West Auckland Aquatics

By David

Swimwatch has been discussing swimming issues for about eleven years. My friend Edward helped me set the site up in 2003 when we both lived in the Napier suburb of Greenmeadows. Edward now lives and works in Washington DC – his help in setting this up and sending me period reminders about its upkeep are invaluable.

I have worked hard to avoid using its popularity to promote the clubs at which I have worked. The purpose of the site is to discuss swimming issues not to pursue a personal agenda. However all that is about to change. This post will discuss recent events at West Auckland Aquatics. I hope you find them of interest.

A couple of weeks ago I heard the Roskill Swim Club was looking for a new coach. That seemed unusual. The last I knew, one of New Zealand’s most senior and well respected coaches, Paul Kent, was the Roskill Swim Club coach. I decided to investigate and gave Paul a call. An hour later we were sitting in a Henderson coffee shop discussing swimming club politics.

Indeed Paul had resigned. As so often happens, a few Roskill parents were unhappy with Paul and he was equally concerned that the support he needed was not forthcoming. There is not a swim coach alive, especially the good ones who have not fallen foul of the same parental interference, parents of young swimmers who believe their elite coach spends too much time with the club’s national representatives and not enough caring for their son’s Level Three ambitions or the parents of elite swimmers who believe the opposite. They say there are two types of swim coach: those who have just been fired and those who are about to be fired. It’s true, in my coaching life, I’ve been in Paul’s position two or three times; most of us have.

Certainly this sort of event is no measure of a coach’s ability. Most of the world’s best coaches have fallen foul of parental politics, of some self-made Bill Gates welding power. Paul may have half a dozen Roskill parents who know best how he should be doing his job, but Paul Kent knows as much about swimming as anyone in the country. He was a very good swimmer and is an even better coach, no matter what some suburban autocrat might believe.

My reaction to the news was to ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Well,” said Paul, “There are some Roskill swimmers who want me to stay as their coach. My swimmers will continue to use the Mt Albert pool. That’s not a problem. But I need to find a vehicle to facilitate their transfer and new club registration.”

“That’s not a problem, Paul. If you’d like to come back to West Auckland Aquatics I am sure the committee would love to help.” I said. My mention to “coming back” was a reference to the fact that Paul had been a swimming member at West Auckland Aquatics during the Ross Anderson coaching era.

Two weeks later and the details have been sorted and resolved. Paul and his team have access to West Auckland Aquatics. We see it as a move of huge importance to New Zealand swimming. Why is that, you are entitled to ask?

Well for years Peter Miskimmin and Swimming New Zealand have spent many millions promoting the idea that the best form of elite sport coaching is a centralized sole delivery model. Miskimmin and his mates promoted a series of coaching messiahs; Jan Cameron, Scott Talbot, Thomas Ansorg, an English coach whose name escapes me, Mark Regan and now David Lyles. It never worked. Miskimmin’s sole-operator model was too limited too narrow in its focus. As the French and the Americans have demonstrated, coaching strength lies in diversity. Swimmers who need a sprint based program (Amanda Beard, Aaron Peirsol, Jason Lezak, Lenny Krayzelburg, Jessica Hardy, Rebecca Soni and Oussama Mellouli) can find a home with Dave Salo in Los Angeles. Swimmers who need a distance based program can go to Bowman in Baltimore (Phelps) or Schubert in San Fransisco (Shirley Babashoff, Brian Goodell, Mike O’Brien, Janet Evans, Cynthia Woodhead, Lindsay Benko, Dara Torres and Kaitlin Sandeno).

In New Zealand swimmers have only the philosophy of Miskimmin’s chosen one at the Millennium Institute or nothing at all. You don’t have to know much about swimming or coaching to understand that success in Miskimmin’s environment is a matter of Lotto odds luck. That’s what I dislike. It’s the same as Olympic Champion Rebecca Soni having to swim with Bob Bowman when she knows Dave Salo’s program is the one for her. It’s Miskimmin doctrinal idiocy gone wild.

So how is this relevant to recent events at West Auckland Aquatics? Well, you see Paul is probably New Zealand’s purest example of Salo style coaching. Paul is what is commonly referred to as a “sprint-based” coach. I’m no expert at how this sort of program works. What I do know is that Salo and Paul Kent have demonstrated it does work. It successfully produces champions. Some swimmers prosper and thrive in a sprint based program.

My coaching on the other hand is a pure Lydiard “distance-based” program. Obviously I do know how this works. I spent months and years learning at the feet of two masters, Lydiard and Jelley. I equally know that “distance-based” programs work. Some swimmers prosper and thrive in a distance based program.

And that’s the exciting bit about all this. West Auckland Aquatics are about to offer something beyond Miskimmin’s comprehension. In the one organization, swimmers can choose between a successful coach in the mould of Dave Salo and another coach who employs a distance-based program. Gone is the unthinking bigotry of Miskimmin and Swimming New Zealand’s one path only approach. West Auckland Aquatics and Paul Kent have replaced monotony with diversity, based on a shared, sincere admiration for two methods of coaching that successfully produce swimming champions.

And so, Paul welcome back to West Auckland Aquatics. Welcome also to your swimmers. It will be a real treat to witness first-hand your progress. We will provide you with all the support possible. It will certainly be an awful lot of fun practicing diversity. After all we’ve been preaching it for long enough.


  • Paul Kent

    Thanks David and WAQ committee,

    I look forward to continuing my coaching career here in Auckland with West Auckland.

    Just to correct your story, I didn’t resign as Director of Coaching (I was never employed by Roskill). I had refused to sign a bulls#!t employment contract that a volunteer Parent committee decided was needed and the committee took my non compliance as a resignation. Employment contracts are pretty hard to sign especially 26 pages long and when you run a business of the same nature – MAGIC NZ – that business also paid for the Roskill MAGIC revamp 4 years ago.

    I leave very satisfied that for the 3rd time in my career I have built another successful club from the bottom up. I must be pretty good at it because there has never been a shortage of coaches and parent committees wanting to move me a side and take over when success comes, and the hard work has been done.

    Thanks again WAQ, I am very excited about the next few years – Bring it on!