What’s The Deal With National Training Centres?

Obviously I have no idea what’s going on at the national cycling centre. The high performance sprint coach, Anthony Peden, says the environment is not to his liking. Peden’s bosses and High Performance Sport NZ (HPSNZ) bureaucrats hint at all sorts of scandal. But what we do know is yet another world class coach has come, seen and left a Miskimmin national facility.

It’s becoming a race to the bottom. None of the Miskimmin centralised jewels can go for longer than five minutes without some scandal plunging them into crisis. Cycling New Zealand type chaos has been around for years and shows no signs of going away. It is a common flaw of the Miskimmin plan. Building a successful Olympic career is difficult enough without the distraction of another coach or administrator leaving under a liquor, sex or assault laden cloud. I have no idea whether the endless gossip generated by the Miskimmin programs is accurate. But, true or not, one does need to ask, what is it about Miskimmin’s centralised training centres that encourages such disruption?

There clearly is a characteristic in New Zealand national training centres that promotes turmoil. I believe Miskimmin has funded organisations of such a size that he has been able to select managers in his own image. Have you noticed the similarities between the CEO of cycling, rowing and swimming? Like Miskimmin they all babble away in the most polished management speak. They can’t wait to plan their next “going forward” moment. Smooth and practiced, in the modified words of My Fair Lady they, “ooze charm from every pore, They oil their way around the floor.”

None of us should be surprised when the rough and tough men and women that become world class coaches see through the superficial froth of spineless administrators. I’m certainly not saying that all good coaches lead blameless lives. I’m just certain that there is an inevitable conflict between coaching steak and marshmallows dipped in latté administrators. At least that seems to be the experience of centralised training centres in New Zealand.

I certainly wouldn’t bet the house on what some athlete tells one of their goody-two-shoes administrators. Athletes are shockingly unreliable witnesses. Look at Moss Burmester. When he retired he was full of condemnation for the national training centre and Jan Cameron’s dictatorship. When Jan died the same guy was publically extolling her every virtue, even many she did not possess. So what does Moss Burmester think? I doubt that anyone, including Burmester, really knows.

And as for the yelling, bullying accusation. There is not an international coach alive who hasn’t had to face that complaint. It is the default position for every athlete that gets a dose of what Coach Genardi Touretski used to call, “the electric shock treatment”. International sport is a tough game, If you are a petal who doesn’t like the rough and tumble involved, find something else to do. You are not going to win at cycling, swimming or rowing. The problem now is that these cossetted and pampered athletes find a sympathetic ear with marshmallow administrators and play on the fact with an endless stream of sob-stories.

Of course I’m not supporting outright abuse. There is no place for that anywhere. But there must be a balance between doing what’s right and giving into pathetic appeals from athletes and administrators. They need to harden up. In the world of MIskimmin’s centralised training there is no balance. Self-opinionated athletes and administrators rule unchecked.

In swimming a good Australian coach Mark Regan got pushed out because they said he was too aggressive. He had won the support of Lauren Boyle and coached her to a World Championship medal but the marshmallows said he had to go. This is how the NZ Herald described what went on.

A source said the attitude of SNZ to Regan had become “demeaning and the cause of extreme stress” where he was “treated like he was the janitor at the Millennium Institute … no wonder he is so demoralised by the state of swimming’s leadership.”

Then Lyles came and left. I’d have made the same decision as the marshmallows in his case; so no criticism from me there. What was ridiculous, in my opinion, was bringing him back to coach a worse result in Brisbane than he had in Glasgow four years earlier.

Then the American, Jerry Olszewski, was in New Zealand for five minutes before he’d seen enough and disappeared back to Arizona. He said there were family health issues. I’m picking his own mental health was close to the top of that list.

In rowing, the world’s most successful coach, Dick Tonks said he was “finished” with Rowing NZ and left to coach in Canada. The marshmallows said he was too tough and accused him of treason for coaching a couple of Chinese rowers. We should not forget the Radio NZ interview with Noel Donaldson, the Australian that Miskimmin employed to replace Dick Tonks. He spent ten minutes telling New Zealand that our rowers needed an easier training regime than the Tonks’ program. We hear the same rubbish in swimming all the time.

In cycling Justin Grace gave up coaching here and was snapped up by the French and then the British cycling programs. A hugely patriotic and talented New Zealander, Grace could not tolerate the crap that spewed out of Sport NZ any longer. The fact that Grace trained promising young Kiwi sprinters in his garage in Auckland was not nearly posh enough for Miskimmin’s marshmallows. Grace has had the last laugh. In Rio his UK cyclists won four gold medals.

And now we have Anthony Peden’s exit from cycling. Wild allegations of bullying, drinking and sex head the TV 6.00 o’clock news; all the normal stuff that haunts the life of many successful coaches.

So there you have six examples of coaches who have left a Miskimmin centralized facility under some sort of controversy, all out of step except Miskimmin and his marshmallows. It might be time for Miskimmin to address the culture he fosters. In my view the cause of many of these problems lies at Miskimmin’s door. I was interested in the interview with the new HPSNZ chief executive, Michael Scott. No wonder he got the job when Baumann left. He’s full of marshmallow. I am however concerned that he is expecting “in depth answers” in the Peden investigation. With sex being one of the charges I’m wondering what he expects to hear.

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