Archive for September, 2017

Skip The Country

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Last night I had a lengthy WhatsApp discussion with a Swimwatch reader. We covered a variety of swimming subjects but ended up at the reader’s favourite place; the standard of New Zealand coaches.

I was told that the Kiwi West coach, Trevor Nicholls, was an example of the poor standard of New Zealand coaching. I had to strongly disagree with that view. It is true that Trevor Nicholls is “old school” but so am I. So was Duncan Laing. So was Arthur Lydiard. So is Arch Jelley. So is Steve Hansen. In fact Trevor Nicholls is a bloody good swim coach whose record of preparing fast swimmers is comparable to anyone.

He is also a person of considerable integrity and personal courage. When Trevor worked for Swimming New Zealand he was cautioned to stay well away from that David Wright. In spite of that, when he visited Auckland, he would meet me for a chat and a cup of coffee. Just before my daughter Jane left to swim in the Yokohama Pan Pacific Games I wanted her to swim an official time trial. There were no local events but Kiwi West was having a club night a week before Jane was due to leave. I called Trevor and asked if Jane could swim. “Of course,” he said. When we arrived I was surprised at the effort Trevor had made. Jane’s lane had three timekeepers. A qualified referee, starter and judge had been brought in for the occasion. Clearly his view was if someone was getting ready to swim for their country he was going to make sure their country did its best to help.

And one last story that tells us much about Trevor Nicholls. When Jane broke the National New Zealand Open 200m breaststroke record the swimmer who held the previous best time swam for Trevor in Palmerston North. One of the first messages received congratulating Jane on her new record was from Trevor Nicholls.        

Exchanging ideas with a man of his experience and coaching record was always interesting and rewarding. The string of national open champions, representatives and record holders coached by Trevor Nicholls speaks volumes to his coaching ability. He was and still is an example of all that is good in the New Zealand sport’s coach.         

At about 12.30am my correspondent concluded our conversation with this comment copied directly from my WhatsApp.  

“not too many NZ swimmers do have futures unless they skip the country.”

And there in 14 words lies the destructive heart and soul of the New Zealand’s swimming problem. What he is saying is the same thing Swimming New Zealand has been saying since the beginning of their failed centralized training program. Both parties are convinced that no coach in New Zealand is any good. My correspondent actually says it. Swimming New Zealand say the same thing by always appointing a foreigner to head the national program. In twenty years there have been at least three coaches from England, one from Germany, one from Spain, four from Australia and one from the United States. Ironically the best coach was a New Zealander, Clive Power, who stood in to help Swimming New Zealand after they decided David Lyles was not what they wanted. That’s eleven coaches in twenty years and ten of them have been foreigners.

In an interview with Radio Sport, the previous Swimming New Zealand CEO described the organizations opinion of New Zealand based coaches. This is what he said:

“One of the central themes that has come out of my tour, I think, coaching is an area where we need to do more work. It’s an area where we need to put a bit more attention to. If we had the domestic talent that we needed we would have been looking in that (the New Zealand) direction. You need to hunt for the best talent you can get and if they come from overseas then so be it.”

Swimming New Zealand and my correspondent are flat out wrong. But worse than being wrong, their low opinion of New Zealand coaches has savaged the sport’s reputation and confidence. In my opinion the correspondent and Swimming New Zealand are guilty of crass and malicious sporting vandalism. Swimmers do not need to “skip the country” to be successful. New Zealand coaches are good enough to successfully coach the national program.

Let me give you some examples of the depth and quality of New Zealand’s coaching talent. It is not my intention to discuss every good coach in the country. But a brief consideration of just a few coaches puts a lie to the story being peddled by my correspondent and Swimming New Zealand.

Consider the names Judith Wright, Brett Naylor, Emma Swanwick, Gary Hurring, Gary Martin, Jeremy Duncan, Igor Polianski, Horst Miehe and Paul Kent. Add me to that small group and there are hundreds of years of coaching experience. Experience gained in New Zealand’s smallest towns to its biggest cities. There are coaches on the list who have swum for New Zealand in Commonwealth, World and Olympic competition. There are coaches who have successfully built huge swim programmes from the most humble beginnings. There are coaches that have successfully worked in eight different countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia. And there are coaches who have gained their coaching qualifications from the world’s best coaching programs. I can think of ten FINA world records that have been set by swimmers coached by coaches on that list. There are coaches of swimmers who have competed at European, Pan Pacific, Commonwealth, World and Olympic Championships. There are coaches of swimmers who have won medals at European, World and Commonwealth Championships.

But if the resume of these coaches is not enough for my correspondent or the doubters at Swimming New Zealand let me quote to you a message received by a New Zealand coach from an Olympic Gold Medallist he used to coach. Just to repeat, this is a message from an OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALLIST to a current New Zealand resident coach. This is what the message said.

“Haha yeah most of the stuff they are “teaching” me I’ve already learned from swimming under you, Schubert, Bernal, and Scott. When you learn from the greats you kind of already know the stuff lol.”

And so to my correspondent I say, “Back off.” By all means, go overseas to get an education or take up a University scholarship or live with mates in Australia. But do not tell me that your disappearance is because there is no good coaching here at home. And to Swimming New Zealand, start supporting us. Give us a chance. Make us responsible. The evidence says clearly that we will not let you or our country down.      


The Pretence of Power

Friday, September 15th, 2017

It is Wednesday 13 September 2017 and the world has just received an email from the CEO of Swimming New Zealand. In it Steve Johns discusses the departure of National Head Coach, Jerry Olszewski. Make no mistake: it is fantastic to get news from Swimming New Zealand. The email doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know but any news is better than the “Washington-behind-closed-doors” approach normally characteristic of Bruce Cotterill and his minions.

What is not good about the Swimming New Zealand email is the appalling grammar and sentence structure. I have mentioned this shortcoming several times before and have even offered to act as a volunteer proof reader. The abuse of the English language is sufficiently bad that it takes away from the message. No self-respecting CEO should allow this rubbish to be circulated to the public. Many readers are going to think the obvious. If the CEO is cavalier and sloppy with the English language, what else is he cavalier about? Is his other work as sloppy as his English?

For example, Johns says, “Dear Swimmers, Coaches and support staff.” If swimmers and coaches merit capital letters so should support staff. It is normal for the “Dear” line in a letter to end with a comma but Johns has gone with a full stop.

Johns says, “before making any decisions on the future might look like.” The word “what” has been left out of the sentence.

Johns says, “We are acutely aware of the large loss of HP IP from the SNZ team.” I know that HP is High Performance and SNZ is Swimming New Zealand. I have no idea what IP means. He can’t possibly be referring to “intellectual property”. Or can he? It is the sort of pretentious, meaningless garbage we’ve come to expect from Antares Place. Besides, no one leaving the High Performance Centre is their “intellectual property”. In twenty years, that programme never created anything. Using abbreviations that are wrong makes the author look ridiculous. Using abbreviations without explanation is poor English. Johns must have been told in his high school English class, “When in doubt, spell it out.”

Johns says, “We will certainly be keeping you all update to speed with potential future developments as they are decided.” What a sentence of wonder. The meaning of “potential future developments as they are decided” is in question. Are they “potential” developments or have they been “decided”? It is difficult to be both. But the confusion of “all update to speed” is the real sensation. What Johns means is we will be “updated” or we will be kept “up to speed”. But I guess he thinks that by mixing the two it will be even more impressive. And so we end up with “all update to speed”.

And finally there is one paragraph that is a single sentence, seventy words long. I’ve noticed Johns’ ability to put together impossibly long sentences. He seems to have little appreciation of the value of a full stop. He clearly does not understand how difficult it is to read something that long. Seventy words is a stunning achievement even by his exceptional standards.  

There are a number of other issues, but I’m sure you get the idea.

There are however more important matters to address than Steve Johns’ English.   

For example Johns says that Swimming New Zealand will be, “leaning on the vast experience and expertise of those at HP Sport NZ”. That is an unbelievable thought. Hasn’t Johns figured out yet that it was the “vast experience and expertise of those at HP Sport NZ” that got Swimming New Zealand into this mess in the first place? Indeed the “vast experience and expertise of those at HP Sport NZ” has kept swimming in New Zealand broken and in despair for twenty years. It has not worked. Everything HP Sport NZ has told Swimming New Zealand to do has failed. Centralised training failed. A string of coaches have come and gone and failed. Why is Steve Johns going back there again? One of history’s great philosophers, Edmund Burke, has some advice for Steve Johns, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

I’m not at all certain what Johns means by “vast experience and expertise”. I’d really like to know just what experience anyone at HP Sport NZ has of coaching world class swimmers. I would need to see a very detailed resume of their swimming success. I suspect no one there comes close to the record of a dozen New Zealand coaches. Johns has told us someone there has “vast experience and expertise”. Now tell us specifically who and what.

Because I do hope one of the vastly experienced experts was not the guy sitting at the table next to mine in the Millennium Pool café this morning. This guy was talking swimming training to Mat Woofe, the trainee coach, who has been left in charge of the Swimming New Zealand high performance program. In my career I have been lucky enough to know well and discuss training with coaches like Lydiard, Jelley, Schubert, Lang, Keenan, Anderson and Lincoln Hurring. But I have never heard anything like the theories I heard this morning. I guess it could be best described at pseudo-science gobbledygook. While they talked, I hoped that this stuff had not been a guiding factor in previous Swimming New Zealand high performance programs. Even more, I hoped, the views were not indicative of where the high performance program is heading. Because if they are then it’s no wonder 2017 World Championship swimmers were taken to high altitude at the wrong time. No wonder trials are poorly scheduled. I don’t know who the guy talking to Woofe was but if he is one of Johns’ vastly experienced experts, then God help us all.

While we are on the subject of communications from Swimming New Zealand, I am confused by their most recent Facebook post. A series of photographs show the Prime Minister, Bill English, and his wife visiting, what they say, is Swimming New Zealand’s High Performance Team. The problem is half the people appearing in the photographs have nothing to do with the Swimming New Zealand High Performance Team. The Facebook presentation is a classic example of manipulated content, made worse by the presence of Swimming New Zealand’s High Performance Manager, Amanda White. She knows that the people being introduced are not part of the Millennium Institute’s High Performance Team. Has she been complicit in a fake news deception?

The majority of those being introduced to the Prime Minister are from private Auckland swim teams. It is entirely inappropriate for Swimming New Zealand to use fake news on its social media platforms to promote private teams. David Lyles is there. He was made redundant by Swimming New Zealand and then went to court to claim compensation and lost. I wonder if this is Swimming New Zealand’s way of telling us that Lyles is about to be welcomed back. Dear God, I hope not. Laura Quilter is there. She retired a year ago. Bobbi Gichard is there. She used to swim at the High Performance Centre but left to train with Lyles. Daniel Hunter is there. He trains with the Counties HPK Swim Team. The Facebook impression of a thriving, prosperous Millennium swim team is a fabrication. It is fake news intended to either fool the Prime Minister or promote his chances of electoral success. Either way the post is deceptive.      

It has been six months since my last visit to the Millennium Pool. While I’ve been away I see that three “Power Pac” swim machines have been purchased. When the programme only has half a dozen swimmers why are three machines necessary? They will have cost about $11,000 in total. Perhaps the vastly experienced guy in the café thought they were a good idea. Knowing what the HP program has become their presence is a mechanical folly of all that’s wrong in that swimming pool; all expensive fluff and no substance.   

Is This Empire Corrupt?

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

My university education had very little to do with coaching swimmers. My degree was in the twin majors of Business Administration and Political Science. I enjoyed Political Science. I was especially interested in the qualities that make a society just and fair. Qualities largely present in a society like New Zealand and missing without trace in Saudi Arabia. But even in a just and fair society the institutions that safeguard justice and fairness need protection. Without proper care, without vigilance even good communities can fail. The rule of law can be subverted by personal political ambition.

In my final year at Victoria University I did a paper on the subject of protecting society from personal political ambition. It’s a long time ago, but as best as I can remember this is the argument that earned my essay an “A” grade.            

Worldwide there are about 200 term limited presidents that completed their time in office. In slightly more than 50 cases ambitious presidents were able to extend their stay in power beyond their constitutional limits. When the time for them to leave office arrived powerful politicians were able to either ignore or alter the rules in order to hold on to power. Almost always the debate was framed that by staying they were acting entirely in the best interests of their people. Almost always a real or imagined crisis required their considerable talent and experience.    

Recently African states have been especially vulnerable to modern day Caesars seeking political immortality. Countries as otherwise diverse as Burkina Faso, Burundi, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all had to deal with Presidents wanting to extend their stay in office. The lure and rewards of power can be extremely intoxicating. Only the most robust constitutional restraints and mass participation can prevent self-perpetuation in power.  

I have found that many of the features present in national state politics can also affect swimming clubs, swimming centers and national sports organizations. In the West Auckland Aquatics Club, before it was struck-off by Swimming New Zealand, we saw examples of Presidents operating outside the Constitution, of annual reports not being published or being published late, of annual meetings being missed and of elections being delayed or deferred. Quite simply the constitutional restraints and membership participation at the Club were not robust enough to control those in power. The result was terminal.

But does Swimming Wellington have a similar problem? I have to admit I am not an expert on the detail but what I do see does not look good. Take Mark Berge for example. He is the President who on his own website stunningly describes himself as the “the quintessential consultant in jeans”. That alone is a bit too cute for my taste. I’m told quintessential means “the most perfect example of quality or class”. Who on earth says that about themselves? Besides I suspect that quintessential and jeans are an unlikely match.   

However it appears that Mark Berge was originally elected to the Wellington Board in 2009 and then again in 2011 under a constitution approved in the same year. By 2014 he had either broken or was coming right up against constitutionally imposed term limits. But conveniently, in 2014, Wellington passed a new constitution that among other things ensured the survival of Mark Berge. And of course he is still there. Still there accepting awards as sportsperson of the year for his work in Swimming Wellington. Still there as President of Swimming Wellington. Still there because of a constitutional change that extended the time committee members could continue to stay in office. Interestingly the four year limit on a Board Chairman’s tenure also seems to have been abolished at that time.

In my opinion any appreciation of the “intent” behind the term limits contained in the various Wellington regional swimming constitutions would point to Mark Berge having outstayed his welcome. Of course he has not done anything unconstitutional. Neither did the Presidents of Burkina Faso and Namibia. But the intent of most term limits, I would imagine, is to avoid someone, elected eight years ago in 2009, holding on to office and putting himself forward in 2017 for another tilt at power.

And before Berge gets another term it is relevant to ask to see his record. What is his legacy? How has Wellington changed during his time in office? I imagine it is fair to use participation and performance as measures of an administrator’s influence. Well we do know that in 2010 Wellington (including Wairarapa and Wanganui) had 1776 registered swimmers. In 2016 the number of registered swimmers had declined by 221 to 1555; a 12% reduction. We also know that in 2009 Wellington won 16 medals at the National Open Championships. In 2017 that performance record had dropped by 5 medals to 11; a 31% reduction. And so it would seem that at the next Wellington general meeting it might be appropriate to ask Mark Berge exactly why he deserves another year in office.   

Perhaps, like New Zealand national politics, it is time for Swimming Wellington to have a fresh start. The old guard has had their turn. It is time for an active membership to turn power over to a new generation. Let’s do this!



Cocaine, Codeine, Testosterone and Italian Peppermint

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

I was interested to read the editorial written by Craig Lord and published on the Swim Vortex website on September 6 2017. In it Lord discusses the bizarre FINA organiser’s approved decision to appoint Park Tae-hwan an ambassador to the 2019 World Championships. Lord’s position is summarised early in the post.

“Forgiveness is essential. To forget and wipe the slate clean and expect that to send the right message on clean sport is folly.”

I agree with that. But before discussing why, I have a confession to make. A few years ago Craig Lord argued strenuously for “shiny” swimsuits to be banned. I, on the other hand, argued that the LZR suits were just fine. They were, I said, simply progress in the same way that the rubber track at Crystal Palace was progress over White City’s cinders. Fibre glass pole-vault poles, titanium golf clubs, composite tennis racquets, carbon fiber skis and tennis hawk-eye machines would all be banned if the Craig Lord logic had its way. But Lord won the day. In July 2009 the suits were banned.  

And Craig Lord was right and I was absolutely wrong. Swimming is a better human competition today than it had become in the yearlong LZR experiment. Lord’s campaign kept the sport alive as a primal contest between human beings.

I suspect his war on the use of drugs is doing the same thing. And on this occasion he will get no argument from me. I think his view that “forgiveness is essential” is important. But so is his stand that once caught the slate should never be wiped clean.

Some would however question the idea that there should be forgiveness. With increasing frequency I hear calls from athletes and commentators that one guilty verdict should mean a lifetime ban. I do not agree. There have been many cases where an athlete has been caught by ignorance or error or misfortune. In these cases capital punishment for a first offense would be excessive.

Take for example Jessica Hardy. At the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Hardy qualified for the USA Olympic Team. A few weeks later Hardy’s attorney confirmed that both her “A” and “B” samples from a test administered on July 4 were positive for clenbuterol. Media coverage of the issue noted that tainted supplements had played a part in some previous instances of bans. An example offered was the American swimmer Kicker Vencill, who won a lawsuit against a company that provided him with tainted supplements that resulted in a positive dope test and two-year ban from the sport.

And of course in New Zealand the Trent Bray case is a classic example of how a clean athlete can fall foul of the testing process. Bray went to the District Court to appeal against a positive test and won. The judge ruled that containers used in the testing were incorrect and that it took too long for the sample to be tested in Sydney. It turned out that Bray’s urine had been lying, quietly stewing, on a shelf in the sun while the laboratory staff went off on a two week Christmas holiday.  

And in my coaching career I had a fifteen year old swimmer tested during the New Zealand National Championships. Because of the Bray experience I asked the NZ Drug Agency for the travel details of the swimmer’s samples. I was supplied with the sample numbers and airway loading numbers for the trip from New Zealand to the testing laboratory in Australia. I was however deeply concerned to see that the sample numbers that left New Zealand and the airway bill record were different from the sample numbers and airway bill number received at the laboratory. Naturally I asked for an explanation. The Agency said they were very sorry but the paperwork had gone missing in Auckland and a new set of papers had been prepared. But, I was assured, the sample was still from my swimmer. For something as serious as a drug test it was appallingly bad management; someone should have lost their job. Fortunately the test was negative.

An even younger swimmer of mine, she was 12 at the time, also had a close call with the drug testers. She had swum well in the morning heats of the New South Wales Championships and qualified fastest for the evening final. When we got into the car to go to the finals I asked if she had enjoyed her afternoon rest. She said she had felt a bit of nasal congestion and so, with a friend, had walked to a local pharmacy and been given some Coldrex. She said it had worked perfectly. I, of course, went crazy. She swam. She won the final and was not tested. But that event taught me that it is never too early to teach swimmers the caution required to stay clean. The swimmer became the most careful and cleanest athlete through the balance of her pretty stellar career.         

And so mistakes do happen. As someone who wrote a lot better than me once said, “Consider this – that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation.” Mitigating circumstances do need to be taken into account; forgiveness is essential.

But forgiveness should not mean reward either. I have no problem with Park being back in the pool. But to reward him as an ambassador to the 2019 World Championships is ridiculous. He is not a role model. He’s a cheat who got caught and has been granted forgiveness. FINA do the sport no favors at all when they act in ways that reward bad behavior. I suspect the decision to make Park an ambassador reflects far worse on those bestowing the reward than it does on Park. But the way FINA behaves I’m not sure our disapproval is going to matter much. A few all expenses paid first class flights to some Asian resort will soon ease the pain of Swimwatch criticism. It will not however justify the reward they have approved for Park.

But I do have one last drug testing story. When Toni Jeffs was swimming well she was forever being called in for a drug test; in competition, out of competition, it was endless. Every two months she had to front up to the testing Agency. I think the fact she enjoyed lifting heavy weights and looked strong made them think she must be cheating. She wasn’t of course. In fact she was very careful, almost picky, about her health food diet. I thought it was tough that one hundred kilometers a week in the pool and five days of weights seemed to make her a target for their attention.

One afternoon I noticed the Drug Agency representative sitting in the stands at the pool obviously waiting for Toni to finish training. I went into the pool shop and bought a packet of Tic-Tac candy. I gave one to Toni who sprinted off down the pool. Gradually she got slower and slower until I provided a second Tic Tac. Off she went again at full speed. This slowing down, Tic Tac, speed-up process was repeated four or five times. The Drug Agency representative recorded every detail. Her pen was working at a hundred miles an hour. Finally she got up and left and we heard no more. Fortunately Toni was not tested in New Zealand for about twelve months after that. Italian peppermint could have had her banned for life.




Ending the Dreamers’ Programme

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

I hear that Swimming New Zealand’s Annual General Meeting has been significant in a number of ways. Head Coach, Jerry Olszewski has resigned and a forum of Swimming New Zealand CEO Steve Johns, Board member Simon Perry and four representatives from the Regions has been formed to discuss a regional coaching structure to replace the current centralised National Training Centre.

The departure of Jerry comes as no surprise. Seven coaches in as many years have come and gone through Swimming New Zealand’s revolving coaching door. Any shortcomings in Jerry’s performance have had far more to do with the organisation and the job than the individual. Years ago Arthur Lydiard told me the Swimming New Zealand position was an impossible brief; a poisoned chalice. I said so a year ago when Jerry was appointed. I guess he now knows why.

It is amazing how the simple fact that seven coaches have come and gone in as many years hasn’t alerted someone in Swimming New Zealand to the fact that the problem might not be the coach but them and their job. Surely that has occurred to them. One coach leaving is normal. Two is bad luck. Three is really bad luck. Four and there is something wrong with you. Seven is beyond belief.

The whole saga is making the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand, Bruce Cotterill look like a pathetic joke. Remember on the 18 December 2016 he told the NZ Herald, “I think we’ve got the right coaching in place.” The “right coaching” was Gary Hurring, Donna Bouzaid and Jerry Olszewski. And then on the 9 March 2017 Cotterill sacked Hurring and Bouzaid. And finally on 5 September 2017 Jerry called Uber asking for a ride to Auckland Airport. Nine months and Cotterill’s “right coaching” has disappeared. A million dollars a year coaching program has been left in the hands of an apprentice – well done Bruce.       

The opening of discussion on an alternative to the centralized High Performance Program is very important. Decisions made on that subject have the potential to affect the performance and future of several generations of New Zealand’s swimmers. Get it wrong and, as we have seen, the effect is ruinous. Get it right and the sport and its members can prosper and be successful.

At this stage the discussions seem to be about introducing a regional management and coaching structure similar to that being trialled in Waikato. Applied nationwide that program could either be a very good or a very bad fix.

I am aware that three features have been suggested in relation to the regional structure.

  1. That the centralised National High Performance Centre be abandoned.
  2. That swimming introduces individual “campaign” based support.
  3. That management support is provided through a regional structure based on geographical zones.

I have no problem with the first two features. Abandoning the High Performance Centre and individual “campaign” support are good and will improve the delivery of quality swimming. I have some reservations about the regional zone structure. Competing as a zone seems to be fine as long as club coaches stay responsible for their swimmers. My concerns surround the zone’s contribution to swimmer’s training and preparation. The remainder of this post will address these concerns.      

A Regional Program that simply imposes a local High Performance Centre in each of the Regions will achieve nothing. In fact four or five centres of that sort will be four or five times worse than what we have now. The current centralised High Performance Centre problem has always been that an ineffective superstructure has been placed on top of a crumbling and neglected base. Having four or five mini superstructures doing the same job as the single structure, on top of the same crumbling and neglected base, achieves nothing. Arguably it makes it four or five times worse.

Whatever solution is put forward has to recognise and take into account some fundamental truths about the sport of swimming in New Zealand.

The basic building blocks of the sport are the clubs. Right now New Zealand has many potential Danyon Loaders, Toni Jeffs, Paul Kingsmans, and Lauren Boyles. Where are they? They are members of clubs in Invercargill or Dunedin or Christchurch or Nelson or Westport or New Plymouth or Napier or Wellington or Hamilton or Auckland or Whangarei. Every potential champion is a member of a local club coached by a local coach. Sadly that base has been neglected for twenty years beginning with Jan Cameron’s period in power. Coaching in the clubs was considered to be not quite as good as the Gods that taught swimming in Antares Place. Psychologically it was devastating to the nation’s club coaches. As the resources and the attention of the sport’s administrators were poured into the Millennium Institute the club structure and club coaches withered and died. The base crumbled. And that is where we are at today.

That is the putrid legacy left to us by Cameron, Baumann and Miskimmin. The policy was set by them. They are responsible for the failure of the sport in New Zealand. The fact that hired hands like Layton, Cotterill, Renford and Johns either did not know enough or lacked the courage to do anything about it is sad beyond belief.    

Therefore a Regional structure is a step forward as long as, and only if, it repairs and strengthens the base of the sport. That means the clubs and the club coaches. They are the sport’s primary schools, secondary schools and universities. They need resources, attention and help.  

The centre of attention needs to be focused with laser precision on the performance and role of the clubs and their coaches. All around New Zealand there are potential champions wanting their chance. Just remember Jeffs came from Whakatane, Simcic was from Christchurch, Loader was from Dunedin and Hurring was from Auckland. There are champions everywhere. We need a structure that provides them with champion local coaches and coaching.

Local coaches have been shockingly neglected. As recently as today the CEO of Swimming New Zealand, Steve Johns, is quoted in Stuff as saying the reality was there were “far more” experienced international coaches from offshore”. Once again New Zealand coaches are being told from the top they are not good enough. In my opinion corporate vandalism such as this is not acceptable. How domestic coaches have any confidence left is beyond belief. However they do and there is a core of very good local club coaches in New Zealand quite capable of coaching world class swimmers. It is wrong to mention names but just consider a few – Cooper, Paul Kent, Polanski, Judith Wright, Winter, Swanwick, Power, Southgate, Hurring, Mahan, Duncan, Miehe, Prattley and a dozen others – are all capable of Olympic success. But they do need help. They need help with their plans and they need help with money. And they need to be formally held accountable.

If resources and benefits are going to start flowing into the base then the base has to deliver. The question is, “What resources does your club need and what result will come as a result?” Then once the backing is provided the coach and the club must be held to account. It is simple management really. Just go to Swimming New Zealand’s operating units (the clubs and their coaches) and ask what resources are required to produce what result and then hold them to that plan. There is no reason why New Zealand cannot have twenty or thirty club high performance centres. A million multi-site companies around the world operate exactly that way all the time. And of course the price of under-achievement is less resources next time around.

But the real message is do not expect a regional superstructure on its own to give you a result. The regional superstructure is only there to resource and support the real generators of swimming wealth – the clubs and their coaches.

The panel considering this important question is the CEO of Swimming New Zealand, one Board member and four representatives from the regions. I think that composition is good with two serious qualifications.  

Why on God’s good earth has Mark Berge, “the quintessential consultant in jeans,” been put on the panel considering this stuff? He is on record as opposing decentralisation and for years has rubbished the decentralisation ideas promoted in this blog. I can’t think of anyone worse. It’s like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. The panel is not off to a good start.

And two – the committee really does need a “coal face” representative; someone who has spent a lot of time standing on the side of a swimming pool. There should be an intelligent, practical input. There is a list of some names in this post. Any one of them would do. Either that or the panel needs to consult those sorts of people in depth.

The wheels of progress appear to be turning. It is a relief and a joy to see that happening. Congratulations to whoever it is that has set the sport on a path that could lead to a much better place.