Casualty Rate

By David

In World War Two, 72 million of a total involved population of 1961 million died; a casualty rate of 3.7%.

On the Florida Gold Coast of all the swimmers registered at 10 years of age only 10% are still swimming at age 16; a casualty rate of 90%.

Two Board members from our team attended the Florida Gold Coast Annual Meeting this weekend. They were impressed with the emphasis placed on the region’s high drop-out rate. I’m impressed too. Florida Gold Coast is not the only place in the world that has the problem. Certainly New Zealand does. From what I’m told, the speakers at the Florida Gold Coast meeting attacked the dilemma head on, put the blame where at least 50% of it lies – over ambitious parents (OAPs): all the ones with, “eat sleep swim” on their number plates, or “I’m a swimming Mom” on the wind shield.

The attention of the Annual Meeting is not misplaced. The casualty rate is outrageous. Since I’ve been in Florida, I have tried to stress the importance of patience, of proper and careful swimming education – often to no avail. Here is what I mean:

A swimmer was brought to me six months after I arrived in Florida. The swimmer was a wreck mentally – the person could not even finish a race. The swimmer’s physical state was poor, as well: they were half a minute slower over 800 meters than they had been three years earlier. It did not take PhD in exercise physiology to recognize over-use abuse; just the thing being talked about at the Florida meeting. Through care and patience, the swimmer was brought back to life.

Another mother kept bringing her ten year old daughter to every day double sessions and quietly dropped hints that I should be writing up more speed work. No amount of education seemed to work on an otherwise intelligent human being. Her child’s swimming was a drug. She knew times and splits for her daughter and every other daughter who swam on the Florida Gold Coast. All classic OAP.

Yes, Florida Gold Coast’s emphasis on OAPs is not misplaced. But it is only half the story. You see, there is no point in some of us doing the right thing – of preaching the importance of patience, of holding off severe speed work, of accepting early modest race results, of stressing personal improvement ahead of winning – when there are other coaches who offer a welcome home for the greedy.

Never anywhere have I seen a transfer rate like that on Florida’s Gold Coast. When I arrived one of the Region’s long time coaches told me about the migration habits of some of the local swimming population. I didn’t believe him. I thought he was being bitter. Not at all; it’s like fair ground dodgems at NASCAR speed.

OAPs can only feed their habit when they find a coach willing to supply a home. While there are coaches out there pandering to the early and deadly ambition of greedy parents, those coaches who do the right thing are going to lose money. Lydiard spoke about this in his first book written back in the early 1960s. He said coaches who followed his physiologically sound principles would lose runners. He lost a few, but did not worry as those who left never succeeded in the world arena. Like Lydiard, I don’t really care. It is just another price of doing the right thing. As the data shows, eventually it’s the greedy that lose most.

Junkies will find a pusher. But if the 90% casualty rate is to be reduced there is little point in only addressing the problem of OAPs. Florida Gold coast also needs to address the problem of coaches who supply OAPs with their fix. That’s the step that would take real courage.