Archive for November, 2012

It’s Never Your Fault

Monday, November 26th, 2012

By David

I wonder who is the most successful living swim coach? Don Talbot must be right up there. He has coached a “who’s who” of great Australian swimmers – John and Ilsa Konrads, Ian O’Brien, Bob Windle, Kevin Berry, Beverley Whitfield and Gail Neall. For a couple of summers he even struggled with the lesser talents of the author of Swimwatch. Forbes Carlile’s nine world record holders would also make him hard to beat. But the best American swim coach probably does sneak ahead of these Australian super coaches. Certainly an American coach would be my pick as the world’s best. And his name? Why, Mark Schubert of course.

He has coached twenty-two Olympic swimmers. Ten of them returned home as Olympic Champions. Add to that six world record holders, nineteen World Championship swimmers and sixty-five US national championship teams and Mark Schubert’s record is without peer. At least I think it is. Mind you I might be a touch biased. I’ve met Mark Schubert a couple of times and like the guy.

I met him first at the US National Championships in New York and then again in Indianapolis when I was coaching National swimmers, John Foster (200 and 400 freestyle), Rhi Jeffrey (50 and 100 freestyle), Joe Skuba (50 and 100 freestyle), Ozzie Quevedo (50 and 100 fly) and Andrew Meeder (50 and 100 freestyle). Mark was the US National Coach and wanted to discuss the training program I was following. On both occasions he unstintingly offered valuable constructive advice. He clearly understood, approved and enjoyed the Lydiard principles that form the backbone of all my training plans. We once swapped stories on our toughest daily programs – you know the ones, 100×100, 8000 straight medley, 20x400IM, 10,000 straight swim for time; all that sort of stuff. Anyone who won medals swimming for Mark Schubert knows the meaning of hard work.

The quality I enjoyed most was his disarming, frank honesty. It was hugely comforting to have access to Schubert’s huge fund of swimming knowledge. On several occasions I called him for advice on training matters. Every time I found a willing listener and a direct answer. And he provided answers that helped. “David, you are pushing too hard.” “David, you need to work your swimmers harder. Here is what I would do.” In New Zealand swimming I have never had access to that sort of help. For a couple of years I tried to communicate with Brett Naylor when he was New Zealand’s National Coach. But he didn’t seem interested. So, instead I rely on master track coaches like Arch Jelley or (when he was around) Arthur Lydiard. No coach and certainly not this one has the answer to every swimming problem. To have access to the knowledge of Arch, Arthur and Mark has been of huge benefit to me and the swimmers I have helped.

Not that the swimmers you help always listen. The position I take on a variety of subjects is seldom all my own work. Usually my views are the result of hours of debate with people whose opinions I respect. When I was involved in coaching athletics in the United Kingdom I would call Arch Jelley in New Zealand every week to discuss the results on last week’s training and prepare for the coming seven days. My phone bill was huge but every penny was well spent as Arch patiently moulded my coaching views. For several years I also spoke frequently to Arthur Lydiard. My phone bill for toll calls between Wellington and Auckland was often $600 a month. Again, not a penny was regretted or wasted. And it was the same with Mark Schubert. I did not call him as frequently and fortunately telephone communications between Florida and Colorado had moved on from toll calls to mobile phones and toll free numbers.

In all sorts of ways these three principals together with input from Duncan Laing, Lincoln Hurring, Dave Salo, Mike Regner, Ross Anderson, Gennadi Touretski, Beth Meade, Don Talbot and the American Swim Coaches Association have shaped the views contained in “Swim to the Top” and “Swimming, A Training Program”. None of the coaches that have contributed to my education would agree with all the views contained in my books. Arthur Lydiard had very different views from those used by Dave Salo. However, I suspect even Arthur, during his Trials and Coordination Period of training, would see value in many of the techniques employed by Salo.

Here are a few training principles some may find strange, perhaps even controversial, but are worthwhile keeping in mind if you want to have a successful career in swimming.

  1. Always, especially if you are female, take an iron supplement. Miss that and train an international swimming program, and at some stage you will become anaemic and will lose a season’s racing.
  2. Lift heavy weights in the gym. Swimming is a sport of many repetitions of a light weight. Do not go into the gym and badly exercise the same energy systems that a pool workout does better.
  3. Use big paddles. Don’t believe the stories of sore arms and shoulders. Paddles are used to improve power and feel of the water. Big paddles do it better.
  4. Use big fins. Swimmers kick with fins to provide more resistance and, when they swim with fins, to increase the size of their stroke. Big fins do both better. The best small fins you can get were provided by God.

It has never worried me too much when this sort of advice is challenged or even ignored. It’s true; I’ve never seen a swimmer succeed in those circumstances. The program is a unified package that does need to be followed close to its entirety. However it is each swimmer’s journey to a destination of their choosing. It is not my journey or my destination. I am their assistant, their coach – not some sort of autocrat with sole and absolute power. Besides an expression I have comforted myself with on several occasions was used first by Mark Schubert when I called him to discuss a wayward, possibly even unruly, swimmer.

“David,” he said, “Whenever it comes to Jane Doe it’s never your fault.”

I have found that to be good advice, from an impeccable source. The fictitious name Jane Doe has been used to protect the guilty.

The CEO of Swimming New Zealand

Monday, November 19th, 2012

By David

I see Swimming New Zealand have advertised for a new boss. The published specification is full of the usual management speak, demanding the services of a management diety. They tell us they are looking for, inspirational leadership, a proven track record in managing change and building a culture of excellence, strong relationship-building skills, high integrity and the ability to inspire confidence and trust. The new leader will have strategic ability, business acumen and political capability, intellectual ability with a down-to-earth management style and personnel engagement and management skills. He or she will need to have a strong focus on stakeholder service excellence and be passionate and knowledgeable about the sport of competitive swimming and its importance to New Zealanders. And finally the appointed one must demonstrate superior presentation and communication skills able to reach a diverse range of stakeholders and capable of representing Swimming NZ to the New Zealand swimming community and to the international swimming community.

If that’s what Sport New Zealand want in the new guy, one has to wonder why Miskimmin sat around dealing with the old guard for so long. Surely he realized that the skills he wants now were in short supply. Of course that’s the lie of sport in New Zealand. Miskimmin wanders around the country lecturing financially dependent group after financially dependent group. Power, he says, belongs to each sport. There is no way Sport New Zealand will interfere in the internal management of a sport. And then, to the sound of Jericho trumpets, he proclaims that decentralized sport is winning sport.

It’s an old ploy of course. Just keep telling the masses a consistent story. Even when it is a bald-faced lie, those who rely on you for every penny of their income will believe anything. That, now famous, quote of Kim Dotcom about the New Zealand Prime Minister applies equally to Peter Miskimmin, “He is running naked and telling people he has clothes on.”

Remember that all the time Miskimmin was preaching independence, he had two underlings sitting in on every Swimming New Zealand Board Meeting; underlings who manipulated Board votes and threatened financial ruin. Remember that all the time Miskimmin was preaching independence he had hired hands imposing a take it or leave it constitution on swimming. Remember that all the time Miskimmin was preaching independence he was approving a centralized constitution for swimming that Stalin would have welcomed as the founding document of any Soviet satellite state.

But of course that’s the point isn’t it? Through the ruthless use of financial power Miskimmin’s organization has imposed a constitution that cedes political power. Miskimmin owns Swimming New Zealand lock, stock and barrel. Through to the Rio Games nothing will happen at Pelorus House without Miskimmin’s knowledge and approval.

Which makes the advertisement and appointment of a new CEO all a bit meaningless. Whether Swimming New Zealand appoints a budding Lee Iacocca or a desperate Bernie Madoff as their new CEO, is of no consequence. Swimming is owned and controlled by Miskimmin. The culture of central control, the socialism of command, will render whoever they appoint powerless. The new CEO is not going to manage the affairs of Swimming New Zealand. This appointment is simply about finding a puppet to action Miskimmin’s demands.

One of the most prominent administrators in New Zealand sport told me, “David, let there be no misunderstanding, the enemy is Peter Miskimmin.” A member of the Board of the Olympic Committee told me that, “Sport in New Zealand cannot exist without the largess that Peter Miskimmin provides.” What did they mean? They meant that Miskimmin alone has converted sport into a welfare state, dependent on him for financial survival. Every Olympic sport in New Zealand is compelled to pay homage to the trinity of state welfare, gambling addiction and booze. And that’s not healthy. Nor is it a recipe for long term sporting achievement.

Yes, of course there will be sporting successes. Just like the Soviet centralized structure provided its share of champions, the Peter Miskimmin machine will find a great coach like Dick Tonks and will grind out some medals in rowing. But that bought and paid for sporting takeaway, drive-through success is so different from the creation of a strong stand alone successful sport that is Miskimmin’s real purpose. His job is to create success out of independence – not buy medals from sports that can’t exist without his state welfare check. His job is to see sports mature into independent strong stand alone successful enterprises. But he doesn’t do that. He doesn’t even want to do that. He finds the very thought of independent national sporting organizations abhorrent.

A strong independent sport, should also the principal task the new CEO of Swimming New Zealand. But it won’t be. Independence means getting rid of Peter Miskimmin; getting him and his influence out of the sport of swimming. Remember “he is the enemy”. But there is not a candidate alive in New Zealand sport with the balls to take on that task.

Actually, no, that’s not true. I know of two who could do it, both male, both well educated (one of them earned his degree at Auckland University meaning the term “well educated” might be a little over the top); both vastly experienced and successful in the commercial and swimming worlds. Both have occupied CEO positions before. Both would be perfect for the position of CEO in most commercial or sporting organizations. And that’s why Miskimmin would never allow either of them to be selected. Like all weak people he prefers “yes” men. The last thing Peter Miskimmin wants is a person running swimming that might be better than him. And therein lies the paradox that will continue to be a primary cause of the failure of swimming in New Zealand. The sport needs a CEO that is a way better executive than Miskimmin. But Miskimmin controls the selection and he’s never going to allow that to happen. Here at Swimwatch we hold out little hope for a quality appointment to the position of CEO. Not when the selection process is in the hands of the enemy.

Te Reinga

Friday, November 9th, 2012

By David

My search for a photograph of Greg Meade to illustrate the last Swimwatch story resulted in the discovery of this gem from the past.

The picture is of the 1964 Te Reinga boxing team. The members competed in the New Zealand Junior Championships in Wanganui and won three national titles. That’s not a bad result for a small group of guys from a village as small as Te Reinga. I lived in Te Reinga for eight years. The town had a three teacher school, an active and well maintained marae, a small trucking company, about fifteen houses, a scenic waterfall and one dusty metal road. The nearest pub was 12 kilometers away. The nearest shop was thirty eight kilometres away in Wairoa.

I’ve mentioned my two best Te Reinga mates before on Swimwatch. Both were on this boxing team. Donald Uatuku, that’s him, the big guy second from the left and Kahui Duncan, second from the right. Donald was one of the three who came back to Te Reinga a national junior champion. The coach was Mani Mokomoko. He’s the guy with the beard on the far right of the photograph. He was also one of the teachers at the Te Reinga School. The other two teachers were my mother and step father.

While we sit around complaining about pool space and crowded lanes this group of guys did their training in a Te Reinga shearing shed in a ring made of hay bales. Mind you the guys in this group were real tough buggers. The coach, Mani Mokomoko, was from Opotiki and, before becoming a school teacher, fought for his country in the Vietnam War. You may have seen the name Mokomoko in the news recently. Mani’s great, great grandfather was a Bay of Plenty tribal chief who, in the 1860s, was hung for a murder he did not commit. Two weeks ago parliament passed an act pardoning Mani’s ancestor. Mani taught me to ride a horse and then took me to the Tiniroto Hunt and the Wairoa A&P show to test my equestrian skills. He also taught me to hunt pigs and deer, a skill that would pay for most of my swimming trips to championships in New Zealand and Australia. The Wairoa butcher paid a shilling (10 cents) a pound for the pigs and deer that fell victim to my old fully wooded 303.

Twice a week I went with Kahui and Donald to their boxing training and, to help my swimming, did their callisthenic sessions. I was way too scared to get into the ring and fight them. Friend or foe – they would have murdered this skinny pakeha. The shearing shed was 5 kilometres from Te Reinga village. Mokomoko made us run both ways before and after training. I still recall the pain we endured the night he demanded we hop on one leg to half way and on the other leg to home. Sadly Mani Mokomoko died a couple of months ago. I wish I’d known at the time. His is a tangi I wouldn’t have missed for the world. I owe him plenty.

Kahui and Donald were mates of genuine character. During the hour and a half bus trip to school they would sing and play their guitars. They were masters of the old gospel hymns – The Old Rugged Cross, Washed in the Blood of the Lamb, Onward Christian Soldiers, Amazing Grace, Blessed Assurance, Nothing But The Blood of Jesus, Rock of Ages, When the Roll is Called up Yonder and still they sang on.

And yet in the bush they hunted with lethal efficiency. I asked Kahui why I found it so easy to beat him in a school cross country race and yet failed to match his pace racing after a wild pig. He smiled and said, “You run around the trees. I run through them.” They were both experts on a horse. Not long after we arrived in Te Reinga Donald took a day off school to hunt pigs on the slopes of Mt. Whakapunaki. The only way home was past the school. My stepfather had been warned that Donald was on his horse around the corner in the road wondering how to get past the school. My stepfather decided to make life a touch more difficult for the errant youth and sat, with his cup of afternoon tea, on the school veranda watching the road. Donald could not wait any longer and spurred his horse into action and raced past the school, his face buried in the horse’s mane. The next day he clearly expected the worst – in those days school punishment was administered with a polished leather strap. But nothing was said. Even I was wondering what was up. And then, at about eleven o’clock, it was time for English. My stepfather opened the blackboards to reveal our sentences for correction. There they were, sentences like – the boy rides past the school on his horse; Donald goes hunting on his horse. That day Donald’s attendance record became one of the school’s best. Clearly he recognized that a fair go deserved no less.

Kahui and Donald demonstrated their special talents best during a 12 kilometre school road relay between Frasertown and Wairoa. Two weeks before the road relay the three of us, plus Billy van Burkham took part in the Hawke’s Bay Poverty Bay Inter-secondary Cross Country Championships. There was no way our small Wairoa College team could beat big city schools like Napier Boys High School, Hastings Boys High School, Te Aute College and Gisborne Boys High School. But we did. Three boys from Te Reinga and we were either provincial cross country champions, national boxing champions or provincial swimming champions.

Anyway back to the school road relay. Our house team was Kahui, Donald, me and a city (that’s Wairoa) guy called Bill Drysdale. Donald was picked to run the third leg, while I was to run the final leg through town and into the school finish. I am told the first two legs were very close. All four teams were running together. As Kahui handed our team’s baton over to Donald a local dairy farmer let his rather large herd of cows out on to the road. The other runners jumped over the fence and ran along the paddock, past the cows before climbing back onto the road. None of their caution suited Donald. He crashed his way through the startled cows, pushing any slow member out of his path. By the time his competitors had regained the road Donald was two hundred yards ahead sprinting towards the handover with me. I was surprised and delighted with his lead and had a relatively easy run through to the finish. But then I was oblivious to the rodeo tactics that had produced our victory.

These days Kahui lives in Wairoa and Donald has shifted to Gisborne. We’ve all become city dwellers. But remember, you can take the boys out of Te Reinga but I doubt you’ll ever take Te Reinga out of the boys.

Greg Meade

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

By David

In case you are an unbeliever who holds as suspect anything written on this blog, the photograph below is printed to confirm that I do know the subject of this story. I am second from the right and Greg Meade is third. I think I was sixteen and Greg was one year younger. If that’s true the photograph was taken in 1964. I can’t remember the names of many of the other swimmers except for Rosemary Hewett (third from the left) who was the local doctor’s daughter and who we all held in huge esteem and awe. The last I heard Rosemary was married to a successful lawyer in Christchurch.


Back in 1964 Greg was a swimming superstar. The year this photograph was taken, Greg won every race in every stroke over every distance at the Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay Championships and added the senior men’s 400 medley as well. The Gisborne Herald was full of well earned superlatives.

I lived in Wairoa at the time and travelled by railcar to Gisborne every Friday night to attend the Comet club night and train with the club on Saturday and Sunday. Every weekend I stayed at Greg’s home. His mother Beth was the Comet coach and the most influential woman in Gisborne’s swimming history. Greg is now a very successful coach of the same Comet Club. The Olympic pool he uses was built thanks to the fund-raising efforts of his mother.

They were great days. Hot summer afternoons; the tar melting on Gladstone Road; afternoon movies while we waited for training, Howard Morrison concerts on the beach, Friday night fish and chips and a game of golf after morning training – Gisborne was the ideal place to spend ones happy teenage years.

When it came to swimming Comet Club was without peer. It was the largest club in New Zealand and for a decade we won the club provincial championships. I’m pretty sure this next claim is accurate, but a year after this photograph was taken Comet scored more points at the Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay Championships than the combined total of all the other clubs added together. The atmosphere and team unity of Gisborne’s Comet Club were unbelievable. We just loved the sport, loved the training; would not have swapped one minute of our time for anything else.

And the swimming leader and club captain of all that was Greg Meade. He was a terrific swimmer and a good guy. He was one of those gifted swimmers who never lost a close race. The only times, and there were very few of them, I’ve seen him beaten, the margin was several meters. If a race was close Greg somehow found a way of getting to the wall first. I came close to beating him a couple of times; once at the Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay provincial championships and once at the North Island Inter-secondary Championships. Sadly for me, on both occasions, Greg was too good.

He was too good when he beat Selwyn Pohio by inches to win a championship 400 Medley and promptly threw up in the pool. He was too good when he won the New Zealand Championship Age Group medley and butterfly titles. He was too good at every Secondary School Championships. The only place he willingly ceded first place was in training. Here, he gladly relinquished the role of leading the club’s fastest training lane to me. For several thousand kilometres he followed me up and down the McCrae baths. Although he will deny the charge, Greg was never shy about trying to convince me that we had swum 10×100 when I was sure the truth was eight. Any swimmer at Comet training tomorrow has my permission to remind their coach of his dilatory ways.

Actually you can also remind him of the occasion we both got thrown out of the late night movies in Palmerston North for rolling the huge red lollies, they called “gob stoppers”, down the theatre’s polished wooden floor. I wonder if he remembers the afternoon we held a mock wedding in the Napier Cathedral. Greg’s Catholic upbringing made him the perfect vicar and Wendy Fitzgerald and I were the happy couple. To this day I swear he did a better job of the marriage vows than some of the “real” weddings I’ve been to. And, while we are on the subject of Greg’s sinful past ask him if he recalls the time we both fell asleep in the back row at New Year’s eve midnight mass. I suspect our definition of communion wine may have been a touch too liberal.

Actually, one religious event involving Greg did amaze me. Greg was the best swimmer in Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay. But not far behind him when it came to freestyle sprinting was a guy called Jim Westwood. In fact I think Jim may have just broken one of Greg’s Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay records. Anyway on this particular Saturday, in a huge local meet they called the Bodle Shield, Greg and Jim were due to meet over 50 freestyle. I could tell Greg was nervous. Westwood’s coach had made it clear the result of this one race would determine the region’s best swimmer. That was most unfair of course. Freestyle sprinting was Jim Westwood’s favourite event. I even thought Greg was going to struggle. On our way to the pool Greg stopped outside his church and asked me to wait while he went to confession. He said, it may help him in the 50 freestyle. My very strict Open Brethren upbringing rejected the possibility of divine intervention in a swimming race. However I waited while Greg discussed his shortcomings with the local priest. A few hours later Greg and Jim lined up for their 50 freestyle showdown. Jim looked great in the warm up. I was pretty sure the next few seconds would see the end of Greg’s unbeaten record. “Oh ye, of little faith”. Thirty seconds later it was all over and Greg Meade was a winner again. You have no idea how impressed I was with the result of that race. Impressed with Greg’s swimming talent and impressed that, just possibly, Greg Meade had divine support on his side.

I am delighted my old Comet Club is in such good hands.