Archive for February, 2017

Do They Know The Answer?

Monday, February 27th, 2017

My previous Swimwatch story concluded with the following comment

The question is why has the sport gone 20 years with no Olympic medals? This is not a test of how well you can debate or avoid a straight answer or search for alternative facts. This is about answering a simple question that for 20 years Swimming New Zealand has avoided – possibly, maybe even probably, because they don’t know the answer.

If anybody at Antares Place reads Swimwatch I am sure they will consider that remark harsh, unreasonable and a slight on their performance. But is it? Why is it 20 years since swimming won a medal at the Olympic Games? Has anyone from Antares Place sat down and said this is what went wrong and this is what we are going to do about it? These were the mistakes and here are the changes. Have they diagnosed the disease? Have they prescribed a cure?

I decided to do a search to see whether anyone had provided an honest appraisal of the sport’s failure. But before that I must mention a comment made in the 2015 SNZ Annual Report by the then Chairman Brent Layton. This is what he said about Swimwatch.

A lowlight was the attempt by bloggers and media commentators to discredit Lauren’s 1500m freestyle record by claiming the pool was too shallow. The credibility the opinions of these bloggers deserve is clear; absolutely none.

Swimwatch has never attempted to “discredit” Lauren Boyle’s 1500m record. Swimwatch only called into question the integrity of those who signed the record application. And that was valid. The application form asked if the pool complied with all FINA minimum standards. It would have been so easy for SNZ to say “no” and to add a note explaining that the pool depth at the shallow end was below FINA minimums but clarifying that the swimmer did not receive any benefit. That way the truth would have been told and the record would have been ratified sooner. But, in my opinion, SNZ decided to tell a lie. They decided to fudge the truth with alternative facts. While Layton’s attack on the credibility of Swimwatch is flattering, the Chairman “doth protest too much, methinks.” But more important, in my view, his response illustrates a culture of deception that is not healthy for the organization.  

But back to Olympic medals: SNZ has provided very little in the way of a specific plan to turn around their dismal Olympic record. In fact the only clear guidance I can find comes from High Performance Sport New Zealand CEO, Alex Baumann. He is reported in the New Zealand Herald as saying:

They haven’t had a medal since 1996. There are potential athletes, but they have some way to go. We’re looking at the next two years to see if they can make progress. The focus has to be on the national training centres to create the right environment for athletes to succeed.

And on Stuff he said

But the key is to try and get that national training centre of excellence going and build on that and then we can take a look at them in two years.

So that’s Baumann’s solution – centralize and focus on the new pool at the Millennium Institute. It beats me how he can still promote that policy. Hasn’t he ever heard the phrase – those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it?

For two decades, through the tenure of about nine coaches brought in from all over the world and after spending $20 million the centralized High Performance Training Centre has achieved nothing. Danyon Loader never had anything to do with the high performance centre and Lauren Boyle couldn’t wait to get out of the place. The policy Baumann is pushing is a proven failure. Coach after coach has come, tried, failed and been sacked. When is the penny going to drop? The policy is wrong. Baumann is wrong. Miskimmin is wrong.

But of course these people are the SNZ paymasters. The policy they promote is never going to be questioned. And so all we get is a stream of platitudes.

Renford – bold decisions being taken and led to the development of a targeted campaign strategy aimed at improving our international performances.  

Renford again – The vision of our High Performance Strategy is: “inspirational swimmers, exciting the nation through exceptional results”.

SNZ High Performance Plan – Go Fast, Go for Excellence, Produce swimmers and coaches that are the best in the world.

But probably the most telling insight comes from Chairman Bruce Cotterill. On the 1 December 2016 he is reported in the NZ Herald to have said in reaction to the decision to reduce swimming’s government funding.

We’re still going through the process to understand the rationale. I think we’ve got the right coaching in place and a new facility [at the Millennium Institute]. The reality is the funding decision is made, but what we would like to understand is ‘why?’ and ‘what do we need to do to get back in the good books?’

Taking each of Cotterill’s points, the following comments seem obvious.

It has been three months since Cotterill said he was “going through the process to understand the rationale.” So what has he come up with? Three months is long enough for him to find out and tell us how he is going to turn SNZ around. But no, nothing, silence. Is that because Cotterill, like many before him, doesn’t understand the rationale and has no idea how to turn it around?

I suspect that might be true because the second part of Cotterill’s answer is about the eighth or ninth time a SNZ chairman has told us “the right coaching is in place”. I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the merits of that claim. In the same NZ Herald report the new national coach is quoted as saying

”Swimming’s global nature, with more than 170 countries competing in Rio, had to be put into better context. It seems that the general public in New Zealand only measure success in Olympic sports by the colour of medals. Swimming is perhaps the hardest of all Olympic sports in which a New Zealander can succeed. There are no other Olympic sports with [swimming’s] depth and breadth of talent, so we understand what a top-16 and a top-8 performance means.”

All that sounds horribly like making excuses for failure. Of course it’s hard. That’s why you are there Jerry Olszewski. That’s why you are paid the big bucks. I’ve met and talked swimming to quite a few coaches of Olympic medal winners in my time. Even I have coached a world championship medallist and never once have I heard or thought this sort of negativity. If the job’s too big, Jerry, go back to club swimming in Arizona.

And finally Cotterill refers to SNZ’s “new facility” as though that has some relevance. It does not of course. I have been coaching for a year in a country with many swimming problems in spite of having three pools that make the Millennium Pool look like something made by Para Rubber and bought for $19.99 from the Warehouse.

So what is the conclusion? The Government has ordered that the plan is still the centralized high performance Millennium model. Cotterill is on a mission to find out what that means but in the meantime SNZ are going to put their trust in another foreign coach and a new swimming pool.

And it will not work. Swimwatch has presented a winning alternative designed, tested and proven by Arthur Lydiard in Finland. But SNZ knows better. For 20 years they have known better.    


An Amazingly Smooth Rollout

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

I doubt there is a person on the planet who is not aware of the turmoil that surrounded the rollout of the Trump immigration plan. But as a reminder – on the 27 January 2017 Trump signed an Executive Order barring people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States.

The sudden application of the Order plunged the immigration system into chaos, sparking a wave of criticism from the targeted countries and Western allies. I was personally interested in Trump’s ban because of the Syrian mates I am coaching in Saudi Arabia.  

However the US Courts were about to have their say: US District Judge James Robart in Seattle suspended the Executive Order after Washington state challenged its legality. A three judge 9th US Circuit Court of Appeal then upheld Robart’s ruling. Trumps so called travel ban was dead.

But US President Donald Trump ordered that the executive command be replaced by a new Order. He said his new Order would be written to conform to the legal rulings. And in a news conference Trump said his rollout of the original travel ban was “very smooth” and “perfect”. The White House he said “is running like a fine-tuned machine.”

Without question the Trump travel ban saga will be studied in management schools around the world as an example of what not to do. No one could manage a business that badly. Or could they?

Harvard Business School has yet to hear about Swimming New Zealand.

Because I have been living 8000 miles away from New Zealand I have not had access to the exact dates of the SNZ events that, in my opinion, challenge Trump’s incompetence.

Three or four months ago SNZ announced a new meet accreditation policy that included a $60 fee for entering national meets. The sudden application of the order plunged the organization into, Trump like, chaos. It sparked a flood of criticism from coaches and officials. I was personally interested in SNZ’s fee because, at the 2017 Opens, I was going to have to pay the $60.

And then a month ago Swimming New Zealand obviously had their own “three judge 9th Circuit Court of Appeal moment” and announced the fee would be reduced to $20.

And then tonight (21 February 2017) the SNZ CEO, Steve Johns, has sent out an email with the following announcement.

Given the level of concern raised by some Regions and Chairs relating to the above, Swimming NZ has decided to waive the accreditation fee for coaches and managers.   

His email then goes on at length about why the abandoned fee was required. I have no idea why he felt the need to justify a fee that he had just terminated.         

He says the charge was:

“to provide a process that would control the number of coaches on poolside” and “to ensure that those coaches who were poolside, were bound by Swimming NZ’s rules” and “to cover the costs associated with managing and implementing the accreditation process” and “in some cases, to assist with the cost of pool entry for coaches at these events.”

The only qualification missing in the Steve John’s surrender was for him to announce that his rollout of the original $60 fee was “very smooth” and “perfect”. Antares Place I can hear him say “is running like a fine-tuned machine”.

Of course, as so often is the case with SNZ, why didn’t they conduct the consultation process before the roll out of their $60 fee? The answer is arrogance. The refusal to consult and their belief in the imposition and power of executive orders are all a product of the organisation’s rebirth in 2012. The new Chris Moller Constitution paid only lip service to democracy and saw the abolition of democratic initiatives such as published meeting minutes. The turkeys (that’s us) voted for Christmas. And this sort of rubbish management is what you get when those in charge are not accountable to the membership.

And what has happened was forecast in 2012 right here in Swimwatch.    

And now that SNZ is no longer going to charge an entrance fee – does that mean “the number of coaches on poolside” no longer needs to be controlled. Are coaches no longer “bound by Swimming NZ’s rules” and is paying for “managing and implementing the accreditation process” no longer a problem. I was never sure how money was going to result in all those benefits anyway. Or is this charge really just another means of preserving their bloated lifestyle? So there we have it, New Zealand’s own little Trump White House – same style, same result.

It is off the subject but the Trump habit of “fake news” also reminds me of the guys who run swimming in New Zealand. For example today Trump is telling the world what a dangerous place Sweden has become after accepting 160,000 refugees. This is what he said.

Give the public a break – The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!”    

How he can look at himself in the mirror is beyond belief. The most respected measure of peacefulness is the Global Peace Index. New Zealand ranks 4 but more importantly Sweden is 14 and the United States is 103. Trump is in no position to tweet anybody, except himself, on how to manage a peaceful society.

Swimming New Zealand frequently resort to a form of fake news to excuse poor performance. They don’t lie. They just avoid the issue. For example when funding for the sport was cut by $600,000 recently the response from Swimming New Zealand was:

“This has been the most successful swimming era since the mid-1990s. We won five world championship medals [all to freestyler Boyle] and two junior world championships medals. In the aftermath to London we had eight top-50 athletes, of whom four were seen as Rio targets. Post-Rio we’ve got 16 in the top-50 of whom 12 look capable of going to Tokyo.”

Now all that is clearly true but like Spicer and Conway and Trump it’s a deflection. It is not answering the question. The question is why has the sport gone 20 years with no Olympic medals? This is not a test of how well you can debate or avoid a straight answer or search for alternative facts. This is about answering a simple question that for 20 years Swimming New Zealand has avoided – possibly, maybe even probably, because they don’t know the answer.   


What A Tangled Web

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

I mentioned in my previous Swimwatch post that I have been trying to catch up with events in New Zealand. Of course just reading websites does not always give you a full picture. Although Mark Bone’s comments on Lauren Boyle, that were the subject of last week’s post, need no further clarification. If the New Zealand Herald has reported Bone accurately, in my opinion, he should never be allowed near a television microphone again.

And where, incidentally, is Swimming New Zealand in all this? I would have thought Bone’s comments should have been examined for at least four potential violations of the SNZ Code of Conduct (PDF file). For example does anyone believe Mark Bone’s comments comply with the following code of conduct rules?

Show concern and caution towards others who may be sick or injured.  

Respect the rights, dignity and worth of others.

Refrain from any form of abuse towards others.  

Members should recognise that at all times they have a responsibility to a duty of care to all Swimming New Zealand members.

I have seen people examined and punished for a lot less than what Mark Bone said in the New Zealand Herald. I have been examined for a lot less. Is this a double standard? Sure as hell looks like it. If SNZ was interested in the welfare of its best swimmer they would call Mark Bone to account. But they won’t.

And then I came across an article published in Swimming World a couple of months ago. This is a summary of what it said.

Swimming New Zealand’s new head coach Jerry Olszewski is publicly at odds with his federation’s Olympic strategy and his own advertised job description, saying measurements of success are unrealistic and changes need to be made in the sport.

The article then goes on to explain the changes Olszewski thinks are needed. And much of it is good stuff. I thought, “Well done Jerry. Here you are telling truth to power; a quality long overdue in Swimming New Zealand.” Has the real world arrived at Antares Place?

But then the let down. In the reader’s comments at the conclusion of the article, the new National coach of Swimming NZ, Jerry Olszewski, has this to say.

Just some clarification; I am not at odds with New Zealand, Swimming New Zealand, nor anyone else here in NZ. Many of these “quotes” were taken out of context. We are working hard, as a collective, to move NZ Swimming forward. We will continue to do so in the future.

Now I have to say that in my experience Swimming World is a highly reputable and respected publication. I have been mentioned in relation to several controversial events in its pages. Never once have I been misquoted or slandered. And I doubt very much that Swimming World has misunderstood what they were being told when they wrote and published this story. If the story is true; is this an example of another Swimming NZ Head Coach putting politics ahead of principle? Does Olszewski’s rush for cover raise questions about his fitness for the job? Turning the fortunes of SNZ around is going to demand a strong and fearless Head Coach. Olszewski’s clarification does not fill me with confidence. I doubt that you would find men like Schubert running away from an opinion that they thought needed to be aired.

Certainly the contradiction between the Swimming World story and Olszewski’s denial is very important. It needs more explanation than the “working hard as a collective” claptrap. An open debate about the important issues discussed in the Swimming World story would be good and far better for the sport than all that “moving forward” into “the future” nonsense.     

And my final item of bedtime reading was to try and make sense of these Wellington and National Squad times. Now I have never been a great fan all that squad stuff. I’ve preferred to look after my swimmers with their parents and have stayed well clear of the SNZ structured bureaucracy. Doing our own thing has meant my swimmers have gone off to Australia, or the USA or Europe to compete in World Cups and other meets whenever they wanted to, free from the controls of people with little or no understanding of our program. You don’t get any help that way. But you don’t get any interference either. Freedom is worth the cost.

My experience with squad camps and the like has not been good. When I was coaching Toni Jeffs I made her go to a Swimming NZ ID camp in Christchurch. Half way through the first day she demanded to leave. Because I was the one that, for political correctness, had made her go she insisted that I tell SNZ that she wasn’t coming back. I did as I was told and Toni went bungie jumping in Queenstown instead.  

However that is a personal view and I can understand those that find it rewarding to follow Swimming NZ’s structured path. What I cannot understand is how all these squad entry times and performance standards are worked out.      

Mark Berge is the Chairman of Wellington Swimming. His website tells me he is “valued for his wisdom, openness, honesty and relaxed manner; he is the quintessential consultant in jeans.” He seems ideally placed then to explain why the number of competitive swimmers in his region has fallen in each of the past three years. He must also have an explanation for Wellington’s much lower success rate at national championships than when Gary Hurring had a thriving Capital Swim Team. Is it correct that the Wellington All Stars team was last in this year’s Zonal competition? And can the “consultant in jeans” explain why a 13 year old female swimmer is talented in the national program but not talented in Wellington? Or have I got all that wrong? If I have not, you will understand why, in my confusion, I decided to opt out of the whole thing.

A Bone To Pick

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Wow, I have clearly been away from New Zealand for too long. Sitting here in the Red Sea port of Jeddah I have lost contact with the comings and goings of swimming in New Zealand. As recent Swimwatch posts will show I have been making an effort to catch up. My plan is to turn up at the New Zealand National Championships in April with one of my better Saudi swimmers. Actually Eyad is not from Saudi Arabia. He’s a Syrian whose family escaped the bombed out destruction of Aleppo. He is a sprinter and will swim in the 50 and 100 freestyle and butterfly events.

But in the course of trolling through various New Zealand swimming sites I came across some information that made my blood boil. You see I have some knowledge of what it’s like to prepare for an Olympic Games and have things not go to plan. Of course I have no knowledge of the deep hurt felt by a swimmer. Their hurt is personal and private; a hurt only known to them and for them to bear.

However in 1992 I was the coach of Toni Jeffs at the Barcelona Olympic Games. After winning a bronze medal in what was then the world short course championship Toni was a favourite to make a final in the Barcelona Games. She ended up 27th in the 50 freestyle. And it was not her fault. I badly misjudged the speed work portion of her training. I pushed way too hard. Nothing was ever good enough. If Toni swam a 45 second trial I demanded 42. If she did 20×100 I increased it to 40×100. This was the Olympic Games – time to go further and faster, much further and much faster. And Toni to her credit delivered.

But, by the time we arrived in Barcelona Toni was desperately unwell. My training had been way over the top. One evening in a café on the Barcelona waterfront we were having dinner and she just fell off her chair, passed out on the floor. She was run down to the point of exhaustion. Looking back on it, she did a remarkable job of swimming the length of the Barcelona Pool.

The result hurt me, because I knew it was my fault. But the result hurts the athlete far more. It is their result. The victories and the losses belong to the athlete. And for that they deserve our respect and our assurance that we will refrain from invading their joy or their sorrow. And do you want to know who taught me that? A guy called Arthur Lydiard.

A week later Toni and I were in a nearly empty Koro Lounge at Auckland Airport, waiting for a flight to Wellington. A family group was sitting not far away. The husband walked over to our table and asked, “Are you David Wright and Toni Jeffs?”

I said, “Yes, hello.”

He said, “Well I just want you to know that our family got up at 1.00 in the morning to watch you swim and you let us down.”

There was nothing I could say to diminish the swimmer’s hurt. What he said was not fair. It was not right. It was ignorant of the facts and oblivious to the pain.

I was reminded of that story when I came across a paragraph written by Lauren Boyle on the news page of her website. This is what it says:       

NOVEMBER 2016 – Radio Sport NZ enquired about having a chat, but can wait until hell freezes over for anything from me. Straight after my races at Rio de Janeiro Radio Sport aired an unjustified character attack on me by an ex Swimming New Zealand official. No apology or retraction was forthcoming. What Mr Bone would know about my illness, fightback, or for that matter anything much around elite competition, I could write on a small piece of rice paper. Age group swimming; maybe! However on a positive note I should record my appreciation for the public support I received in response to this.

Of course I then clicked on the New Zealand Herald link to see what Mr. Bone had said. And here is a summarized version of what I found.

12 August, 2016   

Former national swim coach Mark Bone has launched a stinging attack on New Zealand swim star Lauren Boyle, saying she had conceded defeat before she even got to Rio de Janeiro. Boyle’s preparation has been blighted by injury and illness, but Bone said the best swimmers push through those sorts of issues.

“I got the impression going in that that she has already thrown it away. You’ve just got to close your mouth and get on with the job and see what comes out of it,” Bone told Radio Sport’s Kent Johns. “You can pull some excuses after the event. I don’t like to see excuses coming out before the event. You’ve got to get out there and lay it on the line.

“Psychologically, she had given up before the event had even started.

“They overcome adversity and they do it in spite of [illness]… You have to look at the campaign that she’s had. Swimming New Zealand has given her everything that she’s wanted – the opportunity to train offshore, all the resources. I’m disappointed with the fact she swum, I guess, as badly as she has done.

“Is it good enough for Lauren Boyle? Absolutely not.”

The comments of Mark Bone did not surprise. On several occasions I have been the subject of Bone vitriol. I have heard him publically pull apart swimmers coached by me and, I suspect, principally only because they were coached by me. It has long been my opinion that he is an unsuitable person to comment on swimming matters during television broadcasts. And I have that view, not because he does not know the sport. But because he has opinions like those reported in the New Zealand Herald. You see I’ve come across Mark Bone types before. Indeed I met one once in the Koru Lounge at Auckland Airport.   


Our Performance And Success Will Inspire Greater Participation

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Because Swimwatch is publishing stories again I have started receiving messages from New Zealand telling me all sorts of interesting swimming chatter. Many of them I cannot write about. Swimwatch is a hobby, recording personal views about a subject dear to me. Writing about every email would be a full time job. However I am aware of a document that I’m told is the new Swimming Wellington “Strategic Plan”. This certainly is worthy of comment.  

But before I discuss this document why are plans these days always “strategic”? Is a “strategic” plan different from a “non-strategic” plan? I don’t know. I suspect it’s normally a case of an author who wants the plan to sound more important. The dictionary tells me the definition of “strategic” is the “identification of long-term aims and the means of achieving them.” That sounds pretty much like the definition of “plan” as well. Perhaps “strategic plan” just means “planning plan”.

But back to the Wellington “Strategic Plan”. My first thought was to wonder who wrote this masterpiece. My guess is it was Mark Berge. And it is a real guess. I could be wrong. It is just that many of the phrases used and the direction being promoted sound like the Mark Berge that I knew before leaving New Zealand. But if I’m wrong and Mr Berge is not the principal author I apologize. Please email me and I will publish a retraction.

Most of this document, like many papers of this sort, is pretty obvious. After all who could argue with wanting a “vibrant and successful sport”? Who would not want to develop “great swimming skills” or “exciting competitions”? And certainly the “strategic plan” to “grow participation” is in serious need of attention. The number of competitive swimmers registered in Wellington has declined in each of the past three years from 814 to 804 and to 783 in 2016. Clearly there is work to be done in Wellington. Participation numbers suggest the sport has not been vibrant, great or exciting.  

But the aspect of the Wellington “Strategic Plan” that I do want to focus on is the pathway it promotes for swimming success. And it is the overt promotion of the Swimming New Zealand corporate line that primarily leads me to believe that Berge has been the principal author. If you want to keep in good with the big boys promote what they promote. But, hey, I might be wrong.

Anyway the plan says:

Swimming success depends on “quality development pathways for our swimmers, coaches, officials, administrators and clubs.”

And the way to do this, we are told is:

“Enhanced club capability ie strong, sustainable and well managed clubs” and

“Coaches growing and developing their skills against a defined pathway”

And one of the actions required is to:

“Support the High Performance Centre interaction with clubs.”

I do hope regular Swimwatch readers can identify the real contradiction, the paradox and blind stupidity of that plan – even if it is strategic. I defy anyone, even someone as gifted as Mark Berge, to explain to me how coaches and clubs become stronger and provide a better pathway for Wellington swimmers when any swimmer who shows promise is bundled into an airplane and sent to the Millennium Institute in Auckland.

That sort of plan is a betrayal of the sport in Wellington.

The author of the plan does not understand that the High Performance Centre has gutted the ability of New Zealand coaches and regions to develop high performance swimmers. For twenty years clubs have been told to do exactly what this plan says – “support the High Performance Centre interaction with clubs.” What that has meant is that provincial clubs and coaches have taken second place; are considered not as good as the super star coaches, clubs and swimmers at the Millennium Institute.

The author of Wellington’s Strategic Plan cannot have his cake and eat it too. He cannot say that Wellington wants the best and most successful clubs and coaches and at the same time promote the idea that the region’s best swimmers should bugger off to better clubs and better coaches in Auckland. And how can the Wellington “All Stars” team be known as a regional team “in much the same way as the Hurricanes and the Pulse”? If the author really wanted what is best for Wellington swimmers this plan should read “Do not support the High Performance Centre interaction with clubs.”

It should promote a policy of gifted swimmers staying with the Wellington coaches and clubs who nurtured their talent. The plan should promote Wellington clubs and coaches for everything from learn to swim to Olympic Gold medals. One of Wellington’s strongest periods was when Gary Hurring did his own thing exclusively in Wellington. I would have thought that the lessons of Loader and Lange in Dunedin, Snell and Lydiard in New Lynn, Simsic and Naylor in Christchurch would have been enough proof for the author of any “Strategic Plan” to avoid the centralised High Performance Centre.

But don’t take my word for it. Consider this. The USA experimented with a High Performance Centre in Colorado. They dropped the idea when swimmers like Michael Phelps chose to stay with their home coach in the programs that had nurtured their early talent. The best swimmers in the USA were not seduced by the offer of free tuition, a foreign coach and a fancy swimming pool in the Colorado mountains.

And even in New Zealand, why on God’s good earth would anyone write a regional plan promoting the idea of herding Wellington’s best swimmers toward the Millennium Institute when New Zealand’s best swimmer, Lauren Boyle, couldn’t wait to get out of the place? Either Lauren Boyle was wrong or the author of the Wellington’s Strategic plan is leading you towards competitive failure. If it was my career, or the career of anyone I could advise, I’d pay close attention to Lauren’s example. Avoid this strategic plan like the plague. It is not worth the paper it’s written on.