Core Values

I am frequently puzzled by the labels attached to coaches. For example some coaches are “old-school” while others earn the title “modern-scientific”. I do not agree, but you could argue that “modern-scientific” is the way of the future. Certainly the trend among swimming federations is in that direction. They love the high-flown fancy stuff. The problem is that Swimming New Zealand bureaucrats do not really understand the product. To compensate for their inadequacy they hide their ignorance in a forest of pseudo-scientific jargon. Members of this in-group are easy to identify. The language they use is amazing. I remember asking one national coach how far he thought an international swimmer should swim each week in training. Twenty minutes later he stopped talking and I had no idea of the answer. Here is an example of what I mean.

“It allows an athlete to practice the neuromuscular patterns associated with high rates of quality performance without disruption for it is known that as lactate accumulates beyond >4 mM, neuromuscular functioning is increasingly disturbed.”

I know for a fact that an “old-school” coach, like Arthur Lydiard, followed this principle. Lydiard would not have coached the bucket of Olympic gold medals if he had violated something that important. But the way Lydiard described the same thing was:

“Train don’t strain”

His classic description of interval training is probably the best example of an “old-school” coach at work.

“How far? To the next tree.

How fast? Your best effort.

How many? Until you get tired!”

The best coaches in New Zealand sport have invariably been “old-school”. I have already mentioned Lydiard. But others stand out. In athletics Arch Jelley would also be in that category. Rowing has had Rusty Robertson and Dick Tonks. Cycling had Justin Grace. In rugby Fred Allan, Jamie Joseph and probably Steve Hansen employ the proven values of the “old-school”. And in swimming Duncan Laing, Clive Power and the Waterhole Club team of Judith Wright and Gwen Ryan come from the same school.

A story, typical of Duncan Laing, illustrates the point. In addition to his swim coaching Duncan also coached rugby. One evening a junior boys’ team coach was away from Dunedin. He asked Duncan to take practice. He was going to instruct the boys on lineout calls. Duncan agreed. He asked the boys to show him what they knew. The boys lined up, the ball was thrown in and no one could catch it. Duncan abandoned lineout drills and took catching practice for an hour. And that’s the point with the “old-school”. Drill the basics. Do the simple things perfectly. Winning comes best that way.

The Waterhole Club team of Judith Wright and Gwen Ryan represents all that is best in the term “core values”. I heard last night that Judith and Gwen plan to take a less active semi-retired role in the Waterhole business. But what they have built and are handing on is very special. In a period when women in business found life a lot more difficult than today, Judith and Gwen built their own aquatic facility in Parrs Park in West Auckland. Since 1980 they have successfully coached and managed their swimming business. They say the first test of business is to survive. For thirty seven years Judith and Gwen have done a whole lot better than that.

But their swimming story is more than the Waterhole pool; more than recent life memberships of Auckland Swimming and the New Zealand Swim Coaches Association.  In the late 1960s and early 1970s Judith was one of New Zealand’s best swimmers. She was the first New Zealand woman to break 5.00 minutes for 400 meters and 10.00 minutes for 800 meters. She swam in six events in the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. She was 7th in three events, 5th in one event and 4th in two events. On her office wall at Waterhole Judith has about twenty framed certificates of her New Zealand open records. Her career as a swimmer was one of true class.

And as coaches Judith and Gwen have been equally successful. Gwen’s daughter and two sons were all very good swimmers. The two boys, Daniel and Phillip, represented New Zealand in open water events. I was not living in New Zealand during Daniel’s career but I did see quite a bit of Philip’s training and racing. I would describe his career as uncompromising. In training Judith asked for a lot and Philip delivered – all in the honest old-fashioned way.

One of my best swimmers was the sprinter, Toni Jeffs. For several years Toni’s main competition was a Judith and Gwen coached swimmer called Megan Luff. I am sure the quality of that competition helped both girls progress the standard of New Zealand women’s swimming.

Of course there have been many more good athletes that have come out of the Waterhole program. But more important than swimming fast, the swimmers coached by Judith and Gwen have received something far more than instruction in the way to swim fast; far more than even the fitness and health benefits from their years of swimming the Waterhole’s sound aerobic program. Waterhole graduates have received a thorough education in a set of sound, valuable and life-long core values.

Judith and Gwen have been more than good coaches; more than good business women. In the most genuine meaning of the term they have been brilliant educators; educators of the qualities important in sport and qualities that make New Zealand the proud little nation that it is. And for that their students and all the rest of us involved in swimming should be extremely thankful.














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