Archive for December, 2006

Wake Up and Blame the Coach

Monday, December 18th, 2006
By David
Several years ago, the New Zealand Government decided to socialize elite sport. They did it through the power of the purse. They set up a government agency called the Hillary Commission (later re-mis-named SPARC). The government then funded the agency and immediately turned every Olympic sport in the nation into social welfare beneficiaries; adverse to risk, pen pushing bureaucrats who spent their time and the sport’s money preparing five year plans and mission statements.

Swimming took a lead from their SPARC masters and developed plans within the sport that increasingly centralized power. SPARC of course approved. They’d have done the same thing. The vehicle NZ Swimming used was the North Shore Swimming Club and their coach Jan Cameron, the ex-wife of Australia’s Don Talbot. Their model was an even more socialist version of the Australian Institute of Sport. And that’s what New Zealand has now. It is pretentiously called the Millennium Institute and absorbs the state’s funding at an alarming rate.

The reasons we don’t like it are;

It is counter to the prevailing free enterprise character of New Zealand society. It has nothing to offer the tough independence that made Hillary, Walker, Loader, Quax, Snell, Halberg albergHHand Dixon household names around the sporting world. Interestingly all those guys made their name before there was a SPARC.

The nation’s fortunes increasingly rely on the ability and success of one coach or, just as bad, one programme. Nothing that Cameron has ever done convinces us that she is a Talbot, Lydiard, Touretski or Schubert.

New Zealand’s results have been worse than when Loader, Simsic, Langrel, Moss, Kingsman and Hurring were breaking world records, winning Olympic medals and swimming in Olympic finals. Cameron’s had millions and she’s had time; too many millions and too much time.

If the state is going to fund the sport of swimming we believe the money should be applied to create a “free enterprise” environment in which any one of the nation’s coaches can become a “General Motors” of swimming. That is the function of government in a free enterprise society. Once a very close friend of Cameron’s, Arthur Lydiard, agreed with that view. It’s what he did in Finland and it worked.

This week we have had another chance to see the product of Cameron’s work. The New Zealand National Championships which also serve as the World Championship trials have been held at the Henderson Pool in Auckland. How did they get on?

Remember when you judge Cameron’s performance you cannot use the standard of a normal swim coach at a normal parent run pool. This person has directed the resources of a nation. This person convinced Swimming New Zealand and a fawning press that she would lead them to swimming’s promised land. In the best traditions of used car salesmen everywhere she sold New Zealand the dream of world class status. She’s been followed, applauded and funded. When you judge Cameron it is entirely appropriate to say, “You offered us the world. Our nation funded you. Did you deliver?”

At this point I want to jump ahead a week and tell you, “No, she didn’t, not by a long way.” I will explain the results shortly. What is important is to tell you about Cameron’s reaction. Was there an apology; any sign of remorse; any indication that millions had been spent on her direction and the results were only 39% of forecast? No there was none of that. Instead Cameron, faster than a rattlers strike, blamed the swimmers. Here is a slightly shortened version of the article; click through to read the entire piece.


High Performance coach Jan Cameron believes some individuals are not doing as well as they should be. Corney Swanepoel and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Moss Burmester have been told to harden up. Cameron says it is probably the nerves and stress of a trial situation taking hold; she wants Swanepoel to step up as he has not delivered what he can, and as a young man simply needs to overcome some nerves.

New Zealand needs to ask itself is this the sort of leadership it wants? Is this what Hillary and Lydiard would have done? New Zealand is a fine little country with a proud sporting tradition, created by leaders who accepted responsibility when something went wrong. Cameron has sought to shovel blame on to those whose only mistake was to follow her over the Auckland Harbor Bridge.

Always be suspicious of coaches who use the excuses, “It’s the swimmers fault,” or “We didn’t do too well but the future is looking good.” The last four years have seen Swimming New Zealand perfect a thousand variations of both.

And so to the swimming; here’s what happened.

Prior to the trials Swimming New Zealand confidently predicted they had 18 swimmers ready for the World championship duty – in the event seven swimmers qualified. Of the seven, one was the British, ex-world record holder, Zoe Baker, who hardly owes any of her success to the Cameron plan. Another, Annabelle Carey lives half way down the South Island which in New Zealand is about as far as you can get from Cameron’s Millennium Institute.

Oh, Swimming New Zealand will still send 18 swimmers. They’ll make the numbers up with relays and sick notes. Don’t let that disguise the fact that only five products of the Cameron plan actually made the grade.

Of the seven who did qualify only Dean Kent and Moss Burmester would have made the Australian team. Kent would have been second in the 400 IM and Burmester first in the 200 butterfly. Kent has spent the last three months training with the British squad in Australia.

Of the seven who did qualify none would have won the US trial. Moss Burmester would have been second in the 200 butterfly and would be in the US team.

Eventually, the future is now. Only one New Zealander would have won an individual event in either the United States or Australian trials. Only two would have been fast enough to make the team in either of those countries. Is that a good enough return for the millions of tax dollars and years of unfettered trust placed in the Cameron plan? Swimwatch do not think so. The world class sport we were promised means you win things. Walker, Loader, Snell, Quax and Dixon went off to foreign lands and won races. Of course that was in the days before SPARC and Cameron. Perhaps that’s where we should go again.

And in case you don’t think New Zealand should do something about it, look deep inside and ask your self this. Will New Zealand win a race in Melbourne? If the answer is no or even I don’t think so, it’s time to change.

ASCA Wants To Restructure

Thursday, December 14th, 2006
By David
In the most recent issue of the American Swim Coaches Association newsletter, the Executive Director, John Leonard discusses the organizational structure of swimming. He argues that LSCs based on geography are outdated and should be replaced with national interest groups. Small clubs should be grouped and organized with other small clubs, medium sized clubs with other medium clubs and “large multi-facility” programs linked to others with the same characteristics. We are told US swimming needs this “new solution.”

Before discussing this further I feel I need to explain that Swimwatch hold the ASCA in the highest regard. It is respected and important. Its qualifications and services are without peer in the swimming world. But this article is nonsense.

The case it puts is not helped by some awful writing. For example, the over use of capitals to convey emphasis. If you write well, words offer their own stress. A sentence that has capitals and an exclamation mark diminishes the quality of the entire piece. In the second paragraph we are told, “The cynic might quote the famous line, “Now we are clear, we have found the identity of the enemy and he is us.” This could well be a famous quote. It’s just that I’ve never heard of it. I’ve certainly heard of, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Leonard’s entire proposal is based on the hypothesis that clubs of a similar size have more interests in common than clubs located in the same area.

There is no evidence to support that view. For example, a club not far from us has a similar size and structure. But that’s about all we have in common. Their emphasis is on local high school swimming and local USS meets. Our focus is on national and international events. We have almost nothing in common. While we are structured on the basis of geography we can seek out other local clubs irrespective of size who have interests similar to ours and influence our LSC’s affairs accordingly.

Philosophy and purpose are not determined by size any more than they are by geography. By constructing some sort of apartheid barrier based on size, Leonard’s proposal would reduce our club’s ability to communicate with others with similar interests to our own.

The proposal is shockingly undemocratic. Inevitably the “mega-program” LSC would be seen as the best and most powerful; the medium and smaller LSCs as less important. The ability of the small and weak, no matter how just their cause, to influence national affairs would be reduced into oblivion.

South Florida high school swimming is based on the apartheid of size and it’s a shambles. In every event, Florida produces three state champions. There is no logic or reason for this. A central purpose of a championship series is to find a champion. We’d be far better finding the best regional champions, culminating in one state final; and all based on geography. I imagine the idea originally was that 3000+ schools should not compete with smaller schools; an idea somewhat similar to Leonard’s. But it hasn’t worked. Smaller schools frequently have programs that are the same or better than larger schools. The pity is they never get to meet in the same pool or at the same conference table.

To take Leonard’s proposal to its illogical conclusion, imagine the Olympics being structured according to size. Kenya would never get a seat at the big boy’s table. And yet what are their interests? Their runners can beat the hell out of anything we can offer. Because they are small does not mean their interests and aspirations are not just as large as ours. It’s a bit tough to expect their population or structure of government to reflect ours before they can sit at the same table.

Leonard’s proposal is the beginning of a slippery slope towards a three class society. It is a clear play aimed at making sure the haves keep what they’ve got and get more and making sure the have nots are kept in their place. The good thing about geography is it’s not man made and its devoid of social status; both good qualities to have in your organization.

It is not necessary to put forward the arguments in favor of maintaining a structure based on geography. All the arguments against the apartheid of size support a management structure based on geography. Geography seems to suit most of the elite sports played in this country; NBA and NFL to name two. If it’s good enough for Bill Parcells, it’s good enough for me.

Leonard may not have realized this, but because something’s old does not make it wrong. Elsewhere in this blog and in another context, Rhi Jeffrey is quote as saying, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” That pretty well summarizes our opinion of this proposal as well.

To Learn Or Not To Learn – A Personal View

Sunday, December 10th, 2006

By Rhi

Senior year of high school; one of the most fun and stressful years of your life. Parties, pushing around freshmen, big-time pranks, but most importantly, applying for college. Most kids are just looking at places that have good to great academics and are in the general area they want to live. Elite athletes not only have to worry about these things but also, is the team good? Are the people on the team a good fit and will they get along with the coach? A good athlete may have known where they wanted to go to college all their lives, just to visit and realize that they hate the team they will have to compete for. Others might think it is the perfect fit and realize too late that they were wrong. Does college really have to be the next step for the elites after high school? All you parents out there, DON’T KILL ME!

There has been much talk lately on swimming forums about Amanda Weir and if her decision to go pro was the right one. People have called her decision to leave USC to train at home with Swim Atlanta “quitting”. There have been examples about how she left UGA and now USC as well. People are frowning upon this and making it seem like Weir is ruining her life. What say college was not the right choice for her in the first place? Maybe she was content where she was at Swim Atlanta but society was indicating that college was the next step. Who is to say that staying where she was comfortable and succeeding is wrong? Now, I am not here to say what is right and wrong for Amanda Weir. I am simply using this as an example.

Before I left for college, I was a pretty successful swimmer; in my eyes at least. Granted, I had no individual Olympic gold medals to boast, but my times were top 20 in the world in the years running up to the Olympics. I was fortunate enough to have found a coach whom I really got on great with. He really knew how to get me to succeed. In the four years leading up to Athens, I only missed six practices. Swimming was fun! After World Championships in 2003, I talked to my parents about what was to come in the next few years. I wanted to stay in Florida with my coach and find someone to sign with, even if it was not for a lot of money. I was happy where I was and I was successful. My parents had a different opinion. They wanted me to go to any college I wanted for free! A free education and education was of the utmost importance. I took one trip to USC to appease them. I liked it well enough, and signed a letter of intent just a few short weeks later. I was going to be an NCAA swimmer, but not for too long.

My first year of college, I screwed up. I screwed up big time; big enough for me to miss my first NCAA championships. I didn’t go to class, I didn’t study. I just didn’t want to be at school. After messing up my first semester and being chewed out by everyone, I realized I didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t going anywhere. I decided to not attempt to spite my family for making the college decision for me, and try to make the best out of my situation. I started studying and worked hard in the pool, and by the beginning of February of my sophomore year, I was finally swimming well and doing well in school again. Until news came that would ultimately make my decision about not wanting to be at school anymore final. Mark Schubert was leaving USC for a position at USA Swimming. Of every coach I had met over the years, the only one I wanted to swim for other than my club coach was Mark Schubert.

Summer came, and by then my love for swimming at USC had diminished greatly. Things didn’t have the same “go hard or go home” attitude. I ended up spending most of my summer at home in Florida, miserable with mono, but it helped me to realize where the people that loved me most and wanted me to succeed were. I remember my Mom telling me she was so sorry she coerced me into choosing college as my path. I knew I needed to be back where I was comfortable and supported to succeed.

I guess what I am trying to get at with this is “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. If an athlete is succeeding where they are, why change? Look at the swimmers like Katie Hoff and Kate Ziegler. Granted, I’m no Katie Hoff, but I hope to be on that level. And what about education? I’ve been in classes with 40 year olds before. Education will always be there, the Olympic dream might not. Incurs the Wrath of SwimWatch

Sunday, December 10th, 2006
By Jane

Every now and then, you’ll see some typos on SwimWatch. We’ll have written “and” instead of “an” or “tow” instead of “two”, but we try very hard to eliminate errors from our work before it’s uploaded, and if we find a mistake after a post is live, we take the time to correct it.

This said, I find it very frustrating to read article after article where mistakes are just as common as commas. Take the sixth paragraph of this SwimNews article by Craig Lord:

Meantime, it took a 4:06.89 to get into the final with Manaudou but behyond her and her cao, the most striking thing about the heats was the effect the Olympic and world champion is having on French women’s middle-distance.

Now, perhaps Lord will notice these mistakes and correct them, but I’ve noticed this kind of rushed, unedited work appear on SwimNews before. Often, the mistakes are never fixed. I know what it’s like to hurry through a blog post or article, publishing a piece that I’m passionate about quickly because I’m excited to see it hit the web.

When reading Lord’s pieces, however, I often get the sense that he is writing frantically, speeding through a subject on which he has a strong opinion. I may be wrong, but I do not believe that Lord reads his work before he sends it to his website, which happens to be one of the oldest and most popular swimming news sites around.
SwimWatch doesn’t pretend to be objective; however, SwimNews does. It is pitched as a journalistic venture, but nearly all of the posts are written by Lord and appear to be heavily influenced by his own prejudices and beliefs. For example, I get the distinct impression that Lord does not have much time for short-course swimming (many good short-course results are followed by reasons why the swimmer in question will now do well long-course). He has even less time for the American collegiate scene (the 2006 Women’s NCAA champs, featuring the likes of Mary DeScenza, Hayley Peirsol and Kara Lynn Joyce) garnered only results lists on SwimNews, while the coinciding Commonwealth Games were given over thirty entries.

I was at those NCAA championships, and I promise you that overall depth and standard of swimming was as high or higher in Athens, Georgia than it was in Melbourne, Australia that week. Yes, the Commonwealth Games had some amazing performances from people like Leisel Jones, but a competition like NCAAs deserved more than the three entries that it was afforded.

I still visit SwimNews regularly, as Lord has some great connections and writes about some interesting topics. However, I’d never go as far as to call SwimNews the web’s leading swimming site. To achieve that goal, the editorial staff needs to edit its work more carefully, and suspend their subjectivity far more than they do right now.

Dark Secrets

Sunday, December 10th, 2006
By David

This week US Swimming introduced “background screening” for all 10,000 swim coaches in the land. In the words of US Swimming:

“The screening criteria are designed to identify violations of Section 304.3.4 of our Code of Conduct. The National Board of Review will develop implementing rules to determine which violations will result in total ineligibility, probationary membership or other restrictions based on the severity of the crime. In order to maintain your 2007 USA Swimming coach membership in good standing, coaches are required to complete the new USA Swimming Background Screening process.”

The night before last, I completed the enrolment process. Right now someone is searching for any violations of Section 304.3.4. For people like me, who have lived in a variety of countries the search, I’m told ominously, is world-wide. I’ve read Section 304.3.4 and have never done any of that stuff. But what say something goes wrong.

Mistakes happen; I was held for two hours in Puerto Rico once because some guy with my name from New Zealand had been passing dud checks in Texas. No amount of explaining that we had different birthdays or that I’d never been to Texas made any difference. Finally they rang someone in New Zealand and I was allowed to go.

God, I hope they never discover that I didn’t mind Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction but really struggle with endless ads for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Nothing ruins a good dinner more than those horrific commercials.

I hope they don’t find out I was mean to Mary-Ann the day after senior prom. It was a wet, cold day in Wisconsin. John and I were bored. Let’s play a joke on Mary-Ann? John rang her and tearfully explained I’d been killed in a car accident and would she like to come to the funeral home to pay her last respects. We drove around to her place. I covered myself with a rug and lay on the floor of the back seat. Mary-Ann was crying, distressed, upset, all those words. As we pull up outside the Thorp Funeral Home in West School Street I bounced up, “Hi, miracle cure.” Mary-Ann never spoke to me again.

And when I waited tables in one of New Zealand’s best hotels, I didn’t mean to drop that spear of asparagus down the front of the Canadian Ambassador’s wife’s dress. To this day I regret the laser guided accuracy of its track down the center line of her ample cleavage.

The more I think about it the worse I’ve been. I only pushed Billy van Berkam off the track in senior cross country because he pushed me first. Arranging for Vivian Anderson to win the homecoming turkey was all right. She was the best looking girl in the school, or at least I thought so. Democracy’s not that important. I thought defending Stacy Friel was justified. Swimming New Zealand rode roughshod over their own rules to pin a charge of bad behavior on that girl.

Years ago I did drive home, after dinner, when I should have taken a cab. I don’t do it any more – promise.

It’s not a very good list is it? Perhaps, my confession will make a difference. The church says it will:

“Repent ye therefore, that your sins may be blotted out, – ACTS 3:19

Hold on I’ve just got an email from US Swimming;

Dear David,

Congratulations! Your background screening has been thoroughly reviewed and meets the membership eligibility standards set by USA Swimming. TC logiQ will automatically notify USA Swimming that your screening has been approved.

Thank you for your time and cooperation during the screening process.

TC logiQ, Inc.

Whew, made it, nothing’s gone wrong. Please ignore all the stories in this article. I just made them up.

PS: Swimwatch supports the screening imitative of US Swimming – better to be sure than sorry.