Archive for February, 2011

For Times They Are A Changin’

Monday, February 28th, 2011

By David

Writing a blog is occasionally all too much. The critics, tiredness and other pressing issues intervene to make the politics of Project Vanguard and Jan Cameron’s failings seem trivial and unimportant. And then events occur that lift the spirit and compel a return to normality.

Today the Auckland and Bay of Plenty Swimming Regions provided two such events. Swimming Auckland adapted their March Auckland Open Championships to allow participation by all swimmers 12 years of age and over. The new programme will be some compensation for swimmers affected by the Division Two National’s postponement, caused by the Christchurch earthquake. But more importantly, as a result of the support of the West Wave Aquatic Centre, Swim T3, Speedo and also CLM/Swim Magic, Auckland will donate 100% of the proceeds from this meet to a charity associated with the earthquake disaster relief.

Swimming Bay of Plenty has agreed to host a new meet at the Rotorua Aquatic Centre on 18th to 20th March. Their meet will offer an opportunity for those who were preparing to swim at the Division Two Nationals, the chance to swim in Rotorua. Swimming Bay of Plenty has drawn on the wide support of their community including the Rotorua Aquatic Centre, Swim T3 and Speedo. The same as Swimming Auckland, 100% of the proceeds from their meet will be donated to an earthquake charity.

This next comment is not playing politics with the pain of Christchurch. It’s not, because it’s important and it’s true. The sort of initiative you see coming from the Auckland and Bay of Plenty Regions will disappear if Project Vanguard is allowed to proceed. Canterbury is in the middle of a period of unimaginable distress. It is appropriate that fellow Regions, fellow swimming folk, people like Jill Vernon was, come to the aid of friends in need of help. That won’t happen in the Project Vanguard world. Cathy Hemsworth has told us that emotion and feeling and care will be replaced with efficiency. Instead of good, gentle swimming people, we will have University trained slickness; corporate speak money men. The reason Project Vanguard should fail is perfectly framed by the two swim meets planned in March; when swimming people will look after swimming people.

It would be improper to criticise any contribution to Canterbury’s need for help. However I have to say that SNZ’s offer of the gross margin on the sale of a few dozen Division Two t-shirt is painfully inadequate. If that’s the way Hemsworth’s “modern management” works I pray I never need their help in the bush on a dark night.

This point was further highlighted at a swim meet I was at in Manurewa this morning. The coach of a small rural club introduced himself and said he enjoyed reading Swimwatch. I was amazed at the depth of feeling contained in his expression of concern about Project Vanguard. If he is representative of swimming’s grass roots, they don’t want a bar of Universities and corporate speak. Shortly after this discussion a long term Club administrator sat beside me and said, “David, can you explain why you are against Project Vanguard?” She said she had been at Hemsworth’s Counties’ presentation. Hemsworth had sold her the Project Vanguard brave new world.

I’ve met the Counties type of long term swimming administrator before. Beth Meade, my old coach from Gisborne, was just like her. These people are the foundation on which the sport in New Zealand was founded. They built the sport that produced Anna Simcic, Toni Jeffs, Phillippa Langrell, Antony Mosse, Paul Kingsman, Paul Kent, Jon Winter, Trent Bray, Anna Wilson and Danyon Loader. Swimmers that won world event medals before Cameron got hold of the sport and taught us all what a decade of losing looked like. They are the salt of this swimming world; they matter enormously.

However, of course the Manurewa lady was impressed with Hemsworth. She has devoted her life to swimming. She has nothing but its best interests at heart. She is fertile ground for anything that sounds like progress. Her good intentions are being exploited. In Biblical terms, Hemsworth is a false prophet in sheep’s clothing. Good people need to hear that there is another point of view.

They need to realize their own importance. Right now this sport is democratic. It is owned and managed by the Regions. The Manurewa lady and Counties’ coach have genuine power. Through the Counties Region the sport is owned by them; not some sporting carpetbagger or part time bank teller. For many years the Regions have done a good job of running swimming. And they still do. Recent events have confirmed that the Regions work well together when one of them has a problem. Byrne, Hemsworth, Coulter and Cameron don’t want this. They want to run things their way – lock, stock and barrel. They want a dictatorship. I have even heard executives on the SNZ and FINA gravy-train argue that because SNZ is the national organ of FINA, it is “essential” that SNZ have sole ownership of their affairs. They cannot be owned by anyone. Well that is just the twisted logic of an autocrat. There is no reason why the FINA representative in New Zealand cannot be democratically controlled. Our Government is; why shouldn’t SNZ?

Isn’t it interesting that the Auckland and Bay of Plenty initiative has not even been mentioned on Swimming New Zealand’s website. How pathetically churlish and small minded is that. Mind you it’s impossible to believe a word their website prints. Weeks after Swimwatch told SNZ that Hayley Palmer and Lauren Boyle were not swimming at the Millennium Institute; they still have both swimmers listed as members. The error is now deliberate which makes it a lie.

So, well done Auckland and Bay of Plenty Swimming and thank you to the Counties’ coach and administrator for an interesting morning. It is my real hope that the New Zealand you represent will prevail and that you will continue to exercise your version of this nation’s sense of fairness over the affairs of swimming in New Zealand.

PS – Further information on the Auckland and Bay of Plenty earthquake initiatives can be found in this PDF file.

What Are They Trying To Achieve

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

By David

It’s good when Swimwatch receive a comment that questions a concept or idea that we hold dear. Readers may have noticed a comment posted on the article about the New Zealand Age Group Championships. It asked some searching questions about Lydiard type swimming training. Best of all, the correspondent made the inquiry in a positive manner. This article will seek to answer those questions. The comment began with the following sentence.

While visiting Auckland Champs last year I took down a few of your sessions and cannot work out what they are trying to achieve. These were the sessions.

A Lydiard program is divided into three sections. Each section focuses on developing some physiological characteristic required in a competitive swimming race. Ten weeks is spent developing a swimmer’s aerobic fitness. Four weeks is spent working on the swimmers anaerobic capacity and ten weeks is spent on the speed work and trials required to race well. The sessions you have recorded all happen to be in the ten weeks of aerobic conditioning. As you can see they involve a lot of long swims and usually total around ten or twelve thousand meters. They might be long but they are certainly not slow distance. I have coached several female swimmers who have swum sets of 20×400 in 4.45. One of them is an Olympic Gold Medalist and is swimming at West Auckland Aquatics right now. What is important though is they swim that distance at that speed aerobically, without going into oxygen deficit; something their anaerobically overtrained competition could never manage. Whatever their racing distances they bring a fit well conditioned body to the next two “race specific” stages of their training.

The goal for a senior swimmer is to swim around 100 kilometers a week through this ten week period. You will hear many critics say that’s too far, or it’s “garbage yardage” or it’s old fashioned. However these critics seem to conveniently forget that Phelps, Lochte, Weir, Bernard, Manaudou and a string of other world record holders or Olympic Champions swim this distance in their conditioning period. Old fashioned or not it seems to have worked for these guys. Even swimmers who now do much smaller distances in training have a background of distance conditioning in their early years. Torres and Coughlin are the best examples.

“I listened to what you said to the kids, which wasn’t much (did you have other talks off poolside before the sessions?) – with anything you can look at something but don’t always see what’s actually going on.”

It is of the utmost importance that swimmers know why they are swimming a set. It would be a very cruel coach that asked someone to swim 10,000 meters without providing an explanation of why that distance was important. Once swimmers understand the reason then they prefer to be left alone to get the distance done. Certainly they do not need me bleating in their ear every 100 meters or so. In that regard swimming is one of the world’s most over coached sports. Obviously when the team is doing stroke correction training then the amount of talking increases. None of the sessions you noticed were stroke correction sessions.

I was so concerned that swimmers I coach understood the philosophy and reasoning behind the training they were being asked to swim that I wrote two books on the subject – “Swim to the Top” and “Swimming – A Training Program”. Both books are sold on and can also be bought through bookstores in New Zealand. They were published by Meyer & Meyer the huge German sports book publishers. “Swim to the Top” actually reached number seven on the best selling water sports books shortly after its publication. The purpose of the books was to provide a thorough explanation of how each stage of a Lydiard program worked. All the sessions noted in your Swimwatch question are recorded and explained in “Swimming – A Training Program”. I refer to that book every day.

Most importantly both books clarify why a Lydiard program such as mine chooses to address the different types of conditioning require to swim fast in clearly different stages. Many coaches have programs that involve long aerobic sets or anaerobic sets or speed work. Most coaches however tend to mix these up over shorter periods than ten, four and ten weeks. Lydiard was a strict believer in addressing one fitness category at a time. He thought that produced a better physiological result.

“I heard second hand that these are normal sessions for your groups.”

The sessions you noticed on our white board are normal for my squads during the buildup conditioning ten weeks. They are not at all representative of the training swum during the anaerobic or speed work sections of the program. Today for example the senior swimmers swan 2000 meters of mixed warm up swimming, followed by 10×25 hard swims with long rest, 6×25 hard kick sprints and ended with 1000 mixed warm down. That’s probably a shorter faster session than most so called sprint coaches would set.

Of course that’s a defining characteristic of a Lydiard program. When it’s time to do aerobic conditioning Lydiard goes further and harder than the others. When it’s time to do speed conditioning a Lydiard program does that shorter and better than the sprint coaches. He called it, providing a balanced program. It is impossible to look at the sessions used in one period and describe them as normal for the program as a whole. The fact that some critics mischaracterize the program as all one type of training is simply a problem of perception. It’s usually just what they would like to think.

“You have had some great swimmers under you in the past is this the same formula that created them?”

All the swimmers coached by me have followed a Lydiard program. Toni Jeffs, Nichola Chellingworth, Jane Copland, Ossie Quevedo, Joseph Skuba, Andrew Meeder, John Foster and Rhi Jeffrey are fine swimmers that I have been privileged to help. Between them they won World and Olympic Championship medals, National and State Championships and held World Masters and National Records. The formula you saw on the white board is indeed the same one used to assist these swimmers.

“I know that Peter Snell would sneak out with the group to do extra ’speed’ sessions without Lydiard’s knowledge – is this what is happened?”

I think you will find this story is more legend than truth. I would never suggest that Snell did not run the occasional speed work session without Lydiard’s knowledge. However the program he followed was a full and traditional Lydiard schedule. Confirmation of this can be found in a book on Snell’s life after running published recently and written by Garth Gilmour. In the final chapter of the book, Snell is quoted as saying that his years as a sport’s scientist have made him increasingly convinced that Lydiard’s training was based on the soundest of training principles. His research had led him to the conclusion that he would change nothing. Neither would I.

New Zealand Junior Swimming Championships

Monday, February 21st, 2011

By David

The New Zealand Junior Championship was held this past weekend. The event has nothing in common with the United States version of a Junior Championship. The American meet is a single age group event for good athletes aged eighteen and under. The New Zealand event is for swimmers twelve and under and is swum in ten and under, eleven and twelve year age groups. To reduce travel costs the New Zealand Junior Championship is held in two locations; one in the south of the country and the other in the north; almost always at the West Wave Pool in Auckland.

The New Zealand meet has been around forever. When I was twelve years old, and that’s fifty years ago, it was called the “Teleprinters” because the results were sent by teleprinter to Wellington where they were collated and the national champions declared. As technology progressed the name changed to the Cannon Fax Meet and finally, in the age of the internet, to the Junior Championship.

I do not like the meet. It is an awful concept. Just about everything about it is bad. I am certain that it is held each year, primarily as a money grab for Swimming New Zealand. That and to satisfy the blood lust of those parents in New Zealand who happen to have bred an early maturing young swimmer. The fact it doesn’t work as a development tool for the sport is clearly demonstrated by the close to 100% failure rate of Junior Championship winners to progress to Open Nationals success.

For example, I had a quick look at the results of the first few races in the 2000 Junior Nationals. That’s ten years ago which means the winners then are nineteen, twenty, twenty-one or twenty-two years of age now; in their prime, you would think, to be winning the 2010 Senior Nationals. Here are the first twelve names of 2000 Junior National winners I came across; Elliot Box, Keitiria McColl, Luke Pervan, Rachel Mercer, Nicholas Rolfe, Emma Hunter, Sanjeev Deo, Emma Hotchin, Samuel Vinton-Boot, Amini Fonua, Rachel Mercer and Brooke Jackson. In every case besides Fonua, who is swimming in the United States, not only were these swimmers not winning in 2010, they weren’t even entered in the National Open Championships. Hopefully more than just Fonua has moved on to bigger and better things. However the Junior Championship as an indicator and development tool for their precocious talent was almost completely worthless. No relevance whatsoever.

In addition, you could take results from alternative years and find similar casualty rates.

Why is this? Well, as you have probably come to expect, I have a theory. Just about every champion athlete will tell you it’s much harder to stay at the top than it is to get there in the first place. The burden of success can be heavy. If all that’s true it is probably not surprising that nine year old Samuel, Luke and Rachel found staying at the top for ten years a bit too much. It is likely that their Junior National success proved only that they had developed physically early. And research has shown that maturing early is probably a poisonous chalice. Just prior to the Atlanta Olympic Games the research boffins at the National Swimming Centre in Colorado tested the maturation rate of the US swim team. Only two swimmers were found to have physically matured early. The rest were normal or physically matured later than normal. Researchers, in this case, put the failure of early maturing swimmers to go on to Olympic success down to the difficulty of constantly repeating year after year their early success. Late developers on the other hand enjoyed the unexpected excitement of winning later and benefited from it for longer. It seems to be true that if you want to win the Olympic Games one day do everything in your power to lose the New Zealand Junior Nationals.

As usual Swimming New Zealand run the Junior Championships with a supreme and arrogant disregard for the facts and the research surrounding junior championship swimming. Senior staff members in the Swimming New Zealand office have no real knowledge of swimming and one has to say, it shows. In this case Cameron has made many of the choices that have resulted in the current format of the Junior Championship. As usual she has taken a very long time to reach the wrong decision.

Now remember what the evidence, the research and the science have told us. The people winning New Zealand Junior Championships are early developers who will probably find the burden of their premature success too much and will give the sport away before they have the chance to experience senior success. Also remember that the future Olympian is probably struggling away at the back of the lane waiting for a tardy body-clock to catch up with his or her burning ambition. So what does Cameron do?

She makes the qualifying standards for the New Zealand Junior Championships harder and harder; way out of the reach of the majority of young New Zealand swimmers; certainly way out of the reach of all New Zealand’s late developers. How long did it take Cameron to work out a plan that would make the majority of New Zealand’s best late developing swimmers feel inadequate; feel like failures. I don’t think for a second that Cameron deliberately set out to destroy the next generation of this country’s best swimmers. But the qualification policy Swimming New Zealand has in place for its Junior National Championships is doing its best to drive our late developing Olympians out of the sport; failures, broken and disillusioned; beaten by the knowledge that they weren’t good enough to swim in the Junior Championships.

If it was me, I wouldn’t have a qualifying standard at all. I’d open the meet to everyone. And if that made the current two meets too big, I’d increase the number to four or five; one in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland. Sure as hell I’d find a way of making sure the swimming version of Peter Snell, who couldn’t win his school sports half mile, had the satisfaction of taking part with his physically more mature mates. Cameron thrives on exclusion when the real formula for success is inclusion, especially at the Junior Championship level. New Zealand’s next Olympic winner probably won’t make the top eight but he or she should be at the event.

Swim T3

Friday, February 18th, 2011

I hear Swimming New Zealand have decided to replace long term suppliers of swimming gear Swim T3 with some new “Johnny-come-lately”. Swim T3 has always been very good to us. The other day we had a problem with one of our bungee cords. Swim T3 sorted it out at no cost. We visited their sister shop in Sydney last weekend and received fantastic attention finding a swim suit for Athens Gold Medallist, Rhi Jeffrey. They are a wonderful outfit.

At the Junior Nationals in Auckland this weekend Swim T3 will have a tent outside the pool next to the Falls Restaurant. Please support Swim T3. They’ve been loyal to us. It’s our turn to help them.

Check out their tent at nationals and their site, and give them a “like” on Facebook while you’re at it:

Of Course I’d Trust Swimming New Zealand… Yeah Right

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

By David

West Auckland Aquatics spent last weekend in Sydney at the New South Wales Swimming Championships. The meet was all that I remember: well run, good swimming and in one of the world’s truly most impressive swimming pools. Getting there this time was better than in the old days. It was my first experience on an Emirate’s A380. That’s the double deck flying mammoth built by Airbus. It’s a super airplane. Even the economy seats are spacious and comfortable. The food is good and the entertainment system is the best I’ve come across. Being an amateur pilot the camera showing the pilot’s view of our take-off, cruise and landing was irresistible.

It was good to get away from the petty politics of small town Swimming New Zealand. Watching Huegill and Rice ply their trade was a breath of fresh air. It’s the way I used to feel about swimming in the United States. Good people doing good things. One day, I hope, competitive swimming in New Zealand will be conducted with the same open honesty. It’s a vital ingredient in the preparation of champion athletes. But swimming in New Zealand is not like that, not by a long chalk; it’s secretive, scheming and political. It reflects the character and personality of those responsible for its management and direction.

I think I may have mentioned before that I have never met Jan Cameron. Well that’s no longer true. On Saturday morning in Sydney I became aware of a stunningly thick Australian accent behind me saying, “Hello David.” I wondered who on earth it was. A quick look around and those incredible red glasses Cameron wears revealed the mystery caller’s identity. Jan Cameron had stopped to say hello. Whether it was me or the Club’s newest member, Athens Olympic Gold Medallist, Rhi Jeffrey that she wanted to talk to is still being debated by members of the West Auckland Aquatics team.

However, if it was me and if the purpose of saying hello was to proffer an olive branch, let there be no misunderstanding, the damage wrecked by Cameron on the sport of swimming in New Zealand will not be excused by a poolside chat. For a decade Cameron’s regime has won nothing at three Olympic Games. She has taught a generation of New Zealand’s best swimmers how to lose. Winning and losing are both learned behaviours. Cameron has taught the sport of swimming in New Zealand especially well. We have become masters in losing Olympic swimming races. Responsibility for New Zealand’s barren performance lies exclusively at Cameron’s door. She demanded the right to be in sole charge. She walked over and discarded good people in her quest for power. And now it hasn’t worked; now she’s sitting on top of a pile that’s beginning to pong; now she can accept sole responsibility. No amount of poolside small talk can excuse the destruction Jan Cameron has wrought.

While she was wandering around the Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre I did wonder what her mates in New Zealand were planning. After all, the SPARC review is imminent. Perhaps Coulter and Byrne were scheming a way of avoiding asking the Regions for permission to move to the next stage of Project Vanguard. Perhaps they were planning a sting. We are nearly in March and we have still not heard how they plan to obtain Regional approval to progress their pet Project. Something is not right. They are up to no good; of that I am certain. It’s the way they do things. I bet every Region in New Zealand Swimming that Coulter and Byrne are working out a way of dodging the need to have prior approval and force through the abolition of the Regions. The only problem is I have no idea what their plan could be. Few, if any of us, think the way they do.

However, if I did think the way they do, how would I try and sneak Project Vanguard’s abolition of the Regions through with minimal accountability. Perhaps I might wait until the Annual General Meeting and in one hit seek the approval of the meeting to move to Stage Four and approval of Stage Four. That way the risk of rejection would only be faced once. That way the intent of Project Vanguard to abolish Regional powers might get lost in all the other Annual Meeting affairs. It stands to reason the attention paid to Project Vanguard at an AGM will be less than at a meeting called to address only Project Vanguard. The more I thought about it, the more certain I became. Something along those lines is what they will try. It’s the way devious buggers work. Every action they take confirms the importance of holding on to a Regional structure. The passion with which individuals like Coulter, Byrne and Cameron pursue the abolition of Regional power confirms starkly the importance of its preservation.