The Devil is in the Detail

My previous post discussed the Swimming New Zealand plan to replace the centralized Millennium high performance program with a program based on four Zones; three Zones in the North Island and one in the South Island. The proposed Zone based structure is progress. It recognises that it is the clubs that are responsible for nurturing champions. It offers the real prospect of management that is closer to and more responsive to the clubs.

I would recommend supporting the initiative BUT with one rigid qualification.

There is no point in introducing the Swimming New Zealand Zone plan without a lot more work being done on how the new structure is going to work. Right now Swimming New Zealand has provided us with a new IPhone but no operator’s manual. Without a detailed plan of how the new Zone structure is going to work it will fail just as certainly as the old one failed. The new structure needs a predetermined operating plan.

What we know so far is that the structure proposed by Swimming New Zealand involves “each Zone will have a Hub Coach.” This coach, we are told will be “responsible for collaborating with the coaches and clubs to deliver coach development opportunities, deliver combined squad trainings and other aspects of swimmer support, deliver intense competitions and develop new initiatives to engage our swimming community.” We are also told that the Hub Coach will be employed by the leading region in each Zone based on a memorandum of understanding agreed between all the regions in the Zone. Administration will be carried out by the lead region and all regions will share in the administration and coach costs.

All of that is good but does not get anywhere near the detail required before a plan like this can be approved or introduced. We need to know how this thing is going to work. Planning, that is detailed and specific, needs to be done in advance. The change needs to be properly and thoroughly managed.

Before committing money and swimmers to the new Zone scheme Swimming New Zealand members need to know specific and detailed answers to questions such as these.

  1. Who is going to be employed as a Hub Coach? How much are the Hub Coaches going to be paid? Are they provided with a vehicle?
  2. What is the Hub Coach’s job specification? We need to see a sample contract.
  3. What administration, clerical and travel support is required and what is the cost?
  4. How is a Hub Coach expected to manage the clubs in the Zone? What annual plan does the Hub Coach expect from each club? What reports are expected to compare performance to the plan?
  5. How are clubs and swimmers going to be rewarded for achieving their pre-planned targets?
  6. What combined squad training is proposed and what is its purpose?
  7. How are coaches in the Zone going to be assisted with further education and training?   

It will come as no surprise to hear that I have a view on many of these questions. But whether the way I look at each question becomes what happens does not matter. What does matter is that the questions are answered and agreed before anyone commits the lives of another generation of New Zealand swimmers to the new Zone program. The previous ill-conceived Millennium program resulted in two generations of wasted talent. Swimming must not make the same mistake again.   

Here is how I would answer some of the questions. By necessity my answers are not as thorough as Swimming New Zealand should provide before implementing a Zone based program.    

The recruitment of the four Hub Coaches must be from within New Zealand. For too long Swimming New Zealand has sucked the heart out of New Zealand’s domestic coaches by appointing foreigners as the National Head Coach. It’s about time the body responsible for swimming in New Zealand showed some trust in local coaches. New Zealand coaches do not seem to have done any harm in athletics, rugby and rowing. And before the Millennium era New Zealand coaches did well in swimming too. It’s well past time that New Zealanders were again given responsibility for swimming.

Each Hub Coach should get an annual plan from every club in their Zone. In general terms the plan should provide information of each club’s annual training plans and competitive goals. It should show the training periods planned during the year and the training volume planned for each period. The annual plan should nominate goal times and competitive results. The plan should also rank the clubs swimmers into the following categories.

  1. Those ranked in the world’s top 10 swimmers.
  2. Those ranked between 10 and 50 in the world.
  3. Those ranked between 50 and 100 in the world.
  4. Those not ranked in the top 100 in the world but ranked in the top 10 in NZ.
  5. Those ranked between 10 and 50 in NZ.
  6. Those ranked over 50 in NZ.

It is expected that at least three plans will be required, one for the first three categories, one for categories 4 and 5 and one for category 6.

Known and published financial rewards should be paid to athletes achieving the goals specified in the annual plan. Cash payments to swimmers in the first three categories should be paid by High Performance Sport New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand. Much of this is already covered by Prime Minister’s Scholarships and the like. Cash payments for those ranked in category 4 should be paid by the Zones. Swimmers in categories 5 and 6 should not be eligible for cash payments. No distinction should be made for age – only ranking.    

Money for the first three categories needs to come from High performance Sport New Zealand. We are told High Performance staff are hugely supportive of this Zone initiative. I hope this is not just Millennium coffee shop talk. Their support needs to come in the form of financial investment.

Having access to detailed plans and the offer of financial rewards will give Hub Coaches the authority to influence training and racing throughout their Zone. We all know that training and competition rules are being broken all the time. Swimmers are not doing enough aerobic training. Swimmers are doing too much anaerobic training. Swimmers race too often. And so on it goes. Rules are broken that ensure early retirement and unfulfilled potential. Detailed plans supported by tangible rewards should allow the Hub Coach to monitor and control performance and avoid these errors. The result will be improved international performance.

The devil is in the detail. And so before anyone votes for the Zone proposal the details of how the proposal is going to work should be known and be recorded in writing; a fundamental prerequisite of the Zonal plan.            



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