’ remark says all we need to know about Steve Johns. Certainly when a swimmer, coached by me, goes out to compete the last thing on my mind is showing the world, or Steve Johns, how good we are. Swimming is a personal journey that belongs to the athlete. Although the coach shares the highs and lows, the journey belongs to the swimmer. It is a path they travel to a personal destination. The highs and the lows are theirs alone. Steve Johns has no idea. For Steve Johns the efforts of Hunter and Clareburt belong to SNZ; reflect on SNZ and its CEO. SNZ will never succeed in international sport while it has a CEO obsessed with showing-off to the world. Clearly his own status is front and centre; more important than the welfare of those he is there to serve. Steve Johns sees it as his journey and it most certainly is not.

Kia Kaha  

When the content of the Steve Johns’ email has, in my opinion, been self-important arrogant claptrap, he should not end it with Kia Kaha. This term was first known as the motto of the Maori Battalion. Kia Kaha has a long and hard won reputation. Its use should be carefully considered. According to my father, who fought alongside the Maori Battalion at Monte Cassino, the losses and the bravery of the men of the Kia Kaha Battalion makes its use by Steve Johns, in this context, an insult.

If this email is the best Steve Johns has to offer New Zealand’s finest junior swimmers, my advice would be for him to keep his support to himself. Certainly Steve Johns has provided us with a classic example of what not to say.

Rather a Rebel Than a Slave

August 18th, 2019

The “Swimming World” magazine has just published a story, written by Craig Lord. It discusses the transition that has taken place since the pioneers of women’s swimming first participated in Olympic swimming. It is well worth a read. Here is the link.

https://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/news/ethelda-bleibtreys-pioneering-world-record-100-years-ago-this day/?fbclid=IwAR3RWWhACpcC_voXxxmerp2twD_07q_y0g13eXnZwD7knpCSBSd9qd9GsqE

The occasion that prompted Craig Lord’s attention was the 100th anniversary of the first women’s world record over 440 yards freestyle set by, American, Ethelda Bleibtrey. It is not until you read this stuff that you realise the amazing, catastrophic and disastrous prejudices women have had to overcome to take part in sport. It is unbelievable.

For example in the same year Bleibtrey broke the 440 yard record, she was arrested in New York for removing her stockings before wading in for a swim. The charges accused her of “nude bathing” and indecency.

In 1912 the Australian Federation decided it was pointless sending women to the Olympic Games. Evidently the Australian public forced a change of heart. Two women were picked to represent Australia as long as they paid for themselves. One hundred and seven years later and Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) is doing the same thing. The only difference is, in this enlightened era, SNZ is making men pay for themselves as well. Only SNZ would achieve equality by moving everyone backwards.

Craig Lord’s story is well worth reading. But it is not just in the USA and Europe that bigotry ran riot. New Zealand has had its fair share. It is not so very long ago that the President of Athletics New Zealand was quoted as saying, “No woman should be selected for the Olympic Games if a good man was available.”

It seems like only yesterday that the IAAF was telling the world women were unable to compete over distances longer than 800m. The woman’s world record, held by Paula Radcliffe, for a marathon is 2.15, so I’m not too sure what happened to their 800m theory. In swimming the Neanderthals who run the Olympic Games still do not allow women to swim 1500m. Evidently anything longer than 800m is too tough for their delicate femininity. Their sexist rules seems oblivious to the reality that Katie Ledecky’s world record time of 15:20.48 would have won the men’s event at every Olympic Games up to and including 1972.

Every world or national record is a major achievement. But it seems that some records more dramatically lift the sport forward. The most obvious example is Roger Bannister breaking four minutes for a mile. Here is a table of records I think have had a profound effect on woman’s freestyle swimming.

Event Achievement Name Time Date
100 Free First under a minute Dawn Fraser 59.9 1962
200 Free First under two minutes Kornelia Ender 1:59.78 1976
400 Free First under five minutes Lorraine Crapp 4:50.8 1956
400 Free First under four minutes Frederica Pellegrini 3:59.15 2009
800 Free First under ten minutes Jane Cederqvist 9:55.6 1960
800 Free First under eight minutes Not done yet. World record Katie Ledecky 8:04.79 2016

Those are swimmers who have improved the world freestyle standards. But what about New Zealand? Here is the same table for when these records occurred in New Zealand.

Event Achievement Name Time Date
100 Free First under a minute Rebecca Perrott 59.3 1976
200 Free First under two minutes Lauren Boyle NA NA
400 Free First under five minutes Judith Wright 4:53.0 1970
400 Free First under four minutes

Not done yet. NZ record

Lauren Boyle 4:03.63 2012
800 Free First under ten minutes Judith Wright 9:55.1 1970
800 Free First under eight minutes Not done yet. NZ record Lauren Boyle 8:17.65 2015

Just look, for a moment, at the three names on the New Zealand record table – Rebecca Perrott, Lauren Boyle and Judith Wright. Rebecca Perrott we all know won a gold medal in the women’s 200 metres freestyle at the 1978 Commonwealth Games and was fourth in the women’s 400m freestyle at the 1976 Summer Olympics. Lauren Boyle competed at three Commonwealth Games and three Olympic Games and held the world short course 1500m record.

But in an unusual way, Judith Wright, the first NZ woman to swim under five minutes for 400m and ten minutes for 800m, is most remarkable. You see besides moving swimming forward in the pool she went on to own and manage a highly successful swimming business – the Waterhole Swimming Club. Here is how the Stuff website recently reported the Waterhole’s 30th birthday.

The Waterhole Swimming Club is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Coaching director Judith Wright started the club in 1980 and has spent years tutoring young west Auckland swimmers like former New Zealand champion Daniel Ryan.

The Commonwealth Games representative says the club has come a long way since its fledgling beginning.

Wright says she started out with a swim school in Henderson Valley with a small pool inside a warehouse.

She started the Waterhole club at the Freyberg Community Primary School’s indoor pool when she realised many of her students wanted to take up competitive swimming.

But the pool was only 20 metres long and very shallow.

“And it might as well have been out in the open air since it didn’t have any heating and would get very cold in winter,” she says.

The club moved into the Parrs Park-based swimming centre after it opened in 1985 and has been there ever since.

A proposed $15 million upgrade is still in the pipeline and a 50-metre pool is among the many planned improvements.

Wright says an upgraded swimming centre will be beneficial because the 25-metre pool is too small for current demands.

What’s unusual about all that is that Judith Wright not only moved her sport forward in the pool – she began and managed a successful business back in the days when women were “not allowed” to do that sort of thing. She broke records inside the pool and, probably even more importantly, changed the accepted role of women outside the pool. They probably don’t think of themselves this way but NZ’s sporting suffragettes have and still are making a huge difference to the better place our country is today.

My Turn To Take A Knee

August 15th, 2019

Craig Lord has done it again. This time with the help of Washington Post journalist Sally Jenkins. Together Lord and Jenkins have shone a light on the deception and double dealing that is a blight on the administration of world swimming. Here is a link to their article.

http://www.stateofswimming.com/athletes-kneel-kick-back-at-a-time-when-sports-bosses-have-no-moral-leg-to-stand-on/

Their report exposes serial problems that must be addressed. What they say is relevant to the administration of the sport internationally and within New Zealand. Because Lord and Jenkins address the malaise that affects FINA and other “big fish”, such as the USA and China, does not mean “small fish”, like New Zealand, are not affected by the same disastrous algae bloom.

I don’t want to quote their entire report but here is a paragraph that deserves special attention.

“Kneel until the USOPC is completely obliterated and rebuilt. Kneel in protest of the fact that our greatest athletes are still being used, even today, as mere servicers of power brokers seeking to cash in on their skin. Kneel until the entire audience understands there is a word for the current USOPC reward structure — pimping. Kneel until every USOPC official is shamed into understanding that raking in disproportionate sums skimmed off young people’s bodies, while failing to enact reform that would protect those bodies from crimes, does not make you a mere bystander. It makes you just another abuser.”

What a brilliant description of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). Not everybody of course. But “just another abuser” is perfect for the organisation as a whole. Craig Lord mentions the fiasco that surrounded the Lauren Boyle 1500m world record. He makes the point that no one ever claimed that Lauren should not be awarded the record. Our problem was SNZ’s inability to tell the truth on the application form. That was abuse – abuse of Lauren’s efforts and abuse of every swimmer in New Zealand who respects words like integrity, justice and the rule of law.

But, closer to home is the case about to be heard by the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT). This will consider whether SNZ has violated my privacy by refusing to provide me with a copy of the Marris Report into complaints about my coaching. The case will also consider my claim for $260,000 compensation for specific harm caused by SNZ.

That’s the good news for SNZ. If I was SNZ the bad news I would worry about is ending up being housed by the Prime Minister in a government facility a few kilometers south of Lake Taupo.

Because

  1. If the finding of the Privacy Commissioner are confirmed by the HRRT, and
  2. SNZ is guilty of breaching Principle 6 of the Privacy Act 1993, and
  3. If the Report finds the accusations made against me were false, then
  4. In withholding the Report, SNZ are guilty of a cover-up in breach of S116 of the Crimes Act.

Here is how the Crimes Act describes what, in my view, SNZ has done.

116 Conspiring to defeat justice

Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years who conspires to obstruct, prevent, pervert, or defeat the course of justice in New Zealand

Spending three years denying me access to the Marris Report, in my opinion was a classic effort at obstructing, preventing, perverting and defeating the course of justice. Certainly the Privacy Commissioner thought so and I would be surprised if the HRRT found any other way.

Seven years for those who run SNZ seems appropriate. It is little more than twice the length of time I’ve had to tolerate the fallout from accusations that should have been sorted out long ago – were it not for the SNZ conspiracy.

But while we wait for all that to be resolved by the Tribunal and the Court, Craig Lord encourages us to “take a knee”. That expression refers to American football quarterback, Colin Kaepernick’s, decision to kneel during the national anthem. In Kaepernick’s case he was protesting the racial abuse of Trump’s America.

I have decided to accept the advice of Craig Lord. I can’t take a knee during the National Anthem. In NZ we seldom play the National Anthem before a swim meet. Besides, it is not the policies of my country that I object to. Jacinda seems to be doing just fine. This is specific to SNZ. What token gesture would signal my disapproval of that lot? A couple of weeks ago the penny dropped. I would refuse to renew my coaching membership. What use was it anyway?

I was refused permission to watch Eyad swim in the National Championships. I was denied access to my private information. SNZ used my money to pay for bloated executives to fly around the world while swimmers were forced to pay for themselves. Why on earth would I want to continue my membership?

But in the spirit of all that’s good and decent I won’t blame SNZ. Instead let me take the opportunity to make Johns and Cotterill feel more comfortable – thank you Groucho Marx.

“PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY FEDERATION THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER”.

So Tell Me, What Makes A Good Coach?

August 12th, 2019

This post is not about a coach’s technical knowledge. Any one of a dozen national coaching education courses around the world instructs and tests a coach’s knowledge of swimming. The American Swim Coaches Association Levels One to Five, that I took, certainly made sure that members graduated with a sound knowledge of stroke mechanics and training principles.

No, this post is about things not included in even very good coaching education programs; qualities that distinguish good coaches from bad; qualities that should point a swimmer or runner in a beneficial direction or cause them to flee in fear of their sporting lives.

Quality One – Beware of Club Boycott Rules

Early on in my coaching career I noticed how often the very best coaches were prepared to coach anyone from anywhere. Swimmers and runners could belong to any club, arrive from any country and the good coaches stood ready to help. There were no rules that said athletes had to belong to a nominated club in order to receive their coaching advice. Duncan Laing coached swimmers from a dozen clubs around New Zealand. Bob Bowman coaches swimmers from clubs all over the world. Arthur Lydiard’s best runners came from Lynndale, Owairaka and Three Kings and Arch Jelley coached John Walker from Manurewa, my wife, Alison, from Lynndale and Dennis Norris from Calliope. For men and women whose hearts are in the right place, what singlet you pull on, what cap you wear, is of little importance. Helping an athlete in their struggle to success is the only membership badge these coaches required.

I got into huge problems in the club that became the Capital Club in Wellington. One of our swimmers wanted to train with us but compete for the Tawa Club. I said of course, no problem. The Committee went crazy. All the prejudices of ownership, bigotry, selfishness and discrimination were on blatant display. I ended up winning the fight. I suspect the bigots have had the last laugh. Some of them remained on the Committee long after I left. I bet one of the things they changed was the club’s boycott rule.

A considerably more important example is Rowing New Zealand’s decision to get rid of master coach, Dick Tonks. Tonks said he wanted to help a crew from China. Rowing New Zealand’s response was to tell Tonks that if he had anything to do with the Chinese he could not coach New Zealand rowers. Tonks gave the New Zealand authorities his middle finger salute and left. All power to Tonks. Sport is more important that the administration zealots who frequent the halls of sporting power.

And so if you are looking for a new club check out the club rules first. If you find anything that requires you to exclusively train with one club then go somewhere else. Clubs that insist on that rule value money and power more than they value you. That is not the way to become a champion. But don’t take my word for it. Ask Laing, Jelley, Lydiard, Bowman, Schubert and Tonks.

Quality Two – Money is a Terrible Master

For over thirty years I have consulted the best brains I know for their advice on how to coach a long line of very good swimmers. Helping my coaching the most have been Jelley, Lydiard, Laing and Schubert. Several others, such as Judith Wright, have provided valuable assistance but those four have been most important. Mind you it is not a bad four; between them they helped coach in excess of thirty Olympic medallists.

I have spent hours on the phone asking questions; seeking knowledge. I have lived in their homes asking even more questions. For five years I rang Arch Jelley every week to discuss Alison’s training. That’s 260 phone calls averaging 30 minutes each call, or almost 4 working weeks of advice. And that’s just the phone calls. There have been hours of face to face meetings. My most recent request was a week ago when I asked Arch how I should handle an Eyad training problem.

My interrogation of Arthur Lydiard and Duncan Laing was about the same. For hours I have sat in the upstairs living room at Arthur’s Beachland’s home asking what he would do in the event of some problem or another. For three years I called Arthur or Duncan twice a week. That’s another four weeks of full time advice.

And the four master coaches had one quality in common. They gave my swimmers there advice, their help and their knowledge without asking for a penny in return. I have relied on the assistance of these great coaches to help swimmers win international medals, 36 NZ Open Championships and set 19 NZ Open Records. And all their help cost nothing. Their assistance was given willingly and for free,

And so if the first thing your new club asks is for a cheque, look for another coach. Good coaches do not have the almighty dollar as their first priority.

Quality Two – Are you talking to the Chief Engineer of the Oily Rag?

The traditional swimming club structure in New Zealand is a committee who employ a coach and manage the affairs of the club. Beware of any club with that structure. The problem is that the person who is going to affect the swimmer’s career the most is not the boss. The committee is in charge. At the end of the day the coach has to do what he or she is told. And that is a disaster waiting to happen. What the average club committee knows about swimming could be written on the back of a very small postage stamp. The coach may be hugely knowledgeable but if he is overruled by a car mechanic, an office assistant, a youth worker, an accountant and a mother with a five year old in the learn-to-swim program, the coach’s knowledge counts for nothing.

I have suffered at the hands of this malaise. The problems at West Auckland Aquatics are proof enough. The answer is find a club where the person dealing with the swimmers is the BOSS. Lydiard was the boss of his coaching business, so is Jelley, so was Laing, so are Judith Wright and Gwen Ryan. Talk to them and their yes or no will be what happens. They are in charge. That is the sort of decision-making you should look for in selecting a club to join.

So there we have three qualities that should be taken into account when choosing a coach and club. Take them into account – your swimming career will depend on it.

Gutless Wonder

August 9th, 2019

I am no lawyer. In fact I couldn’t think of anything worse than spending four years at University memorising all those legal cases. However during the last month or so I have gathered together a fair understanding of the Privacy Act 1993. It has been a case of needs must when the Devil drives. Because Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) insisted on denying me access to the Marris Report into complaints about my coaching I was forced to work my way through the Privacy Act 1993 in order to find out what SNZ was so intent on keeping secret. I still haven’t got the Report. However the end is not far away.

Through this whole Marris Report saga I have been stunned at the effort, time and money Johns and Cotterill have spent hiding the truth. What are they scared of? What shocking revelations are in the Marris Report that they want to keep hidden? Or are they simply difficult bastards who love saying, “No”? I have no idea. If it were me, I’d have handed over the Report three years ago and saved myself all this drama and expense. That, however, is not the Johns and Cotterill way. Fresh air may be the best disinfectant for many – but not for those who run SNZ.

The never ending drama that is SNZ took another turn this week. On Tuesday I got an email from Sport NZ. Would I, they asked approve Sport NZ supplying letters written by West Auckland Aquatics complaining about my coaching? Sport NZ had received an Official Information request asking for the correspondence. Sport NZ’s lawyer was ethical enough to know that the Privacy Act 1993 requires Sport NZ to obtain my approval before they can hand out letters that contain my name.

In that regard I give Sport NZ full credit. In asking for my approval, they were doing the right thing. I don’t know what you would have done. On the one hand I thought, “Who cares if someone finds out what is written in those letters. Of course there are a string of insulting lies about me. But what does that matter? Marris proved the letters were lies. Who cares who reads them?”

And on the other hand my mind argued, “Why should I agree to the West Auckland Aquatics letters being dragged up by someone. The whole thing is three years old. The lies and insults need to be left to die.”

And so I settled on neither option. I decided to ask Sport NZ for the name of the person asking for the information. Who was it that wanted to dig into the West Auckland Aquatics mess all over again? Were they interested in me or in the actions of those that brought West Auckland Aquatics to its knees? Was my coaching coming under the microscope again or was it the actions of some members of a dysfunctional Board? I emailed Sport NZ and explained that I needed to know the name of the person asking for the information before giving approval for information about me being released. In other words I replied with an Official Information request to be supplied with the person’s name.

I think that request was fair enough. If someone wants to know all about me, it’s only fair that I should know who is asking.

Sport NZ replied saying they would ask the person requesting the information for his or her approval to supply me with their name. Could they, Sport NZ asked, tell the person wanting the information about the West Auckland Aquatics letter, my name? I agreed to that. Of course the person could know I wanted to find out their identity before agreeing to them gaining access to the West Auckland Aquatic lies.

Finally yesterday Sport NZ sent me another email. The person requesting the letters would not approve Sport NZ telling me their name – but could Sport NZ provide them with the letters anyway?

I replied today and said, no – not under any circumstances. Here is the relevant paragraph from my email to Sport NZ.

I do not authorise any information that refers to me by name or my position as coach, head coach or board member or to any actions or discussions I am alleged to have had with any other parties (such as, but not limited to, the staff of Swimming New Zealand, West Auckland Aquatics Club swimmers or their parents, members of the West Auckland Aquatics Club Board, the staff of Auckland Swimming, West Wave Pool staff, Michael Marris or the media) in the documents sent to me, is not authorised by me for distribution to any other party. I would consider the disclosure of this personal information to be a breach of the Privacy Act 1993, Principle 11(d). I further advise that a breach of this provision would most certainly be the subject of a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner.

I think that’s pretty clear. In simply language if the person who wants to read all about the West Auckland Aquatic’s troubles wants to stay hidden, then I don’t trust them or their motives. Tell me who you are and I will cooperate. Hide, like Cotterill and Johns hide, and I become ultra-suspicious and a most difficult bastard.

I have no idea how Sport NZ will respond. They have behaved impeccably so far. And that is to their eternal credit. I hope it means they tell their secretive and cowardly petitioner to bugger-off.

I will let you know.