Words! Words! Words!

Thank you Swimming Wellington for posting a YouTube recording of the Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) high performance meeting. I have just finished watching the 90 minute film. There is a lot to take in. Initial impressions are not always best. However here is my first-off gut reaction.    

First, the 90 minutes seemed long on words and short of specifics. And in the words of the My Fair Lady song, “I’m so sick of words. Tell me no dreams. If you’re on fire, show me!” The problem highlighted by critics of the Trump deal with North Korea is the lack of specifics. When is the rogue state going to dismantle their bombs? How are they going to dismantle their nukes? Who is going to check that it has been done?

The same waffle was evident in Wellington. Lots of fine sounding aims and goals; lots of let’s all pull together; but no specifics of who, where and how. After five months I would have thought we deserved more meat on the bones that we got.

So what did we learn? Well the Francis’ approach is flawed at birth. That we know for sure and certain. He has based his future on a fanatical and amazing set of statistics. Some University boffin has provided Francis with what he believes are New Zealand time standards that mathematically measure a swimmer’s chances of success. FINA points have gone, welcome Francis points. But the error in all that is simple and obvious. People are not numbers. They mature at different ages. The Francis plan is going to miss late developers such as Toni Jeffs. There is no way Toni would have met any of the Francis points plan. Her bronze medals at World Short Course, Pan Pacific Games and two Commonwealth Games appear however to confirm her class. Alex Popov only learned to swim at eight and only began competing in freestyle when he was 18. The Francis plan would have missed Popov’s four Olympic Gold Medals. Peter Snell couldn’t win his school 800 meters. Francis’ tables of times would not target New Zealand’s best runner. A handful of countries have tried the Francis statistical approach and it has never worked.

The criticism Francis used to dismiss using FINA points was that points are theoretical but medals at the Games are specific and real. It beats me how the Francis points table is any less theoretical or any more practical than FINA. People are still people. Oh and one other thing, in all my years of close co-operation with world renowned coaches like Lydiard, Jelley and Schubert I have never once heard them select athletes of the basis of speed. You would never hear Jelley say, “You are too slow. Go away and run a four minute mile and then I will coach you.” They just don’t do it. That’s part of what makes Jelley great and is why Francis and SNZ will fail. I would never turn away a swimmer because of their speed. Do that and you are doomed to miss the next Jeffs, Popov and Snell. I certainly would not be coaching Eyad if speed was the measure. At 19 he could barely break a minute for 100m freestyle. He’s faster than that now and Auckland champion.

My third impression of the meeting was the obsession with money; Miskimmin’s money. Johns and Francis clearly admitted that their plans require the approval of HPSNZ. Without that approval there would be no money. So now we know. Miskimmin and the new guy, Scott, have the ultimate control of my swimmer’s career. For thirty pieces of silver SNZ have bought Johns and Francis body and soul. If anything was an incentive to stay well away from the Francis’ plan, the thought that Miskimmin and Scott have direct influence in its birth is more than enough.

A few years ago the CEO of Auckland Swimming, Brian Palmer, asked Arch Jelley how he would spend $1.3million on preparing athletes. Arch thought for a while and said, “$1.3 million. That’s a huge amount of money.” To hear this lot at the meeting, it was not nearly enough. Rowing got more. So did cycling. Poor us, we are being screwed.

My next impression refers more to the audience than Johns and Francis. If this audience is representative of swimming supporters in general we are in trouble. The negative tone of the questions was stunning. The only thing worse was the enthusiasm with which Johns and Francis stoked the disgruntled fires. One lady clearly thought any swimmer training overseas should be abandoned. That would have seen the end of Lauren Boyle, Gary Hurring, Anthony Mosse and Paul Kingsman. Another guy seemed to suggest that New Zealand coaches weren’t up to the job. Sadly, Gary Francis agreed with him. He told a story of recently recommending a swimmer move to Australia because his New Zealand coach did not have the skills to take him further. That story is bloody disgraceful. I know what Lydiard would have told the same swimmer. He would have said, “Go back to your home program and I will work with your coach to make you and him the best in the world.” And I guess, right there, is why Lydiard was middle distance coach of the millennium and Francis never will be.

I was disappointed that no one used the question time to ask why, with all this “evidence based approach”, was SNZ holding on to the Millennium training group. If clubs are one of the pillars of the future why is SNZ holding on to the policy of the past – especially when the evidence points to 20 years of failure.

And finally when the meeting ended the clip seemed to show Dave Crampton, editor of the Facebook NZSwim page, sprint forward to accost Steve Johns. If it was Crampton I got the distinct impression that Johns was not best pleased. The body language was negative to say the least. It was the best part of the meeting as Johns with All Black center skill evaded Crampton and fled to the far side of the room.

0 responses. Leave a Reply

  1. Swimwatch


    Be the first to leave a comment!

Comments are closed.