An Activated Comments Facility

July 15th, 2018

 You may have noticed that after the Open Championship and during a holiday week Swimwatch has made an effort to answer requests made in the Steve Johns’ email. Johns has already been provided with a critique of the email. Sadly we have not had any feedback. I do hope he found our guidance beneficial.

Johns also asked Swimwatch to reopen the blog’s comment’s facility. In fact Johns issued his request in the form of a challenge. This is what he said;

“I also challenge you to ‘open’ your blog so that individuals can comment on your posts and provide a bit of balance to your crusade.”

It is difficult to avoid the stunning arrogance contained in that text. I’m sure you would agree that the natural reaction to that insufferable conceit is to tell him to go take a long walk off a very short pier. However as I have already explained – when Johns opens the Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) website to comments from Swimwatch he may then be in a position to challenge others. When Johns shows us his, we might show him ours.

Sadly an open comment’s facility is unlikely. Swimwatch closed the facility because of the volume of spam. We were receiving numerous comments advertising all sorts of rubbish – Donald Trump for example. For all I know some of the unwanted advertising may have been of interest to Steve Johns – cheap Viagra from Canada and a direct Air New Zealand flight to Houston for the city’s premiere of the Stormy Daniels’ show, “Make America Horny Again”. I would be very concerned if Johns’ request was an attempt to access the stuff Swimwatch used to receive.

But we may be able to accommodate Johns. Not by opening the comment’s facility but by publishing a selection of emails we receive from readers in New Zealand and around the world.

Here, for example, is an email sent to me today from a South Island based reader. I won’t identify him any more than that, except to admit that they breed them tough with forthright views down there in the deep south. Anyway here is the comment for Steve Johns’ reading pleasure.

Hi David hope you are well and enjoying your weekend. Just read all of your blog posts from the past two weeks and I honestly take my hat off to you. I don’t know why Swimming NZ is getting so sensitive because you’re only saying the truth and they need to hear it whether they like it or not.

It’s not to discourage them in anyway. It’s to help them understand the situation and fix it but clearly they are still blinded by their own pride. I can’t help but feel sorry for Bradlee I really do want him to achieve his goals but it’s hard to do so if Swimming NZ can’t keep their promises and develop the way it needs to be. They need to realize that their expectations  don’t quite match up with their contributions so unless they do something about it like grown ass adults I don’t know what else they expect

There you go Steve Johns. There are two features of the comment that merit consideration – the content and what it means for SNZ.

The email sums up the current situation very well. Why is Steve Johns so sensitive about the truth? As far as possible, in Swimwatch, I support the opinions published with tables of data. In fact I occasionally think I provide too many numbers. However, if a point is supported by data and by facts, SNZ should welcome the discussion. Good management requires a ruthless determination to tackle problems upfront and quickly. Certainly Johns does need to hear it whether he likes it or not.

When every measure of corporate financial and membership health has declined for eight years – how does Steve Johns explain the disaster? Not by telling me not to mention it in a blog he doesn’t. The South Island correspondent then comments that the organisation is blinded by pride. Sadly, it is not just pride – its arrogant, superior pride based on nothing. It might be blunt but the last line says it all. It’s about time SNZ did “something about it like grown ass adults”.

So what does the email mean for SNZ? Well, it is the sort of comment I frequently receive. I doubt that SNZ will benefit much from having two or three of those published every day. But we could try and find a way if SNZ think it’s a good idea.

You see the purpose of Johns’ question is to leave the impression that if the comments were opened a flood of disgruntled members would come surging to SNZ’s defence. John’s wants to convey the story that I closed the comments facility to avoid admitting no one agreed with the content of the blog. Let me assure Steve Johns that would not be the impression left by opening the blog’s comments facility. The majority of the comments are supportive of Swimwatch and reflect the content of the email published in this post.

People are telling Steve Johns what he wants to hear. That’s what happens when you are a CEO of SNZ; members curry favour. New swimmers and their families still believe SNZ has the power of life and death over their swimming careers. They pay their respects accordingly. The reality is that Johns needs good swimmers far more that they need him. His inflated wages, paid entirely by members and taxpayers, depend on finding good swimmers.

The reality is that, like the Swimwatch correspondent, behind Steve Johns’ back many members believe SNZ is a joke; a self-serving bunch of bureaucrats who have spent $30million of our money and have provided us with a worse product.

That, Steve Johns, is what your members think and they are using Swimwatch to vent their frustration.

A Quiet Week

July 13th, 2018

It’s been a quiet week. I spent another four days in Ward Two at North shore Hospital getting my blood sorted. That was interesting because the four days included a transfer from Waitakere Hospital to North Shore at 3.45 in the morning and a one day nurses’ strike; the first nurses’ strike in thirty odd years. The staff did a fantastic job. From this patient’s point of view I didn’t notice a thing. All the tasks that are part of a hospital day seemed to happen normally; drugs, blood pressure, temperature, heart rate and weight were all checked. I was impressed.

But a boring week on the swimming front meant there was nothing to write about on Swimwatch. So I thought I’d do Steve Johns a favour. You may remember he sent me an email recently. In case you missed the Swimwatch post discussing this titanic event, here is the email again.

David,

Once again you have published incorrect information, this time about Bradlee Ashby.  Bradlee is not retiring and remains committed and focused on Tokyo 2020.  You have once again put 1 + 1 together and got 3, clearly in your continued crusade to discredit Swimming NZ and anyone associated with it.   

 I challenge you to take a few etc steps next time you settle down to your latte and come into the Swimming NZ office and confront face-to-face the people you so enjoy writing about.  We will gladly sit down at any time with you and answer any questions that you have and give you the facts about what we are doing.  Sadly however, I suspect that for you its too easy just to put pen to paper, write whatever pops into your head and not be interested in the negative impact that you have on people’s lives.  If you think your little blogs and constant attacks are helping swimming in NZ, then you are seriously mistaken – or is it just a fun little game you like to play?   

I also challenge you to ‘open’ your blog so that individuals can comment on your posts and provide a bit of balance to your crusade.

The office door is always open.

 Regards

Steve.    

 PS, I look forward to your critiquing this email in your next blog!!

 Steve Johns

Chief Executive Officer

So let’s humour Johns. He says he’s looking forward to a critique, so let’s do just that.

In fact Johns’ request is not without merit. It is important for him to send proper, professional emails that represent Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) in a favourable light. Any help we can provide is willingly and freely given. Anyway here are some rules that may benefit Johns in the future.

RULE ONE – Beginning your email with a greeting is important. If you are emailing someone you have never met before, (like me) and your relationship with the recipient is therefore formal (like mine), introducing yourself and what you do is crucial. You should start the email like this:

Dear Mr. Wright,

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Steve Johns and I am the Chief Executive Officer of Swimming New Zealand.

Can you imagine how much better I would feel about the content of what you have to say next with that introduction instead of, “David, Once again you have published incorrect information,”?

I appreciate that your stunning arrogance possibly makes it difficult for you to be polite. Courtesy however is normally more effective in getting your point across than crass bad manners.

RULE TWO – State your purpose with concise, short and clear sentences. I think it is clear that Johns has done this just fine. It’s a pity therefore that the points he makes, so concisely in short, clear sentences, are so flat out wrong. No one on Swimwatch ever said Bradlee Ashby was retiring. We only asked SNZ to clarify whether he was retiring, because that and his girlfriend problems was the subject of much poolside gossip.

Ironically it is not difficult to discredit SNZ and Johns when their reactions, like this one, are so easily proven wrong and stunningly stupid.

RULE THREE – One of the biggest mistakes made by Johns is not proof reading his emails. He has clearly written this one after getting worked up by someone; my guess is the Ashby family, about something written in Swimwatch. Johns needs to learn that it’s easy to miss something out or make a spelling mistake when you burst into print without proof reading. In this email the following sentence is an example: “etc” is I imagine meant to be “extra”.

“I challenge you to take a few etc steps next time you settle down to your latte and come into the Swimming NZ office.”

RULE FOUR – It is better to tell the truth. Slinging insults around and then inviting the recipient into a meeting is absurd. Why would anyone waste a latte discussing anything with anyone who has taken the time to write insults that include writing “whatever pops into” my head, of being, “not interested in the negative impact that you have on people’s lives” and of writing for a “little” blog. Incidentally, I agree with Johns, Swimwatch is a “little” blog. However, as at tonight, the number of unique readers since the blog was first published is 495,438 – so possibly not quite so little.

And so I guess the conclusion to all this is that I won’t be taking the few extra steps to the SNZ office with my morning latte, not while the CEO indulges in semi-literate and bad mannered invitations like this one. When Johns demonstrates the decency and humility required to write a polite invitation then perhaps there will be grounds for a discussion. Until then, in my view of this email, is he is not a fit person to occupy that office or represent my membership.

As If Further Proof Was Required

July 11th, 2018

Yesterday Swimwatch highlighted findings of importance to all aspiring sportsmen and sportswomen. Swimming New Zealand will almost certainly ignore the advice. The superior arrogance of Johns and Francis knows no limit. However I thought exploring the topic a little further might shine a light into their darkness – assuming they ever read anything written here.

First, let me tell you about Rhi Jeffrey. She could swim a bit. Almost as good, I expect, as Johns and Francis think they can. She began swimming for the small Aqua Crest Club in Delray Beach, Florida, coached by Scott Barlow. Her career was pretty stellar. She won eight state titles and at the 2002 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships she won a silver medal as part of the U.S. 4×100 freestyle relay team. While still a senior in high school, she won two gold medals in the 2003 World Aquatics Championships, swimming as part of the U.S. teams in both the 4×100 and 4×200 freestyle relays. She then swam on the USA Olympic team in Athens and won a gold medal as part of the 4×200 metre relay team.

A couple of years later I met Rhi when she came home to Florida and I was coaching at her old Aqua Crest Club. And when I returned to New Zealand Rhi decided to swim for another two years in Auckland. She is now Head Coach of the Cannonball Swim Team in Massachusetts. But besides all that Rhi is as sharp as a tack and has a huge understanding of what goes on in a swimming pool. I think the expression about “not tolerating fools” was invented for Rhi.

Anyway back to yesterday’s Swimwatch post. Rhi must have read the post and we had the following exchange of messages.  

Rae Rae: Get em David. Most Olympians here come out of small programs. I’m just one example

David Wright: I thought of you at AC when I was writing it. Perfect example lol

Rae Rae: My mom wanted to move me to Pine Crest when I turned 15 (right before I made Pan PACs) because she was concerned that I wasn’t getting enough competition being the “big fish”. I resisted so hard I remember that fight to this day, it happened right on the pool deck with me sobbing and screaming at my coach to help me and not let them take me. Glad I did because it paid off big time a couple months later. I got more individual attention than I would have at a big program and I’m not ashamed to admit that I needed it.

So there you have it Steve Johns and Gary Francis, from someone who has an Olympic Gold Medal. I know you would love to have someone, anyone, in New Zealand win one of those. Well, a good first step would be to listen to the science and to the words of someone who has actually done it. But my guess is you will be too stupid to listen. Rather than appeal to you, perhaps I should address swimmers out there who have parents desperate to move them away from their mates and home club to a flash big city coach – fight like Rhi! Your swimming success will depend on it.

Oh, and if Gary Francis comes knocking, with the same suggestion or of swimming in Australia, tell him to bugger-off.

My second “expert” is my daughter, Jane. She knew her way around a swimming pool as well. She swam 800 meters freestyle when she was three years old and went on to win Short Course and Open National Championships. She broke several age group and open national records and represented New Zealand at the Oceania and Pan Pacific Games. Jane ended her career by swimming for a living, for four years, at Washington State University in the US Pac10 Conference.

Jane too appears to have been reading yesterday’s Swimwatch post. This morning she sent me this message; Relevant: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/44753849

I followed the link and this is what I found.

England have reached the World Cup semi-final for only the third time in their history – but many of their stars in Russia have had unusual paths to the top. Gone are the academy-raised, household names of the ‘Golden Generation’ and in their place is a squad featuring players who have plied their trade at the likes of Darlington, Alfreton, Halifax, Welling and Aldershot.

Three, in particular, impressed in the 2-0 quarter-final win against Sweden on Saturday.

Harry Maguire scored the first goal, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was named man of the match and Kieran Trippier was outstanding again.

Those three – not even in the squad when qualifying began and all uncapped in competitive games until October – topped your player ratings for the win in Samara. Here, we look at their remarkable rise.

Jane asks whether it is relevant. Too darn right it is. Johns and Francis take note of the lines “gone are the academy-raised. Gone are the household names. Gone is the “Golden Generation”. England has gone back to basics. Just like Steve Hansen, Duncan Laing, Arch Jelley, Dick Tonks and Arthur Lydiard. It’s what works. The sad facts are that Johns and Francis wouldn’t know basics if it bit them in the behind. And if they did see it, there is no way it would be good enough for their sophisticated targeting.

I’d love to hear Francis, Johns and Cotterill explain the missing $30 million, the ruined careers of two generations of swimmers and 25 lost years. How do they excuse the waste, the ignorance and the blind stupidity? But more importantly –  why does it continue?

The reality is New Zealand has some terrific swimming programs. Towns like Whangarei, Cambridge, New Plymouth, Flaxmere, Palmerton North, Matamata, Carterton, Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill are truly blessed. In my view the problem is simply that good people are being screwed by goons at the top. Perhaps it’s time to follow the example of Rhi and to stand sobbing and screaming at the world to help us and not let them take us any further into oblivion.

The Science That Says Francis Is Wrong

July 10th, 2018

 A hugely knowledgeable Swimwatch reader’s email this week suggested that I read a new item of research described on the BBC website and written by, London based science writer, David Robson. http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20180703-why-it-pays-to-be-a-big-fish-in-a-small-pond  I recommend the Board of Swimming New Zealand, Steve Johns and Gary Francis read it. I recommend everyone with an interest in New Zealand swimming read it. You see, it proves beyond doubt several important features of top class international sport. In particular it proves the truth of the following characteristics of Swimming New Zealand’s (SNZ) behaviour over the past 25 years and predicts the fate of the Francis Plan.

·         The policy followed by SNZ for 25 years and on which they spent $30million was flawed from the beginning.

·         The fatal policy errors that ruined the swimming potential of two generations of New Zealand’s best swimmers and highlighted on Swimwatch was right.

·         The Francis Plan contains the same fatal mistakes and will eventually lead the sport nowhere.

On a bigger stage the findings also destroy the theoretical basis on which Miskimmin has built his empire. Karapiro might work just fine for a couple of minor world sports but for cycling, running and swimming centralised elite training won’t work. It is a folly on which Miskimmin has wasted a fortune.

So what does a “Big Fish in a Little Pond” say? Here is a very shortened summary.

Some organisational scientists believe the rise of certain athletes can offer success strategies for everyone, with some particular insights into a phenomenon known as the “Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect”. Is it better to enter a prestigious company, for instance, where the large pool of talent may include some intimidatingly talented colleagues? Or should you settle for a humbler organisation, where you may find that you are king of the small fry? Far from being an ego boost, attending a prestigious school can actually make you feel more stupid, quenching their motivation and reducing their chances of success.

Consider two children, equally bright, one of whom appears to be relatively mediocre at a more competitive school, and one of whom scores far above average at a less competitive school. Elsner’s research shows the latter child will be more likely to continue their education, just as the Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect would predict.

Consider an American and Canadian study that analyzed where top professional athletes grew up. In each case, the researchers found that the professional players were far more likely to come from relatively small cities – where they could have a better chance of rising to the top of a smaller league – rather than bigger cities.

Around half the US population comes from smaller cities yet the researchers found that these cities provided a whopping 87% of all NHL players, with similar figures for the MLB and PGA. The NBA was slightly more balanced, but not by much: overall, 71% of the players came from those smaller cities – over 20% more than you would expect from chance alone.

Many factors may help to explain why smaller cities are so effective at nurturing talent. But at least some of the benefits might come from the Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect, and the additional opportunities that may come from starting out as a top player in a smaller league. The Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect will be particularly important when you are at the very start of your career but in the long-term, you may benefit more from honing your skills in shallower waters.

What does that mean? Well first up it means putting all your best athletes into the same site like SNZ did for 25 years can have some severe negative consequences – just like they were told it would. It means that SNZ spent $30 million on a policy that actually caused harm to the participants. The Board of SNZ deserve to be sued by swimming’s lost generations for negligence. It means it should surprise no one that Loader came from Dunedin, Van Wellie from Invercargill, Jeffs from Whakatane, Burmester from Tauranga, Winter from Carterton and Smith from Whangarei. It means that the policy once promoted by SNZ of “excellence in every pool” from Wairoa to the Millennium Institute was right and this Francis targeted rubbish will lead nowhere.

But above all, it starkly focusses our attention on the lack of thought and inevitable failure of the Francis Plan.

Everything Francis does assumes a premise of fake elitism – words like “targeted” for example and his daily tour of the Millennium Pool. His pathetic tables of time standards. They are already an embarrassment – an exercise in what not to do. Certainly the big fish in a small pond theory says that the Francis Plan is not the way champions are found.

I was even asked recently if I had compared the Francis times with the performance of swimmers at the Open Championships. Why would I bother doing that? If this “Big Fish Small Pond” theory is right, and I think it is, I would have more chance of picking a champion from a list of the swimmers who failed to swim the Francis times. The moral of the story is getting close to – if you want to be a champion stay off the Francis list.

The times mean nothing and whether some teenager from central Auckland is swimming them means even less. The chances are that some struggling swimmer in New Plymouth or Nelson or Invercargill is where the next Loader lies.

But for six months Francis has haunted the Millennium Pool when in reality he should have been in Hastings helping William Benson or in Kapiti with Jon Winter or New Plymouth with Donna Bouzaid finding out why she is successful again. That’s the trouble with Francis and Johns – no substance just show. Sadly the Johns email confirms they are convinced of their own righteousness and unable to learn. Well, the academic world of learning is turning against them. They would do well to pause and consider the direction they have chosen before another generation is added to the two SNZ has cost us already.

A Religious Story

July 9th, 2018

Although the Swimwatch comments facility is turned off I do receive quite a number of emails with suggestions about the website. One email this week from an old swimming friend and said, “David – you never tell any religious jokes.” That’s probably because I don’t know anything funny about religion. However I did promise my friend a story with a religious theme.

The first occurred on Easter weekend when I was sixteen. My family, including my grandparents, had our Easter Sunday lunch interrupted by the continuous barking of one of our dogs who had obviously trapped an opossum. My father ordered me to go out and shoot the opossum. A few minutes later the opossum lay dead at my feet.

Except it was not an opossum. I had shot Sooty, our pet cat. I went inside and confessed. It was not well received. My parents, my two brothers and my grandparents came out to inspect the dead animal. Sure enough David had killed Sooty. A small box was build and Sooty was buried close to our back fence on the edge of the Hangaroa River.

Being Easter Sunday, some call it Resurrection Sunday in memory of the risen Christ, our family went to afternoon church. The mood was pretty dark. I was not going to be forgiven easily. We drove home in stony silence. I went inside and there lying in front of the fire was a very sleepy and very alive Sooty. And remember this was Resurrection Sunday. None of us had the courage to dig up the grave. But seven of us had identified and buried Sooty. She lived another four years before dying of old age. But was it for a second time?

An equally surreal event occurred in Gisborne a couple of years earlier. Greg Meade and I were swimming in the Bodle Shield. In world affairs the Bodle Shield ranks very little attention but in Gisborne it has Olympian status. Greg was entered in the 50 freestyle against the local sprinting superstar, Jim Westwood. Neither of us thought Greg would win.

On the way to the pool Greg stopped outside the local Catholic Church and asked me to wait while he went inside. “What are you going to do?” I asked. “I’m going to confession,” said Greg, “It might help the 50 freestyle.”

I was amazed and knew straight away that Greg could confess all he wanted. Jim Westwood was better at 50 freestyle and all the divine intervention in the world was not going to change that fact. A couple of hours later we swam the 50 freestyle. As expected I was third.  I’m told the race between Jim and Greg was very close. But Greg got there first. Confession is good for the soul. It apparently does no harm over 50 freestyle either.

A bigger puzzle was the question of how does God choose? For example at High School in America our team gathered in the locker room with the coach and recited the Lord’s Prayer. Presumably our opponents were down the corridor doing the same thing. Does God really take sides and, if he does, how does he decide which team is to receive his blessing? Besides, when you are being given credit for creating the universe, isn’t the result of a football game between Thorpe and Stanley High Schools a bit of an anti-climax.

During my University years the local Presbyterian Church had an elder’s debate about whether it was proper for me to swim on a Sunday. My grandfather won a positive vote by arguing that 1 Corinthians, Chapter 6, Verse 19 says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God.” What could be wrong, he asked the elders, if David spent a couple of hours on Sunday improving the temple of the Holy Spirit?

In New Zealand a terrific swimmer and a wonderful person was, and is, a strict Christian. I enjoyed the years she swam with the team. You should have seen the delight on her face when she discovered a plastic bible that she could read through long kick sets.

But the influence of religion has its finest expression in sport and in every other aspect of life in Saudi Arabia. The faithful are called to prayer five times a day. As soon as the prayer sirens sound shops and restaurants and swimming pools – everything closes for half an hour. On my first day at work I couldn’t believe it. The team was on repetition four of a set of 10×200. The prayer sirens sounded and the team climbed out and spent the next half-an-hour praying beside the pool. I managed to get their agreement to finishing a set before getting out but finishing training was beyond my powers of persuasion.

Two aspects of flying to swim meets on Saudi Airlines I found slightly unnerving. Before every take-off a recorded prayer asks for a safe flight. A fairly ungodly, Western mind like mine immediately wonders what Saudi Airways don’t know about this Airbus that they feel the need to ask for God’s help. There are many who will disagree with me but faced with the choice between the Koran, the Bible or an Airbus flight manual I think I want the flight manual.

On the way back to Jeddah most flights fly directly over the holy city of Mecca. A couple of minutes prior to reaching Mecca the pilot announces that he will count down to the point where we are directly over the city. Anyone can then pray. And that’s what happens – a quiet rumble of prayer spreads through the airplane as we fly over Mecca. I’m still unsure of the reason for praying at that point. Perhaps the line to the almighty is clearer. Perhaps there is no long distance calling charge.

But the religious custom that tops all that is the martial arts and boxing villains who pray to god for his blessing in beating up his fellow man. Now that really is odd – asking God to assist you in beating the life out of another human being. And worse than that, thanking God for his help when your opponent is unconscious and bleeding on the floor. If it is true, the founder of the universe sure has an odd sense of humour – just like my email mate.