Is This The Best You Can Do?

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.

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