No Trumpets, Just Air

By David

It may be worth saying again that the views expressed in Swimwatch or the Huffington Post or any other blog are only opinions. They are not tablets of stone brought down from Mt. Sanai. There are some who have difficulty understanding that. At the Speedo Southern Sectional Meet last weekend some guy – I have no idea of his name or station in life; he didn’t reveal either – called me over and berated me for the Swimwatch report on the Fort Lauderdale International Meet. He was full of some pretty impressive abuse, calling me and the Swimwatch report “pathetic and nasty, nasty”. My guess is the repetition was for emphasis. Some, perhaps many, who agree with him. However, the Swimwatch article was not a personal attack but simply one observer’s view on a good swim meet that could do with a face lift. I’m sure the framers of the Constitution would see the report as fitting properly into the spirit of the First Amendment. I suspect our Fort Lauderdale reader would not be as generous.

The incident did get me thinking about aspects of swimming in Florida that have caused me surprise. I have spoken of some of these before; the fantastic level and depth of competition in the State, the standard of officials, the hospitality and deference shown to swim coaches, the excellent Sizzler and Sub-JO structure for young swimmers and a hundred other qualities. At the Sectional Meet this weekend one of the referees was new to the area. A Florida Gold Coast official introduced me to her and said if there was a problem she was the person I should contact. What good manners, what courtesy, what class. Everyone respects that. I have agreed with the concern expressed by the sport’s local administrators over the 90% teenage drop-out rate and have admired their willingness to tackle the problem. There are administrators the world over who hide from that sort of self analysis.

Have there been any negative surprises? Yes, of course there have. One stands out. I have been staggered at the speed and frequency at which some swimmers change clubs. Our team has benefited and lost as a consequence of the migratory habits of many swimming families. A club a year is not unusual. I know the President of a local club who had her family batting an average of about that. One of our mid-teen ex-swimmers is slightly ahead of even that impressive statistic. Long term, it’s the athletes who pay for all this vagrancy. There may be short term benefits but a sound long term career can not be built that way.

I do not know why club member’s nomadic behavior is so bad in Florida. There have been some who put it down to the American mania for instant results – fast food swimming. “I did not get the result I wanted quickly enough so I’m off somewhere else” – swimming in the drive-through lane. One parent who left our team after one year told me he was sure our Lydiard programme would produce long term results but, if his daughter was to get a University scholarship, they needed results quickly. Like fast-food, fast-results are seldom the best results. Others have stated that the programme doesn’t work, to which I contest that it’s not as if they’d know, as none of them actually completed it.

Lydiard had a very strong opinion on this behavior. Many times he said to me, “David I’ve never taken a runner back. Never take a swimmer back.” His view was based on the belief that in a broken relationship, trust lost is unlikely to be repaired. I have only taken a swimmer back once and that didn’t work. After three months she was on her way again. Interestingly, about two weeks ago she was back for a second time asking to be reinstated. Her journey to a third club had not worked out. This time I said no. If more coaches followed Lydiard’s advice, it may curb Florida swimming’s itinerant wanderings. Soon the roamers would have no home to go to. But it would mean losing another set of training fees, and money usually wins.

The effect of all this migration is easy to see. At most swim meet “UNA” is by far and away the biggest club. “UNA” means unattached: the status given to swimmers who have recently shifted clubs and are serving three months probation. At the Fort Lauderdale Sectional Meet swimmers from “UNA” accounted for 216 entries. That is probably about 40 of the region’s best swimmers who are in the process of changing clubs.

I do hope mentioning this oddity of Florida swimming will not result in another poolside ambush. It is clearly a difficult concept for some to understand, but mentioning things that could do with a bit of attention is not a condemnation of the whole. Far from it; swimming in Florida and the International Meet is exciting, competitive and fun. Come to think of it, so is the attention of a disgruntled reader.