Archive for February, 2018

Wellington 2020 Strategic Plan

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Jon Winter’s great new Raumati Pool

I see the Wellington Region have published a 2020 Strategic Plan. As I expected, in a report prepared by Mark Berge, someone who calls himself the quintessential consultant in jeans, it is largely a maze of bureaucratic gobbledegook.

Berge was on the Board of Wellington Swimming in 2011 and is there as the Chairman in 2018. Before looking at the Wellington plan through to 2020 I thought it would be fun to prepare a term report on Berge’s performance since 2011. His website tells me:

“Mark sees the bigger picture rapidly, balances his conceptual thinking abilities with practicalities and therefore you don’t just have good ideas, you have good ideas that work.”

Clearly he has a pretty remarkable opinion of his own talents. But has the performance of Wellington Swimming matched that remarkable opinion?

Let us examine that question in terms of some of the goals Berge has set for Wellington Swimming in the Strategic Plan.

Berge’s opening subject is participation. The aim, we are told, is to “increase participation in swimming in the Wellington Region”. The table below shows the term results in the subject called “Participation”.

Item 2011 2017 Change
Number of Competitive Swimmers 836 817 Down by 2.3%
Number of Coaches 68 27 Down by 60.3%
Officials 369 348 Down by 5.7%
Total Members 3163 2989 Down by 5.5%

In every relevant participation measure Berge’s Wellington Region is poorer in 2017 than it was six years ago. His report card is going to say, “A poor result. Mark needs to apply himself more in this subject.”

The second subject is revenue. The aim, we are told, is to reduce the cost of participation and at the same time Increase revenue streams. The table below shows the term results in the subject called “Revenue”.

Item 2011 2017 Change
Total Income 224,347 229,329 Up by 2.2%
Meet Entry Fees 83,459 93,343 Up by 11.8%
Affiliation Fees 54,894 32,532 Down by 40.7%
Donations and Grants 23,355 44,705 Up by 91.4%

So what does all that mean? Well it means effectively total revenue has remained static. So the performance in terms of “increased revenue streams” has not been good. Six years of the same revenue is definitely in need of attention. For some reason Affiliation fees have reduced by 40%. Part of that is the result of a 5% reduction in membership. However a 40% reduction certainly earns Berge a pass mark as a student of “reducing the cost of participation”. The shortfall in Affiliation Fees has been made up for by an 11% increase in Meet Entry Fees and a 91% increase in Donations and Grants.

The increase in Meet Entry Fees compromises the Berge performance in Affiliation Fees. It could be that Berge is simply giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Lower Affiliation Fees but more Meet Entry Fees all from the same cheque books.

The increase in Grants and Donations is exceptional. Berge gets an “A” in this subject. However Grants and Donation income does come with reservations. Grants and Donations tend to be very volatile. They can be taken away on any one of a dozen whims. Relying on this source of income to the extent that Wellington is in 2017 means that the core activities of the business are not paying their way. A sound business would have the core activities paying for the business and grants and donations as the cream on top. That is not the case in Wellington. Without grants and donations Wellington will have real financial difficulties.

And the final subject is performance. The aim is to improve the performance of the region’s swimmers. The table below shows the term results in the subject called “Performance”.

Item 2011 2017 Change
Number of NZ Open medals 9 10 Up by 10%

There are a dozen ways to measure elite performance. I have chosen to measure the number of medals won by Wellington swimmers at the New Zealand Open Championships. Six years ago Wellington swimmers won 9 medals and last year that increased to 10. Joy at the one medal improvement is compromised by recognising that at the NZ Open Championships 102 medals are presented. For a major centre, like Wellington, to win only 10% of the medals on offer, is not good enough; not be a country mile.     

And so is the performance of Mark Berge a pass or a fail. The next table shows how I would mark his test results

Item Grade
Increase participation in swimming in the Wellington Region. F
Reduce the cost of participation B
Increase revenue streams C
Performance C
Overall Result C

I guess members of the Wellington Region need to decide whether a “C” grade is good enough to take them through the next two years. For me I’d want better.

Change Relies On You

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

In my previous Swimwatch post I discussed how closing the Swimming New Zealand training squad was important to giving the organisation a clear sense of direction. It is the ultimate irony that Bruce Cotterill gets paid to give speeches about corporate clarity of purpose and at the same time rules over the hedge maze that is Swimming New Zealand. I also said it was the last occasion I would set out those arguments. We will all wait and see what Johns and Francis present at the regional meetings they have planned.

What I do want to discuss is the importance to take advantage of the opportunity to change. While it is true healthy organisations need to adapt and change all the time, the occasions when major changes can be implemented successfully occur less frequently. Employees, members and partners understand the importance of change but also value stability.

The last time Swimming New Zealand was in a position to accept major change was in 2011. Brian Palmer and Bronwen Radford did a good job of leading Swimming New Zealand’s regions to a point where the majority accepted that change was required. And then Brian Palmer was invited to Wellington to meet the Sport New Zealand CEO, Peter Miskimmin. At that meeting, in my opinion, Brian Palmer sold the crown jewels. The opportunity of a generation was lost. Palmer and Radford allowed Miskimmin to take advantage of the recognition of the need for change.

Instead of being used as a vehicle to implement progressive change, Miskimmin and Moller imposed on the organisation its current reactionary constitution. Oh, Palmer at the time was full of excuses. “There was no other way,” he told me on the phone. “Miskimmin would have gone to Court. We could not afford the legal fall out,” he said. When courage in its leadership was needed most, swimming came up sadly short.

And the results have been exactly as we predicted; as we told Palmer in 2011. Six years later:

  1. The number of competitive swimmers is down by 8.1%.
  2. The number of coaches is down by 54.7%.
  3. The total membership is down by 24.9%
  4. The number of clubs is down by 8.3%.
  5. Government funding is down by 28.0%
  6. Membership fees are down by 0.7%.
  7. Total funding is down by 14.7%.
  8. The number of individual qualifiers for the Commonwealth Games is down by 83.3%.

There is not a single measure of the organisation’s performance that has improved since Brian Palmer allowed Miskimmin to highjack the impetus for change. . Miskimmin and Moller detected weakness and exploited the vulnerable. In my opinion the performance of Swimming New Zealand is the Palmer, Radford, Miskimmin, Moller, Layton and Cotterill legacy of shame.

A generation of New Zealand swimming talent has been lost in the past six years. But do the architects care. I doubt it very much. Palmer was attracted by Saudi Arabian money and left the country. Radford still does swimming in Rotorua. Layton and Cotterill were promoted to Chairman of the organisation. The shambles of the opportunity lost in 2011 has not affected them at all.

But, what about 2018? Today I detect a similar mood for change. There is no leadership, but there seems to be an acceptance that Swimming New Zealand cannot stay the same. The results have been too catastrophic.

The Francis targeted athlete and club initiative suggests that even the employees of Swimming New Zealand understand the need to change. Our problem is that the management weakness that high-jacked the impetus for change in 2011 is just as prevalent in 2018. Already compromise is being accepted. Already the Francis plan is being compromised by the decision to keep the centralised Swimming New Zealand training program open. Exactly the same deal and double deal that screwed swimming in 2011 is in play today.

Even today witnessed the addition of Lewis Clareburt to the New Zealand Commonwealth Games team. I am unreservedly delighted for Lewis Clareburt. However my heart cries for the sport. Selecting a swimmer who has not done the qualifying time and is no more deserving than three or four others demonstrates the lack of values in the people at the top. While the selection may be great for the swimmer, members need to realize the damage done to the sport when leaders play fast and loose with the rules. Oh, I know they will quote one of their many escape clauses (4.3 d) to justify the deception.

But this selection shows the calibre of the people we are dealing with. And it is all bad. The selection of this New Zealand Commonwealth Games team demonstrates a respect for the rule of law that Kim Jong Un would recognise immediately. We need to remember that when we are dealing with matters concerning future change. Never trust a snake.

Francis and Johns are about to take their plans out on the road. It is of the utmost importance that the regions, the club, the coaches and the members demand a clean break with the past. Francis and Johns must get the message that having a foot in both camps; that Swimming New Zealand’s involvement in direct coaching, must end. That message must be crystal clear. There is no way in the world that I want to be sitting at a computer in another six years contemplating the sort of performance we have witnessed since 2011.

And so change matters. It appears as though there is an opportunity to make progress. The regions, the club, the coaches and the members must make sure it is not lost for a second time.

Empty Word Are Evil

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

The title of this post is a quote from Homer. Homer was the Greek author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems which are the central works of ancient Greek literature. Although that is some time ago, clearly Homer had Swimming New Zealand in mind.

Because the Johns and Francis decision to continue with the Swimming New Zealand training group and to hold open the possibility of employing a Head Coach is so important to the future of swimming in New Zealand I am going to spend one more post discussing the evil of that decision.

Progress in any activity requires commitment. Coaches preach the importance of this quality all the time. We tell swimmers that, no matter what their level of talent, success requires commitment. Half-hearted or safe effort will not win the Olympic Games. Commitment cannot be compromised. Commitment must be absolute.

And herein, of course, lies the first problem with the Swimming New Zealand decision to leave open its Auckland training squad. Their commitment is compromised. They tell New Zealand they are all in with the new direction; with the push to develop a strong and successful national club coaching program. But their actions say that if, by some chance, the new initiative struggles, they can pick up their centralized life-boat past.

Gary Francis talks a good game. I suspect he knows what is right. I think he is committed to seeing the New Zealand club structure work successfully. But talk will not get this right. Actions are what count. And while Swimming New Zealand has its own training squad, their commitment to every one of the 165 clubs in New Zealand will be compromised. From a personality point of view I think Gary Francis is committed to the cause. Unfortunately I do not have the same trust in Johns or Cotterill. Sadly though, the job Francis wants to do is being compromised by the company he keeps.

In the first post on this subject I spoke about the need for Francis to demonstrate strength of character. This is what I said.

Certainly Gary comes in a more polite, more dignified package than the other three. Whether there is an uncompromising core of steel inside, we are about to find out. I hope so. A good guy is being thrown into a den of unsuccessful bureaucrats who know only a fraction of what he knows about swimming. The reality is that like Schubert, Sweetenham and Talbot, his job will be to lead the organisation. Whether Cotterill and Johns have the brains to let him do that, we will see. Whether Gary has the courage to do what’s right and ignore the political fallout; I hope so. And so Gary. Good luck and God speed. If you do what is necessary, I predict the next couple of years are going to be difficult. Your job will be at risk many times before you turn this lot around. But the sport needs you.

  My concern was well founded. I think Gary Francis would have closed the Swimming New Zealand training squad in a heartbeat. But the opinions of Johns and Cotterill were to leave it open and Francis did not have the strength of character to do what was right. Schubert, Talbot and Sweetenham would never have failed that test. While Francis fails to show the strength necessary to do what is right, he is being relegated into the position of another quote I have used in Swimwatch. Gary Francis is simply the smile on the face of the assassin.     

The mixed messages inherent in the decision to leave open the Swimming New Zealand training squad will be fatal. Strangely enough Bruce Cotterill knows that is true. And yet he allows it to happen anyway. Cotterill has a business blog in which he sets out important management principles. Here is a quote taken from the Cotterill blog.

Clarity of Purpose

“So, what are you trying to achieve?

It can sometimes take a lot of time to get really clear about what you are trying to achieve. And that’s ok. It’s worth taking the time, because in my experience, this decision will drive many of the others that you will make in your business journey.

For many years now I have called the answer to this question “clarity of purpose”. I genuinely believe that organisations only fail for one of two reasons. The first one is a lack of appropriate financial management and control. The other reason is a lack of clarity of purpose.

Clarity of Purpose is your Cornerstone

Once you establish that clarity, it should become the foundation stone upon which your entire business plan, and often your business philosophy, is built. Seeking that clarity should be the very first step in your business planning process. And the many steps that follow should all relate in some way to that purpose.

What a joke; Cotterill preaches clarity of purpose and then in Swimming New Zealand he allows the organization to wallow in a bucket of mud. Is the purpose of Swimming New Zealand to develop a strong, successful national club training program or is it to run its own swim school? They are competing goals. Clarity of purpose demands that Swimming New Zealand be one or the other. It simply cannot be both. In Brucie’s own words, “Organisations only fail for one of two reasons. The first one is a lack of appropriate financial management and control. The other reason is a lack of clarity of purpose.” Brucie, it seems, also talks a good game. The performance – not so good.

But Brucie is right; a lack of clarity of purpose will cause an organization to struggle. In this case the competing demands of a national club program and running an Auckland squad are pretty obvious. A swimmer in New Plymouth needs to come to Auckland for his education. He asks Gary Francis for advice on which squad to join. Because of a lack of clarity of purpose Francis does not know whether to promote his employer’s program or to strengthen the club structure by recommending North Shore, United, HPK or Waterhole. My guess is the Swimming New Zealand squad will always get “favoured nation” treatment. It always has in the past. Which in turn means the policy of a national club program is fatally compromised. The same questions apply to the allocation of resources, the selection of teams and a dozen other issues.

It appears as though a biblical quote might be appropriate for Brucie and his management team. “Physician heal thyself.”

Double Deal

Monday, February 12th, 2018

The Swimwatch position on the Steve Johns and Gary Francis decision to continue with a Swimming New Zealand elite training squad was set out in this quote from a previous post.

“Because for as long as that program exists Swimming New Zealand will continue to be a threat to every club program in the country.”

Although the Swimwatch position is clear, it needs to be explained. Why does the existence of a Swimming New Zealand training squad represent a danger to a healthy national club program?

But before discussing the problems, it should to be said that, there is much in Gary Francis’ email to be pleased about. The following quotes deserve the support of us all. The principles described are right. They accurately define the proper role of a national federation in assisting club programs deliver champions. The job of Swimming New Zealand is to assist and promote a strong national club coaching program. It is not to own a training program that competes against the clubs. Here is the good stuff Gary Francis says about promoting a national club delivery program.

Firstly, let me say what the new role is not! I am not replacing the former Head Performance Coach, Jerry Olszweski.

The HP centre at AUT Millennium will now become the National Training Centre. 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.

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.

But a dark shadow compromises our delight at the direction described by Francis. Here is another series of quotes also taken from the email that undoes all of his good intentions.

Swimming New Zealand are not looking to seek a replacement for Jerry, or anyone in a similar role for the present time.

Not looking for a replacement for Jerry is of course appropriate for a program about to take off in a new and better direction. But Gary adds a killer qualification; “at the present time”. What this means is that Steve Johns and Gary Francis are leaving the door open to bring back in a National Coach. At any time Swimming New Zealand could begin recruiting foreign coaches to steal and coach swimmers from clubs all around the country. It is typical Swimming New Zealand – we are heading off in a new direction but we reserve the right to con you blind if we want to. At the presentations planned by Johns and Francis the clubs need to make it clear that the qualification, “at the present time” is not acceptable.

The Francis email goes on to say.

Mat Woofe will continue to coach the squad that currently swims out of that centre.

And so in two sentences we have been told that a National Coach could be recruited and that Swimming New Zealand is going to keep its training squad alive and well. Those qualifications make a lie of the Francis email. This is not a new direction. For as long as the Swimming New Zealand squad exists and the door is open to employ a National Coach the danger to New Zealand clubs and coaches remains real.

You can’t be a little bit pregnant. You can’t have a foot in both camps. Either Swimming New Zealand is in there promoting a national club program or they are into running their own swim squad. Fifteen years’ experience has shown every club and coach in New Zealand that when Swimming New Zealand owns its own squad the needs of club and coaches take second place. Of course Swimming New Zealand is going to put a priority on its own program. They have huge egos. While that squad exists, if Steve Johns and Gary Francis are faced with a choice between what is right for North Shore, or United or Capital or Aqua Gym and what is going to benefit their own program, what decision do you think they will make? Believe me their self-interest will trump your club program every time.

This is a Clayton’s new direction. It is a standard Swimming New Zealand con; a fraud. Sadly it is pretty typical of the moral bankruptcy in 14 Antares Place. While the Swimming New Zealand squad continues, Steve Johns and Gary Francis should receive no assistance from clubs and coaches around the country. No one should sign up for a program not in their best interests. As this program is described, it is in the best interests of no one – except Swimming New Zealand.

And finally Francis says.

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.

Here again the Francis’ email is pure Swimming New Zealand deception. What it says is, we won’t be recruiting, but our swim program “will still be” a better option than any club program in the country. That sort of blatant dishonesty has had serious consequences for swimming. Membership numbers are down, income is down and, now that Lauren Boyle and Glen Snyders have resigned, competitive results are non-existent. And this email tells us why. It is full of double dealing. It comes from an organization that could not lie straight in bed.

And that’s why the existence of a Swimming New Zealand training squad represents a danger to a healthy national club program. That is why clubs and coaches should resist this initiative until Swimming New Zealand is honest and abandons their squad training program. They are either all in on the new direction or there is no new program.

When I first discussed this new initiative I conclude by saying that the portion of the plan that aimed at promoting a national club program reminded me of the Churchill quote, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

However the portion of the plan that preserves the Swimming New Zealand training squad reminds me of another quote by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

Pay  To Play

Sunday, February 11th, 2018

 Mt Whakapunaki – the scene of a thousand kills

I am looking forward to hearing the details of how the new Targeted Athlete and Coach Manager position is going to work. I am especially interested in how Steve Johns and Gary Francis explain away the decision to continue operating a Swimming New Zealand competitive training squad. Because for as long as that program exists Swimming New Zealand will continue to be a threat to every club program in the country. There is a lot more to be written and said about that decision.

I am also looking forward to the Commonwealth Games. We will soon know whether Steve Johns was right when he said, “We are confident in the swimmers who have been selected and know that they are up for the challenge.” Not that you can read much into what Steve Johns says. Before the World Championships in July 2017 the NZ Herald reported that, “Swimming NZ expressed delight with the performances of its elite athletes allowing it to select an expanded group to race at Budapest.” And we all know how that turned out.

While we wait for further news on these issues I thought I’d write another post on my swimming career. I have already described my training in the Hangaroa River using Arthur Lydiard’s book “Run to the Top” as my training manual. That worked well. From my Te Reinga river I won Auckland and Wellington Championships. I was always beaten in Hawkes Bay by, my mate, Greg Meade, but I did have a box of second place medals. At 14 years old I decided further improvement meant going to Australia for summer holiday training.

I contacted Australia’s leading coach, Don Talbot, and asked if I could join his squad for six weeks. He agreed. My parents also agreed but said I would need to earn the cost of my airfare and accommodation. In Te Reinga that is not easy. There are no paper-runs and no shops. And so I became a professional killer.

If I shot three wild goats each weekend for our dogs my parents agreed to pay me the equivalent of Williams and Kettles purchased dog food. In addition my parents agree to take any wild pigs or deer I managed to kill, 30 miles into the Wairoa butcher. He was offering one shilling a pound for wild game. There were however rules.

Because I was only 14 years old my father was concerned that I did not turn my hunting ground into World War 3. Therefore I was not allowed telescopic sights or a magazine of bullets. Kills were going to require normal sights and feeding one bullet at a time into the rifle. He was convinced that would make me a better and more cautious hunter. I think he was right. And so the magazines were removed from my Diana 22 and my cut-down Lee Enfield 303. It’s called cut-down because much of the wood on an army Lee Enfield is removed.

And so every weekend for four years, from the age of 14 to 17, I hunted the length and breadth of Mt. Whakapunaki. I raised enough money to pay for three trips to Australia. In fact I had funds left over that I used to pay personal costs associated with a USA scholarship I won at the end of high school.

Hunting every weekend might sound like a lot more fun than doing a paper-run or working at Count Down. And on a nice day in summer that is probably true. However not all days are nice days in summer. There are many better things to do than wandering around searching for wild goats on cold, wet days in winter. And of course there is more to it than shooting the goats. They needed to be skinned and gutted and carried home. About 650 goats must have met their end to feed our dogs and get me to Don Talbot’s squad in Sydney.

Deer and pigs however were the real money earners. My record was three deer in one day. But perhaps my most memorable hunting moment was early on when a mate of mine, Kahui Duncan, and I were hunting together. We were walking along a high cliff and saw a deer below us. Kahui and I decided we would fire together in order to improve the chances of a kill. Three, two, one, fire and the deer dropped. It took about fifteen minutes to climb down to the dead animal. An inspection revealed that just one bullet had found its mark. Kahui claimed that it was his shot. I, of course, said it was mine. We split the payment 50/50 but continued to debate whose shot had done the damage. After high school Kahui and I went our separate ways. Kahui stayed in Wairoa while I went to University and lived in the UK, the USA and Wellington, New Zealand.

Thirty year later I stopped in Wairoa on my way to the Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay Swimming Championships in Gisborne. I called in at New Zealand’s best bakery, Oslers, for a pie and a cup of coffee. And there was Kahui.

“David,” he said, “It’s been 30 years. But you do know, don’t you, it was my shot that got that deer.

Wild pigs are a more difficult hunt. Because we relied on dogs to find and trap the pigs, it is almost impossible to shoot a pig. Getting in close and stabbing, they call it sticking, is the preferred option. Normally we had to run following the dogs and the pig. I could not help but notice how much faster Kahui was at running through the bush. That puzzled me because in high school track and cross country events I could beat Kahui; no problem. I asked him one day why he was so much faster in the bush.

“Ah,” he said, “That’s because you pakeha run around the trees whereas Maori run through them.”

I never kept count of the pigs and deer that met their end in order to pay for my swimming trips to Australia. My guess is a combined total between 150 and 200. And that’s how I paid to play.

Oh, and it was my shot that got that deer.