Archive for June, 2018


Sunday, June 24th, 2018

The Chairman of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ), Bruce Cotterill, can write all his management books. He can pound the celebrity speaker’s circuit. He can excitedly explain the wonders of discounted cash flow rates of return. But, behind all the froth and bubble, good management relies on honesty, integrity and trust.

What is the difference between America today and two years ago? It is not the economy or the military or education. But it is honesty, integrity and trust. Those personal qualities of leadership have been abused and discarded. The country is clearly in decline. Sadly, on a much smaller stage, SNZ has the same malaise. The evidence points to the fact that the membership can no longer trust the honesty and integrity of the organization. Let me give you some examples.

First let’s consider the roll-out of the Francis’ Plan. Gary Francis and Steve Johns have been selling the Francis Plan as a “new beginning” a “fresh start”. Of course it is nothing of the sort. The old Centralised Training Centre policy was targeted, so is the Francis’ Plan. The old Centralised Training Centre ran a squad out of the Millennium pool, so is the Francis’ Plan. The old Centralised Training Centre policy went around the country picking a cosseted group of SNZ favorites, so is the Francis’ Plan. The sameness is overwhelming.

And yet Francis and Johns bang on about the totally fake newness of it all. It is a scam, a deception intended to con the membership into believing a more benevolent democracy has arrived. The reality is, it’s the same old SNZ grab for power and control, dressed up in a new coat of many colors. Does anyone really believe the arrogance of an organisation that for 24 years has spent $30 million of investor’s money and has won no Olympic medals is going to be curbed by what’s right and honest? Of course not. If you can spend $30 million over 24 years and lose it all you simply are not going to give up on power. Your behavior and your record tell us all we need to know about you. You will instead search out a new con-job to sell us. And that is exactly what SNZ are doing with the Francis’ Plan.

I am told the most recent Francis’ Plan meeting was in Hawke’s Bay. That news came in an email so I can’t even vouch for its validity. No one could accuse SNZ of going overboard to sell the Francis Plan. It seems like they are doing just enough to say they have discussed it with members but not enough to have the plan examined thoroughly: the minimum required. Perhaps SNZ know that a full examination would reveal the extent of their fraud.

But Lauren Boyle’s sickness during a SNZ high altitude camp took SNZ’s dishonesty to a whole new and unforgivable level. I have never understood how the Board got away with that dishonesty. This is how that event was reported on the Roar website.

That national programs can be nervous about their involvement was shown when Swimming New Zealand was caught out concealing the 2014 hospitalisation of top distance swimmer Lauren Boyle during altitude training in Spain.

Team coach David Lyles issued a press release claiming there had been “no major illnesses or disasters”, only to be corrected by chief executive Christian Renford, who could only tell the press “we are trying to discover the actual nature of her illness”.

David Lyles’ fake press release and the time it took SNZ to issue a further cover-up smacked of the most amateur dishonesty. We can guess who they were trying to con. They wanted to avoid HPSNZ hearing that New Zealand’s best swimmer was not well. In 2014 Lauren Boyle was the organisation’s financial lifeline. Her illness could put all their lifestyles at risk. In my opinion they didn’t care about Lauren Boyle. They didn’t care about lying to the press or the membership. The cover-up was to protect their pathetic jobs. In my view it demonstrated clearly the moral bankruptcy of all those involved.

Which means of course I should have known better than to trust David Lyles with coaching my West Auckland Aquatics team while I was attending the European Mare Nostrum meets. I paid him $3000 to coach the team while I was away. The last thing I said to him was, “Don’t shaft me over this.”

However you describe what happened, I left a medium sized, successful and happy club and returned to Armageddon; an apocalypse with David Lyles and a pet committee member sitting in the middle of it. A couple of months later West Auckland Aquatics was the first club in 100 years to be dissolved by SNZ. I will never forgive those involved. Not only because of what they did to the club when I was there but what they did to the legacy of people I admire like Ross Anderson and Donna Bouzaid.

With all that background; I look across the pool these days and there is Lyles, Mayne, Francis, Johns and Woofe all buzzing around massaging each other’s egos. No amount of showering seems to wash away the clinging sense of betrayal. In my view we are being badly led, primarily because the fundamental qualities of leadership are not on display here. Like are gathering with like, which is why good people who do have those qualities, men and women such as Hurring and Bouzaid were discarded in favour of this lot.

Occasionally I wonder whether these guys would ever entertain thoughts of initiating a case of libel. My defense would of course be truth and honestly held opinion. However more important than all that I would like nothing better than to have SNZ appear in a Court and be required to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Wouldn’t that be good?

What Sort Of Circus Is This?

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

 The New Zealand National Championships begin in two weeks. I have never been told why the long course summer championships were changed to start within ten days of the shortest day of winter. However this is Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). In their alternative world summer on 2 July – that’s close enough. It is, after all, summer somewhere in the world. The “summer” event is followed five minutes later with the short course “winter” championships; a fact that only adds to the confusion. Knowing the difference between summer and winter would clearly place you on a short list for employment at SNZ. Add in autumn and spring and you’re in line to be the CEO.

I see today SNZ has announced the dates of June 17-21 for the 2019 summer long course championships. Mid-winter solstice in 2019 is June 22. Bugger, missed it by a day!

But back to the 2018 Championships. They are serving as a selection trial for the Pan Pacific Games. I was wondering how many swimmers were likely to be selected and what their performance could mean in terms of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020.

As far as selection is concerned, the team is anyone’s guess. Demonstrating a willingness to blow bubbles underwater in the deep end could get you on the Commonwealth Games’ relay team. And relay team membership bought you into the kingdom of individual events. If the same thing happens here you may see me in Speedos at the start of the men’s 200 fly. Believe me, that is not as strange as it sounds. The Pan Pacific selection criteria occupy three pages and 1,200 words. Unbelievably 356 words (30%) of the criteria is allocated to one clause titled “Extenuating Circumstances”. This lists the traditional Swimming New Zealand “get out of jail” clauses.

In today’s SNZ “selection criteria” means – this is what we would like you to do but if the team is too small doing real swimming we will pick you anyway, using our carefully crafted rules for cheating. “Extenuating Circumstances” are defined as just about anything SNZ want them to be; “injury or illness; travel delays, equipment failure (what does that mean); bereavement or personal misfortune; and/or any other factors” Of course the certain sign of corruption is the “any other factors” clause. In other words anything is allowed as long as SNZ decide it is in their best interests. The selection criteria apply to everyone except SNZ. Like Trump, they are outside the rule of law. No wonder our competitive results have been so dismal – cheats never prosper.

And so who is going to the Pan Pacific Games in Tokyo on the 9th August 2018? As best as I can tell seven swimmers have qualified. These are listed in the table below.

Name Events
Hunter 50 Free 22.31
Perry 50 Free 22.47
Fa’amausili 50 Free 25.02
Stanley 200 Free 1:47.13
Main 100 Back 53.99
Main 200 Back 1:57.51
Ashby 200 IM 1:59.54
Clareburt 400 IM 4:14.42

However Fa’amausili, Stanley and Ashby do not appear to be entered in the trials. That reduces the eligible swimmers to four except of course Fa’amausili will be granted an injury dispensation, Stanley will be given a travel allowance and Ashby is probably deciding between equipment failure and any other factors. But if things were being done properly, according to the rules, the team would be Hunter, Perry, Mains and Clareburt.

And so what does a Pan Pac team of four mean for the Tokyo Olympic Games in two years? Well, it is not the best of signs. The Olympic bar is high enough without starting from scratch every four years. There is little option but to conclude that New Zealand will again return empty handed. Has it sunk in what that means? It means that since Loader won in 1996 New Zealand swimming will have been to Games in Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008, London in 2012, Rio in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020 and returned with nothing.

In the same years Athletics has won six medals – Adam x 2, Willis x 2, Walsh and McCartney. So it can be done.

Ironically HPSNZ calls their financial donation to SNZ an “investment”. Just tell me any other financial investment where the amount is in excess of $30 million, continues for quarter of a century and pays a zero return? Cotterill writes books about the management of money. He should know that the first rule of an investment is to generate a return in the future for the shareholders. Well, we have done our bit. We’ve given him our $30 million and have nothing in return. His books should be burned. In SNZ he has failed the first test of management.

The fault for that does not lie with the swimmers. They delivered all that they could. It does not lie with the club coaches. They received none of the $30 million. It lies with Miskimmin, Johns and six SNZ directors. Right now the six are Cotterill, Perry, McGee, Brown, Tongue and Tootill. I have no idea how often the Board meets. We don’t get meeting minutes like we used to. However let’s assume it is six times a year for four hours at a time. That’s 144 meetings and 576 hours of talking for no return.

At what point does their participation become an embarrassment? Oh, it is already an embarrassment to us – I mean an embarrassment to them. They work longer and harder to arrive at the wrong answers that anyone I have ever met. They must realise that the time has come to give someone else a shot at getting this right. Put it this way, if they owned an organization and invested $30 million, over 24 years, for nil return I’m sure they would ask the Board to move aside. Well how is this different?

We own an organization that has received $30 million over 24 years and we are asking them to move aside. There are no “extenuating circumstances”; no “other factors” that excuse their failure. This time the Board should live by the rules and pack their small brown boxes and leave the building. You never know, Cotterill might be able to write a management best seller about the experience, – “Teach Yourself What Not To Do”.

So What Are The Chances?

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Gary Francis seems to have an obsession with numbers. In the Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) Wellington meeting he droned on about the statistical chances of this and the probability of that. It was all rubbish of course. Sport is not played on a probability table. In the Francis’ world Russia would already be eliminated from the World Football Cup. Instead they have scored eight goals and look likely to progress at the top of their group. I’d love to see the Francis’ probability table explain that aberration. But let’s indulge Francis for a moment. Let’s look at the statistical probability of New Zealand winning a medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Some attempts have been made to predict swimming performance in an Olympic Games. For example in 2004 Trewin verified that by examining the relationship between world-ranking and the 2000 Olympic performance, most of the Olympic medallists (87 %) had a top-10 world-ranking in the Olympics year. And another researcher, Pyne, found that Olympic medallists improved by 1.4% in the twelve months prior to winning their medals.

So let’s take these two findings and apply them to New Zealand’s best swimmers. Let’s take their best times in 2017/18 and ask and answer the following questions.

  1. Does any New Zealand swimmer have a current ranking in the world’s top ten? In other words right now do they have an 87% chance of winning an Olympic medal if the Games were being swum next week?
  2. If their best 2017/18 time improved by 1.4% in the next twelve months where would that new time rank in the world? Would they then be in the top ten and have an 87% chance of winning an Olympic medal if the Games were held next year?

The first table below shows the answer to the first of those questions for several of New Zealand’s best swimmers. The conclusion is simply that no New Zealand swimmer is statistically within a hundred miles of meeting the top ten criteria. If the Games were being held next week the statistical chances of a New Zealand swimmer winning a medal are non-existent. Cotterill and Johns – this is what YOU have brought us to.

In preparing the table of current world rankings I have:

  1. Only included swimmers ranked inside 50th in the world
  2. Have deleted Matt Hutchins because he has retired
  3. Have not included non-Olympic events
  4. Have taken the world rankings for the past twelve month period from July 2017 to June 2018.
Name Event 2017/18 PB World Ranking OG Medal
Main 100 Back 53.76 18 No
Main 200 Back 1:58.34 37 No
Ashby 200 IM 1:59.24 30 No
Rasmussen 400 IM 4:42.19 47 No
Clareburt 400 IM 4:14.42 13 No

And so what happens if any of this group improves by 1.4%. In other words the Pyne predicted amount necessary to win a medal. How many would move into the top ten? How many would move into the top three. Here is what the data says.

Name Event 2017/18 PB less 1.4% World Ranking OG Medal Top 10 OG Medal Top 3
Main 100 Back 53.01 6 Yes No
Main 200 Back 1:56.68 11 No No
Ashby 200 IM 1:57.57 12 No No
Rasmussen 400 IM 4:38.24 14 No No
Clareburt 400 IM 4:10.86 5 Yes No

And so, seeing as we are playing the silly game of Francis trivial statistics, what does the data show. It says that if Main and Clareburt improve by the amounts typical of the world’s best swimmers in the next twelve months they should be good enough to be in the world’s top ten. And it is from the world’s top ten that the Olympic medals will be found. No one will be good enough to break into the world’s top three.

There are two downsides to our game. First we are assuming the rest of the world will stand still. They will not improve. One hundred years of swimming history suggests that is unlikely. And second, as Tunisia found out this morning, Gary Francis’ statistics mean nothing when it comes to results. If they did Snell would never have won the Rome 800, Ali would never have beaten Liston and Leicester City would never have won the Premier League.

Put it this way – if the predictions made in this post are going to amount to anything the sport is going to need a lot more out of Gary Francis than we have seen so far. Five months to deliver a few tables of times and have a meeting in Wellington is not enough. We need more than that for our money. We need much more than that to win a swimming race.

Cut Rhi Some Slack

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

I’ve written about this subject before. You can find the post by clicking on this link.

I could well be in trouble with Rhi for coming back to have a second crack at the issue. But I think it is worth running the risk anyway. You see, on Rhi’s Facebook page this morning, I read the following comment.

As the fight for our pool space ramps up, we will be sending in letters to the paper and more city people. If you really want to help out the Cannonball Swim club, a letter of recommendation or really anything about why us being kicked out is ridiculous, would help! Please send them to my DM or ANYTHING HELPS! The more support we can show for these kids the easier it will be for us to try and reverse this decision. Thank you everyone!

I suspect it’s time to be brutally honest with whoever the authority is that decides on the allocation of the Cannonball Club’s pool space. I coached Rhi for three or four years. You get to know a person pretty well in that time. You live with them through some pretty remarkable highs and some equally extreme lows. You see them physically pushed close to breaking point. You share their journey.

So let me tell you about Rhi – the good, the bad and the ugly. Let me explain why you should cut her some slack. Let me put the case for Rhi and her Cannonball Swimming Club. First let’s consider the tough bits. No one would say that Rhi was the easiest person in the world to coach. She is bright, opinionated, knows everything there is to know about the subject, speaks her mind without fear or favor and has no time for fools.

From time to time that can make her a real handful to manage. But is that unusual? Of course not. Rhi is no different from many of the others who have stood on top of the world in their chosen sport. To get there they had to expect the highest standards of themselves and those around them. That’s what you get when you get Rhi around a swimming pool. You get an uncompromising professional who knows what quality tuition looks like and insists on that standard.

The question in dealing with Rhi is not her standards. They are of the highest order. The question is – is your supervision up to managing the jewel in your midst?

But is that unusual. Not in the world’s best, it’s not. Mark Schubert, Arthur Lydiard and Don Talbot were not known for their “warm-cozies” around a swimming pool. I’ve heard all three referred to as difficult by the less able. But you would struggle to find better or more successful coaches; coaches with great determination and huge hearts for their athletes; coaches who knew when to be tough and when to back off and show care for a struggling swimmer.

And of course that’s the point, isn’t it? Good coaches intuitively know when to push for more and better results and when to gently nurse a wounded swimmer through a bad patch. Rhi understands that difference.

So I would suggest those responsible for allocating pool space revisit any decision that adversely affects the Cannonball team. As you can well imagine I am really very picky when it comes to swim coaches. My daughter, Jane, was a very good swimmer and ended up representing New Zealand and swimming in the NCAA Division One Championships finals. All through her club swimming I was her coach. In my mind no one else would take the correct care of my daughter. But I’d have happily let Jane be coached by Rhi. In Rhi’s hands she would make sensible swimming progress and she would be safe. But what are the qualities that would have lead me to that decision?

Well first Rhi knows the product. She is an Olympic Gold Medalist after all. But she is an Olympic Gold Medalist with brains. She not only knows what to do; she knows and can explain why it needs to be done in a certain way.

Second she knows the meaning of hard work. Believe me there are many lazy coaches in this world. Rhi is not one of those.

Three, as I have already said she is tough but fair; hard but gentle; serious but funny. She brings with her a finely tuned sense of balance.

Four, she is honest. Her financial responsibilities will be met. You will always get the truth from Rhi even if you don’t want to hear it.

Five, she is fun to be around. With Rhi as their boss young swimmers in your town will enjoy their time involved in swimming. And more than that, they will benefit as people for their time in her care.

Six, she is a leader.

And so I would recommend allocating Rhi the pool space she needs. You might not have the easiest coach in the world to manage but you do have one of the best. Use her well.

Why We Should Care

Monday, June 18th, 2018

I imagine there are some who believe I have already written too much about the horrors of the Francis’ high performance plan. “Give it a rest,” I hear them say, “Gary’s a nice guy. He’s trying his best.” But the chances of me leaving this alone are nil. There is too much at stake. In this post I want to address why Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) cannot be allowed to wander off on their elitist path. Let’s discuss why it is important for you to attend their future meetings.

Let’s look at how the pathetic response of the Wellington meeting sabotaged the careers of every swimmer in the district. The audience at that meeting did not have the best interest of the region’s swimmers at heart. Or if they did, they had a strange way of showing it. Let’s also consider whether Dave Crampton’s rush to curry favour with Steve Johns after the meeting had the best interests of swimming at heart. Or were the audience and Crampton, in particular, going through the same servile genuflexion that has allowed SNZ to rule unchecked for a decade. Let’s consider how future meetings can be made more relevant and more important to swimming.

Eight years ago, on Sunday, September 26th 2010, I wrote the following Swimwatch post.

Swimwatch contributors have never liked the power building practiced by Swimming New Zealand. To no avail, we have spoken out against the central control that is now a key feature of New Zealand’s elite swimming program. New Zealand performed better when Loader was in Dunedin, Simcic and Langrell were in Christchurch, Jeffs was in Wellington and Kingsman and Moss were in Auckland. What Swimming New Zealand needed to do was strengthen the structures that produced those swimmers; local structures that were owned and managed by good local coaches and administrators. Instead they built an empire. And since then New Zealand has been unable to win an Olympic medal of any sort. The centralized model has failed. That should not surprise anyone. Long term success in sport is best driven from the bottom up. SNZ should be strengthening diverse local structures, not creating their own personal Soviet empire.

Almost always the accumulation of power by a central organization is a sign of weak management. Swimming New Zealand is an example. Weak management strengthens itself. Strong management strengthens the surrounding community. Swimming New Zealand has not learned that particular “modern management practice”. While they do, it should not be at the expense of the good people who bought and paid for this sport in New Zealand.

What this said, eight years ago, was that the policy of a central training centre would not work. Eight years ago SNZ were told. Eight years ago SNZ did not listen. Eight years ago parents at meetings were as accepting as the Wellington audience. Eight years ago sycophants like Crampton rushed to pay homage. And for eight years two generations of New Zealand’s best swimmers failed to fulfil their potential – New Zealand swimming’s lost generations.

And now Gary Francis is proposing that we repeat the disaster. Because it is a repetition. Oh, they are calling it “new” and “refreshed” and a “move away from a centralized to a targeted program”, but it is not. It is a Francis and Johns’ con. If you believe this is new I have a London bridge I’d like you to buy.

Their centralised program was targeted. That’s the same. Their central national training centre is staying. That’s the same. With the exception of the forced transportation to Auckland and times invented by a mate of Francis rather than FINA nothing has changed. And when nothing changes there is no reason to believe the results will be any different.

What that means is accepting the Francis’ plan will mean continuing the decline that has characterised the sport in the past eight years. The table below shows the decline in key performance factors between 2011 and 2017. The second table then predicts what the sport will look like after eight years of the Francis plan.

Item 2011 2017 Change
Competitive Swimmers 6161 5,660 Down By 8.1%
Coaches 543 246 Down By 54.7%
Total Membership 25,467 19,118 Down By 24.9%
Clubs 180 165 Down By 8.3%
Government Funding 1,962,838 1,413,148 Down By 28.0%
Membership Fees 288,712 286,777 Down By 0.7%
Total Funding 4,158,493 3,546,861 Down By 14.7%
Olympic Medals 0 0 No Change

And after eight years.

Item 2017 2025 Prediction Change
Competitive Swimmers 5,660 5000 Down By 11%
Coaches 246 200 Down By 18%
Total Membership 19,118 17,000 Down By 11%
Clubs 165 160 Down By 3%
Government Funding 1,413,148 600,000 Down By 57%
Membership Fees 286,777 285,000 No Change
Total Funding 3,546,861 3,000,000 Down By 15%
Olympic Medals 0 0 No Change

So what does all this mean for the sport? Here are the key outcomes likely to arise from eight years of Francis’ plan rule.

  1. Membership numbers will decline by a further 11% to 5000. Young people these days simply will not accept the elitist, exclusion it involves. They will go to activities that offer a more democratic chance to shine. Steve Johns and Gary Francis complain about the advantages of new sports. But with decisions like these they are the architects of their own demise. They are the ones keeping the sport “traditional”.
  2. International Olympic results will remain at zero. There is nothing in the Francis plan that offers a path out of the wilderness. The world of swimming is changing at a hundred miles an hour and this lot simply do not have what it takes to keep up.
  3. Government funding will further decline to $600,000. Peter Miskimmin does not take to failure well. He has a long history of punishing sports that fail to perform. Swimming can expect the failure of the Francis’ plan to get a rough reception in Wellington.
  4. But the biggest change for you and me is that Cotterill, Johns and Francis are going to be forced into a massive increase in the income generated by members – they call it user pays. Membership fees, meet entry fees and international team fees can be expected to double in this period. SNZ staff members are not going to reduce their bloated lifestyles. With the collapse of government funding and falling membership they will have no option but to charge you and me more for everything – so that’s what they will do. The table below shows what I expect Francis and Johns will need to charge members by the year 2025 to preserve the organisation’s income.
Item $ 2018 $ 2025 Prediction
Swimmer Affiliation 60 200
Club Affiliation 175 500
Coach Affiliation 25.50 100
Opens Entries 22.50 100
Open Spectator 7.50 25

Swimwatch is on its knees begging. Eight years ago we predicted the current perilous state. In another eight years of this Francis’ nonsense we will be in an even worse position. For the sake of swimmers needing your help, please, please, please don’t let it happen.