Archive for August, 2010

Swimming New Zealand Service Plan

Monday, August 30th, 2010

By David

It’s not an easy read. Twice I’ve read it. Once quickly and, realising the shortcomings in my understanding, a second time slowly. I’m still not sure I appreciate all that it has to say. The problem is, it’s not well written. Poor punctuation, contradictory facts, bad grammar and a really impressive use of jargon make comprehension difficult. Here are examples of what I mean.

The “Athlete Life Plan” tells me “Currently 17 out of the 31 carded athletes are based at MISH”. The “Service Plan” however claims, “Of the 27 carded swimmers 18 are based at MISH. .” Besides the puzzling use of two full stops, I do hope Swimming New Zealand knows how many swimmers it has in the program and where they live. The huge number of reports athletes are required to provide seems a little pointless if there is some doubt about how many swimmers should be sending them in.
The report has dozens of sentences that could be used in high school texts as examples of the very best in self important jargon. Try these two examples. “Lead providers will create, communicate and advocate best practice in each area required” or “All planned services must be specifically aligned towards achieving performance oriented goals.” Very few of us have the legal training necessary to understand this gobbledygook. Some would say such doublespeak is simply a matter of overwhelming the swimming audience with technical and unfamiliar words. Or is it deliberate confusion to benefit the authors.
Early in the report we are told “Swimmers and Coach to meet with Head Coach Mark Regan to outline IPP by one month following the given dates (April and October).” Later in the report we are instructed to “Provide a proposed IPP (individual performance plan) to the SNZ GMPP within one month of selection All forms provided must be returned by due date.” This time there is no full stop after “selection”. Perhaps that’s where the additional full stop earlier in the report came from. The important point though is that one instruction requires us to meet with Head Coach Regan a month after April or October and the other requires us to send an IPP report to Jan Cameron within a month of selection. Is it a meeting or NZ Post? Is it Regan or Cameron? In most circles that would be called confusing.

The report doesn’t seem to know what to call Jan Cameron. She’s referred to as the General Manager of Performance Pathways (GMPP), the SNZ General Manager of Performance and Pathways, the General Manager (GM) and in one instance Swimming New Zealand General Manager (SNZ GM). One can only hope the last two are not Freudian views of the sport’s future. As Freud himself put it, perhaps we are “justified in inferring from them the presence of restrained or repressed intentions and intentions.” (Freud, An Autobiographical Study (1925))

The next example still has me confused. Here is what it says, “The level and amount of carding support available by NZAS PROVIDERS will be commensurate with the swimmers performance and their world ranking using the qualifying standard 800 FINA points for 2008 for 2011 and 2010 for 1012.” “Swimmers performance” needs an apostrophe. I’m not sure why “providers” needs to be in capitals and being as 1012 is only noted as the year of the Martyrdom of Alphege in Greenwich, London, I assume 1012 should be 2012.
There are a dozen other examples of these errors. I would be concerned if the resulting confusion was deliberate. Certainly the report is vague on any specifics that could hold the authors accountable for their performance. For example the organization’s target for this year’s Commonwealth Games is defined as “Podium finishes at commonwealth Games” Note the missed capital in Commonwealth but more importantly no quantification of how many podium finishes the managers and coaches who run elite swimming in New Zealand are responsible for winning; certainly no mention of gold medals. Two medals of any sort and by this definition the bosses of elite swimming in New Zealand can and probably will call themselves successful. In the case of the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 London Olympics the authors do set themselves the most minimal of targets; a medal of any type. Why are Cameron and Regan so reluctant to say, “We’re going to win a race”? With swimmers like Ingram, Palmer and Hind in their midst what’s the matter with setting out to win the bloody thing? The talent of those swimmers deserves no less. To the new and casual observer this plan looks like everybody is accountable for everything they do except the authors. For them this plan is just a good old fashioned escape clause.

Certainly the athletes covered by this report are accountable. I was recently responsible for coaching a swimmer who was on the United States national team. She didn’t have to complete anything like the number of reports and tests required in New Zealand. She had won an Olympic gold medal though. In the table below I have attempted to simplify the bureaucratic procedures New Zealand’s 27 (or is it 31) carded swimmers must observe.

All this analysis and reporting makes me wonder how Kenyan runners ever win a race. None of them have all this stuff. Quite a few don’t even own a pair of running shoes until pretty late in their careers. They sure can run fast though. Why is that? Come to think of it, I do know how they do it – they run a lot.

On the other hand I have some sympathy for our guys. After all this reporting, analysis, examination and investigation, if they have the time and can dredge up the energy; they can pop into the pool for a short swim.

At Last, A Bronze

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

By David

After a decade of trying, the boss of New Zealand swimming, Jan Cameron, has finally managed to guide an athlete to a medal at the Pan Pacific Games; a bronze in the Woman’s 50 backstroke, won by Emily Thomas. The medal is both a wonderful achievement and an “about time” poor reward. For Emily Thomas it is a wonderful achievement. Nothing can or should detract from the success she has earned at a world class competition. It is not easy to win a medal of any type at a Pan Pacific Games. Without any qualification at all, Thomas’s performance is a very good one.
From a national point of view however one bronze medal is scant return for a decade of spending our tax dollars. For ten years swimming has spent millions on its administration and elite program. A return at the Pan Pacific Games of one bronze medal is not sufficient. In the commercial world one financial bronze medal for ten years of effort by some fine athlete employees and millions of dollars invested would have the shareholders demanding a change of management. Swimwatch may be the only voice saying as much but believe us we’re not the only ones thinking it.

Just as distressing as the results from Irvine, California is the spin fed to the New Zealand media. It seems that if you are not performing, then you have to spin. In New Zealand, the swimming may be a bit of a struggle but the spin is first class. Here is what we mean.

After the first morning’s heats Cameron was interviewed on Radio Sport. The journalist was interested in finding out why Moss Burmester had struggled in his heat of the 200 butterfly. Cameron clearly did not want the conversation to go down that path and instead said she was more interested in the six personal best times swum that morning. There are two things disturbing about that. Firstly, it is always important to examine the reasons why something has gone wrong. Why has a good swimmer like Moss Burmester struggled at this meet? Has he been training badly; is he injured or have the individuals responsible for his career been providing him with bad advice? Cameron needed to address these questions. The Radio Sport journalist should not have been as easily put off by an administrator trying to dodge the issue. And secondly the announcement of six personal best times was classic spin. The six PBs were true enough. What Cameron omitted to tell Radio Sport’s listeners was that there had been thirteen swims that morning. Therefore the teams PB ratio was a poor 46%. Any team recording less than 50% needs to look seriously at their program. Most teams aim to be in the 70% range.

The Coach appointed by Cameron to guide this team was reported as saying that “he’s not worried about comparisons with the world’s super powers.” What sort of nonsense is that? This Australian is the recipient of the best support New Zealand has to offer and he’s not interested in how we stack up against the world’s best? Perhaps we need someone who is interested in being compared with and beating Lochte, Phelps, Schmitt, Weir and their super power mates. I’ve stayed at Arthur Lydiard’s home on forty or fifty occasions. In that time I spent hours discussing training and sport. I just wish he was still alive to confirm my guarantee that the only thing he was interested in was being compared to the world’s best.

When Jane broke her first New Zealand Age Group record, the 100IM at a World Cup in Berlin, Arthur growled on the phone, “Don’t even submit the paperwork. Teach her that National Open records are the minimum standard.” I explained this to Jane and the forms were never submitted. New Zealand records are trumpeted as huge achievements these days. I guess that’s why Arthur was Arthur and this lot aren’t. Several weeks after Jane’s 100IM, a veteran Wellington administrator, Barbara Neish, thought we had overlooked the paperwork in error and submitted the forms on our behalf. Jane got her Age Group record but fortunately not before she had learned, it’s the big ones that matter.

Another very good swim in Irvine was Tash Hind’s 1.58.80 in the 200 freestyle final. Why on earth did team management report her effort as, “she was eighth in the final but third among Commonwealth countries” In reality she was seventh in the final and fourth among Commonwealth countries. Ahead of her were two Australians (Evans and Palmer) and a Canadian (Saumur). The claim of third in the Commonwealth is also misleading because it ignores the very good British swimmers who do not compete in the Pan Pacific Games. At least one of them (Carlin) has a time faster than 1.58.80. Is all this just more spin? Tash Hind’s swim was very good but it was not third in the Commonwealth and should not have been diminished by being reported as such.

Probably the most delightful item of reporting associated with New Zealand’s participation in this Pan Pacific Games was a profile on Scott Talbot-Cameron (that’s Cameron’s son and Pan Pac’s Assistant Coach) published in the New Zealand Herald just before the team left for the United States. In the report Scott tells us that his partner uses the wife of the New Zealand’s national rugby coach as her mentor to help her through the stress of living with a swimming coach. What on earth is all that about? It’s great PR spin but not much in the way of substance. The guy is a swimming coach, not a fighter pilot or brain surgeon. He works at a swimming pool, not in Tora Bora. Before I was a swim coach I was General Manager of a fair sized meat processing plant. Even that beats the life out of coaching for job stress. It all seems to be a case of ideas way above their station.
I was surprised to read that the New Zealand team of fourteen swimmers had a support crew of nine officials. Cameron was there plus four other coaches, a team manager, a sports scientist, a bio-mechanic and a massage therapist. What on earth did they all do? A bio-mechanic fiddling with swimmers strokes at this late stage may partially explain why we ended up with one rather lonely bronze medal. God knows how John Walker managed to run under 3.50 for a mile with only Arch Jelley’s telephone help from far off New Zealand. If the sport’s scientist and bio-mechanic were collecting stroke and time data from the meet, are all the Clubs in New Zealand going to have access to the data? We should – we paid for it. The appearance though is of an organization that does all the “trendy, flash” stuff but has no idea how to win a race. Certainly nine staff for a team of fourteen is way over the top.

Regular Swimwatch readers will know of our admiration of Melissa Ingram. Two years ago we watched her travel alone to World Cup meets in Moscow, Stockholm and Berlin. Not only did she win some mightily impressive swimming races she displayed the special character that is common in the world’s best swimmers. I’ve seen the American backstrokers Beisel and Pelton swim on a number of occasions. Neither could hold a candle to the Ingram I saw in Europe and yet both the Americans beat Ingram at the Pan Pacific Games. Why was that? I think she is over-prepared; she’s done too much speed training. Someone is making the same mistake I made preparing Toni Jeffs for the Barcelona Olympics. Ingram looks the same; too thin, too tired. The world’s best backstroker is not what she was two years ago, on her own in Europe. And that’s why we only won a solitary bronze medal.

Pan Pacs Preview

Monday, August 16th, 2010

By David

Two notable events occurred this week. In Auckland our swim team is about to complete their spring aerobic build up. Yesterday’s main set was 10,000 meters swum either as 100×100 or as a 10 kilometer straight swim. Jessica, Abigail and Sarah completed the set. Sarah did it as 100×100. Jessica and Abigail did the straight swim. They were good efforts; Abigail because she’s only 14 and Jessica because she got through the swim in 2hrs 11min 48sec, an average of 1.19 for each 100. With Nikki having done 100×100 last build up we now have a core of four swimmers who can swim respectable distances during the aerobic period of their training. After fifteen weeks that’s progress.

On the other side of the Pacific the draft heat sheets for the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships were published. So who is going to win and lose? How is the New Zealand team going to fare? The table below shows our picks for the medalists in each event.

Our guess is that the USA will miss out in the men’s freestyle. We expect Cielo from Brazil, Park from Korea and Mellouli from Tunisia to dominate this stroke. Peirsol will come right, as he usually does, and take control of the men’s backstroke. Kitajima will shrug off a quiet patch of form and win the breaststroke sprints. The men’s fly and IMs will be a Phelps’ benefit. In the IMs Lochte will keep Phelps honest, but when the roll is called the Olympic Champion will be too good for the man from Florida. The women’s events will be more fragmented. The Americans will do well in freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke and the Australians will control the women’s butterfly and IM. We are picking the Americans to dominate both the men’s and women’s relays; but then it hardly took a genius to work that out.

The format of the meet favors smaller nations like New Zealand. Only two swimmers per country can swim in a final. The limited number of countries attending gives most countries a real shot at placing someone in the top eight. And, as they say, once you’re in the final anything can happen. In 1991 Toni Jeffs, Anna Simcic and Phillipa Langrell came home with Championship medals. Two years later John Steel, Trent Bray, Danyon Loader and the men’s relay were placed at the Kobe Games. Danyon Loader and the men’s relay teams won medals again in Atlanta in 1995. And finally Trent Bray and the relays won medals in the 1997 Pan Pacific Games in Fukuoka, Japan.

I was coaching Toni in 1991 when she won the Edmonton Pan Pacs bronze medal in the 50 freestyle. New Zealand track coach, Arch Jelley, helped me put together her final six weeks of training. It seemed to work. Toni was behind two good Americans, Jenny Thompson and Angel Martino in a time of 26.21 which, I think, was a New Zealand record.

We say Trent Bray’s 1997 bronze medal in the 200 freestyle was final because after 1997 New Zealand entered the “modern era” of performance pathways, state funding and imported foreign coaches and in the three Pan Pacific Games since then New Zealand has won nothing; not a medal of any description. Even with the advantage of only two swimmers from each nation in a final, at Sydney in 1999, Yokohama in 2002 and Victoria in 2006 the New Zealand’s National Coach hasn’t been able to coach a medalist of any sort. That’s thirteen years of funding and swimming talent for nothing. I see the coach’s son is now telling the country’s largest newspaper, the New Zealand Herald, that he wants to be the National Coach, coach an Olympic Champion and see swimming become New Zealand’s most successful sport. Time will tell but, if as we suspect, New Zealand does not win a race in Irvine, California there is a very long way to go. It’s difficult to climb Mt. Everest when the slope on Auckland’s Harbor Bridge is causing you problems. New Zealand is certainly starting well behind where it was in the early 1990s. We have centralized ourselves to death. Certainly the PR media access of the current North Shore regime is far in advance of their aquatic’s performance.

Let there be no mistake. The talent on this New Zealand team is huge. Bell, Palmer, Ingram, Burmester, and Snyders are potentially as good as any swimmers in the world. Culpability for the absence of a Pan Pac gold medal, if that is indeed what happens, will not lie at their door.

United States National Championships

Monday, August 9th, 2010

By David

The United States National Swimming Championships have come and gone. Just like the New Zealand version they too have highlighted the good, the bad and the ugly.

Without question, the good was the general standard of swimming. Year after year the US produces a group of swimming super stars. Behind them, in every event there are a dozen others clamoring for their moment in the sun. This year was no exception. Phelps, Lochte, Soni, Volmer, Vanderkaay, Hoff, Coughlin, Beisel and Adrian came, saw, conquered and left. I was particularly pleased to see Lochte swimming so well. I once had a conversation with his father coach at a swim meet in Ft. Lauderdale. He described the huge mileages (90-100 kilometers a week) his son had swum as he worked his way to the top of American swimming. It’s always pleasing when that level of application is rewarded. Beating Phelps and winning the 200 IM in 1.54 was especially memorable. Phelps is the world’s best swimmer. To better him at anything, especially a National 200 IM, is huge. I would imagine Phelps is not best pleased and will be looking at the Pan Pac’s race as an opportunity to put the record straight. It would be wise not to bet against an angry Michael Phelps.

Other Americans who will win at the Pan Pacific Games include Soni in the breaststroke, Lochte in the 400 IM and Coughlin and Peirsol in the 100 backstroke. I was surprised at the versatility demonstrated by Peirsol at this meet. There was nothing unusual about his 53 second placing in the backstroke but his fourth place 52 in the butterfly was more than I expected. Although New Zealand’s National Coaches have told the world it is the Commonwealth Games that are the real 2010 test for New Zealand’s swimmers, it is actually this group of American athletes they should be after. This is where the 2012 Olympic Games are going to be won and lost. All the rest is just political flannel.

Two “old-timers” swam well at the US Nationals; Amanda Beard and Sabir Mohamad. Amanda Beard managed a really impressive 2.26 second place in the 200 breaststroke. She’s 28 years old and has been swimming fast breaststroke since she was 12. A few years ago I watched her compete in a World Cup series. She displayed that deep seated toughness that true champions usually bring to their trade. I imagine the National 200 result will see her on the team for next week’s Pan Pacific Games. What a fantastic story her swimming life has been. Sabir Mohamad is 34 and swam 23.20 in the 50 freestyle. His best event is actually the 50 fly. I remember him swimming in European World Cup events. He was an expert at sending Swedish female spectators wild by standing on the blocks before a race and rolling his mightily impressive abs. He clearly enjoyed the moment as much as they did.

The Swim MAC Club from North Carolina had an unusual disqualification affect one of their swimmers. The disqualification of Josh Schneider from the men’s 50 free and his reinstatement raised some interesting administration issues. Schneider was entered in the 100 fly but did not report for his heat and was disqualified from his next event, the 50 freestyle. According to Craig Lord, who I admit is not the World’s most reliable source; Schneider said “It’s something I’ve never trained for. I didn’t even look in the heat sheet for my name.” If that’s true, for a Club to enter a swimmer as good as Schneider in an event at the US Nationals and not tell him doesn’t demonstrate particularly good management. Swim MAC appealed the disqualification and could win on a technicality. It may be possible for the “no show” penalty to be dismissed at this meet since missing his swimsuit check before the 100 fly would have already resulted in Schneider being disqualified and therefore not required to report for the race..

A second MAC swimmer at these Nationals was coached by me for eighteen months. In that time he swam personal best times for the 50 and 100 freestyle of 23.38 and 50.95. In the year he’s swum at MAC his 50 has improved to 23.11 and the 100 hasn’t improved at all. His best 100 is now 1.1 seconds (2%) slower. Even the 50 is only 1.1% faster; well below the 3% annual improvement expected from potential international swimmers. I recall being told of the wonderful progress expected as a result of the change to Swim MAC. Whatever the reason, it hasn’t worked.

One other swimmer at these Nationals was coached by me about four years ago. She ended up swimming 8.49 in the 800 at this year’s Championship. That’s a good time and was worth a mid-20s place. It is still most of the pool behind Chloe Sutton who won the 800 in 8.24. But, the ex-Florida swimmer may have been faster without the influence of a mother who was responsible for an anonymous poison letter sent to one of our swim team’s sponsors and other disruptive behavior. You may recall her antics were the subject of a post on Swimwatch, written about six months. That can’t be good for anyone’s swimming career. There are some strange folk in the swimming world.

And so the National week is over. The Championships are great entertainment and serve as a valuable teaching tool in a country as far away as New Zealand. The reality of how well the world’s best swimmers do their job is a good lesson for us all.