Archive for December, 2017

It’s Been A Long Time Coming

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Believers will view the Swimwatch call for the Swimming New Zealand Board to stand down as intolerable rebellion, as the rantings of a lunatic fringe. But is it? Swimming New Zealand and its supporters will spin the barren wasteland of New Zealand competitive swimming as a temporary bump in the road. They will pray that Corey Main in Florida saves their embarrassment just as Lauren Boyle once did. They will point to exciting junior championships and a string of age group records as proof that all is well, international success is within our grasp, they will say. But is it?

So what are the facts? Is the call for a new Board unreasonable? Is international success close at hand? In my view the call for new elections is entirely reasonable. Swimming is miles away from international success. Let me explain why.

Events that led to the disaster of having no swimmers qualify for the Commonwealth Games in the recent trials and only two swimmers qualify from their swims in the World Championships have been staring Swimming New Zealand Board members in the face for three, maybe four years. Through all that time Swimming New Zealand was Glenn Snyders and Lauren Boyle and nothing else. Those two swimmers were the best and worst that could happen to the sport; the best because their international performances were genuinely world class; the worst because the board of Swimming New Zealand could trumpet their success in the media and to the sport’s funders and ignore the malaise behind them.

And that is what the Board of Swimming New Zealand did. You only need to read the headlines from the Swimming New Zealand website over the past three years.

Boyle has solid hit-out towards Glasgow at Mare Nostrum

Podium Finish for Boyle in Successful World Cup Campaign

Boyle wins at FINA World Cup in Doha

Brilliant Boyle lights up pool in Sydney

Boyle blitzes competition in Dubai World Cup

I Can Go Faster – says Boyle

Lauren Boyle continues on her winning way

Lauren Boyle – New Zealand’s best swimmer at the Olympic

I trolled back through the Swimming New Zealand headlines and in six years there were about 540 articles that trumpeted the swimming feats of Boyle or Snyders or both, an average of close to two per week. Of course there is nothing wrong with enjoying and reporting the success of two very good swimmers. The problem was that the Board of Swimming New Zealand hid behind their 540 headlines. As Boyle and Snyders grabbed the headlines, problems that should have been addressed were ignored, problems that when Boyle and Snyders retired have come home to roost.

Any business that relies on an aging product line and fails to plan for the next generation will have similar problems to Swimming New Zealand. Many businesses have failed for exactly that reason. Kodak had to prepare for cameras that did not require film. Video Ezy are going to have to find an alternative to film rentals. Cannon need to diversify from manufacturing fax machines. Spark needed to move on from providing New Zealand’s telephone landlines. And four years ago Swimming New Zealand needed to move on from providing Boyle and Snyders. And the Board simply did not identify the danger and did nothing about it. And for that basic business irresponsibility and negligence they should not be there.

Especially as they were told.

As far back as December 2014 Swimwatch asked, “What is Swimming New Zealand saying? We couldn’t prepare Lauren Boyle properly so let us loose on the careers of Bobbi Gichard and others. If they are, it is sad and it is pathetic. Swimming has to be under pressure, though Boyle is keeping them afloat.”

And in August of the same year, “I think Boyle cares way too much about many of those who have just used her career to purchase a better Mazda. With the exception of Lauren Boyle it’s never been much worse than in 2014 in Glasgow and Brisbane. Twin disasters, half a world apart and within a month of each other; who would believe it was possible?”

The signs of impending disaster have been clear for such a long time. The Board were repeatedly told. The Board did nothing to resolve the problem. Those three facts point directly at a Board that is as guilty as hell. That incompetent neglect over such an extended period would never be tolerated in the commercial world. And should not be tolerated in sport.

For those reasons the call for the Board to stand down is not intolerable or rebellious. It is simple commercial reality. The Board member I think should stay is Perry. I don’t know him. I don’t even know anyone who does know him. But my feeling is that he is aware reform is needed and has been trying to do the right thing. Certainly his promotion of the “Clive Power Plan” was a step forward. Nothing he does seems to be working. But that’s probably not his fault. The others though have fiddled while Rome has burned and should be replaced.

Fake News

Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Swimming news is seldom all that important. The exaggerated winning margin of the junior boy’s 200 butterfly lags in prominence behind the fictitious size of Donald Trump’s electoral victory. Mind you the Board of Swimming New Zealand is as prone to exaggeration as the current President of the United States. For example in the most recent Annual Report I am told that, “With strong leadership and governance from our Board and Management Team” “we deliver our vision” of “excellence in swimming”. I’m not sure how that “strong leadership and governance” is going to explain the most recent trial’s fiasco. Or perhaps, in the opinion of these strong leaders, having no one swim a qualifying time is sufficient to pass as excellence in swimming. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how the Board came up with the description of itself as “strong leadership and governance”. That seems to me to be a bit of a stretch. Perhaps Bruce and Donald have something in common. But for those who indulge in fake news anything is possible.

It should be obvious that performance and progress are best served when there is a ruthlessly uncompromising attitude to the truth. If something has gone wrong, then own it. Don’t spend time telling lies or spinning the truth. If something has gone right accept it for what it is. Don’t try and turn the level three junior girl’s 25 breaststroke into an Olympic final. Kipling said it best, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same …Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And which is more you’ll be a Man, my son!”

Sadly it is not only Swimming New Zealand who fail the accuracy test. When it comes to swimming the mainstream press and commentators also indulge in fake news. For example New Zealanders have recently been competing in Australian state championships in Victoria and Queensland. Here is a comment I read about the Australian state competitions.

“It’s tough to get a medal at the Victoria Champs, one of the two toughest state champs in Australia.”

Of course the comment is a really dumb thing to say. The difficulty of getting a medal anywhere is going to depend on the event and who is swimming. When Lauren Boyle was around, winning a distance freestyle event was as difficult in New Zealand as anywhere. Right now winning the women’s 50 freestyle in Queensland or the men’s 100 breaststroke in Scotland or the men’s 200 butterfly in South Africa or the men’s 100 butterfly in Singapore is extremely tough.

Ignoring the stupidity of the comment, I was puzzled by its accuracy. It seemed like fake news. I have swum in, or have had swimmers compete in, the Queensland, Victoria, NSW, South Australia and West Australia state championships. I would never have thought of Victoria as being “one of the two toughest state champs”. Swimmers I have coached have won medals in Victoria, South Australia, West Australia and NSW. I don’t think any of them would have thought the Victoria event was one of the two most difficult. Without doing any research I would have thought Queensland and NSW were Australia’s two toughest states followed by Victoria a distant third and West and South Australia after that.

And so for the sake of accuracy I looked up the results of the most recent state championships in five Australian state competitions. The results for the big three states are shown in the table below. I did the same table for West and South Australia but have not included them in this post.

Event Queensland NSW Victoria
M W M W M W
50 Fr 22.55 24.13 21.88 24.47 22.99 25.66
100 49.23 52.69 48.46 53.15 50.23 54.88
200 1.47.96 1.56.34 1.48.36 1.55.98 1.48.61 1.58.76
400 3.49.73 4.02.86 3.49.54 4.08.06 3.50.74 4.18.80
800 W - 8.31.00 - 8.29.23 8.48.57
1500 M 15.08.98 - 15.13.98 - 15.21.35
100Bk 54.03 59.22 54.64 59.28 54.63 59.97
200 1.57.41 2.10.35 1.59.13 2.08.77 1.59.89 2.09.96
100BR 1.01.66 1.07.24 1.00.23 1.06.55 1.00.54 1.08.03
200 2.12.29 2.23.50 2.10.67 2.23.17 2.09.65 2.26.05
100Fl 53.47 58.79 53.28 58.02 53.93 58.41
200 1.58.58 2.09.33 1.57.34 2.10.57 2.00.70 2.09.33
200 IM 1.58.89 2.13.13 2.00.47 2.13.78 2.03.38 2.14.82
400 4.20.45 4.42.98 4.18.52 4.44.51 4.24.48 4.50.51

So what does this information tell us? It tells us that the description of Victoria as “one of the two toughest state champs” is fake news rubbish.

On the basis of the state with the fastest swimmer in each event the analysis shows that NSW and Queensland have by far and away the fastest swimmers. The comparison is not even close. The Victoria championships have the fastest swimmers on only two of 26 events.

State Position State Number of Fastest Events
First NSW 12
Second Queensland 11
Third Victoria 2
Fourth West Australia 1
Fifth South Australia 0

Allocating points to the fastest, second fastest and so on tells a similar story. The table below shows the numbers. For ease of calculation I allocated the lowest points to the fastest swimmers. Here again the gap after the big two states down to Victoria is huge. The Victoria meet is close to 2% (or 2 meters per 100 meters) weaker than Queensland and NSW.

State Position State Points for First place
First Queensland 69.46.79
Second NSW 69.52.04
Third Victoria 71.04.96
Fourth West Australia 72.52.28
Fifth South Australia 73.16.06

And so whatever way the figures are presented, whether it is by the fastest in each event or by points over all the events, the two strongest states are Queensland and NSW. Victoria is a distant third and West and South Australia behind that. The moral is, don’t believe everything Swimming New Zealand tells you and if you get your facts from internet social media check their accuracy. Or in the words of an internet social scientist, “Don’t buy into the myth”.

Is This The Best You Can Do?

Friday, December 15th, 2017

Swimming New Zealand is really beginning to piss me off. That is probably not altogether accurate. The truth is that the performance of corporate Swimming New Zealand has been worth getting pissed off about for quite some time. But just now their behaviour is especially annoying.

Last week the sport experienced two disasters. Trials in Auckland and Queensland failed to add a single swimmer to the Commonwealth Games team. Even worse, New Zealand’s best swimmers were a long way (4%) from achieving the qualifying times. Swimming in New Zealand has never been in a worse position.

When things go wrong like this it is vital to examine carefully and honestly what has gone wrong and quickly take corrective action. Let me give you an example. A few years ago I used to fly myself around New Zealand visiting our company’s offices. My airplane was a lovely little single engine Piper Arrow, EKR. On my way back to Wellington one day an oil pipe fractured and the engine stopped working. I was at 9500 feet above the Parapara Ranges, north of Whanganui. Without question I owe my life to the evaluation and action procedures drilled into me during my pilot training years in Palmerston North. I landed safely in a convenient barley field.

A few years later I experienced a similar crisis in my swimming life. Toni Jeffs had just won a bronze medal in what was then the world short course championships. I coached her for the Barcelona Olympic Games and it was terrible. Toni ended up twenty something in a race that she should have been in the top eight final. What had gone wrong? I spent a day with Arthur Lydiard going through the training Toni had done prior to the Games. The honest evaluation and action procedure was as relevant as it had been in the Piper Arrow. We quickly identified the mistakes I had made with Toni’s preparation. They have never happened again.

Well, at Swimming New Zealand this week, the engine stopped. The sport underperformed on a scale at least the equivalent of my Barcelona problems. But in Swimming New Zealand I see no signs of the honest and open evaluation so important in those situations. Instead there is silence. The organization goes into hiding. The results are not even reported. The organization is practising the perfect manifestation of mushroom management – “say nothing, keep them in the dark and feed them shit”.

Serious problems do not get solved that way.

The Swimming New Zealand website illustrates the point. The nine headlines on their news feed discuss the 2018 epic swim to go ahead as planned, Matt’s epic tips – training, Matt’s epic tips part 2, swimmers clean up junior categories at 2017 Aotearoa Maori sports awards, Upokongaru school Whanganui excels in aquatic education, supplements warning from drug free sport NZ, Wellington primary schools get moving at ‘big day out’, Splash Palace swim teachers prepare for busy summer and flight centre foundation Halberg water skills for life.

All these are good and proper newsworthy events. However the Swimming New Zealand engine has stopped and there is a bloody great hill directly in our line of flight. The sport is in a performance crisis and there is no sign of the open, honest appraisal and action so vital at times like this.

Swimming commentators are complicit in the neglect. The overwhelming topic that needs to be discussed is the poor performance of the sport’s best swimmers. The discussion needs to be detailed and wide-ranging. Instead commentator’s reports scan quickly over the problem areas before going into great detail about good swims by New Zealand’s disabled and junior swimmers. Reporting the good news is, of course, valid and important. However commentators need to realise that unless the senior problems are addressed the successful juniors will not have a future.

Communication carries with it a responsibility to lead, especially where there are problems.  Swimming New Zealand and media commentators are currently failing the sport in that duty. And that pisses me off.

The Pain Goes On

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

You will be aware by now that the first Commonwealth Games trial in Auckland resulted in no swimmers qualifying for the Games’ team. This week the second installment of the New Zealand trials took place at the Queensland State Championships. I know that sounds odd but in the world called Swimming New Zealand the bizarre often passes as normal.

New Zealand had about a dozen swimmers competing in the open events. The table below shows the times swum by the New Zealand swimmers who qualified to swim in open event finals. And as you can see their qualifying success was no better than it had been in Auckland. No one qualified for the Commonwealth Games team. So there we have it, two Swimming New Zealand trials have come and gone and not one swimmer has been added to the Commonwealth Games team.

Swimmer Event Swimmer’s Time Women’s QT Men’s QT
Transom 50 Fr Women 26.31 25.02
Transom 100 Fr Women 56.35 53.91
Transom 200 Fr Women 2:03.70 1.57.88
Hyde 200 Fr Men 1:52.63 1.46.84
Mincham 200 Fr Men 1:52.97 1.46.84
Robinson 400 Fr Women 4:17.23 4.08.07
Mincham 400 Fr Men 3:55.20 3.46.96
Hyde 400 Fr Men 4:00.90 3.46.96
Robinson 800 Fr Women 8:36.04 8.31.68
Mincham 1500 Fr Men 15:35.83 15.08.35
Gichard 100 Bk Women 1:02.30 59.82
Ashby 100 Bk Men 57.12 54.20
Gichard 200 Bk Women 2:14.97 2.08.92
Dorrington 200 Bk Men 2:08.39 1.58.83
Borlase 100 Br Women 1:15.72 1.07.06
Layton 100 Br Men 1:02.67 1.00.16
Layton 200 Br Men 2:13.15 2.10.56
Wang 200 Br Men 2:25.27 2.10.56
Borlase 200 Br Women 2:39.08 2.24.93
Ashby 200 IM Men 2:06.24 1.59.29

For a variety of reasons I was especially interested in the performance of four swimmers – Mincham, Gichard, Ashby and Robinson.

I don’t know Robinson but have watched her swim often enough and have always been impressed by her honest determination. I also liked the commitment she showed by going off to Australia to train. She might not have the talent of Lauren Boyle but her application and resolve seem to me to be very special. In her case I was hoping she would get to the 8.31 required to qualify. And she almost did. She swam 8.36.

Ashby qualified for the Games at the World Championships in July. Like many good swimmers before him he stayed doggedly loyal to the failed Millennium High Performance program. I was interested to see how well his career survived being left in the hands of an intern after Jerry Olszewski decided Swimming New Zealand was not what the American wanted. Dozens failed before Ashby but perhaps he was going to defy the odds. Sadly that does not look to be the case. In fact Ashby appears to have had a terrible meet. Perhaps he was swimming 100kms a week through the meet. It would take something like that to explain such a dramatic drop in performance. To swim two seconds away from his personal best and three seconds off the qualifying time in the 100 backstroke is not good. But of far more concern is being seven seconds (5.6%) away from his personal best and the qualifying standard in his favourite event, the 200 medley. Even swimming 100kms barely explains that gap. But we should not be surprised. If Ashby does have a problem he joins a long line of fine swimmers who have suffered the same fate at the hands of Swimming New Zealand’s disastrous experiment in training competitive swimmers. The table below shows Ashby’s numbers.

SWIMMER EVENT TRIAL TIME P. BEST Q. TIME
Ashby 100 Bk Men 57.12 55.07 54.20
Ashby 200 IM Men 2:06.24 1.59.24 1.59.29

My interest in Mincham and Gichard was because of their coaching history. Both swimmers had made a decision to leave coaches I respect and admire and join a coach that I do not like. Mincham left Judith Wright, coach of the Waterhole Club in Auckland and Gichard left Noel Hargrave-Booth, coach of the Greendale Club in Hawkes Bay. Both coaches have successfully coached many fine swimmers and have displayed the traditional values characteristic of New Zealand’s best sport’s coaches. Certainly the careers of Mincham and Gichard prospered under their direction.

But both swimmers decided to join David Lyles. You may remember he was made redundant by Swimming New Zealand; a decision he contested in Court and lost. Shortly after he left Swimming New Zealand I paid him $3000 of my money to coach my team while I was overseas. In my opinion that was a waste of money. His performance was not what I expected. Is it too late to ask for a refund?

Anyway Mincham and Gichard have now been with Lyles long enough for us to see whether the change of coach is working. Clearly, in the early part of a transition, swimmers are still receiving a benefit from their previous coaching. But after time the swimmer’s performance is all down to the new regime. So how is the new program working out in this case? Not too well it seems. The table below shows the numbers.

SWIMMER EVENT TRIAL TIME P. BEST Q. TIME
Gichard 100 Bk Women 1:02.30 1.00.51 59.82
Gichard 200 Bk Women 2:14.97 2.10.87 2.08.92
Mincham 200 Fr Men 1:52.97 1.51.80 1.46.84
Mincham 400 Fr Men 3:55.20 3.58.13 3.46.96
Mincham 1500 Fr Men 15:35.83 15.32.00 15.08.35

Five swims and only one personal best; five swims that average a huge 4% slower than the qualifying standard; a 1500 national champion who is close to the length of the pool behind the qualifying time and a 100 backstroke specialist who is four meters away from qualifying. Even for a master of spin it’s going to be hard to turn that into a feel-good story.

There will be some who find this post too harsh. But that is deliberate. For too long Swimming New Zealand has conned the sport with its spin. Their deception has got us nowhere. Too many swimmers like Gichard, Mincham and Ashby have been hurt deeply in the process. It’s about time the sport faced up to the reality of its position and did something about it. Our two previous posts have suggested one option for a way ahead. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for Swimming New Zealand to tell us their plan – if they ever have one.

In Need of Repair

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

In my previous Swimwatch post I discussed the underlying malaise that has brought the sport to a position where it holds trials for international events and no one can swim fast enough to qualify. I pointed to the Swimming New Zealand policy of sole centralized Millennium training as the principal reason for the problems. I supported that assertion with an explanation that the centralized training policy has had two destructive consequences that have gutted swimming in New Zealand. First the national sole provider concept has not worked. And second the effort put into trying to make the sole provider concept work, has wrought destitution on the rest of the sport. The regional club programs and coaches that breed and nurture championship swimmers have been neglected. The sport’s infrastructure has been laid bare and is not performing as it should and as it once did.

So what can be done to reverse the neglect and revive swimming into a healthy, prosperous and successful sport? Here is what I think is needed.

  1. Dismantle the socialist centralized national training squad. Find club homes for the coach and the swimmers currently working in the Millennium program. Hold a small party not to recognize the passing of something bad, but to welcome something new and better and to recognize the good New Zealanders who committed their careers to the Millennium program. The idea was a bad one but that in no way should diminish the efforts of the swimmers. Their commitment was exemplary and should be recognized.
  2. Organize a national roadshow of five or six conferences around New Zealand involving every club and every coach. Each conference would explain the change in Swimming New Zealand policy; a change from a socialist, centralized model of elite training to a “Swimmers First” private enterprise, diversified, club-based program. The clubs should be made aware that the performance of every club is now the first and foremost priority of the national federation. The performance and success of swimming in New Zealand is now down to the clubs. Swimming New Zealand is relying on them and needs their help. A commitment to the “Swimmers First” program will involve the clubs in some new responsibilities and some new rewards.
  3. Responsibilities: The new structure should be managed by policies and procedures used around the world to manage multi-site corporations. In the 1980s I was Managing Director of New Zealand’s largest exporter of animal by-products. The company was listed on the New Zealand stock exchange and had offices in Sydney and Yokohama and various businesses in ten New Zealand towns. The procedures used there to manage the business would work well in the case of a diversified Swimming New Zealand competitive program. Each club signing onto the “Swimmers First” program would be expected to comply with the following reporting procedure.
  • Prepare a simple annual budget showing the expected number of swimmers for the coming year. The budget would also detail the number of swimmers forecast to participate in Division 2, Age Group and Open Championships. And the budget should forecast the time improvements expected from swimmers above a set standard.
  • Each month a simple two page report should be submitted by each club reporting progress against the budget and should include a 400-500 word commentary on the clubs training and competitive performance.
  1. Rewards: There are many others far better than me at deciding what rewards should accrue to clubs joining the “Swimmers First” program. Here are some items that should be considered.

Incentive payments to coaches placing swimmers on national teams.

Discounted access to the Millennium Institute medical and other support services.

Discounted access to the Millennium Pool for club camps.

Free advice by successful coaches brought in from around the world to visit participating clubs. I am thinking of coaches such as Schubert, Salo, Touretski, Bowman and McKever.

Access to the Swimming New Zealand Head Coach whose only function would be to monitor and assist club members.

Discounted travel to Division 2, Age Group, Open Water and Open Pool Championships.

Access to the current normal Sport New Zealand athlete reward payments.

  1. Fee: There should be a fee charged by Swimming New Zealand in addition to the normal club membership fee for membership of the “Swimmers First” program. This fee should be additional to the normal club membership fee.

The program change to a “Swimmers First” private enterprise, diversified, club based program would see the function and purpose of the Millennium Institute change. The facility would become a genuine “performance centre” for everyone. Swimming New Zealand, clubs and individual swimmers could use it for camps, advice and clinics. Swimming New Zealand would operate a facility that would service the sport’s infrastructure; making club programs stronger.

So there you have the skeleton of a change that I believe would begin the process of repairing the sport’s badly damaged infrastructure. I was asked recently at what point would I back off the criticisms of Swimming New Zealand that have frequently characterized the Swimwatch blog. Recent events have demonstrated the reason for my concern. Swimming New Zealand is experiencing first-hand the product of their incompetence and neglect. The minute Swimming New Zealand introduce measures that lead the whole sport forward; the minute they show concern for the future of their members, at that moment this blog will be totally supportive. The suggestions here are one way that could be done. There are others. But whatever they are, we need to be told and we need to be told soon.