Archive for October, 2010

RIP Project Vanguard

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

By David

In Wellington today Swimming New Zealand is holding a Special General Meeting. Ironically it is being held in the Bunker Room of the Miramar Golf Club; an appropriate location given the siege conditions surrounding the affairs of swimming in New Zealand just now.

The purpose of the meeting is to withdraw the Manawatu Remit approved at the last Annual General Meeting and replace it with a watered down version. The new remit, written by Swimming New Zealand paid lawyers, avoids confirming the pre-eminent position of the regions in Swimming New Zealand’s Constitution. As we understood the Manawatu Remit, confirming the principle of “state (regional) rights” was one of its central goals. Instead the new Remit makes a few vague promises to behave better and communicate more; yeah right.

We suspect the Swimming New Zealand regions will approve the new Remit and will allow the Manawatu version to pass into swimming history. Good regional administrators will give leave for peace to prevail. Swimwatch would not have been so kind. In our view, by refusing to register a properly passed remit, Swimming New Zealand has acted improperly. They have treated the regions with contempt and probably unconstitutionally. Their behavior is not compatible with the intent behind the organization’s constitution. The framers of that document enacted a federal system of management for the organization; a system of checks and balances where the “states” (regions) had primacy over their local affairs and collectively directed the federal business of Swimming New Zealand. It is a good model, it works and it is under threat.

The effort of Swimming New Zealand to dodge registering the Manawatu Remit and replace it with a version that spurns any mention of “state” rights is a clear signal of their intent. Their behavior should not pass unnoticed. The next step in Swimming New Zealand’s march to abandon the present federal constitution of protected regional rights and replace it with direct control by Wellington is Project Vanguard. We hope Swimming New Zealand do not regard the generosity extended by the regions at the Special General Meeting as a sign of weakness on the question of regional rights. That would be a serious mistake.

On Monday 5th November Swimming New Zealand will meet with the Auckland region and its clubs. We are not sure whether their purpose is to listen to what the region feels about Project Vanguard, or to sell the Project, or explain what’s so bad about the way things are done now that we need Wellington’s wisdom in doing it better. Whatever it is, their mission will not be easy.

Swimming in New Zealand was not organized along federal lines by chance. By dividing power between clubs, regions and Wellington each level serves as a check on the other. Each individual member is provided with “treble security”. The tugging and pulling of clubs, regions and Wellington prevent any single sector from dominating the others. The behavior of Swimming New Zealand in the case of the Manawatu Remit is a clear example of why Project Vanguard should fail and federal management should stay. In politics they call it the “tyranny of concentrated power”. That’s a bit over the top in the case of New Zealand swimming. However federalism in swimming does check the growth of central power and restricts the formation of single interest majorities. We suspect Jan Cameron would like nothing more than to see the end of the federal governance of swimming in New Zealand; to see Project Vanguard implemented. It’s comparatively easy to assume total control of a unitary government. Federalism promotes unity without uniformity. It keeps the governance of swimming close to its members, giving them a greater say in the affairs of their club, their region and their country.

We hope the Auckland meeting insists on hearing what Wellington’s traveling saleswoman feels Auckland does so badly that it needs her mates from the capital to do it better. We have been fortunate enough to have had firsthand experience of sport’s administrations in the United States, the United Kingdom and in the Caribbean. The federal structure practiced in New Zealand and in Auckland is as good as any of them and better than most. With the best will in the world we simply cannot imagine what is so disastrously wrong with the way things are done here that we need a crew to fly in from Wellington to put Auckland on the straight and narrow. We suspect the same could be said for Southland, Otago, Canterbury, Bay of Plenty and most of the other regions.

Only after we have found out what Wellington think we are doing so badly should we consider their version of how they would conduct our business better. What dramatic advantage is there to Auckland of having Mike, Mark, Karen, Marge, Kent, Lisa, Tania, Rebekah, Cara, Jan, Mark, Scott, Sheila, Rebecca, Emma, Phillip, Belinda, Chris, Gillian, Erin, Jill, Antony and Cathy (wow there’s a lot of them) do it for us. Does anyone recall the days when Moss and Kingsman won medals in Seoul and Simcic held the world record for 200 meters backstroke and all SNZ’s business was conducted part time by a wonderful lady called Donella Tait from a small two room office in the Dominion Building in Wellington. Every trip to the toilet in that place had to be planned well in advance; along the corridor, down the stairs and along another dark corridor. There was no point in using the elevator. It just never arrived. We’re not saying swimming should go back to that but it does make you think.

On balance the evidence says RIP Project Vanguard. We would all be better served if Wellington concentrated on doing its own jobs, whatever they are, better and left us alone to do ours.

If You’re Facing The Right Direction, Keep Swimming

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

By David

Whether the long term goal is to win a national title, get a university scholarship in the USA or win a major international event, every swimmer is entitled to dream big. The speed at which major goals are realized will vary from swimmer to swimmer but should never be constrained by coach, athlete or parent.

Having said that, an Olympic gold medal at 13 is probably a touch optimistic, although Amanda Beard did get close to even that lofty goal. Toni Jeffs is the fastest improver I have seen. When she came to my squad she was a consolation finalist in the New Zealand open nationals: about 10th in NZ. In just twenty-four weeks, she improved to New Zealand’s 100 and 50 freestyle champion and was placed 5th in the 100 freestyle and 4th in the 4×100 freestyle relay at the Auckland Commonwealth Games. Nichola Chellingworth had a similar stellar rise. She swam a NZ national 12 year old record in only her second ever competitive swimming race. Jane Copland qualified for the New Zealand Open Nationals when she was twelve years old. She made a top eight World Cup final in Hong Kong at 13.

These are unusual examples. But they do highlight the importance of not putting time limits on achieving goals. All three swimmers were encouraged to dream big, a quality that contributed hugely to their early success. A more normal story however is a swimmer I coached in the United States who had swum at a modest level for years when he came to my team. He took a further two years to swim in a USA national championship final. His progress in the first six months was modest indeed and he was a very talented man. Another talented swimmer I coached in Florida swam with me for eighteen months before she began to make progress. She now swims well in the United States National Championships and has a partial athletic scholarship to a good American University.

These examples got me thinking about the factors that influence the speed of a swimmer’s improvement. Talent is a factor but not an important one. Probably the biggest contributing difference between those that took time and the three rapid improvers is the history of their early careers. When the slower improvers came to my program they were damaged goods. Their careers needed to go through a rehabilitation period before they could progress again. For example one of the Florida swimmers was ranked 4th in the USA at twelve and had been exploited for years by a poor coach and an ambitious mother. The three rapid improvers came to my program with no such problems. Toni had been coached by her father who was a very good coach. Probably his only “crime” was not pushing his daughter hard enough. He certainly laid the foundation from which she could progress quickly to international success. The other two had never swum competitively before their early successes.

A second important factor is the emphasis a Lydiard program puts on the mileage swum in the buildup. Swimmers simply cannot expect the best racing results if their training buildup mileage is low. Some programmes try and compensate for lost mileage by increasing the severity of the anaerobic and speed training. That seldom works and is certainly not good for the athlete. For senior squad swimmers to progress to the sort of long term goals mentioned above requires 70 to 100 kilometers a week in the buildup. A characteristic common to the rapid improvers is that all three did many 100 kilometer weeks. The two slower improvers from Florida also swam similar distances. One of them had a best 10 week total of 950 kilometers. Swimmers who average 40 kilometers a week are just not providing themselves with a sufficient base to build a successful career. When Alison Wright was one of the world’s best middle distance runners she ran for a four year period and missed just three training sessions. I know swimmers who miss that number and more every week. Alison’s best ten week mileage was 1200 miles (1920 kilometers). Success is seldom by chance.

And finally take into account how well a swimmer is actually improving. A very good figure produced by the American Swim Coaches Association is their 3% annual rate of improvement target. If swimmers want to be international athletes or achieve one of the long term goals mentioned earlier in this article they should aim for an average improvement of 3% per annum. Duncan Laing told me Danyon Loader averaged 3%. Jane Copland averaged 2.8%. Dream big but keep in mind this American figure. When it comes to swimming they know what they are talking about.

Remember though that not every season will be an improvement over the previous season. When a pause occurs there is no reason for concern. Occasionally swimmers need time to consolidate. Two or three seasons of good progress go by and for no obvious reason there is a season where the swimmer seems to be drawing breath, gathering reserves and getting ready to go again. Certainly the careers of Toni, Nichola and Jane seemed to work that way. Improvement was not a series of neat 3.0% annual steps to national swimming honors. When a pause does occur, be patient. Take the long-term view. Because the method of training is sound, move on and it will come right.

To illustrate the point, set out below is a table showing the percentage annual improvement in competition times for an international swimmer I coached from the age of 12 to 18. The data shows that after two early years of big improvements this swimmer went through a four year period of good improvements and plateaus; a trend quite common in developing swimmers.

So there it is; dream big and urgently but in evaluating your individual circumstances take into account your history; take into account how well you have done in the buildups; take into account how close you are to the 3% per annum rate of improvement. Only then will you have a balanced view of your current progress.

We All Swim Bare Naked, Miss

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

By David

The Hangaroa River winds around the foothills of Mount Whakapunaki for forty miles before it joins the Ruakaturi River and begins the last portion of its journey to the Pacific Ocean. Where the Hangaroa and Ruakaturi rivers join is the tiny village of Te Reinga. That is where I grew up. That is where I trained to swim.

I remember my first swim there like it was yesterday. I was nine years old. On a hot East Coast afternoon, shortly after we arrived in Te Reinga, my mother decided our school’s thirty students should have a swimming lesson. She had been told the local children used the Hapua. That’s the Maori word for a pool of water or lagoon. In this case the Te Reinga hapua was a particularly tranquil section of the Hangaroa River about half a mile downstream from the school. As we walked along the road to the pool a year eight girl was clearly concerned to bring my mother up to speed on the customs associated with swimming in the Te Reinga hapua. “We all swim bare naked miss” she explained. And sure enough, not only was I the only pakeha (European) swimming, I was also the only swimmer modestly wearing a swim suit.

That suit was actually pretty important. My mother had contacted Farmers, the big department store in Auckland, and had a very snappy red, white and blue Speedo number sent to our home. The suit lasted for years; way beyond any suit you’d buy theses days. Mind you, it was seldom subjected to the chemical concoctions that characterize most swimming pools. I suspect the hapua’s clear water had a lot to do with the suit’s longevity.

Training in a river may seem a bit primitive but I must tell you the scenic splendor of the hapua was pretty special. No swimmer I know of swims in a more attractive setting. Along either side of the river were tall shady poplar trees and grass cropped short by wandering sheep and goats. In summer time the water was deep and crystal clear. The river’s edge, on one side, had a small sandy beach and a short wall of greywacke rock, ideal for practicing racing starts and turns. The other side was not as convenient. Deep river mud made the turns on that side a chore. Each turn involved standing up turning around and pushing off through a foot of clinging mud. The first three strokes were spent clearing the mud off feet and toes. It is a pity that skill is not required at the Olympic Games. I’d have done really well. The muddy bank did have one major attraction. It made for the very best hydroslide. We had to laboriously cart our own water to the top but the speed and twists and turns on the way down were first class. The river was 33 meters wide in summer; and 38 meters during the winter rainy season.

I enjoyed training there. The early mornings were a bit lonely – no regulation three life guards at Te Reinga, even when the river was in flood. During the summer afternoons, there was usually plenty of company. My mates, who thought all the training was the sign of a deranged mind, would frequently challenge me to race across the river. I always changed the challenge to across and back where the deranged mind had a major endurance advantage.

I didn’t have a coach but my mother bought two books that were a fine alternative – “The Science of Swimming” by Doc Counsilman and “Run to the Top” by Arthur Lydiard. I still have both books with my pencil notes covering their pages as I sought to improve on the works of the legendary Doc Counsilman and convert Lydiard’s Olympic running genius to swimming in the hapua. Eventually I came up with a program that involved swimming about 45 kilometers on a good week and 25 kilometers on bad weeks. The 25 kilometer weeks were usually in winter when cold and river silt made swimming conditions difficult. I should add that I was 16 or 17 years old by the time I got to those distances. That experience probably explains why I have little sympathy for swimmers who complain to me now that the well cared for water at Henderson’s West Wave Pool in Auckland is too hot or too cold. It certainly looks a step up from the Hapua on a cold winter’s morning.

Training in the Hapua was never likely to result in an Olympic or even a national championship. I did however leave my river to compete. My first Hawke’s Bay Poverty Bay Championship was held in the old Clive Pool. In those days Clive Pool was open air and filled with unheated artesian water. I recall hearing HBPB swimming stars like Todd, Palmer and Meade complaining about the conditions and the cold. That seemed strange. To me Clive Pool was another Sydney International Aquatic Center or Fort Lauderdale Hall of Fame. I competed in Auckland and Wellington Championships and won titles in both. I made the finals of the New South Wales Age Group Championships in the old North Sydney Pool; another character pool famous for its stunning location.

There is possibly a touch of rose colored glasses in this next thought, but win or lose, I never regretted returning to the Hapua and swimming widths through its clear drinkable water. It refreshed body and soul. Could I have swum faster if I’d been coached in Wellington by Tony Keenan or in Auckland by Lincoln Hurring? Probably. But whatever the result I would never have traded the Hapua. On a cold winter’s morning with the river in flood or on a hot summer’s afternoon my Hapua was home, a beautiful place to swim.

So Who Should Take Her Place?

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

By David

Last week we suggested Jan Cameron, the boss of high performance swimming in New Zealand, should resign. Our article raised questions about her job performance, her staff selection, her commitment and the omnipresent mood of discontent in New Zealand swimming. However it is not sufficient to abandon the old without proposing an alternative. The balance of this post will detail a management option that should replace the Cameron regime.

All first year business administration students will be familiar with autocratic, paternalistic and democratic styles of management. Cameron manages New Zealand’s high performance regime according to a pretty standard autocratic model. She likes to make all the important decisions. There is little in the way of two way communication and there is a classic “them and us” character to her portion of the sport. In our view New Zealand swimming would be more successful if it adopted a democratic style of management where authority for the sport’s international performance was delegated to coaches throughout the country; where elite performance decisions were made by numerous local coaches. Bill Gates ran Microsoft according to the democratic model. Why? Because it is known as being the management style best suited to succeed in an environment that requires specialist skills to make complex decisions; exactly like high performance swimming.

Of course Cameron would be an unsuitable candidate to implement such a change. Anyway she probably thinks the whole idea is marginally fatuous. Besides, her personality is not suited to a democratic style of management; a case of oil and water, I’m afraid. What the job needs is a very good manager; a person whose inclusive management skills are more important than swimming knowledge. Hilton Brown has those skills. So have Bill Garlick, Arch Jelley and John Fay. Swimming New Zealand once employed a woman called Catriona McBean. She’d do a good job of managing high performance swimming according to the democratic model.

So, with a manager in place how would a democratic high performance program go about winning Olympic gold medals?

First of all the program should never mislead its members, its financial backers or the New Zealand public. We’ve had too much of that. For example Cameron’s last report from New Delhi on the Swimming New Zealand website says, “We commenced this year with 4 top 16 rankings (Moss, Glenn, Hayley and Daniel from 2009 world champs). Present world rankings in top 16 in Olympic events are:” It then lists six swimmers and relays with Cameron’s version of their current world ranking. And they are just plain wrong. The table below shows Cameron’s list and compares it with the swimmer’s actual world ranking. Our source is from’s rankings service. The support of Swimming New Zealand’s members, the New Zealand public and corporate and government financial backers depends on being given an honest appraisal of our current position; a quality not immediately obvious in this Cameron report.

On the subject of Cameron’s last report, it includes this stunning sentence. “I believe that this was a successful campaign with further learning’s which can and will help us even more going forward:” I imagine few of you will have read a worse hatchet job of the English language. Who in this world ever told her the verb learning could be used as a noun.

Second, the Millennium Institute’s high performance program should be closed. It is relevant to remember that the man who built the Millennium folly has been quoted as saying, “Arthur Lydiard is the worst thing that ever happened to New Zealand athletics.” It is prudent to be cautious about the sporting judgment of a man with that view. The Institute’s High Performance program is fatally flawed. Its coaches and swimmers should operate like any normal swim club. Swimmers above a certain level, whether they swim at the Millennium Institute or Capital, or United, or Aqua Gym, or West Auckland Aquatics or any other club, should continue to be paid of course. Coaches at all clubs including the Millennium Institute should not be paid a salary but should receive a monthly grant per swimmer placed on the national team. The balance of their pay should come from normal swimming fees. Yes, even at the Millennium Institute.

Third, the High Performance Manager should visit every coach in New Zealand who has an interest in producing world class swimmers. Each visit should result in an annual plan and a budget prepared by the local coach. It should detail:

  1. The elite athletes the coach plans to produce.
  2. How fast they will swim.
  3. Their preparation, training and competition.
  4. How much money the coach needs to fund the program.

Fourth, the High Performance Manager should have each plan evaluated by a team of swimming experts. Suggested improvements should be discussed with each coach and a final plan approved.

Fifth, each team’s plan will be collated into a national plan. Funding to finance the consolidated package will be negotiated.

Sixth, the High Performance Manager will monitor each team’s performance and spending by means of monthly reports and bi-monthly visits.

A plan like this is based on the conviction that Jeremy Duncan in Invercargill, Gary Hurring in Wellington, Jonathan Winter in Auckland, Donna Bouzaid in New Plymouth and a dozen others scattered over New Zealand are quite capable of identifying the swimming talent in their district and are certainly able to guide it to Olympic gold. Laing did it from Dunedin. Lydiard and Jelley did it from Mt. Albert. Robertson did it from Christchurch. Come to think of it Bowman does it from Baltimore and Salo from Los Angeles. This generation of New Zealand swimming coaches is quite capable of doing the same thing and better. All they need is help and support at a regional level. What they don’t need is interference or poaching or the pressure of propping up a dysfunctional and ineffective white elephant based on Auckland’s North Shore.

Is It Time For Cameron To Resign

Monday, October 11th, 2010

By David

The Commonwealth Games have come and gone. In the sport of swimming New Zealand has won four silver and two bronze medals. In the last ten Games that’s the country’s seventh poorest performance. In only three of the previous ten Games have we been unable a win a race. New Delhi adds a fourth Games to that unhappy list. It is the sort of performance we should not accept. New Zealand can do better. New Zealand should have done better. So who is responsible? Well it’s certainly not the swimmers. They are a truly talented lot who have complied with every coaching order. The buck, as they say, stops at the top. And the top in this instance is Jan Cameron. The balance of this article will pose serious questions that surround Cameron’s job performance; questions that may have compromised the financial investment of this nation and the efforts of its finest swimmers.

Performance: The effort of Swimming New Zealand and Cameron to spin the New Delhi result is shameful. They know how a medal tale is prepared. And if they don’t, in the medal table below, we’ve done it for them. After all the hype has gone; when the dust of superlatives has settled, the reality is that in the last ten Games New Zealand has performed better on six occasions. This meet ranks seventh in a list of ten. Add that to a one bronze medal performance at this year’s Pan Pacific Games and Cameron’s report that “our team is marching towards London” looks pathetic and desperate.

New Zealand invested millions supporting Cameron’s program and we are doing worse than when Moss, Simcic and Kingsman performed for nothing. Good swimmers bought into the Cameron plan; swimmers quite capable of winning races in New Delhi, and it did not happen. The centralized Millennium model has failed them and their country. Sporting socialism has not worked. Lydiard was right – a decentralized structure of powerful local coaches would have produced a better result.

Coaches: Swimming New Zealand belongs to all its members. It is not the personal playground of any individual. And yet the impression left by the selection of coaches at the Millennium Institute is most unfortunate. Cameron’s son was selected to be the Institutes full time Assistant Coach. At the time he only had three or four years coaching experience; hardly the pedigree required to guide the nation to sporting fame. Cameron’s ex-husband was appointed to advise South Island clubs on swimming related issues. The Head Coach is Australian, a characteristic he shares with Cameron, her son and her ex-husband. I hope part of Cameron’s job is to strengthen coaching in New Zealand. If she and her appointees disappear back home to Australia one day soon, her Millennium experiment will have left us with nothing. The impression of favoritism and nepotism may be unfair but it is also unfortunate and unhealthy.

Reporting: Cameron is responsible for the High Performance portion of Swimming New Zealand. That is an important and well paid job. Every New Zealander gives Cameron the money she needs to run her department. Given that Cameron told New Zealand that the New Delhi Games were the “pinnacle” test of the High Performance program this year, is it appropriate for her to accept an announcing job on television during the meet? At a moment like this, isn’t her full time responsibility to be with the New Zealand team? I can’t imagine Cameron’s American equivalent Mark Schubert accepting a similar appointment with NBC during the Olympic Games. I assume Cameron’s TV work was approved by Swimming New Zealand. If so, it just makes the whole thing worse.

Media: On the subject of journalism, Cameron’s current husband is the boss of Sky Sport television in New Zealand. Is there any truth in the thought that much of her influence and the lack of critical attention to her performance is the result of administrators and sport’s journalists wanting to curry favor with a media mogul? It sometimes seems that way. For example yesterday as I was driving to the pool a caller to Radio Sport was critical of the Cameron program. He made good and important points. As quick as a flash Miles Davis sprang to Cameron’s defense. Was it my imagination or was there really a note of panic in his reply? How far would he go to defend the Sky Sport’s supremo’s wife from any criticism? He sounded slightly pathetic. Deaker, Telfer and Television New Zealand News also appear to abandon their normal standards of critical analysis when it comes to high performance swimming. It would be disappointing if Sky Sport shows, game commentaries and commercial relationships had anything to do with their diminished investigative vigor.

Fear: Swimming in New Zealand operates in a climate of fear. A prominent administrator told me not to publish this article because, “Cameron will shoot the messenger.” A coach advised me not to upset Cameron or “your swimmers will not be selected for teams or camps.” A parent complained that his daughter had been abandoned when she declined Cameron’s invitation to join the North Shore Swimming Club. I’m told of a swimmer who hates Cameron’s high performance environment but stays because that’s how the grocery bill gets paid. These good people may well be wrong. That’s not really the point. The point is they believe it’s true. Whatever else Cameron may have done, there is a question mark over the appearance of division and alienation, of them and us, of privilege and privation. Has the cost of pursuing the Cameron’s experiment been too high?

We think the time has come to terminate the Cameron program. The resources currently focused into the Millennium Institute should be regionalized where coaches like Gary Hurring and Jeremy Duncan have just proven it can all be done so much better.