Archive for May, 2018

The Malaise Of Sporting Centralisation

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

Rowing, cycling and swimming have all fallen under the spell of Peter Miskimmin. His autocratic control has tied funding to servile acceptance of his centralized training policy. His job was to support sports realise their plans. Miskimmin, illegally in my view, interpreted that as supporting sports that implement his plans. The three sports had a choice; either accept centralised, single-site control and be paid or reject sporting centralization and be poor. The power of money was ruthlessly used to exercise policy control.

In the case of swimming it never worked. Many millions were spent. A dozen coaches came and left. No Olympic medals were won. New Zealand’s best swimmers (Boyle, Snyders and Stanley) begged to leave the program. One disaster followed another in a never-ending story of failure. For years Miskimmin maintained the fiction that his policy was fine. Swimming had not employed the right people to implement his perfect plan. Slowly, way too slowly, the penny is beginning to drop. No, it is not the people; it is instead Miskimmin’s flawed policy that is wrong. We are not quite at that point yet. We still have Neanderthals on the Board who are desperately searching for ways to make Miskimmin’s ideas work. But the end is getting close. There is very little left for the policy retards to defend.

Rowing too has also had its revolution against Miskimmin’s policy dictatorship. In December 2015 Dick Tonks told Radio Sport he was “finished” with the national body. You may recall that Tonks is one of the most successful coaches in New Zealand Olympic history, winning five gold medals with the likes of Drysdale, Rob Waddell, and Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell. He was a five-time Halberg Awards Coach of the Year and led crews to a total of 25 World Championship medals – including 13 gold. But clearly he had a guts-full of Miskimmin’s sporting stupidity. Sadly, of course, no matter how good the coach; no matter how right his cause in an argument between money and sport, money is going to win. It always has in swimming and it did in rowing. Dick Tonks, the world’s best rowing coach, was down the road.

And today we read that cycling is a mess. Swimming New Zealand scale coaching changes have struck the Cambridge cycling high performance program. Oh, like Swimming New Zealand cycling is dressing their problems up as progress to a bright new future. But the veneer is transparent. Here is what the Stuff report said today.

Cycling New Zealand has announced changes and additions to its high-performance coaching and support staff.

Cycling New Zealand’s high-performance director Martin Barras said the initial goal was to get through the international campaign before announcing any changes.

“With some coaches leaving the programme, during the Commonwealth Games, it gave us some time to take a closer look at our needs going forward,” he said.

Wow, does that say what I think it says? Coaches were packing their bags and leaving “DURING THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES”. That’s a new low even for a Miskimmin run program. Swimming has at least waited for the Air New Zealand jet to reach New Zealand before sacking another coach. It looks like the Gold Coast was close enough to home for the cycling coaches to desert the program.

It is off the subject but I see Cotterill and Johns have a linguistic mate in Cycling New Zealand’s high-performance director Martin Barras. Barras, like Johns, is obsessed with ending sentences with the unnecessary qualification “a closer look at our needs going forward”. It is a ridiculous add-on that devalues everything else they might have to say.

However back to the swimming style revolving door that passes for staff retention at cycling. When Miskimmin first began to spread his centralised poison into cycling, Justin Grace, the superbly good sprint coach couldn’t stand the way things were being run and packed his bags and went to coach in France. After one year there he was poached by the British Cycling team. Grace went on to become their head sprint coach. The team came away from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games with nine medals, including four gold.

And now the coach who replaced Grace in New Zealand, Anthony Peden, has had enough and has resigned. Peden was a successful coach. Since September 2013, he guided the men’s sprint team to success with three world championship titles, an Olympic silver medal at Rio and 14 Commonwealth Games medals – including back-to-back golds in the team and individual sprint. On the 6 o’clock TV News a cycling sport’s scientist suggested that the departure of Peden was just one of about sixteen staff to leave in recent months.

Miskimmin run sports, it seems, will soon be competing with each other for the highest staff turnover. The competition will be close. I see that the Cycling New Zealand chief executive Andrew Matheson has followed the Swimming New Zealand lead on what to say at times like this. Peden was a major loss for the organisation. His position would be advertised almost immediately.

“We’ve put in place a short-term fix (cycling too must have a coaching intern) while we look to advertise this role. Anthony has built a world-class program and there is some depth looking forward, so I expect there to be considerable interest in the role.” Like his high performance mate he too is “looking forward”. That is so good to know. The only phrase cycling has missed is that their search for a replacement will be world-wide. I’m prepared to bet any reader a dollar that the replacement will be foreign. With these “going forward” types replacements always are.

In all these Miskimmin run sports a monkey with a foreign passport will always get picked ahead of the best local coach; just ask Tonks, or Grace, or Hurring or Bouzaid. Eventually the centralized dictatorships fostered by Miskimmin will be found wanting. Eventually diverse and state supported private enterprise will take its place. Eventually – but in the meantime Miskimmin will have spent millions and ruined the swimming, rowing and cycling coaching prospects of some very good people.

The Administration Of Sport

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

What is the role of sport’s administrators? What is their purpose? What do they have in mind when they stand for election to the Boards of New Zealand or Auckland swimming? I imagine there are as many answers to those questions as there are people who have been elected to the Boards. The internet provides very little guidance into what administrators do, and even less information on what determines good and bad administration. The descriptions seem vague. For example:

Sports administrators are responsible for carrying out administrative tasks across a wide range of functions within sports clubs and organisations. For instance, you could be focusing your efforts on marketing, fundraising, procurement, supply chain management or general administration tasks. Alternatively, you could be responsible for organising and scheduling sports events, managing budgets or overseeing the recruitment and training of staff.

No matter what area of sports administration you move into, you will essentially be responsible for making sure sports organisations, events and initiatives are run efficiently and cost-effectively. Consequently, part of your role will involve maintaining databases, managing admin systems and implementing project management processes to ensure everything runs as smooth as silk.

On the basis of that definition the administration of New Zealand swimming is clearly not running to plan. “As smooth as silk” is not the first term that springs to mind when one considers the administration of the New Zealand national swimming organization. But I guess you knew that. The pages of Swimwatch have provided plenty of examples.

Of more concern in this post is Auckland Swimming. How are they doing their job? What grade have they earned? It’s a mixed bag is the answer. The basic administration, the registrations, keeping costs within budget and the application of the rules – all that stuff seems to be well managed and efficient. But there is a dark side. A side that is not working and is hurting the sport and those struggling to perform well.

For example the competition program is a disgrace. The table below shows the Auckland-based meets available to a senior swimmer in the eight weeks prior to the National Open Championships.

May 7 May 12th 2018 Golden Homes Swim Fest
June 4 June 8-10 ASA Opens

Two meets in the eight weeks prior to probably the most important selection meet of 2018, the National Long Course Championships. Now that is inadequate. You don’t need to know much about swimming to know that competition in the weeks leading up to an important event is important. The ASA Open Championship three weeks before the Nationals is well placed – take a bow Auckland Swimming. The problem is the number of weeks with nothing at all.

My first book on swimming, “Swim to the Top” was edited and approved by world master coach Arthur Lydiard. This is how the importance of trial meets prior to a big event was described.

After three weeks of trials, the season’s race programme should begin. It is impossible to achieve the ideal but in New Zealand a sample programme might look something like this — assuming that the national open championships are the swimmer’s peak event.

Week 1            Local inter-club competition

Week 2            Local inter-club competition

Week 3            Larger New Zealand centre championships

Week 4            Local inter-club competition

Week 5            Age group New Zealand national championships

Week 6            Local inter-club competition

Week 7            Open   New Zealand National  Championship

The important characteristics of the racing programme are:

•     Improve the quality of races through the season

•     Race most weekends

•     Maintain a good mileage

•     Don’t taper

•     Don’t swim too many events

•     Spend time on starts, turns, finishes, steady aerobic swimming and getting the stroke plan right

The tempo of the season should increase as the main event comes closer because the stresses of hard racing have to be learnt just like everything else. By starting with time trials and gradually improving the quality of racing, the main event will present no surprises, but will be a natural consequence of everything that has gone before.

A good program requires six events prior to a major competition. That number is supported by the experience of some very good swimmers prior to setting national records. Here is another quote from “Swim tot the Top”.

Always include at least six meets before a major event. I have seen programs ranging from one meet to 15 but the way these campaigns work is that it takes two meets for the swimmer to adjust into full racing mode and anything close to PBs is an achievement and a  good indication of better things to come. There will also be times when things just don’t go right and a six-meet program allows for that and still leaves two or three for achieving those PBs.

Toni Jeffs toured Europe twice and broke New Zealand records in meets five and six; Anna Simcic broke her world record in meet five; Danyon Loader broke his in meet five; and Phillipa Langrell set her current New Zealand 800 metres record in meet five. Shorter tours would have seen New Zealand missing out on two world records and five current national records. So six is the minimum and seven is even better.

So “six is the minimum” and what does Auckland provide – two. No wonder swimming in New Zealand is succeeding so wonderfully in falling further and further behind world standards. When Auckland administrators provide an inadequate competition program, when the most basic scheduling errors abound, the swimmers have no chance. “Swim faster”, the administrators cry and then back it up with a wholly inadequate racing schedule. It is a level of incompetence that beggars belief. And so the next time Willem Coetzee, Flo Hickey, Claudia Hill, Sandra Burrows and Brett Green are sitting around a board table moaning about swimmers not being what they used to be, they should pause for a moment to consider whether their part of the deal is being done properly.

Because when the best they can do is schedule two meets for senior swimmers in the eight weeks prior to the national championships they have no right to question the standard of any swimmer. They want Auckland swimming to improve and at the same time their incompetence makes it impossible for that to happen. If Auckland can’t do better than this the Board should step aside and let others, who can manage the place properly, have a go.

Quaxy  1 January 1948 – 28 May 2018

Monday, May 28th, 2018

In a post such as this I have found it best to get the elephant in the room out of the way first. Politically Quax and I had little in common. He was a bit too far right of centre for my left of centre leanings. Politically we disagreed on just about everything. That is not to say I didn’t like the guy. In fact, in the world of athletics, he was the most entertaining, intelligent and likeable company you could find.

Alison has known Quax since forever. They were brought up in the same town. They ran for the same athletic club. Quax went to the same school as Alison’s brother and for a short period Quax worked in the same insurance office as Alison’s father.

I didn’t meet Quax until 1977 shortly after he set the world record of 13:12.87 for the 5000 meters. He stayed for a couple of nights at our home in King’s Road, Windsor. Shortly after he arrived he said he would like to go for an easy run. Did I have any suggestions for a pleasant four or five mile circuit? Being as our house backed onto Windsor Great Park and was used by Alison every day in clocking through her 100 miles a week finding a five mile circuit was no problem at all.

Fully aware that I was talking to the new world record holder I said I would go with him and show him some of the sights of Windsor Great Park. We set off from the Ranger’s Gate and circled through the Village and past the Gamekeepers Lodge, home to some of the Queen’s corgis. Then down across The Dip and onto the Guards polo ground Smith’s Lawn. I was feeling good. Quax had started slowly although I was beginning to notice a slight acceleration as we crossed the green expanse of Smith’s Lawn.

As we dropped down to the path beside Virginia Water and began to climb Rhododendron Walk towards the Royal Lodge I became acutely aware of why Quax was the world record holder. The slight increases in speed meant I was now sprinting toward the top of the Long Walk. The world record holder was clipping along, barely breathing, chatting happily about the nice run we were having. Fortunately at the top of the Long Walk he stopped and said he would run down the Walk back to home while I, thankfully, would need to take the car.

It was a memorable run. Memorable because it was so much fun and memorable because for the first time I understood the performance gulf that separates world record holders from the rest of us. Quax wasn’t showing off. On the contrary he was being kind to his under-powered training partner. He was simply very, very good at this running business.

Later that evening we went to the House on the Bridge in Eton for dinner. That proved to be as memorable as the run. Quax is genuinely good company; interesting, funny and bright. Through dinner he kept us entertained with an endless stream of stories. I even remember that Quax and I had the same main course – rack of lamb with fondant potato, provençale vegetables and thyme jus.

Through the years our paths crossed many more times. He negotiated with promoters to get Alison entered in meets in Ireland and Poland. When he promoted the hugely successful New Zealand and Australia Track Series, on three occasions, Quax included an invitation and air fare for Alison. He didn’t make those arrangements as some form of charity. He was far too professional for that. But when he saw an athlete as committed as he was he would stop at nothing to give them the break, he felt, they deserved.

When Toni Jeffs was preparing for the Barcrlona Olympic Games we arranged a farewell party in Wellington. Quax came to compere the event. It was quite an occasion with both New Zealand television companies and Channel 7 from Australia sending cameras and reporters. Quax was brilliant. His status as a successful Olympian and his humour made for a memorable night. If only I’d done as good a job of Toni’s preparation.

That was the fun side of Quax. But there was also his athletic wisdom. I will always remember the caution he stressed in the weeks before a major event. Be very careful David, he said, when the press are looking for something to write, anything you say can be misinterpreted. It’s a mistake I made before Barcelona and have watched many others make since then. Quax’s own preparation was based on Lydiard distance principles. On many occasions I have called Quax to ask for his opinion on some training problem. It was always provided openly and freely – and he was always right.

So thank you Quax, Thank you for your help. Thank you for the memories and thank you for providing me with the first hint of what it meant to be a world record holder; one evening out the back of Windsor Great Park.

Who Said Administrators Don’t Matter?

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Recent events at Netball New Zealand demonstrate the influence administrators can have on a sport. In the case of Netball the influence has been bad; or perhaps even worse than bad; catastrophic could be more accurate. The Board made three decisions that were unbelievably destructive.

  1. They appointed Janine Southby to the job of national Coach when Noelene Taurua was clearly a better choice.
  2. They pulled New Zealand out of the best competitive netball league based in Australia.
  3. They refused to allow players to gain experience by competing anywhere outside of New Zealand.

And inevitably the product of a poorly led, insular and uncompetitive environment was a fiasco. New Zealand netball failed to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games. The sport got what it deserved. The press and supporters demanded accountability. A review into the Commonwealth Games’ campaign was established and will report this month. There is little doubt that Janine Southby will be expected to fall on her sword. But if I were Noeline Taurua I would not go anywhere near the position unless the other administration errors were well and truly corrected first. But the last thing Taurua needs is advice from me. I’m picking she has a list of “before-I-accept-this-position” priorities well sorted out.

The reason the bad decisions made by Netball New Zealand have come under such close and strident attention is because netball is a New Zealand national sport, used to international success. When the sport fails it is a big deal. For eighteen years swimming has had a steady stream of netball “failure” but has escaped much of the attention focused on the disaster of netball.

Since 2000 swimming has participated in five Olympic Games. The table below shows New Zealand’s successes – none. Have you ever seen such a fine line-up of zeros? If that isn’t the perfect example of competitive failure I’d love to hear of a worse result.

Games Gold Silver Bronze Total
2008 BEIJING 0 0 0 0
2012 London 0 0 0 0
2004 ATHENS 0 0 0 0
2000 SYDNEY 0 0 0 0
2016 Rio 0 0 0 0

It should come as no surprise to learn that the reasons for swimming’s poor performance are very similar to those that have afflicted netball – coaching, competition and isolation. For most of this period Jan Cameron was in charge and her policy of centralised preparation single-handedly brought the sport to its knees. Just look at the coaches Swimming New Zealand employed in a vain effort to keep Jan’s centralised program alive. Six coaches in eight years is quite an achievement. But that is the legacy Jan Cameron left us with and the Board of Swimming New Zealand chose to irresponsibly continue. Their negligence has been stunning; certainly worse than the Board of Netball New Zealand. But will swimming pay a price? Of course not.

Coach Employed Left Length of Service
Regan 2010 2013 3 Years
Sweetenham and Villanueva 2013 2013 5 Months
Lyles 2013 2015 2 Years
Power 2015 2016 1 Year
Hurring (Olympic Games only) 2016 2016 2 Months
Olszewski 2016 2017 1 Year
Woofe 2017 2018 1 Year

But the twin sins of isolation and un-competitiveness fostered by Cameron’s toxic centralised policy were equally evil. They bear a strong resemblance in type and effect to the decision of netball to pull out of the Australian competition and to refuse to select New Zealanders playing overseas.

Jan Cameron’s policy approved by the Board of Swimming New Zealand tore the heart out of regional local coaches. For years the Swimming New Zealand website trumpeted the news that the “best” coaching available in New Zealand was only to be found at the Swimming New Zealand squad in Auckland. No one else was nearly as good. The effect of that message has been devastating and long term. It will not be repaired quickly. Do you remember the National Championships when Jan Cameron made Swimming New Zealand construct an elevated stage beside the pool for members of her centralised squad to sit on, away from and above the rest of New Zealand’s swimmers? They sat there like prize peacocks in free uniforms bought with our membership fees. It was as degrading as it was disgusting. And at the same time check again on their Olympic results – absolutely zero.

Stressing the superiority of Jan Cameron’s swim program reduced the competitiveness and diversity of the sport in New Zealand. For example interclub competition became a mockery. Many of the swimmers all trained in the same squad. The name of their cap meant nothing and the world knew it. New Zealand swimmers were also penalized by Jan Cameron’s policy for looking at Australia or the United States as options for continuing their careers. Financial advantages offered to swimmers who committed themselves to Jan Cameron were denied to those who wanted to study and train in the United States or Australia. Effectively, because of the centralised policy, fewer and fewer New Zealanders went to the United States. When my daughter Jane was on scholarship at Washington State I believe she was the lone New Zealander at a Division One school. The option that had nurtured Mosse, Kingsman, Stewart, Lincoln Hurring, Gary Hurring and Boyle had been strangled by Cameron’s policy. Isolationism in sport never works. And it hasn’t worked in New Zealand netball or swimming.

I am deeply puzzled by the decision of Moss Burmester, Helen Norfolk and others to offer very public adulation to the Jan Cameron program after she died. In earlier days they were among her biggest critics. Her death was a sad occasion but the damage of her policy was not somehow repaired by her passing. Oh, I understand the hypocrisy of Johns and Cotterill. There has never been any reason to expect any better from them. But Burmester and Norfolk should know better.

There are some Neanderthals in the Unites States who believe that country should stop offering swimming scholarships to foreign swimmers. The USA, they say, should become more isolationist. Immediately one of the real strengths of USA swimming would be lost. From high school age American swimmers are used to competing against the world for a free education. Take away that competition and of course the standard will fall.

The current Board of Swimming New Zealand was not around when Cameron was feeding the sport her centralised poison. The current Board has however been there for six or seven years and has done nothing to stop the malaise. Board members are as guilty of malicious damage to the sport as the founder of the policy and the current Board of Netball New Zealand is for the damage caused to that sport. As we have said before their negligence should bring their tenure to a timely end.

Final Layout Arrives

Sunday, May 27th, 2018

Yesterday the German publishing company, Meyer & Meyer, sent me the “book-ready” layout of my new book on swimming. It is not without reason that Meyer & Meyer are one of the world’s leading publishers of books on sport. They do a fantastic job. I am delighted with the way they have turned my manuscript into a book. Of course the written words are important but the manner of their presentation; the layout and design make a huge difference.

I had the same sense of admiration and wonder at their work with my first two books, “Swim to the Top” and “Swimming a Training Program”. All that remains to be done with the new book is to provide my final approval. That will not be a problem.

The title of the new book is “Shaping Successful Junior Swimmers”. It deals with a subject of huge importance. The dropout rate in swimming, through the teenage years, is a travesty. And it is not only a New Zealand problem. Countries all over the world seem to be incapable of keeping swimmers involved in the sport through their teenage years. The evidence almost everywhere suggests that about 85% of swimmers involved in the sport at 13 years of age will have given the whole thing away before they turn 18.

Usually the departing swimmers have to shoulder the blame for their early exit. We have all heard the accusations. “She got a boyfriend” or “He was getting behind with his homework” or “Playing video games took over” or “He just wasn’t dedicated” or “Swimming is boring”. The adults in the room have an innate ability to blame their teenagers for early retirement. Almost always leaving the sport is portrayed as some teenage deficiency; some character weakness characteristic of people between 12 and 18 years of age.

Coaches, parents and administrators all indulge in this blame game. And that is the greatest irony of all. Because, in my experience, it is the coaches, the parents and the administrators who are actually responsible for early teenage dropout. It is their fault. But, of course, they can’t blame themselves and so the retiring teenager becomes an easy target.

What my new book does is examine the actions of coaches, parents and administrators that lead to early dropout and suggests actions that should improve this terrible statistic.

I have some first-hand experience of the mistakes that can be made by coaches. I’ve made plenty of them. Foremost, of course, is the real hash I made of preparing Toni Jeffs for the Barcelona Olympic Games. I got her to train harder than she had ever trained before. This was the Olympic Games. The ultimate sacrifice was required. Sadly by the time we arrived at the Games she was so run-down any hope of a good performance was long gone. The book discusses these mistakes and other similar coaching errors that can and have led many swimmers to give the whole thing away. Coaching ego carries a huge responsibility for early teenage dropout.

The actions of many parents also lead to their children deciding to leave the sport early. Over years of coaching in New Zealand, the USA, the UK, the US Virgin Islands and Saudi Arabia I came across some wonderful examples of things parents should never do. Almost always parents behaving badly led to terminal consequences for their children. The book discusses many examples of bad swimming parents. The Wellington mother who saw no problem in entering her 12 year old son in a Newtown Park track meet on Saturday morning, the Vossler Shield cross country race around Mt. Victoria on Saturday afternoon and a Wellington League swim meet at the Kilbirnie Pool that same evening. The Delray Beach mother who tore a good club apart for her own power trip and lost her son’s swimming career in the process.

And administrators are not without blame. The sins of bad administration have been discussed many times on this blog. The book takes some of the worst examples of rogue administrators and discusses the damage they cause. Examples are provided of referees that have been caught cheating, of officials who cause harm to swimmers they don’t like and of other officials who stand idly to one side watching bad behaviour occur and do nothing about it. Dozens of early retirements are the direct result of poor and hurtful actions by bad administrators.

Two final chapters, I am particularly proud of, were written by Jane Copland and discuss the best way to approach retirement. They provide a valuable insight into what is a big and difficult step for every competitive swimmer.

So that’s what the book is about. It is a very important subject. I hope the 160 pages provide some insight into what can go wrong and actions that can address the hurt. I’m told the book will be – in “good bookshops” near you in about two months and of course will also be available on I hope you enjoy.