Archive for October, 2008

The Sloane Ranger

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

By David

Six months ago a new recruit joined the Aqua Crest master’s program. At the time I had no idea of her unique qualities. She seemed normal enough; about 5 foot 8inches tall, short spiky black hair, certainly good looking, probably in her mid 30s and a swimmer easily capable of swimming a 5000 meter set. Her good quality English accent was unusual as was the tell-tale use of words like “lavatory”, “loo” and “napkin” compared to the American “bathroom” and “serviette.” Such slang is class characteristic and of great interest to “another bloody colonial” as she often referred to her antipodean coach.

I determined to find out more about this unusual recruit and here is what I know now. Her name is Dara. She is both English and American. For her first sixteen or so years, her address was Montpellier Square, Knightsbridge, London. For those of you unfamiliar with Montpellier Square I can do no better than quote one reliable London guide, Montpellier “is a cosmopolitan byword for wealth, taste and discernment. Centrally located in the City of Westminster, the home of London’s elite, providing an oasis of haute couture calm within Britain’s capital city, effortlessly attracting the rich and the celebrated from all over the globe.”

She spent ten years being educated in Queen’s Gate School; an exclusive Knightsbridge grooming ground for London’s young ladies. She admitted being expelled in her senior year for encouraging an insurgency among the students; an appropriate response to what Dara considered a staff discipline injustice. She celebrated the victory of her “invitation to leave” with her school mates over a pint at the Hereford Arms in Chelsea; another fine British place of learning.

A picture of Dara was beginning to emerge. Dara was a “Sloane Ranger”, as genuine as the Sloane Ranger archetype, Diana, the Princess of Wales. More brains and more personality, but a true blue Sloane Ranger nevertheless. Wikipedia describes this species as “young, upper class and upper-middle class women living in South-West London. The term combines “Sloane Square” the fashionable and wealthy London area and the television character the “Lone Ranger”.

I should have picked her background earlier. Her taste in transport is a dead give-away; a convertible Mini Cooper–dark blue of course–and a fine version of all that’s best in the Harley Davidson brand of motor-cycle. I think it’s fair to say that two types of women ride motor-cycles well, the classy and the classless. This is the classy version.

You may be asking what any of this has to do with sport. Sloane Rangers are not commonly known for their athletic feats; except those that take place in London pubs. However it is not that sport to which I refer, although Dara too may be well versed in the games played in British bars. This is different.

Dara is one of Florida’s relatively few certified professional triathlon coaches. She has the Triathlon Level Two certification. I suspect she’s very good at what she does. True to her background there is no nonsense speak. She cuts through the maize of double talk and marketing blather that surrounds just about all sport’s coaching. Like all good coaches she offers clarity in a world often characterised by confusion. I’m pretty certain anyone being coached by her will get the sort of intelligent, honest program that offers hard work and results in success. What’s more, you will have a heap of fun in the process. Whatever your level, if you’re interested in finding someone who knows a lot about preparing for a triathlon, have a look at Dara’s triathlon training website. It’s a sure bet Florida’s coaching Sloane Ranger has a few training tips that will improve your next triathlon.

Have A Look At This: The World Cup on Universal Sports

Friday, October 10th, 2008

By David

Swimwatch received an interesting email this week from Universal Sports, the online and television broadcaster of world class competitions for Olympic and lifestyle sports, including swimming. Their email was to let Swimwatch know that Universal will be broadcasting the FINA Swimming World Cup, starting on October 10th through November 16th. They wondered whether Swimwatch would help promote the “free and live coverage of the FINA Swimming World Cup event”.

Nothing would please us more. The World Cup this year will be swum in Brazil (October 10-12), South Africa (October 17-18), Australia (October 25-26), Singapore (November 1-2), Russia (November 8-9), Sweden (November 11-12) and Germany (November 15-16). Follow the live coverage here. Much like NBC’s coverage of the U.S. Olympic Swimming trials this July, these online broadcasts allow us to view events that most countries’ TV stations don’t play on air.

As I have said before the World Cup is my favorite swimming competition. It’s fun, the swimming is always fast and the internationalism of the tour shows swimming at its best. I doubt there is a person reading Swimwatch who does not think the swimming in Beijing was worth watching. Every World Cup I’ve been to has produced the same sporting excitement. It was great to be there when Michael Klim broke the world butterfly record in Sydney and when Hickman did the same thing in Paris and when Popov ruled the sprinting world. I watched in awe as Amanda Beard won World Cup races at a time when she was going through a low patch in her career. That was the stuff of a real champion. In Germany I smiled at Mark Foster easing through his heat of the 50 freestyle only to discover that in a six lane pool he was seventh. I watched Franziska van Almsick win 200 meter races with her trademark, wonderful, peerless arrogance. I’ve seen US swimmers drive Swedish crowds wild by flexing their impressive abs on the starting blocks. The list is endless. Without a doubt watching it on Universal Sports internet broadcast will be worth your time.

You can guarantee the broadcast will be well done. Before I got involved in coaching swimming I coached some track athletes. Some of them were pretty good and competed in the annual European series of track meets in towns like Zurich, Berlin, Gateshead and Brussels. Today I still watch the Universal Sports’ broadcast of these events. Besides bringing back a lot of happy memories the commentators are very good. They know their sport sufficiently well that they educate as well as entertain. I learn a heap of stuff relevant to swimming coaching by listening to the information they impart about athletics. I’ve no doubt their broadcast of swimming will be just as informative and just as much fun.

And finally of course Skuba and I will be at the Moscow, Stockholm and Berlin stops on this year’s tour. Skuba will be swimming the 50 and 100 and 200 freestyle events. You should see him in the water but I’ll have to find out where the cameras are and hold up one of those signs that embarrass everyone back in the USA. I doubt that any sign I could think of could improve on a comment I heard at the pool today. One of our mothers has just completed her “strokes and turns” seminar and has passed the on-line test. She now has to shadow a “strokes and turns” official through six swim meet sessions. I heard he say to another mother that she thought it would be much more fun to stroke a “shadows and turns” judge for six sessions. Some mothers; I don’t know.

Besides the link shown above Swimwatch will be getting a banner for you to click in order to see the swimming in Brazil and the other six World Cup stops. In Europe, don’t forget to look for my “Stroke a shadow-and-turns judge” sign.

A Sure Sign Of Nothing Better To Do

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

By David

I do want to assure you that what follows is not personal. In order to do this ,I need your permission to indulge in a very small amount of biography; just enough to verify that the content of this article is not influenced by any personal shortcomings.

I can swim. Not as well as many I have coached, but well enough. In my day I won championships in New Zealand’s capital province of Wellington and in New Zealand’s largest province, Auckland. I trained with Don Talbot in Sydney and swam in the New South Wales Championships. I was second twice to the New Zealand open water champion in the Lake Taupo five kilometer race and second (also twice) in two stormy Kapiti Island to Paraparaumu Beach swims [Editor’s note: Yuck]. In life saving, I am the holder of the Royal Life Saving Society’s Bronze Medallion, Bronze Cross, Silver Medallion and Award of Merit. I have passed American Red Cross exams in Coaches Safety, CPR for infants, children and adults and first aid.

That’s the biography bit over. I hope it avoids the accusation that the subject of this article is motivated by a personal inability to swim. But now for the complaint. USA Swimming has just introduced a rule that in order to coach swimming you have to take part and pass a four hour life saving water course and test. Why is that a sure sign of nothing better to do?

Well, first of all, I know of no relationship between the ability to swim and the ability to coach swimming. There is no reason why someone who cannot swim at all should not be a fine swim coach. I never met him, but others may recall a great coach from Ashburton in New Zealand who coached a number of fast swimmers (including national champion Karen Taite) who was confined to a wheelchair. In the US, I guess his days of coaching would be about to end. Returning limbless Iraq veterans better not look to swim coaching as a possible occupation. So much for equal opportunities for the physically challenged. And if the Ashburton coach or the Iraq veteran can be excused, why can’t any other person who can’t swim. In his later years, New Zealand’s best coach Duncan Laing would have struggled with any physical water test. He was still New Zealand’s best swimming coach and produced double Olympic Champion, Danyon Loader. I once employed an elderly coach called Ted Hazel who could no more have passed a physical water test than fly to the moon. For three years he coached my junior swimmers and laid the foundation for three national champions, two national record holders and two medalists at international events. US Swimming’s current rule would have excluded a generation of young people benefiting from his knowledge.

I guess the counter argument is that the coach needs some water skills in case something goes wrong. But how far is that argument going to be taken? When are we going to need a helicopter license to fly an injured athlete to hospital or a defensive driving course in case we decide to drive a swimmer home? I don’t know what the rules are in every pool in the country but at our pool in Florida, a minimum of two life guards are on duty whenever the swim team practice. That’s now effectively three life guards and that’s called overkill.

Question: has anyone in the history of world swimming ever drowned because the coach couldn’t swim? I’ve never heard of it. I notice that the Department of Health and Social Services lists five major drowning risks; lack of barriers, age and recreation in natural water settings, lack of appropriate choices in recreational boating, alcohol use and seizure disorders. No mention of swimming coaches at all. In the United States approximately 3500 people drown each year. Four times that many suffer water related mishaps. Of the 3500 deaths, approximately 650 occur in public pools. Of the 650 deaths, 450 were being directly supervised by their parents. That leaves 200 public pool drownings in the United States of children who relied solely on pool staff supervision. None, as far as I can see, were practicing with a swim team at the time they died. They may have been, but I can’t find any data saying that was the case. I guess my point is: is this measure a safe guard against a non-existent problem?

In saying this, I am not arguing that drownings are not a problem. But are swim team drownings part of that problem? I am not saying that US Swimming’s water safety initiatives are not good and valuable. But is this initiative necessary? It comes with costs that may not be justified by the imagined benefits.

When a public pool is normally staffed by a full compliment of life guards, this measure is good but is unnecessary and certainly should not be compulsory. Only when a pool’s coaching staff is the sole supervision does this measure have validity. That modification would cure the impression of another rule just for the sake of another rule; of nothing better to do.

Some readers appear to need the assurance that a critique of one aspect of an organization is not a condemnation of the whole. A strong case could be made for the proposition that US Swimming is the best run national federation in world swimming. This particular measure is just not a part of that case.