The Dawn Of A New Era?

The following email has been received today from Gary Francis, the new Swimming New Zealand Targeted Athlete and Coach Manager. I have copied it below.

Gary’s message makes good reading. With two reservations I agree with the principles he describes. For the most part his preliminary explanation is what Swimming New Zealand should have been doing for the last fifteen years. Gary accurately reflects the role of a national federation. Swimming New Zealand had no business being involved in delivering high performance training. They have a major role in assisting private enterprise clubs perform that role. Instead Swimming New Zealand chose to pour $25million into their own training program and worked assiduously to strip clubs of their best swimmers. The destruction caused by the national federation was catastrophic. It should never be forgotten that two generations of the county’s most talented swimmers were lost in Swimming New Zealand’s unfortunate experiment.

My first reservation arises from this quote taken from Gary’s email:

Mat Woofe will continue to coach the squad that currently swims out of that centre. The National Training Centre (NTC) will still be a good option for certain swimmers, depending on their individual needs and circumstances.

That decision will make a lie of everything Gary Francis will ever do. While that state sponsored competitive swim program exists in any form, all that Steve Johns has done, by employing Gary Francis, is put a smile on the face of the assassin. Behind all the words Gary uses to describe his national focus on all New Zealand clubs, there lurks the spectre of a federation run and sponsored training program offering free coaching. Already Gary is calling it a “good option”. He has written his first advertisement for a Swimming New Zealand swim program that competes unfairly with North Shore, Waterhole, United and every other club in the country. The potential for Swimming New Zealand to rape clubs of their best swimmers remains. Gary’s words mean nothing while the Swimming New Zealand program exists. It needs to be closed and the swimmers and the coach absorbed into a normal North Shore or United club swim program. I think it is a fair to say that while Swimming New Zealand attempts to have a foot in both camps Gary Francis should receive no cooperation from any club in New Zealand. Gary is either promoting the national club program or he is a front for the Swimming New Zealand’s squad. He cannot be both.   

My second reservation stems from the history of Swimwatch. The early motivation for Swimwatch was to highlight the dangerous futility of Swimming New Zealand’s centralized training program. For twelve years Swimwatch asked Swimming New Zealand to do what Gary describes in his email. In that time Swimming New Zealand staff worked strenuously to undermine me and my opinion. Clubs were ordered to remove Swimwatch from their link’s page. The Federation Chairman used his annual report to attack my credibility and the views expressed in Swimwatch. He said, “The credibility the opinions of these bloggers deserve is clear; absolutely none.” One “johnny-come-lately” OAP Facebook commentator said the views on Swimwatch were too negative. I have received lawyer’s letters demanding posts be removed. They never have been. Numerous swimming people have told me they never read Swimwatch and then quote posts word for word to explain why my views are wrong. Statcounter analytics tells me the average unique visits, since Swimwatch was first published in November 2006, is 131 per day from 28 countries.

I am sure readers will understand when I say that years of this abuse have an effect. When good things happen it is difficult to avoid being suspicious. So many times before, especially in 2011 reform has been promised. So many promises have come to nothing. So often the ambition of Swimming New Zealand bureaucrats has trumped doing what is right. So many people with little understanding of elite sport have had too much influence. The decision of Swimming New Zealand to keep its own training program open only adds to that suspicion. I do hope this is not another disappointment.

But let’s be positive and enjoy what Gary Francis is offering. Let’s take him at his word. The long night might be coming to an end. Or to quote Churchill, because that’s the way I feel just now, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

But Gary – get rid of that swim program.

Here is his email.

Hi Coaches

 Although I already know many of you I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself in my new role at Swimming New Zealand, as ‘Targeted Athlete and Coach Manager’.

It’s a position I’m very excited about, as I feel it can make a hugely positive difference for New Zealand swimmers and coaches, and help develop our sport overall.

 Firstly, let me say what the new role is not! I am not replacing the former Head Performance Coach, Jerry Olszweski. Swimming New Zealand are not looking to seek a replacement for Jerry, or anyone in a similar role for the present time. The HP centre at AUT Millennium will now become the National Training Centre, and Mat Woofe will continue to coach the squad that currently swims out of that centre. There will no longer be a drive to recruit swimmers to a centralised programme that receives all of the funding and support provision. The National Training Centre (NTC) will still be a good option for certain swimmers, depending on their individual needs and circumstances. The NTC will play a much bigger role as a training and testing centre for regional based swimmers and coaches and become the main hub for coach development, and I hope that coaches throughout the country will see the centre as a source of support.

My role is already evolving(!), but the action plan for how it will work will be finalised over the next few weeks. Steve Johns (CEO), and myself will then set up a series of presentations across the country to explain the revised HP strategy that includes the ‘Targeted Athlete and Coach’ programme. How this integral programme operates will be clearly laid out during those presentations.

What I can say now is that the role will help to develop better individual support for both the targeted swimmers and coaches, give more direction in what performance targets and standards are required to produce world class swimmers and coaches, help develop more integration and sharing of skills and knowledge, and I hope it will encourage our whole community to strive for better performance expectations at every level.

 As I said earlier, I’m very excited by the challenge ahead and look forward to working with you all. I know there will be a million plus questions that need to be asked and answered, and hopefully many of those can be when Steve and I meet with each regional group in the next few weeks.  

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