Our Performance And Success Will Inspire Greater Participation

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.