2018 Golden Homes Swimfest

May 14th, 2018

Normally I don’t write about swim meets; certainly not big city swim meets. They are too slick and too smart. Devoid of heart, lacking personality and hidebound by ridiculous rules your average big city meet is killing the sport. I prefer the country occasions; meets like the Gisborne Hawkes Bay Poverty Bay Championships or the Counties Championships – meets run by real swimming people with chlorine in their blood; meets where the scones are piled high with strawberry jam and whipped cream; meets where swimming tradition is respected.

But it looks like I am going to have to make an exception. This weekend I went, with Eyad, to the North Shore Club’s Golden Homes SwimFest Meet. Certainly that qualifies as a big city meet. Good God, it takes place on the frightfully ostentatious North Shore of Auckland, in a self-important pool known as the National Aquatic Centre and under offices occupied by the pretentious clique that claims to run Swimming New Zealand. It would be difficult to find anything, anywhere as big city as that.

But it just goes to show – never judge a book by its cover. There were many features that gave this meet life; that provided it with tradition; that made it a fun weekend.

First, the competition was good. Many of New Zealand’s best swimmers came to swim. Hunter, Coetzee, Ashby, Lee, Alexander, Garrod, Schroder, Falconer and Doyle were all entered. Meet promoters around the world know that if good athletes are on the card people will come to watch. But if the swimming is rubbish, all the presentation tricks in the book are not going to save the occasion. That’s what is wrong with the Swimming New Zealand Zone Carnival – the best swimmers don’t go and it shows. But on this occasion that was not a problem. The swimming was good. It was enjoyable. It was fun to watch.

Second it was two days of non-stop activity. I bet the North Shore Club organizers wanted their meet to be a slick and polished event. Well, they missed that goal and ended up with something far better. This was a good meet from the old days – two days of constant racing, two days with thousands of swims, two days of good old-fashioned tradition. For a swimming purist, like me, the fact Auckland can still put on an event that preserves this quality does the heart good. Oh, sure the program slipped a half hour, possibly even an hour behind schedule – but who cared; certainly not me or any of the competitors playing down my end of the pool. This meet was not an uncomfortable rayon suit. This was a comfortable, warm jersey made from 12 micron Merino wool.

Third, small things make a difference. For example the North Shore Head Coach, Andy McMillan, was a great host. I guess he must have had a million things to do, but somehow he found the time to ask if I had any problems and invite me to the official’s room for lunch. Because of an appointment at Waitakere Hospital I could not go, but his invitation was appreciated. Those South Islanders sure know how to behave. Thank you Andy.

Fourth the pool is great. It is deep. It is fast. It is well looked after and the staff are delightful. The whole centralised training thing made me a bit suspicious of this pool. However the staff have won me over. It is now the best run pool in the country. I love going there.

And so Eyad and I will be back next year. We like the venue and we like the meet. I do not mean this to be in anyway condescending but as Mohammed Ali once said, North Shore Club “you done splendid”. Please don’t listen to the trendies who will tell you no session should last longer than 20 minutes, or 200 breaststroke races are boring, or you need more spot prizes. By good fortune or good management you have struck upon something that is good and works; something that the trendies would never manage. Stay with your formula and thank-you for a great weekend of swimming.

I’d better end this story by telling you how Eyad swam. The meet was his first race of the 2018 winter season. He has just completed ten weeks of long, reasonably slow aerobic fitness swimming and four weeks of faster, but still long anaerobic training. He has done no speed training so we were not expecting a lot. The table below shows his ranking going into the meet and his final place together with the time he swam. Certainly we are both happy – a good start at a good place to start.

Event Ranking Place in Meet PB Time Swum
50 Fly 12 10 26.25 27.41
50 Free 12 7 24.47 24.54
100 Fly 11 7 1.01.94 1:01.37 PB
200 Free 24 na 2:09.33 2:06.23 PB
100 Free 10 4 54.10 55.28

 

Waitakere Hospital

May 12th, 2018

I am no expert in the New Zealand national health service. Since 2000 I’ve been admitted to one hospital or another, seven times, for a variety of problems. The table below shows my hospital visits.

Year Hospital Length of Stay Problem
2000 Hawkes Bay 3 weeks Blood pressure
2014 Waitakere 1 week Blood pressure
2015 Waitakere 2 weeks Infected foot
2015 North Shore 4 days Skin cancer graft
2017 Waitakere  3 days Kidney infection
2018 North Shore 1 week Kidney infection
2018 Waitakere 1 week Nausea
Total 3 hospitals 9 weeks -

That is not as much experience as some. However it is probably long enough to form an opinion on the service and care. And I’m a fan. The care I received has been first class. When you take into account that the attention cost me nothing and I was cured, the whole thing is beyond remarkable. And it hasn’t just been the basic care. The follow up, the genuine concern, the professional caution and the attention to detail have been above and beyond reproach.

But this post is called Waitakere Hospital for a reason. Waitakere is the jewel in the health service crown. It is so good that I don’t call it a hospital anymore; it is my West Auckland Waitakere Spa.

So why does it stand out?

Well, although it is a hospital located in the busy, growing and occasionally tough west side of Auckland it has preserved a wonderful country hospital feel; warm, rural and friendly. To do that successfully and at the same time observe rigid standards of professionalism cannot be easy. Somehow or another Waitakere has achieved that balance and has maintained the standard for the four years I’ve had contact with the place.

The relaxed country feel of the hospital appears to affect the staff as well. Or perhaps it is the relaxed country feel of the staff that affects the hospital. I don’t know. But it is great when your cardiac specialist takes a minute out of his hospital round to ask how your swim coaching is getting on. Or the Egyptian renal doctor seems happy to spend some time swapping stories about Saudi Arabia. Or a senior clinician asks if you would be a trial patient for three medical students. They make it feel like you are part of a shared experience rather than an item being processed by the health machine.

During one visit I had a Picc Line put into a vein in my arm and guided through to a main vein near my heart. The purpose was to administer antibiotics more directly in an effort to save a badly infected toe. I was naturally a little nervous at the prospect of a plastic tube being lodged close to my heart. I was soon put at ease. Through the entire procedure the surgeon asked me for tips on how to improve his swimming. He had just joined a local fitness group and when he heard I was about to be a patient thought he’d get some coaching advice. It turned out to be a fun and successful hour.

Before they decided to bomb my infected toe with antibiotics there was some discussion about whether the toe should be amputated. The infection was beginning to spread along the sole of my foot and put the foot at risk. I will forever be grateful that the surgeon and the podiatrist decided to give the antibiotics a chance. As the podiatrist said, her job was to save soles (souls). She’d probably used that line a million times but it put me at ease. Oh, and my sole and toe were saved.

Swimming came up on another occasion. I needed a scan on my kidneys. A quietly well-spoken chap began the procedure and asked if I was David Wright, the swim coach. I confirmed that was probably me and we began an interesting conversation about swimming. The radiographer seemed to know quite a bit about the subject. His questions were knowledgeable and relevant. I remember answering one by explaining that for years Lauren Boyle had kept Swimming New Zealand financially afloat. I thought she was being used terribly.

“All right,” said my radiographer, “I’d better come clean. I’m actually Lauren’s partner.” I don’t know whether they are still together but, for what it’s worth, he seemed like a really nice guy and he approved of my kidneys.

I must have been warned about hospital food a thousand times. Let me tell you there is nothing to complain about at the Waitakere Spa. There is a good menu. Tea and coffee are available throughout the day and night and if you get an occasional insulin hypo, like me, you’re rewarded with four delicious cookies and a cup of very nice, sweet tea.

Spending weeks in a hospital brings you into contact with many of the staff; from highly trained specialists, to well-educated doctors, to receptionists, to nurses, to cleaners and food and drink delivery staff. And at Waitakere I have never come across a bad one. The attention of everyone is as good as I’ve had in some pretty expensive hotels. And a bloody sight better than I’ve had in a lot of other hotels around the world. And amazingly they cure you as well.

I had two porters take me for an x-ray today. One had been pushing people, like me, around the hospital for 11 years and the other was a novice of only 7 years. That sort of staff stability, in that sort of job, says a lot about the quality of the Waitakere experience. The 11 year veteran told me he walks about 20,000 steps a day. In 11 years that’s over 25,000 miles or about one circuit of the world. And he was still happy to be there.

I am writing this story and am going to post it on Swimwatch. But if you read it, don’t spread it around too much. The Spa only has 82 beds. I don’t want it overbooked the next time I am fortunate enough to require a visit.

Time To Go Walkies

May 11th, 2018

Women are subjected to some terrible decisions; almost always decisions made by men. Nine times out of ten we, I say we because I am male and have the same flaw, have no idea that we are being sexist morons. Women, who smile and say, “Boys will be boys,” do nothing to stop our bad behaviour. Take for example:

  1. The decision made by Dick Quax to tear into the track career of the South African, Caster Semenya. Quax callously set about trying to end her running life. As a very good runner himself, Quax should have been aware of the pain that would cause. But perhaps he just didn’t care. Semenya had the good fortune to be born a female with an especially high level of natural testosterone. She is a female with a natural advantage. But, oh no, that’s not okay at all for Quax. Like all good sexist bigots he wanted her banned. Competing in international sport meant all women must comply with his kitchen and bedroom stereotype. Sadly, the Tsar of the international track federation, Sebastian Coe, agrees with Quax and is in the process of trying to have Semenya banned from her best events. Quax and Coe; two bigoted old buggers with reactionary opinions quite happy to impose them on half the world’s population.
  2. The decisions made by the Iowa state government to ban abortions for women who are raped or are victims of incest, if the crimes are unreported for 45 and 140 days respectively. Clearly that is a sadly typical American special, made by men with no thought for the horrible difficulty women, who have been raped or are victims of incest, have in reporting the crimes. Operating from a base of male values, they impose callous conditions on the most female of problems. Yet again, bigoted old buggers with reactionary opinions quite happy to impose them on half of Iowa’s population.
  3. The decision made by a Saudi dictator to allow women to drive and attend football matches. This is simple sexism in reverse. Some over paid, self-centred, chauvinist pig called Prince Mohammad bin Salman is prepared to allow women to do something or go somewhere that are basic rights in the rest of the world. The Saudi royal family sells this stuff as a liberal step forward. But doing what should have been done a hundred years ago is not liberal anything, especially when the Saudi female population still cannot open a bank account or swim or compete in the Olympic Games or work in paid employment without the approval of a man. The reason Salman and Trump get on so well is clear. On the subject of women they share a common bond.
  4. The decision of building-site morons and others to throw sexist abuse at female athletes. I’ve coached a number of very good female runners and everyone has a story of running past a building-site or being passed by a truck and having the line, “Hello luv, doing anything tonight?” yelled at them. The same thing happens to good female swimmers who are challenged to a mini-Olympic competition every day by slower males desperate to avoid being passed by a woman. And in the gym, it’s even worse. Men will frequently instruct women to reduce the weight of an exercise, especially when the women’s lift is heavier than theirs. Even senior coaches indulge in this sexist behaviour. I am forever reading sample schedules that set one level of work for men and a lesser amount for women. Of course that is ridiculous when, in my experience, women can often out-train their male team-mates. Without question the road to the top is harder for women than for men.

 

Even “good” behaviour can be bad. You see it most dramatically in a country like Saudi Arabia. But the Arabs are not alone. Western countries have their share of well-behaved morons. The text books call it “benevolent sexism”. It refers to condescending protective and “gentlemanly” behaviour. Women are objects to be cared for and looked after. This is the Arab justification for insisting women walk around with only their eyes peeking through layers of black material. But the west is not exempt. It has its versions of burqa culture. There is a deep seated belief that women are weaker and need special protection and love because of that weakness. Protection and love among equals is a good thing. Protection and love based on the male gender’s belief in their dominance is far from that.

Those are examples of the behaviour of males to females that have made the life of athletes; I have coached, more difficult. I call it the “pet syndrome”. Women are little more than pet objects owned by men who want to control every feature of their life; when to play, when to sleep, when to exercise and even when to reproduce. There is frequently little difference between a female partner and a pet Labrador. With the exception of reactionary outposts like Saudi Arabia things are improving. We still however have a distance to go.

The Swimming New Zealand Board, for example, has six members, four men and two women. Why are there twice as many men as women? There is no justification for that; especially when more than 50% of the members are women. That is simply not right. Cotterill, Brown, Tongue and Perry cannot fully represent over 50% of the members. McKee and Tootill can, but are in a disenfranchised voting minority. There are issues in swimming that are particular to women, that they are best able to rule on. At the very least one of the current male members of the Swimming New Zealand Board needs to be replaced by an additional female. But the hope that Dick Quax, Mohammad bin Salman, Sebastian Coe, the Iowa congress or Bruce Cotterill will initiate or approve that sort of change is slim to none.

 

 

Bruce Cotterill Should Know Better

May 9th, 2018

For some reason the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand, Bruce Cotterill, sent me an email tonight. The email promotes a book Cotterill has written. I wanted to do my bit for sales by publishing the news on Swimwatch. The book is called “The Best Leaders Don’t Shout”. At Swimming New Zealand Cotterill has made every effort to put that maxim into effect. The membership has never heard Cotterill shout. They seldom hear him talk at all. In fact he is so wedded to the cause of silence that we haven’t heard anything from him since December 2016. Even then he didn’t address the membership but spoke instead to NZ Herald reporter, Andrew Alderson.

As a result, Swimming New Zealand chairman Bruce Cotterill said there was surprise and disappointment at the funding outcome.

“We’re still going through the process to understand the rationale. We felt all our criteria would have been completed if it hadn’t been for Lauren’s unfortunate illness.

I have never understood why Cotterill was surprised and disappointed at the funding decision. The performance results, the financial results and the membership numbers have all declined. How else did he expect High Performance Sport New Zealand would react? But of more concern was the implied promise to tell the membership the “rationale” for the funding cut. That simply has not happened and now we know why. It is because “The Best Leaders Don’t Shout”. If Cotterill is the example they don’t say anything at all. Instead they feed the members manure and keep them in the dark. It’s a millennium concept called mushroom management.

What else does the Bruce Cotterill email say? Here is a shortened version of the introduction.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that the only certainty in business is change. In fact, I’d take this one step further and say dealing with change is a leader’s key strategic opportunity. How well we adapt to and maximise the opportunities presented by change can make the difference between existing and soaring in business.

We need to be constantly improving to meet the needs of our customers and the expectations of our people. I like to say that you need to be 20% better every year, just to maintain your position in the market.

As a leader in your business, this is your most important challenge. Managing change is about getting the people within the organisation to change their habits. It’s your role to ensure every single person in your team or organisation understands why change is necessary and they’ll be looking at you to lead the way.

Does Bruce Cotterill have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? The table below shows the changes in Swimming New Zealand’s key performance indicators between 2011 and 2017.

Item 2011 2017 Change
Competitive Swimmers 6161 5,660 Down By 8.1%
Coaches 543 246 Down By 54.7%
Total Membership 25,467 19,118 Down By 24.9%
Clubs 180 165 Down By 8.3%
Government Funding 1,962,838 1,413,148 Down By 28.0%
Membership Fees 288,712 286,777 Down By 0.7%
Total Funding 4,158,493 3,546,861 Down By 14.7%

Now remember what Bruce Cotterill’s book says, “I like to say that you need to be 20% better every year, just to maintain your position in the market.” By an amazing coincidence the average of those Swimming New Zealand performance figures is 20% for the period or 3.3% per year. Cotterill got the total number right. It’s just that in swimming it is 20% worse not 20% better.

Clearly the book is not off to a good start. More a matter of do what I say, not what I do. But make no mistake I am not saying Cotterill has no personal subject experience. The email goes on to tell me, “The book has a comprehensive commentary on the impact of change in our businesses, and lots of ideas on how to lead and facilitate change through your organisation.”

After six years at Swimming New Zealand I doubt there is anyone more experienced in organisational change than Bruce Cotterill. In that time Swimming New Zealand must have lead New Zealand in staff turnover. There have been three General Managers and five interim or “full-time” Head Coaches. And after the most recent American abandoned ship, instead of a “worldwide” search for a replacement they promoted an Intern and employed Gary Francis to do what none of us, including Cotterill probably, are sure what. They have vowed a rock solid commitment to their ridiculous centralised training program. But six months ago that was thrown overboard to be replaced by —- oh sorry we don’t know what yet, but it has something to do with Gary Francis. If that change is an example of Cotterill’s expertise his book should be hilarious.

Swimming New Zealand’s Annual Reports provide further insight into Cotterill’s up-close and personal contact with change. Here are some quotes from the Chairman.

Annual Report 2017 – The 2016/17 year can be best described as a year of disruption. We have had a number of changes in our executive and management team including a new National Head Coach and CEO.

Annual Report 2015 – Another major conclusion was that the structure of high performance activities needed to be changed. Operating two high performance centres, one in Wellington and one in Auckland, was not sustainable, given available resources and demand. It was decided the centre in Wellington should cease to operate.

I am sure you get the point. In every report something or someone is being terminated, someone is resigning, income is being reduced or results have been affected by injury and illness. Swimming New Zealand is about as stable as a rowboat in a North Atlantic storm. Cotterill certainly has intimate knowledge of change – and none of it is good.

His email concludes by telling me that “The Best Leaders Don’t Shout” hits the shops in a couple of weeks. You can pre-order your copy now.” But I think I’ll wait for a bit. In a week I should be able to pick it up for $0.75 on a table outside the Glen Eden bookstore. But I might get another Superman comic instead.

The Lady Di Effect

May 8th, 2018

Almost certainly Swimwatch has spent too many words discussing the legacy of Jan Cameron. The last thing she seems to be able to do is rest in peace. This therefore will be the last Swimwatch post on the subject. And this post is only exists because of the following Facebook news item.

Jan touched the hearts and lives of many people and so we are planning to celebrate Jan’s life both in Australia and New Zealand –

Australia:
Thursday 10 May at 11am
Matthew Flinders Anglican College Performance Centre
1-47 Stringybark Road, Buderim, Queensland, 4556

 

New Zealand:
Monday 14 May (time TBC)
AUT Millennium
17 Antares Place, Rosedale, Auckland, 0632

Please join us in celebrating Jan’s life. In true Jan fashion, please wear something bright.

A massive thanks for all the support from the University of the Sunshine Coast, Matthew Flinders Anglican College and AUT Millennium

Jan will live on in our hearts always

A funeral in Australia followed by a memorial service in New Zealand; that is incredible. Two celebrations 1200 miles and four days apart I’ve seen many more low-key state funerals than that. Prime Ministers, Presidents, even Kings and Queens usually have their passing recognised in one service. How Jan’s resume justifies two state occasions, because that is the impression, is beyond my understanding.

It seems like the Lady Di effect all over again. The deification of Saint Jan. Her death has provided an army of sports fans, most of whom never met Jan, the opportunity to elevate her reputation and polish her resume way beyond anything justified by her performance. She was a good coach, but that is all. Her record does not compare with the likes of George Haines, Mark Schubert, Duncan Laing, Doc Councilman, Gregg Troy, Don Talbot, Forbes Carlile and Fabrice Pellerin. Between them those coaches guided swimmers to more than 50 Olympic Gold Medals. Arthur Lydiard coached five Olympic medals out of the same Auckland suburb. In her time in New Zealand, and with an investment of millions of state dollars, Jan had none. But she now has something none of them will or could achieve – two international funerals.

Which brings me to the main point of this post. Ignore the rest of the world; even in New Zealand there is a list of good swimming coaches whose contribution matched that of Jan Cameron. Three in particular stand out Clive Rushton, Duncan Laing and Lincoln Hurring. These men were farewell without pomp and ceremony, without bugles and drums in simple ceremonies in Indonesia, Dunedin and Auckland. In comparison Jan’s elevation to sainthood is unfair hypocrisy.

Clive Rushton was New Zealand’s Director of Coaching. Quiet, thoughtful and inclusive, he brought sincerity to the sport in New Zealand. Jan and Clive clashed because their personalities clashed. One was aggressively demanding. The other was the opposite of that. But that in no way diminished the contribution of Rushton. I was coaching good swimmers all through the era of Rushton and Cameron. The quiet Englishman certainly taught me more about the sport. Jan taught me nothing. But that is hardly a surprise. Her goals were never global. They never included me or people like me. They were personal. How did it benefit Jan was what mattered.

Duncan Laing taught New Zealand that winners can be made in New Zealand swimming pools; and not just with Danyon Loader. You didn’t need a university degree or Sport New Zealand’s money. With intelligent honesty and hard work you could take on the world and you could win. He taught us all to stick to the basics, to do the simple things well. Duncan Laing provided us with the greatest gift of all; the belief that success from a New Zealand swimming pool was possible. To New Zealand swimming Duncan Laing was what Roger Bannister was to world running and Edmund Hillary was to climbing mountains. He made the impossible, possible. And that was something Jan never achieved.

And finally Lincoln Hurring built a hugely successful swim program in Auckland long before the arrival of Jan Cameron. In 1975 Lincoln Hurring began coaching at the Takapuna Municipal Pool and built a successful swim school. Jan liked to create the impression that she alone achieved the miracle of popular swimming on Auckland’s North Shore. But the seeds of her success were sown; the area was introduced to good swimming, years before by Lincoln Hurring. I’ve spent a few very late nights sitting debating swimming matters with Lincoln Hurring. There was no sharper mind or colourful, larger than life personality. Every minute was fun and hugely educational. Several times I have finally fallen asleep at 4.00am happy that my swimmers would benefit in two hour’s time from what I had just learned from Lincoln Hurring.

And so I am not convinced that Jan Cameron’s elevation to swim coaching sainthood with two memorials on both sides of the Tasman Sea is appropriate or deserved. Her record and participation were unnecessarily aggressive and self-centred. And second the unearned admiration, bordering on adulation, reflects poorly on some New Zealand swim coaching giants who deserve to see the sun of recognition well before Jan Cameron’s state eulogy.