New Zealand Swim Coaches & Teachers Association

 I have just received an email reminding me that my New Zealand Swim Coaches and Teachers Association (NZSCTA) fees are due to be paid. I have no objection to paying the fees. $110.50 is a modest amount in order to access Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) and Auckland Swimming competitions. However that is not to say I am entirely happy with the standard of the NZSCTA management.

The main topic discussed by Swimwatch is the poor performance of SNZ. In particular questions surrounding integrity, centralised training and SNZ’s negative effect on coaching have received attention. What has not been discussed is the obsequious role the NZSCTA has played in the undermining of New Zealand coaches. The lack of leadership they have shown in contesting a twenty-five year SNZ assault on the coaching profession is a disgrace.

It began when Jan Cameron decided the best way to promote herself as the centralised saviour of New Zealand swimming was to promote her own skills and club and call into question the quality of other coaches around the country. Club coaches became fair game for abuse and open door poaching. Just ask any coach around in the 1990s. Jan Cameron’s poaching skills were scandalous. Swimmers were poached from the length and breadth of the country. It was no problem to Jan Cameron. Always her sales pitch was how much better the coaching swimmer would receive in Auckland was compared to the shoddy product they were getting at home. It was an institutionalised human heist.

The immediate effect was swimmers leaving local clubs to swim for the North Shore Club. But far more insidiously dangerous was the gradual undermining of New Zealand coaching. Quite simply Jan Cameron made it acceptable to criticise New Zealand club coaches; to censure often without facts or evidence. The view that club coaches were not up to the standard, certainly not as good as Jan Cameron in North Shore’s centralised program became an accepted fact. Coaching in New Zealand became identified as a two tier structure; the top level was the Centralised Program in Auckland and the rest were second class. Jan Cameron reinforced that perception but applying little tricks such as having team meetings at Commonwealth Games that excluded swimmers not coached by her. Jon Winter, Toni Jeffs and Liz Van Wellie were excluded from team meetings at the Manchester Commonwealth Games because of where they trained back in New Zealand. It is ironic that the three swimmers who swan best at those Games were Jon Winter, Liz Van Wellie and Toni Jeffs.

Jan Cameron’s leadership of SNZ was followed by another Australian who had an equally dim view of New Zealand coaching. Two weeks after arriving in New Zealand, new CEO, Christian Renford, was interviewed on Radio Sport. Renford had some pretty telling things to say about the standard of coaching. This is what he said.

I think, it (coaching) is an area where we need to do more work in. It’s an area where we need to put a bit more attention to.

And when Radio Sport asked him to explain why the new National Coach, the High Performance Director, the CEO of Swimming New Zealand and the Director of High Performance Sport New Zealand were all aliens, Christian Renford had this to say;

If we had the domestic talent that we needed we would have been looking in that (the New Zealand) direction. You need to hunt for the best talent you can get available in the water and out of the water and if they come from overseas then so be it. In the short term we absolutely have got the best talent that we can get our hands on for the national swim program. We need to make sure that (the centralised program) is supported by a decentralised development pathway that underpins the centralized model”.   

Swimming in New Zealand has got Christian Renford to thank for nothing. In that interview he clearly sets out a policy of pinnacle coaching in the North Shore’s Centralised Program with the rest of New Zealand coaches relegated to the role of talent providers. And that’s the policy that has been followed to this day. At the time (June 2013) I wrote this on Swimwatch.

How dare you come to New Zealand and after eight weeks dismiss the men and women who work in my profession. How dare you say that there is not a New Zealander good enough to manage High Performance Sport New Zealand or to manage Swimming New Zealand or to coach Lauren Boyle and her mates or to manage the SNZ High Performance Program. How dare you suggest that foreigners were needed because New Zealanders were not good enough. How bloody dare you.

Of course it was difficult for club coaches to perfect their coaching skills when SNZ actively promoted open poaching of the country’s best swimmers. When that was standard practice for twenty-five years the coaching destruction was nuclear. The standard of New Zealand coaching is excellent given the hurt two Australian caused the sport.

And finally we come to the Johns and Francis era. Only the words have changed. Now they pay lip service to club programs but behind the words there remains the clear threat of their centralised ambition. For as long as they hold on to and fund the Auckland Centralised Program, for as long as they recommend swimmers go overseas to train, they remain as dangerous to New Zealand club coaches as Jan Cameron and Christian Renford. Always remember their words may sound reassuring but their actions are just as destructive.

Sadly the NZSCA has been a complicit participant in this damaging history. As we know the guy who sits in the getaway car is just as guilty as the guy who robs the bank. Through twenty-five years the NZSCTA Board has sat twiddling their thumbs, doing nothing while SNZ has torn New Zealand coaching apart. Through the Jan Cameron, Christian Renford and now Steve Johns and Gary Francis assault on New Zealand coaches and the sacking of Donna and Gary they have failed to act. Their behavior has lacked integrity, responsibility and courage.

It would have been easy enough to speak up publically, or threaten industrial action such as withdrawing coaches from teams or initiating the non-payment of fees. But no, the NZSCTA did nothing. In any industrial situation the actions of SNZ towards their coaching members would not be tolerated for a minute. No factory in New Zealand would allow the level of abuse accepted by the NZSCTA. It is clearly time for the long term members of the NZSCTA to stand down and let someone with some spine come in and protect the interests of New Zealand club coaches. The organization is an important one in New Zealand swimming. Good national programs are coach led. Bad ones, like New Zealand, are led by office autocrats. The NZSCTA needs to assume the responsibility of leadership. To do that they need a strong Board; something the current Board simply cannot provide.

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