Miskimmin’s Malise

Many New Zealanders will have noticed the strange sequence of disasters that have struck New Zealand sport. Is that just bad luck or is there a common cause? Before discussing the answer to that question let’s consider the nature of the infection. Named after its founder I have called the disease the “Miskimmin Malaise”.

Swimming was infected first. That suspect honour was the result of Jan Cameron’s open acceptance of Peter Miskimmin’s centralised training regime. The policy was never going to work. It failed for many reasons, too many to discuss in detail here. However the leading problem was the impossibility of a centralised training program accommodating the different coaching needs of different swimmers. The training Bowman gave to Phelps was very different from Salo’s Peirsol program. That diversity is America’s strength. The lack of choice was New Zealand’s downfall.

The twenty year failure of anyone at Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) to realise that simple truth resulted in the failures and problems that have come to be linked to the “Miskimmin Malaise”.  Foremost among the problems is an inability to hold on to coaches. It will not surprise anyone to learn that no one coach can be all things to all people. Lauren Boyle is said to have got on very well with Mark Regan but couldn’t stand David Lyles. Two or three swimmers justifiably complain about a coach they don’t like and the bureaucrats replace the coach with another coaching wonder. Then that coach suffers the same fate. How no one in SNZ had the IQ to work out that it was the policy that was wrong, not the coach or the swimmers, t have no idea. The fact it took them 20 years to figure it out shows the stupidity of the inmates of the Antares Place offices.

In the end SNZ went through eight Head Coaches in ten years. Inevitably SNZ failed, the program failed and the swimmers failed. Sport NZ blamed SNZ. SNZ blamed poor coaching. The coaches blamed the swimmers. The whole thing was and still is the mess we have come to know as the “Miskimmin Malaise”.

Swimming led the way but, as the disease spread, it has been followed by other sports. Cycling has the same problems but the disease is not as advanced. Give it time – that is where Cycling is heading.

The first signs of a fever began to show when Miskimmin centralised all cycling training in Cambridge. Suddenly a very good cycling coach, Justin Grace, wasn’t good enough anymore. He was far too common for Miskimmin’s liking. An Australian Anthony Peden was brought in to save the day. Eventually two or three athletes fell out with him and he was replaced by another import – this time a German, René Wolff.

There was nothing wrong with either Justin Grace or Anthony Peden. They were both very good coaches. The problem was the policy that came with their employment. The better the coach the more impossible it was to live within the confinements imposed by Miskimmin’s centralised regime. In fact Grace and Peden have gone on to have successful coaching careers in the UK and China. Surely that should cause New Zealand sport some concern. The whole world, it seems, is out of step except Peter Miskimmin.

I’m sure René Wolff is good enough as well. But he will not survive. How do we know – because we have seen it in swimming. Whether a coach is good or bad does not make any difference. No one survives the “Miskimmin’s Malaise”.

The next sport to show signs of a high temperature was women’s hockey. They had a very good coach, Mark Hager. He led New Zealand women’s hockey from eleventh or twelfth in the world to number three. He also helped the team win their first Commonwealth Games Gold medal. He was a tough, straight shooting sort of guy – a bit like swimming’s Mark Regan. Eventually a couple of hockey wall-flowers complained. One of them, the team’s goal keeper, should be ashamed of herself. I hope she is humiliated by the way things have turned out. Miskimmin ordered one of his Reviews. Hager couldn’t stand the hypocrisy of it all and resigned to take up the job of Head Coach of the world number one team, England.

Does any of that sound familiar? Of course it does. It is a copy of what happened in swimming and cycling. It is the “Miskimmin’s Malaise”. I was delighted to see the Captain and Vice-Captain of the hockey team speak so highly of Hager after his resignation. Sadly their support was too little, too late. That is not their fault. It always will be when a sport contracts the “Miskimmin Malaise”.

The next New Zealand sporting casualty of the disease was rowing. Now they had a superb coach. Dick Tonks was old-school brilliant. By a strange coincidence he had a similar gruff personality to swimming’s Regan and hockey’s Hager. He is famously quoted as saying about the world’s best rowers “I’m their coach, not their friend.” I always thought that personality was not what Miskimmin wanted. The younger, foreign, jargon experts are more to Miskimmin’s liking. No one could do much about Tonks, of course, because he was so blindingly successful. But Miskimmin bureaucrats bide their time. They don’t mind waiting.

Eventually they spotted a weakness and pounced. In a copy of what swimming did to Regan, rowing imposed rules and conditions that made it impossible for Tonks to continue and he resigned.  A few months later Rowing Canada confirmed that Tonks, who had guided New Zealand crews to over 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, would lead their high performance team through to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

You have to give Miskimmin credit. He has done a superb job of supplying world sport with some of the best New Zealand trained coaches. Sadly, of course, every coach that leaves New Zealand for a plum foreign job is a savage loss to New Zealand sport. History will look back on Miskimmin’s period as CEO of Sport NZ as a time of lost financial and human resources. That, after all, is the nature of the “Miskimmin Malaise”.

0 responses. Leave a Reply

  1. Swimwatch


    Be the first to leave a comment!

Comments are closed.