Stand & Be Counted

I doubt there is a swimmer or coach who is happy with the performance of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ).  I’m sure most of us think that the people involved are nice enough. They are not necessarily the types I would choose to sit beside at a dinner party, but they are harmless in a boring sort of way. Cotterill, Johns and Francis are never going to set the world on fire with their intellect or their wit or – spare me the thought – the depth of their stunning personalities. Charisma is not the first word that springs to mind when the trio that run SNZ are the topic of conversation.

Which, of course, is the problem. Are the decisions they make the product of incompetence or are they being deliberately vicious? For example when they decided to pay Steve Johns $150,000 a year and charge swimmers $85,000 to represent the country at a World Championships, was that selfish ignorance or malicious greed? When they run swim meets all over the country and pay nothing to the winners is that dumb incompetence or spiteful voracity? When they chose to break the law by refusing to provide me with the report into my coaching, are they being dumb or vicious?

My guess is that the myriad of poor decisions is more likely the product of stunning ignorance and stupidity. I doubt that any of them have the spine to act the way they do out of malicious intent. Cotterill, Francis and Johns are not tyrants, more like sugar-plum fairies – especially Gary Francis, who, in my opinion, is the closest a male can come to Mary Poppins without a sex change.

Only ignorance could have given birth to the Francis Folly of training camps and squad lists – all the Francis-inspired stuff that has replaced centralised training. We have discussed before the harm caused by the Francis Folly, harm that is the equal of that caused by the years of Jan Cameron’s Centralised Folly. Like Cameron, the Francis Folly hurts those it includes and those it excludes.

Those included on a Francis list get ideas way above their station. Francis and his lists actually encourage the arrogance of what Lydiard described as the “New Zealand disease”. Those who miss the Francis academic and meaningless time cuts and are excluded from his lists are left with an overwhelming sense of unimportance. They understandably go off to find a more welcoming sport.  They play basketball, or football or rugby sevens; sports that value their late developing talent. Francis is paid to produce lists that cause New Zealand swimming harm.

And his training camps are even worse. For weeks over Christmas I have sat at the Millennium Pool and watched the expensive nonsense of Francis SNZ training camps. The elitist and defeatist feature of the Francis lists is, of course, the same in a training camp. Being included encourages the “New Zealand disease” and being excluded turns members and potential champions away from the sport.

Worse than that, are the camps themselves. We all know there are basically two types of swimming preparation – sprint-based and distance-based. Paul Kent operates a sprint-based program. I prefer a distance-based program. Mark Schubert uses distance-based training. Dave Salo bases his training on sprints. Both are successful. Both are valid and both work well. What does not work is mixing the two.

And yet when swimmers go off to a Francis SNZ training camp they either get someone like Paul giving them sprints all week, something that causes nothing but harm to swimmers from a program like mine. Or they get someone like me giving them distance conditioning that harms and is totally foreign to a swimmer from a home program like Paul’s. Either way one swimmer or the other is going to be hurt.

But, I hear you say, what say Gary Francis has someone like Paul taking training on Monday and someone like me doing Tuesday. The answer to that is easy. When that happens, both the distance and the sprint based swimmers are hurt equally.

We have discussed before the damage caused to New Zealand swimming by the twenty year and $30 million Cameron and SNZ centralised training mistake. Eventually SNZ recognised we were right and they were wrong and abandoned centralised training. The problem is what they replaced it with is no better. It costs less, which is probably why they made the change, but in terms of good for swimming it is as negative as the Cameron policy ever was.

What New Zealand clubs and coaches need to do is stand and be counted. Do what is right. Don’t accommodate Francis and his lists. Don’t participate in his training camps. Don’t feel sorry for Mary Poppins and go along with SNZ to keep the peace. Don’t use the excuse that it is only a week so who cares. But most of all don’t participate in the charade by working at one of their camps. I’ve seen good coaches working there. I can only assume their motive is to keep the peace and suck up to the occupants of Antares Place. But New Zealand’s best coaches have a higher responsibility than keeping in good with SNZ. They have a duty to the sport and their swimmers. They have a responsibility to educate those (Francis, Johns and Cotterill) who clearly have little idea of the harm they cause.

In my opinion Paul and Graeme would do swimming in New Zealand a huge favour if a bad cold prevented them working at the next camp. Eventually Mary Poppins would have to take the camp himself. That would quickly see the whole idea go the way of Cameron’s policy. We should not wait 20 years and spend $30 million before we correct another swimming tragedy. But avoiding the mistake relies on Paul and Graeme and others doing the right thing.

Stand and be counted.

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