Money Or Your Life

What is it about human beings? There seems to be a world-wide compulsion to take sides. Choose between Christianity and Islam. One is good and the other is irreparably bad. Choose between capitalism and socialism. Choose the wrong one and I am going to hate you forever. Choose between Labour (Democrats) or National (Republicans). You had better not make a different choice from mine. Donald Trump is bad not because he is Republican. He is bad because he is little more than a mob boss. It is easy to name many good Republicans. Donald Trump is not one of them. The compulsion to pick between two competing sides is a human compulsion that has been the root cause of war and conflict forever.

Picking between two sides is at its worst in the United States. The whole country is a cauldron of boiling choice animosity. War with Venezuela is the likely result of a John Bolton created choice. The animosity between Democrats and Republicans is hugely destructive.

Right now American swimming is debating whether teenage swimmers should swim and train in their high school team or in their club team. Swim Swam have conducted a poll to determine which side has the most popular support. Here is the link to the Swim Swam article debating the merits of club or high school swimming.

In the seven years I coached in the United States the merits of high school and club swimming were a constant topic of debate. I was a club coach but refused to enter the club/high school fray. The damage of debating the issue was my principal concern. Why? Because the most cursory study of American swimming cannot help but reach the conclusion that the diversity of swimming in the United States is its strength. Swimming in America is founded on the principle of diversity. If you want to swim a sprint program you can train with Dave Salo or any number of a hundred similar programs. If you want distance type preparation you can swim for Mark Schubert or dozens of others like him. It has long been proven that both Salo and Schubert programs work. The choice is not between right and wrong. It’s personal preference.

The same principle applies in New Zealand. Paul Kent at the MAG’s swim team offers a specialist sprint based program – similar to Salo. I prefer a distance based program – similar to Schubert. That does not mean Paul is wrong and I am right and we should fight to the death to prove the point. It simply means we both specialise in different ways of successfully solving the same problem. The diversity represented by that example is desperately important to the success of a healthy sport.

It is also the principle behind my twenty year fight with Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) over their centralised training regime.  For twenty years SNZ’s programme was based on the principle that SNZ would import, from overseas, the world’s best coach and all New Zealand’s elite swimmers should be coached by that person. The dictatorship of centralised training destroyed diversity. In the process it also destroyed New Zealand swimming. Why – because diversity, the right to choose, is fundamental to the success of an individual sport.

Take Lauren Boyle for example. She was dog whistled into the SNZ centralised program. The coach was David Lyles. Quite obviously Lauren could not stand the environment and wasted six months of her swimming life finding a way out. The problem was Lauren should never have been put in the “Lyles-or-no-one” position. She should have always had the freedom of coaching choice on the same financial conditions. Any coach in the world, paid for exactly as she was in Auckland, should have been available to the swimmer. In my opinion SNZ damaged Lauren Boyle’s career in order to defend the monopoly of SNZ’s self-interest.

For years Bruce Cotterill and his Board members were too stupid to realise they were killing the goose of diversity that laid the golden egg called competition. Self-interest forced them to make New Zealand swimmers choose. Swimmers were either for the centralised program and were accepted into the holiest of holies or they were not and were cast into outer darkness. You may think I am exaggerating, but consider this when you think of those who run SNZ.

At the Manchester Commonwealth Games three swimmers trained in their home programs – Toni Jeffs, Liz van Wellie and Jon Winter. Jan Cameron was the team coach and was also the leader of the SNZ centralised training movement. At the Commonwealth Games Jan would call team meetings and exclude the three swimmers who trained outside the SNZ program. Liz, Jon and Toni were denied their rights as New Zealanders because Jan Cameron, an Australian, and SNZ did not like their domestic coaches. That was sick. SNZ will forever stand condemned for not apologising to Toni, Liz and Jon for that insult. Ironically the three best performers at the Manchester Games were Toni, Liz and Jon. Toni and Liz were the only two swimmers to win a medal. An apology is long overdue.

And so America and New Zealand when you consider these either/or choices, pause for a moment and consider choice number three – perhaps both work best. Is the principle of diversity promoted, not by choosing between two competing ideologies, but by encouraging both to prosper? Is American swimming better by having successful high school and club programs rather that choosing one or the other? I prefer American club swimming, but more than that I demand both.

In New Zealand it is true I have pushed for the abolition of SNZ’s centralised program in favour of diversified club based coaching. I can hear some say that position hardly represents choosing both. But there is a reason for that. If I thought for a minute that SNZ could honestly run a training program that competed fairly, on a level playing field with club programs then I would support both. But they do not compete fairly. Financially they reward themselves and screw the clubs. In that environment there is only one choice – the clubs win.

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