The Francis Fantasy

 Finally it is possible to access the Francis Fantasy. These are the times that Gary Francis is going to use to target those swimmers most likely to succeed. You will find the Francis secret to athletic success, the table of times, the Francis Fantasy at the following link:

The figures are a futile and academic load of rubbish. There are practical and theoretical opinions that support that view. Both the practical and theoretical arguments have one quality in common; a feature called “diversity”. No one number, no matter how brilliant the author, can account for the diversity of human performance. For example I have coached swimmers who would have been permanent members of the Francis Fantasy Gold squad – for example Jane Copland swam 2.36.37 at 14 compared to the Francis Gold squad time of 2.36.92. Two years later she swam 2:30.92 compared to the Francis Gold squad time of 2:31.75. Jane was a Francis Fantasy certainty.

I have also coached swimmers who would never have got anywhere near the Francis Fantasy Bronze squad times – for example Toni Jeffs. At 18 Toni had not yet broken 1.00 minute for a hundred meters freestyle. The Francis Fantasy says she needed to swim 56.13 just to make his Silver squad. At 18 Toni could not even swim the Francis 13 year old time. Gary Francis would not have known Toni Jeffs existed. And if he had, he would not have been interested. And yet between them Jane and Toni won national championships broke national records, won medals at World Cup Championship finals, Pan Pacific Games, Central American Games, Commonwealth Games and Oceania Championships. Their performance in terms of the Francis Fantasy had no relevance at all, told us nothing at all, about their careers as international swimmers.

My wife, Alison, didn’t start competing in track events until she was in her twenties. She ended up representing New Zealand and Great Britain. She was UK and NZ National Champion and represented New Zealand in World Cup finals and the Commonwealth Games. Her best world ranking was fourth over 1000 meters in a time that stood for 37 years as a New Zealand National record. In a Francis Fantasy, applied to athletics, Alison would have been a nonstarter.

Whether a champion swimmer ever swims the age group times listed in the Francis Fantasy depends on a multitude of variables. That, of course is why the table is so ridiculous. The table below attempts to identify some of the variables that affect a swimmer’s likelihood of maturing early enough to make it onto the Francis Fantasy.

General Category Examples Comment
Genetic Early or late developer Many Olympic Champions are late developers and would miss the FF.
Naturally strong This can vary genetically
Naturally high aerobic capacity This can vary genetically
Natural application to hard work This can vary genetically
Naturally competitive This can vary genetically
Natural general build This can vary genetically
General interest in sport This can vary genetically
Environment Access to coaching
Interest of parents
Coaching plans and competence
Attitude of friends
Access to competition
Access to support services
Financial support

It is impossible to imagine what all this means in terms of individual differences. Take this quote from Wikipedia.

No two humans are genetically identical. As of 2017, there are a total of 324 million known variants from sequenced human genes.

No one competitive number can take into account the way 324 million genes are going to combine. It is ridiculous. Add to that the multitude of environmental factors that separate every swimmer’s life and the Francis effort to nominate a time and an age is doomed to fail. It’s an academic waste of time and money. But don’t take my word for it. Here is what Karl Lewis, the American Olympic sprinting champion, had to say on the subject.

There is no correlation between a childhood success and a professional athlete.

Faced with the choice between Karl Lewis and Gary Francis, I’m putting my money on the American.

But the real problem with the Francis Fantasy is that it is worse than being a simple waste of time and money. It actually does harm. In my opinion Gary Francis is in the process of hurting young New Zealand swimmers. And here is why.

Remember Toni Jeffs? There are a lot of late developers like her. In fact a recent study of 40 swimmers on the American Olympic team found that only four had been genetically early developers. Many would have failed the Francis test. The problem for the majority of New Zealand swimmers, including some potential champions, is that the Francis Fantasy quantifies and confirms their failure. How can they not read those times and say to themselves, “I’m not good enough. I think I’ll join the surf club.” And another Toni Jeffs is lost to pool swimming. That event will happen with increasing frequency as the Francis Fantasy gathers momentum.

But just as bad as the damage the Francis Fantasy does to late developers is the hurt it does to those who make the times. Once again Swimming New Zealand is promoting swimmers way above their station; a problem Arthur Lydiard described as the “New Zealand disease”. I’ve coached several young swimmers who were faster than the Francis Gold squad times; Nichola Chellingworth and Jane Copland for example. In all cases I would never have allowed these swimmers to measure themselves against the Francis Fantasy. The damage that the early belief in their superiority can cause is usually terminal.

But I doubt that Gary Francis cares that his Fantasy is putting modest late developers down and providing early developers with a false and inflated sense of importance. It is a sad reflection on what Francis actually knows about swimming, about sport or about education. Not a lot. It seems.

Finally, in this post, I have a message for all the swimmers out there who cannot swim the Francis Fantasy times. Ignore the times and ignore Gary Francis. They mean nothing. They are no guide to the likelihood of your success. Swim in your own lane; do your own thing. You success is in your hands. Your success will be determined by what you do, how hard you work and by your genetic maturity – and not by some ridiculous numbers on a page.

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