Steve Johns One More Time

My previous two posts discussed concerns I had about the Swimming New Zealand CEO, Steve Johns and the Chairman, Bruce Cotterill. The Steve Johns post discussed his authoritarian suggestion that elite swimmers should be forced to swim at the Millennium Institute. I pointed out apparent contradictions in his policy positions. I highlighted the perfect example Steve Johns swimming career was of the swimming malaise of early teenage dropout. And I expressed concern at the close contact he once had with surf lifesaving admirer, Stephen Pye.

But there are other issues that should be discussed.

In my coaching career I have been fortunate enough to know some of New Zealand and the world’s best coaches and administrators. People like Schubert, Lydiard, Laing, Jelley, Hurring, Judith Wright, Rudd and Thomas. One feature characterised them all. They were uncompromisingly positive. Problems were dismissed in their quest for success.

I have also met those who always have an excuse for being beaten or a well prepared reason to explain failure. Many of the comments made by Steve Johns appear to put him in this ready-made excuse gang. A series of Steve Johns’ quotes illustrate the point.

“Success on the international stage requires a significant financial investment in both our players and coaches. 

In a sport (tennis) that receives no high performance financial support from Sport New Zealand we are always going to struggle to provide sufficient support to our players to enable them to have a real ‘crack’ on the international circuit.

Because of our geographical isolation, we will always struggle to participate fully in the international tennis circuit.”

As you can see none of that appears to have much in common with the spirit of Loader, Snell, Halberg, Walker, Dixon and Quax; or even Jeffs, Copland, Chellingworth, Baker and others who went out, on their own dime, took on the world and were successful.

It would be interesting to hear Steve Johns explanation of an apparent decline in club membership while he was at Tennis New Zealand. During his tenure his policy emphasis appeared to change, from elite success to mass participation. I suspect he made the change because it gave him better access to a Sport New Zealand welfare cheque. The table below suggests that attracting more club members was not a Steve Johns’ shining moment. The table shows the registered club members in each year of Steve Johns’ employment. Although Steve Johns left in 2017 I have included 2017 membership numbers. The policies put in place by Steve Johns in 2016 would have influenced the numbers the following year.

Year No. Club Members Increase (Decline) % Increase (Decline)
2012 37152 -
2013 38629 1477 4.0
2014 39083 454 1.2
2015 37740 (1343) (3.4)
2016 36219 (1521) (4.0)
2017 34557 (1662) (4.6)

The old expression in statistics that “figures can’t lie but liars can figure” has never had more validity that an interpretation of this set of figures. I would argue that the policies prior to Steve Johns arrival resulted in a membership of 37152. During 2013 and 2014 this early good health gradually deteriorated until in 2015 membership began to decline and continued to do so, in ever increasing numbers, through to the period immediately after Steve Johns left. Overall the sport’s club participation numbers declined by 7%. If that analysis is accurate we can only hope he has learned something from the experience and does a better job in swimming.

However I have kept the worst until last. My main concern is we may be about to witness the biggest policy heist in swimming history. Readers of Swimwatch will be aware of the qualified welcome given to the news that Swimming New Zealand has decided to replace the centralised Millennium high performance centre with a targeted athlete program based around the appointment of a Targeted Athlete and Coach Manager. That welcome is withdrawn. There is the very real prospect we are being patted and placated in order to be deceived. You see the swimming proposal is simply a rehash of a targeted athlete program imposed by Steve Johns at Tennis New Zealand.

The tennis version only seems to have lasted a couple of years. Having failed to make his version of “targeted athlete development” work in Tennis Steve Johns seems to be having a crack at doing the same thing in swimming. While the program in Tennis was a Steve Johns favourite it appears to have had less to do with individual development and more to do with the federation imposing and extending its influence. We know Steve Johns has authoritarian tendencies. Remember he said in his first interview at Swimming New Zealand that it might be a good idea to force swimmers to attend the Millennium Institute if they wanted to swim for New Zealand. We are not East Germany and should resist efforts by Steve Johns to push us in that direction.

In Tennis the deception was promoting the scheme as targeted individual development; the reality was more state control. For example, in the first year of the tennis targeted athlete program, players were selected to go off to Europe in a Federation team, coached by federation coaches. The Federation had a base in Holland where players competed and trained as a Federation team. That is not “targeted individual development”. That’s an old fashioned state run dictatorship. Training camps for young tennis players were added to lure and seduce more players into the Federation’s “targeted” web. This had nothing to do with making the players and their home clubs and coaches stronger. It was a simply a $248,000 per year ruse to extend and consolidate Federation influence and power.

It annoys me that I thought Swimming New Zealand may have seen the light; had turned a corner. It annoys me intensely that I may have been conned by them.

I was asked recently if I would support the targeted athlete program. I said yes. However if Steve Johns and Bruce Cotterill, having utterly failed to impose state control of the sport through the Centralised High Performance Program, are trying to do the same thing under the cover of a deceptive stunt, then they and the new manager will get nothing but grief from these pages.

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