Archive for the ‘ New Zealand ’ Category

CLIVE RUSHTON (27 October 1947 – 11 June 2017)

Monday, June 19th, 2017

I was not in frequent contact with Clive. I checked back on my emails and discovered we exchanged 16 messages in the past twelve months. He was a bloody good guy – no question. Clive had a quality in common with all great coaches, men like Lydiard, Jelley, Laing and Schubert. They could argue with you in the toughest, most uncompromising terms and it was never personal. You always felt you were on the same side. Like the others, Clive also had another quality that made him difficult to argue with – a thing called brains.

In fact it was brains and trust that made him such a good national coach in New Zealand. The worst feature of Jan Cameron’s rise to power was the difficulties she put in the path of Clive Rushton. As a team, the two of them could have achieved stunning results. But with Jan that was never going to happen.    

I met Clive in his first week as New Zealand’s National Coach. At the National Championships a well-known Auckland official had cheated on one of my swimmers. I protested her behaviour. It would not be uncommon for officials to close ranks at that point and admit no wrong. They do it all the time. Just look at the Kilbirnie Pool depth issue. But on this occasion, without fear or favour, Clive Rushton did the right thing. I have no doubt that in his short time in New Zealand he had heard all sorts of stories about what a trouble-maker I was. But, all that was put to one side. The official’s error was corrected. I liked Clive immediately – not because he had taken my side but because he chose to do the difficult,, the unpopular and the right thing.     

A few weeks later he came to dinner at my home. We had a memorable evening – good wine, good food and good stories about sport. Clive told us he had won a competition between officials on the British Team; who could get into the Barcelona Olympic Pool using the most novel fake pass. Some managed to get through using passes made out of toilet paper, but Clive won. He carefully burnt a slice of toast and scrapped off the Olympic logo and text. He attached an official cord on to his toast pass and walked into the arena. The Olympic security guards were done by a slice of toast.

Shortly after our dinner my daughter, Jane, broke the New Zealand short course open 200 metre breaststroke record. We thought she might be able to break it again and arranged for her to swim a trial in Palmerston North. I told Clive that Jane was going to make the attempt. When we arrived at the pool I was staggered to see Clive walk in. He had driven from Wellington just to support Jane’s swim – a measure of the man. He frequently demonstrated the same caring respect. When swimmers had some behaviour problems at the Yokohama Pan Pacific Games Clive sent out the best discipline letter I have read. It simply said, “I know what happened. It must not happen again. If it does there will be real trouble.” Twenty New Zealand swimmers were openly and honestly put on notice. That letter deserved and earned all our respect. 

Just before I left to coach in the US Virgin Islands I called Clive to let him know I was leaving. He was supportive and used a phrase I will forever associate with him. “Coaching is best done under a palm tree.” he said. He could well be right.     

A few years later I followed Clive to Saudi Arabia. He had also lived in Jeddah and was an enormous help introducing me to the local sporting hierarchy. Fitting into such a different culture comes with its share of problems. I was lucky to have the assistance of Clive Rushton. A triathlete we both helped with her swimming was the daughter-in-law of the Saudi oil giant CEO, Amin Nazer. That was a way of life we both found novel and deeply interesting.    

For several months I have been writing a third book about swimming. It is due to be published later this year. Sadly I have had to change the caption on one of the photographs. This is what the caption said, “After several failures at finding a national coach Swimming New Zealand would do well to invite Clive Rushton back. He was and still is acutely aware of the reforms needed to lift the performance of swimming in New Zealand. And he is qualified and capable of getting the job done.”

In an ironic twist, that I know Clive would love, I have just read the email sent out by the NZ Coaches Association telling us about Clive’s death. Only New Zealand swimming could spell the ex-national Head Coach’s name wrong in his obituary. It is “Rushton” not “Ruston”. In their obituary I notice that Clive Power has some kind words to say about Clive Rushton. The feeling was mutual. Here is a line from an email Clive Rushton recently sent me that speaks volumes about the qualities Clive Rushton respected and admired.

“Clive Power is no nonsense, no BS, ‘old’ (aka effective) school approach to hard, focused work, is exactly what New Zealand swimmers need.  

And a second email discusses Clive Rushton’s feelings about Swimming New Zealand.

“I have received very nice emails from some of the coaches saying “come back” and, as you know from business; the producers need someone they trust. That probably outweighs every other factor. Of course there has to be an expert and solid grounding in the relevant aspects of the sport but, once that is acknowledged, trust comes out at the top of the list in my book. I don’t think there is much trust anywhere at the moment, is there?”

You were a trusted mate Clive. Farewell and thank you. The sport of swimming, and especially swimming in New Zealand was better for your time here.         



West Wave Waffle

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

Just about everyone has read or heard the fitness slogans demanding greater effort. Expressions like “Go hard or go home” and “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and “No pain, no gain” and “Success is earned with blood, sweat, and the occasional tear.” Many gym walls are papered with these calls to greater effort. Many trainers include them in their instructions.

I’ve seen some stunning displays. In one pool a group of middle aged, often overweight patrons gathered each Saturday morning for the health benefit of an hour of aqua-aerobics. What followed was an amazing cocktail of high intensity interval exercise. It was very dangerous. Every week I expected someone to pull up with a heart problem. Dive into the pool, climb out, run around the pool, faster you guys, dive back in, climb back out, do 10 push-ups, climb the diving tower and leap into the pool. And through it all the instructor demanded more effort. “Wake up. Work out. Look hot. Kick ass. Sore as hell and back for more.” she screamed.

The effect on the patrons was terrifying; bright red, gasping for air they staggered from one task to another. And as they left I frequently heard the instructor say, “That was great. Really made them hurt this morning.”

It was all so senseless, so dangerous, so nothing like the exercise I knew these people actually needed. For thirty years I have been fortunate enough to discuss swimming and athletics with some of the world’s best coaches; men like Arthur Lydiard, Arch Jelley and Mark Schubert. Between them they have coached a score of Olympic gold medal winners. Not once have I heard them berate their athletes with slogans of hard work and toil. Instead they have advised caution. Instead of, “Don’t stop. Keep going. Push harder.” These men had more sensible advice.

In my own coaching career I have been fortunate enough to coach swimmers and runners to Olympic Games and World Championships, a Master’s World Record Holder, 81 National Champions and 68 National Records and I would never dream of subjecting any of them to the abuse I have seen in aqua-aerobic and gym classes around the world. Without doubt cruelty of that type will never be successful and has no place in an exercise program.

But the reason I am writing this post is because I have just been to the Auckland Council’s West Wave Pool in Henderson, New Zealand. And I have witnessed the pinnacle of exercise stupidity. On their wall they have a prominent poster advertising their fitness classes and the heading says:


There can be no excuse that justifies that message. The West Wave Pool is a Council facility. They have a duty to know better than this. Their own Bylaws (the Health and Hygiene Bylaw 2013) puts it better than I ever could:

“The council may revoke a code of practice that –  (a) relates to the operation of commercial services that pose an associated health risk to any persons using or accessing their services, products or business operation.”

The Bylaw contains the following clarification:

“When you plan an event you are responsible for the safety of everyone at the event.”

Well, “train insane or remain the same” most certainly does “pose a health risk” to many West Wave patrons. At this point I could discuss the physiological reasons training insane is dangerous. Instead, let me use four examples of athletes whose training I know well: John Walker, Peter Snell, Rhi Jeffrey and Toni Jeffs. Two of the runners because I knew their coaches very well and the two swimmers because I was their coach. All four were medalists at world events. All four trained about 576 times a year. Anaerobic, insane training sessions were run or swum in 24 training sessions a year; 4% of the time. If race days are added to the insane training load the two swimmers competed on about 50 days a year – 100 races. And so combined the “insane” work load for these competitors was about 74 times a year – only 13% of their annual training. The other 87% was “train don’t strain”. And remember these were world class athletes, not 50 year old, 110 kilogram, West Wave patrons wanting to lose a bit of weight.       

The poster is insane. Whoever put it on the wall is not being “responsible for the safety of everyone”. It is difficult to comprehend how a paid exercise professional could possibly think this is a suitable message. If the West Wave Pool is going to offer fitness classes in their pool or gym they need to ensure their staff is aware of the rules associated with safe training. A poster like this suggests considerable staff training is required. And required quickly before someone hurts themselves trying to “train insane”.  


A Good Day For New Zealand Swimming

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

And so Alex Baumann is on his way. Most readers will know that Baumann was an accomplished swimmer. He won five gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and two gold medals at the understrength 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. In February 2012 he was appointed to the position of Chief Executive of High Performance Sport NZ (HPSNZ). And in September this year he will leave to go and live in Australia with his wife and family.

I see Paul Collins, the Chairman of HPSNZ, has lauded Baumann’s leadership and vision. According to Collins Baumann, “has lifted the bar for high performance sport in New Zealand and built an organization that is among the best in the world.”

I can’t speak for other New Zealand sports but in swimming Collins is talking rubbish. And swimming matters; after all swimming was Baumann’s sport, the sport he was supposed to know best. In my view Baumann’s time in charge has been a disaster for swimming; a disaster which in large part is his responsibility. The buck stops with Baumann and Miskimmin.

Let me set out the reasons I believe Baumann leaving is the best news New Zealand swimming has had for a long, long time. The charges against Baumann are as follows

  1. He has promoted a policy of centralization that has not and cannot work. Around the world the Baumann model, imposed on New Zealand, has been tried and discarded. Successful national programs have encouraged a wide infrastructure of many coaches participating in the national program. In New Zealand Baumann has persisted with the Soviet era model of a single national training center. The role of domestic coaches is primarily to nurture and then supply talented swimmers into the Millennium organization.

For five years, for two Olympic Games, and at a cost of around $9 million New Zealand has doggedly tried to make Baumann’s centralized model work. And it has not. No medals, nothing. In fact New Zealand’s best results have come from swimmers who have broken away from Baumann’s plan and have developed their swimming in Australia or the United States.

I am sure Baumann would have loved to impose a swimming style centralized structure on New Zealand track and field athletics. But he couldn’t. There is no way in the world that Dame Valerie Adams, Nick Willis, Hamish Carson, Tom Walsh, the Robertson brothers, or Camille Buscomb were going to relinquish their independence by accepting a Baumann imposed socialist regime. These fine athletes wanted to preserve their right to prepare in Kenya, or in the state of Michigan, or on a New Zealand farm or in an American University, or on a Swiss mountain. The sad thing about track and field is that the stellar Olympic performances of athletes who rejected the Baumann plan are used by Miskimmin and Collins as evidence that the plan works.

The centralized policy promoted by Baumann in New Zealand swimming is old fashioned, out-of-date, boring, and lacks imagination or initiative. And so good-bye Baumann. You will not be missed.

  1. The greatest damage resulting from the Baumann policy has been the savage undermining of New Zealand coaches. I’m losing count of the coaches that have been brought into the Millennium Institute since Baumann took over at HPSNZ. The best has been a New Zealander, Clive Power. Ironically he came to the rescue when Swimming New Zealand couldn’t find a foreign coach. Power is an excellent coach and clearly shows that New Zealanders are quite capable of coaching their own. But not as far as Swimming New Zealand is concerned. In Baumann’s five years Swimming New Zealand has employed two Australians, a Pom and the current American. Including the New Zealander that’s a coach a year and no one can understand why the sport can’t win anything. I suspect even Phelps would struggle if he changed coaches every twelve months.

The current Head Coach is an American age group club coach. The message Swimming New Zealand is sending to every domestic coach is that none of us are as good as an American age group club coach. The national federation scoured the world and decided that a foreign age group club coach was better than anything available in New Zealand. That is clearly not true and it is about time the New Zealand Coaches Association did something to put right the message Swimming New Zealand seem intent on peddling. The damage to the coaching infrastructure in New Zealand has been serious.

  1. I always felt uneasy about the appearance of divided loyalty when it came to Baumann. It probably did not affect his job in any way, but for me the appearance of carpet bagging was difficult to shake. For example both his children were good enough to swim for New Zealand but were shipped back to swim for Canada. His daughter swims the same events as Lauren Boyle. His son swam for Canada in the Rio Olympics in the same events as Glen Snyders. Who was Baumann supporting in Rio?

And while he was in New Zealand his wife and family home continued on in Australia. As I have said all this may have had no effect on Baumann’s performance. However as the Thomas theorem says – if something is perceived to be true it can be true in its consequences.

And now the news tells me, “The Board will begin a worldwide search to identify the best possible candidate and ensure a seamless leadership transition.” They never learn do they? They are off overseas again to find another foreigner. New Zealand’s most successful sport, rugby, seems to do just fine employing New Zealanders. Swimming must do the same. There is no need, or place, for foreign carpet bagger coaches or administrators. The Boards of HPSNZ and Swimming New Zealand should be ashamed of their worship of things foreign. The cost to New Zealand morale has been too high.

In my opinion the potential opportunities for New Zealand swimming will improve as Baumann’s jet lifts off the runway and heads west out of here.   


The Start Of Something Extraordinary

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

“The start of something extraordinary” is the slogan printed on the banner of the Swimming New Zealand website. The slogan is correct: five errors in the news report telling us about the high altitude training camp is certainly extraordinary.  

Then I thought, what would I find if I read the other news items? Perhaps five errors are not the start of something extraordinary. Perhaps that’s Swimming New Zealand’s normal standard.

Here is what I found. Some of my gripes are trivial. They do however add to an impression of an organisation that struggles to get anything right.

Report One – Team for Commonwealth Youth Games announced

This is what the website reported, “Mya Rasmussen with also be one to watch.” What they mean of course is, “Mya Rasmussen will also be one to watch.”

Report Two – Upokongaro School Celebrates Swimming Success

Here is a sentence from their Upokongaro School report.

Upokongaro School also include beach education with Surf Life Saving NZ over summer and prior to conducting any education outside the classroom that are around water, emphasis is made to ensuring students keep themselves safe whether they are in, on or around water.  

That is a mammoth 44 word sentence. The UK Government have rules about this sort of thing. Here is an extract from their blog “Inside GOV UK”.  

Research shows that when average sentence length is 14 words, readers understand more than 90% of what they’re reading. At 43 words, comprehension drops to less than 10%.

Studies also show that sentences of 11 words are considered easy to read, while those of 21 words are fairly difficult. At 25 words, sentences become difficult, and 29 words or longer, very difficult.

Long sentences aren’t just difficult for people who struggle with reading. They’re also a problem for highly literate people with extensive vocabularies.”

Having struggled to keep up with what was happening at Upokongaro School, I agree with the UK Government. Ten percent comprehension? Only if I was lucky.   

Report Three – Swimming’s rising stars bag record haul in Australia

This is a report about the Australian Age Group Championships. It is probably the most serious fault. The headline claims a “record haul” of medals. The text says:

“It brought New Zealand’s tally to a record 18 over the six-day meet”

I thought I’d go back to 2009 and check the past seven years to see if the New Zealand result in 2017 was a record. I only needed to check one year. In 2009 swimmers from NZ won 22 medals at the Australian Age Group Championships. The website claim is not true. It’s an alternative fact. And as Chuck Todd said to Kellyanne Conway, “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”

But the confusion does not end there. The report then says:

“New Zealand finished the meet with two victories to Crawford and Christchurch’s Hannah Bates, 11 silver medals and five bronze medals, with the medals coming from nine clubs.”

The sentence is not all that long but there are three or four subjects all squashed together that make the whole thing meaningless. Someone needs to tell Swimming New Zealand that it is not necessary to jam every fact into one breathless sentence.  

Report Four – Swift Water Personal Skills Course

Two of the skills taught to members attending this course are described as:

“Move safely in and around a river environment up to grade 2+

Perform non-technical self and peer rescues in a river environment up to grade 2″

Is the river grade “two plus” or “two inches” or both.

Report Five – High Performance Team visit USA

I have already discussed this report. For the sake of completeness I will include the Swimming New Zealand’s report again. Here is what they said:

“Some of the USA’s top swimmers, such as Katie Ledecky, Nathan Adrian and Simone manual were amongst the athletes competing at the meet.

The competition was hosted by the Storied Club Mission Veijo Nandadores.”

Here is what they have wrong in just two sentences.

  1. “Simone manual” is Simone Manuel – that’s two errors
  2. “Storied Club” should be storied club – that’s another two
  3. “Veijo” should be Viejo – and that’s one more

Five errors in 34 words: that is not good. If someone in Swimming New Zealand knows enough about Mission Viejo to call it “storied” you would think they would also know how to spell the club’s name.  

Report Six – Crawford leads further medal haul in Australia

As I have said there is a general impression of incompetence. For example this report says:

“with the competition continuing until Saturday”

And then it goes on to say:

“and continues at the Brisbane Aquatic Centre until Friday.”

And then we are told:

Smith, from the emerging Whangarei club, set a personal best 3:34.03 to finish second in the 16 years 200m breaststroke.”

But in the results we are told:

“16 years: Ciara Smith (Northwave) 200 breaststroke 2:34.03”

I can understand the New Zealand Herald getting a 200 meter breaststroke time wrong by a minute. The national swimming Federation should know better.  

It is not overstating the case to say that when the organisation’s shop window is this sloppy, when they can’t write a report without silly errors, when they lie about their performance: why should anyone trust them with the careers of their children? If a school principal sent a newsletter home with this many errors would you be happy your child was in good hands? Of course not. The message coming from their website is one of confusion, poor performance and incompetence. But does the website simply reflect the organisation in general?  


Imperial Exploitation

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

Swimming New Zealand has an obsession with importing foreign coaches. Three Australians have come to New Zealand, been paid and left. There have been two poms. The Head of High Performance Sport is an imported Canadian. The current Head Coach is an American age group coach and another American is acting as the New Zealand swim team manager.

The whole thing smacks of colonial rule. Is New Zealand swimming so third world in its management that foreigners need to be imported to point the local native population in the right direction? Certainly that is the impression given by the revolving door of imported foreigners.

For a year I have been part of the same malaise. Brian Palmer, the CEO of Saudi Arabian Swimming ran the affairs of that country in exactly the same way as Swimming New Zealand do here. Brian is a New Zealander. Two district managers are South African and the third is a New Zealander – me. The Head Life Guard was a New Zealander and the Head Coach is an Australian. I hated it. I thought the whole thing was colonial beyond belief. I’m not saying the foreigners didn’t work hard. But none were Saudi, none had a lifetime commitment to the country. We were all vastly better paid than the Saudi population. Good God, Brian was paid 40,000 Riyal a month – that’s $NZ 15,500 a month tax free, $NZ 186,000 a year tax free plus accommodation.

Tell me where you’d be paid that in New Zealand sport. Taxed in New Zealand the pay alone is worth about $NZ 280,000 a year. And for what? It is not exactly like Saudi Swimming is doing well. No one qualified for the last Olympic Games. The country never wins the annual Gulf States International event. Women can’t swim, teams are sent around the world with little or no purpose, foreign born nationals have no path to representation, domestic coaches are neglected and teams have no affiliation to the national federation that we would recognise. What has the Saudi $NZ 280,000 equivalent bought. We know it cost 4000 barrels of oil a year. That’s about a minute of the entire country’s production. We know it has been spent on the salary of the CEO. But what has it bought. The natural resource has gone. The oil reserves are finite. They cannot be replaced. But have they bought something permanent? Has the structure of Saudi swimming changed? Has a lifetime legacy of good being left behind? No, is the answer. In my opinion, it is just good old fashioned imperial exploitation.

In Saudi Arabia the problem is quite apparent in swimming, but it is not only in swimming. The national sport of football is just as bad. The national football team has averaged a coach a year for the last 15 years. That sort of coaching turnover is unhealthy for any sport.

I imagine there are many New Zealanders nodding their head in agreement that foreigners have not always performed well in African and Middle East countries. But before we smugly pat ourselves on the back, we need to seriously consider whether we are any better. The evidence suggests our obsession with foreign imports is close to the Palmer Saudi example.

The New Zealand Swim Coaches Association has their Annual Conference in Christchurch in two weeks. I would dearly like to go but can’t of course. However the problem of by-passing New Zealand coaches with foreign imports needs the Association’s attention. New Zealand is blessed with many good coaches; coaches that have been emasculated by the policy followed by the national federation. The Coaches Association is best placed to turn the sport in New Zealand away from the Saudi way to a permanently New Zealand alternative.

I am no fan of Donald Trump. I think his bus comments and many other acts are beyond redemption. However “Coached by New Zealanders, For New Zealanders” is a slogan I would enjoy seeing painted on the Christchurch Conference stage.