The Circus Goes On & On & On & On

 Swimming New Zealand has recently announced the support staff selected to accompany swimmers to the Commonwealth Games. This is what the announcement says:

We are super pleased to announce that the New Zealand Olympic Committee has officially selected the Swimming support staff who will accompany our athletes to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games next month.

Simon Mayne – Paralympic Coach

Roly Crichton – Paralympic Coach

Jana Wilkitzki – Howick Pakuranga Swim Club

Mat Woofe – SNZ National Training Centre Performance Coach

David Lyles – United Swim Club

Matthew Ingram – HPSNZ Analyst

Toni Bayliffe – Team Manager (North shore Swim Club)

I do not plan to comment on the Paralympic appointments. The other staff selected are of interest.

First is Coach Jana Wilkitzki of the Howick Pakuranga Swim Club. I do not know Coach Jana. However, from all that I have heard, from people I do respect, she is an able, knowledgeable and well qualified coach. She coaches successful swimmers for a successful club. In my view her appointment is entirely positive. The team will benefit from her presence.

I do know Toni Bayliffe. She is an excellent selection for the Team Manager’s position. So often, Team Managers have little or no personal experience of sport. That certainly is not the case here. Bayliffe had a very successful swimming career. And after swimming she has successfully managed dozens of club, regional and national teams. For many years she also managed the business affairs of New Zealand’s largest swim club. I have often been involved in events where Bayliffe has been the Team Manager. In every case she has been open, efficient and fair – a good team manager.

I do have a problem with the selection of Mat Woofe. Just who is Mat Woofe? The Swimming New Zealand staff profile’s page describes him as the High Performance Coach Intern but, all of a sudden, in this announcement, he has become SNZ National Training Centre Performance Coach. When was that promotion approved? Or is it a title invented for this occasion? After all, having a Coach Intern on the national team would make the team look as mickey-mouse as it actually is. It’s a fair bet Woofe’s title was changed in a desperate act of window dressing. Because the reality is “intern” is a more accurate description of his appointment. I could name thirty coaches from Whangarei to Invercargill who are more experienced, more successful, more knowledgeable and in my opinion better selections. It does seem as if Woofe is going simply because the name of his employer is Swimming New Zealand. If that’s true, once again the organization has put appearance ahead of performance. New Zealand swimming will never win anything while it persists with this sort of flawed decision making.

I’m picking Swimming New Zealand will justify the selection of Woofe by claiming he has recently, since Jerry left, begun coaching Bradlee Ashby. That argument makes no sense. Swimming New Zealand appears perfectly happy for the team’s highest ranked swimmer, Corey Main, to travel without the coach who has guided him through the last four years. He fortunately has a good NZ club coach who will take over. In my view the decision to pick Woofe is unprincipled window dressing.

Which brings us to the selection of David Lyles. As recently as April 2015 David Lyles and Swimming New Zealand were facing each other in the Employment Relations Authority. Here is a summarised version of how the case was reported in the NZ Herald.

David Lyles was employed as National High Performance Centre coach in 2013 but lost his job in February, less than two years later.

He was made redundant after the national sports body restructured its high performance programme in the wake of a poor performance at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Swimming New Zealand told the ERA that the high performance programme had not achieved the expected results at the 2014 Glasgow Games. In the lead-up to the games, swimmers targeted for success at Glasgow were achieving slower times than previous personal bests.

And many swimmers aiming for the Rio Olympics in 2016 had elected not to train at high performance centres in Auckland and Wellington, so most of those training under the programme were “development swimmers”, aiming for Tokyo 2020.

The failure to meet targets meant High Performance Sport New Zealand could slash funding for the sport unless Swimming New Zealand could show improvements in the lead-up to Rio.

The ERA found the national head coach role had greater responsibility and required different skills than Mr Lyles’ role, and was not substantially the same. The redundancy procedure, including the selection process for the new role, was conducted fairly. The application was dismissed.

It is incredible to me that three years after putting the judicial arguments that Lyles had been involved in New Zealand’s “poor performance at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games,” and swimmers “were achieving slower times than previous personal bests,” and “many swimmers had elected not to train at high performance centres” Swimming New Zealand should go back to the same person seeking Gold Coast redemption. The person Swimming New Zealand spent $9,998 on legal fees to get rid of after the last Commonwealth Games has been brought back to coach the next Commonwealth Games. It seems the disaster that was Glasgow has been forgiven and forgotten. It is however a classic example of Swimming New Zealand management chaos.

One of the swimmers who left the Swimming New Zealand program during the Lyles’ era was Lauren Boyle. She was the only able-body swimmer to medal in Glasgow. It beats me how some office bureaucrats can figure that Lyles is their main man when New Zealand’s best swimmer went off to Australia to find different coaching. I know whose opinion I would go with.

And finally Swimming New Zealand has appointed Matthew Ingram. He is listed in the HPSNZ directory as a “Performance & Technique Analyst”. I cannot imagine a worse appointment than this. Twelve New Zealand swimmers will be on the Gold Coast for three or four weeks. Every coach in the world is taught that this is not the time to make changes. So what does a guy like Ingram do? Well the University of Canterbury website tells me he does this:

  • Videoing of swimming technique. We will film you during competition or training
  • Identify strengths and weakness in your technique
  • Improve movement patterns
  • Reduce your risk of injury
  • Enhance your body awareness through visual feedback
  • We will analyse your technique using SiliconCoach Pro 7
  • We will review your technique with athlete and coach, using the analysis results
  • We will provide you with awareness drills and/or strengthening exercises to assist you in optimising performance.

None of that stuff should be done in the weeks of a major competition. The analysis may have value in the months before an event when changes can be made. It may even benefit the swimmer in the months after the Games. But at the Games this pseudo-science is all show and no substance. In fact it can have serious negative results. It tends to undermine the confidence and normal routine peace-of-mind critical to sporting success.

And so it seems to me that New Zealand has a swim team that is going to include an inexperienced intern and a coach who was made redundant after coaching the previous Commonwealth Games’ team; both being advised by a University of Canterbury academic with a camera. That sounds like it should work out just fine! It sure is putting a pile of pressure on the able shoulders of Wilkitzki and Bayliffe. My guess is the result will be worse than Glasgow. And as I have said before the fault will lie right at the feet of Cotterill and Johns.

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