Archive for April, 2007

Follow Up Post: “It Won’t Work For Swimming”

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

Last week Swimwatch got the following edited message in response to Jane’s article on the Arthur Lydiard she knew. Following the message is an article by David on the work he did with Arthur on this subject.

Did you ever meet Lydiard in person and discuss the running to swimming transition in his system? As an amateur triathlete and former swimmer I am constantly intrigued by the swimming to running ratio (4:1) and the swimming to cycling to running ratio(cycling being so complicated by the use of various bikes of various capabilities).

As far as transitioning Lydiard’s system to swimming, have you done any studies in overall aerobic, cardiovascular and muscular output of runners to swimmers? How do those possible results affect your transitioning Lydiard to swimming? Can a 24 week Lydiard system be properly transitioned to a possible 12-16 week swim season?

The running/swimming connection intrigues me.”


At least that’s what Brett Naylor, New Zealand’s ex-national coach told me. He was referring to the work I was doing to convert Arthur Lydiard’s running training to the sport of swimming. I am delighted to report, Naylor was wrong. It is equally providential that Arthur lived long enough to see Naylor eat humble pie. At that time, I only coached three swimmers using Lydiard’s evolving system. All three ended up national record holders, national champions and national representatives. All three also had international medals in their resumes.

Just before Arthur died he published his biography, “Arthur Lydiard – Master Coach”. Chapter 27, “the Wright way to swim” reports on the work Arthur and I did over the previous eight years to apply his methods to swimming.

Most people know that a Lydiard season is divided into three phases, the build up aerobic period, the anaerobic period and the trials and co-ordination racing period. These occupy 10, 4 and 10 weeks respectively. Most people assume that a ratio of 4:1 applies to the conversion of running to swimming. They do this because it takes a minute to run 400m and swim 100m, therefore 4:1. On that basis Lydiard’s build up weekly distance of 100 miles has to be 25 miles; 42 kilometers.

While all that may be logical and is where Arthur and I started, it is also wrong. You see training isn’t about distance or speed; it’s really about achieving identifiable physiological changes. Running 100 miles per week works because it causes certain aerobic changes to occur in the body. What swimming distance causes the same changes? The answer is between 90 and 100 kilometers. Aerobic conditioning works because it improves the body’s ability to swim fast aerobically. It does this by improving the cardio-vascular system in all sorts of ways. Most important it increases the density and number of capillaries. Quite simply our work shows these changes take longer swimming than they do running. My wife, Alison who ran for Great Britain and was ranked 7th in the world, used to run 100 miles a week in about 90 minutes training a day. It took Jane Copland, Nichola Chellingworth and Toni Jeffs about four hours a day to swim 100 kilometers a week, in order to achieve the same physiological result.

Changing Arthur’s anaerobic conditioning period to swimming was even more complex and resulted in the mess I made of Toni’s preparation for the Barcelona Olympic Games. The key to Arthur’s anaerobic period was three session each week of 30 minutes of fast running. He had determined this produced the anaerobic changes required to race well. How long was this in a pool? Was it the same ratio as the build up; three sessions a week of one and a half hours of fast swimming? That’s what I got Toni to do before Barcelona; an experiment that proved that wasn’t right. It was Arthur who said he thought that anaerobic physiological changes would take about the same time whether it was running or swimming. So we went to 30 minutes and it worked. Thirty minutes swimming is 25 to 30 x 100s or 12 x 200s, that sort of thing; done three times per week for four weeks.

Lydiard’s trials and co-ordination 10 weeks converts to swimming very easily. The table below shows the standard formula followed by Arthur and applied successfully to swimming.






Short sprints to start the week



Fast and easy repetitions



Over or under race distance



Fast and easy repetitions



Easy swim



Race distance



Easy swim and stroke correction

The key to this period in a Lydiard running and swimming program is the controlled use of time trials to bring athletes to a managed peak at the right time. Gone is the “train like hell and stop” old fashioned taper. Track athletes gave all that away a long time ago. During this 10 week period each athlete does 20 days of time trials or racing. As Arthur said, “If you can’t get something right when you’ve practiced it 20 times you really should find something else to do.”

You will also notice Lydiard trains seven days a week; something the world’s best runners have been doing for forty years. Another Lydiard quote, “If you miss one day each week, that’s 52 days a year. How do you expect to beat someone who trains a month and a half more than you every year?” I agree.

The added sophistication of track training in large part explains why track has progressed more as a sport than swimming. The nation that realizes this and develops swimmers training in the way track has done will steal a march on the swimming world, just as the USA and Australia did when they discovered the old fashioned interval training methods still used by many coaches today.

There are however a number of influences that militate against the adoption of a Lydiard program in swimming.

  1. The program does not fit easily into the USA’s 12 to 16 week season. Short change a Lydiard program and you short change the result. I have found this difficult. At this stage I believe the solution is to hold to the program and prepare for two out of every three USA seasons. I think that’s what Lydiard would do.

  1. In the USA the fanatical need for instant results will not be satisfied using a Lydiard program. Lydiard did not invent the fastest way to run fast. He invented the best way to run fast. International results take time; a minimum of four years or eight 26 week seasons. Many USA parents are not prepared to wait that long. Some think one year is a fair trial. That’s why they gallop from club to club searching for their personal training Shangri-La. They want a fast food Wendy’s training service and usually that’s what they get.

  1. Early morning school starts make it difficult to reach 90 to 100 kilometers swimming in a week. Rhi Jeffrey is currently swimming that far, but no one else on my team has managed to get close to averaging that distance over the build up weeks. Jane, Toni and Nichola managed to swim 1000 kilometers in ten weeks, many times. Jane and Nichola’s school only started at 9.00am and even then, they had an understanding Principal.

I miss Lydiard. Besides staying at his home and talking endlessly about training, it was reassuring to be able to call and ask his advice. I guess we spoke on the phone three times a week for eight years. Almost every day I still ask, “What would Lydiard do?”

Postscript: Many thanks to Gordon Andrews for submitting the questions that prompted this post.

Running into Obsession

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Since many teams are embarking on some long training right now, we thought we’d post this extract from a piece about Arthur Lydiard, the pioneer of long-distance training. It is a lot longer than this, but there’s no way we’d want to publish twenty-five pages right here…

“Running into Obsession: The Church of Arthur Lydiard”
“They still say I’m wrong, but it doesn’t worry me.”
– Arthur Lydiard, in an interview with Lochaber Athletic Club, 1987

By Jane

In the haze and cloud that rise off Manakau Harbour, the hills that stretch beyond West Auckland are known for little but their slightly flashy suburbs and relative inaccessibility from the city by public transport. The town’s better-off citizens find their homes at the end of evergreen crescents and avenues for a few miles up into the Waitakere Ranges, but after the clean streets of Titirangi give way to bush, Auckland’s city limits are thought to come to an end.
Once the sharp, clean asphalt has surrendered to dirt roads and steep inclines, unsuitable for the well-to-do people living below, there begins a trek through the ranges that has become synonymous with a coming-of-age of runners. Numbering ten miles, a handful of people began pounding out this route through Auckland’s volcanic hills in the 1950s because a burgeoning coach called Arthur Lydiard told them to.

People like Arthur Lydiard shouldn’t be trusted. Normally, you’d be advised to steer clear of someone as zealous as this man, a young man in the late 1950s, who had some brilliant ideas, completely at odds to the common practices in New Zealand athletics training. His idea that runners should complete one-hundred miles per week of endurance training for ten weeks before embarking on speed work was unproven and virtually untested, but the sharp-tongued, gruff Lydiard managed to convince a small number of people that he was right. Not often are
someone’s initial guinea pigs the most successful athletes in a nation’s history.

Short, wiry and weathered, Arthur’s utterance of “hello” felt like a lecture. The sparkling blue eyes at the top of a prominent, Roman nose were visible from quite a distance and you always knew when you were being watched. Arthur Lydiard did not waste his time on people who did not want to spend their time doing what he told them. He did not ask questions and he did not make suggestions. You, he’d say, can be a champion. No reasons, unless you probed him. No explication. You can.

Arthur Lydiard was born in 1917, and he died on a December afternoon in 2004 after going running in the morning. His critics will tell you that it was his training that killed him; all that damned distance can’t be good for the heart, after all. Sometimes, it seems that people were waiting a good forty years for him to kick the bucket just so they could blame his ideas on physiology. A man who avidly practiced what he preached, Arthur’s idea was for athletes to ultimately achieve supreme fitness by running extreme distances. If being supremely fit means that one dies at the age of eighty-seven, then maybe that’s just the price you have to pay.

Long periods of aerobic running (that is, running at a pace that can be sustained without a person going into oxygen debt and having to stop) aren’t all that much fun. Neither are long periods of aerobic swimming, kayaking, or cycling, and to top off the fun, an “aerobic” pace is by no means “slow”. There is an intensity involved in completing an Arthur Lydiard-style programme that will wear a person’s body down to their last shreds of fat, sometimes producing athletes who look like they would be better off in hospital, or at least at Jack in the Box, than out
being athletic.

All that running around in the hills behind Auckland definitely prepared one athlete rather well for his Olympic event. Barry Magee competed in the marathon at Rome, a race whose passage up the Appian Way took runners over ancient rocks, in the dark, with the flashbulbs of photographers going off in their faces.

Magee first came to believe that Lydiard was onto something decent when he was eighteen, eight years before Rome, and “all the boys in Arthur’s stable were improving faster than anybody in the country.” Up and down New Zealand, Arthur’s name was gaining infamy, but true to human nature’s stubborn form, nobody outside of his small circle was listening.

New Zealand is sometimes laughed at on an international scale, when it comes to sport. We think we’re pretty hot stuff, much of the time, and then we leave Auckland airport. We think we own the sport of rugby and we get beaten by France. We think we own cricket, but Australia has other ideas. We know we’re no good at soccer, but there was one time in the eighties when we made the World Cup finals and we still talk about it. We’re good at netball, but Jamaica is better.

Arthur dragged three men in particular through his training programme prior to the Rome Olympics. As per usual, nothing much was expected of New Zealand, and in the first week of the Games, nothing much was presented. The Kiwis did not even field a swim team in Rome, and the medal count was low until the second of September, when both Peter Snell and Murray Halberg raced.

Snell was a twenty-one year old from Opunake, a small town in western New Zealand. His family moved to Mount Albert while Snell was still in high school. A big-boned, muscular man who was talented at many sports, some doubted whether his size would allow him to be a good runner. Lydiard, however, had noted Snell’s talent and speed in 1958, and had promised him that endurance training could turn him into a great middle-distance athlete. On September second, Snell had made the final of the 800 meters.

Murray Halberg wasn’t nearly the size of his training partner Snell, but he was a hard-working distance runner, who, on September second, had qualified for the final of the 5000. Within thirty minutes of each other, the two men who lived in the same suburb of Auckland had won both their finals. Halberg was waiting in the call room for his race when he heard of Snell’s victory in the half-mile. To add to this astounding duo, Barry Magee won the bronze medal in the marathon. It appeared to be proven beyond doubt that Arthur Lydiard was right: ndurance training is the way to achieve optimal results.

“There were no shades of grey with Arthur,” says New Zealand swim coach David Wright, who also coached runners during the seventies and eighties, using Lydiard principles. “He was your very best friend and would die for you, or you didn’t exist. Your dedication and your faith determined how you were treated.”

Wright was also responsible for much of the work that went into converting Lydiard training from running to swimming, spending almost ten years perfecting a regime in the pool. He has published two books on the subject, Swim to the Top and Swimming: Training Program. As orthodox as they come in terms of Arthur’s believers, Wright made sure to adhere to the doctrines initially set forth in the 1960s.
“The job I had was to use what I knew about swimming to adapt his principles for the pool, but not to change them one bit. To change them would be virtually sacrilegious.”

Sacrilege. Unorthodox. Believers. Passionate people use words like these. They hint at an element of obsession. One could wonder why Arthur Lydiard cared so much about what he did. A man who died on tour in Texas, coaching Houston’s offering of athletes, something drove him to distraction about both his principles and those who believed in them. Renowned teacher, writer and runner Roger Robinson thinks that Arthur’s fixation with athletics stemmed from a few places. First and foremost, his obsession was

“(His programme) wasn’t just a scheme,” Robinson says from his home in New York City. “It was not just a teacher teaching chemistry; he was teaching something that he had invented. It was highly personal.” Robinson, who lived in New Zealand for many years, knew Arthur well. Amongst Robinson’s achievements in sport was a victory in the Master’s section of the New York Marathon. He sees Lydiard’s personality as being highly fueled by personal interaction, and he had respect only for people who showed him their worth through actions, rather than words.

“I wrote to him after the death of his (second) wife, Eira,” Robinson says when recounting how he and Lydiard first became friends. He had met Arthur and Eira at a function only six months before she died of cancer. “I told him that I felt bad for him. Arthur never forgot that. The personal contact. From then onwards, we were friends.

“What frustrated him the most was when people didn’t work,” Robinson continues. “He realised that hard work had made him successful. He felt betrayed when people expressed an interest and then didn’t work. Why am I wasting my time?”

This sentiment is echoed by Magee when he recounts the first time he met Lydiard. His coach, Gil Edwards, had decided that Magee was too talented for him to handle and that Arthur could do Magee justice. “Son, are you prepared to run 100 miles per week? If not, just tell me, because you would be wasting your time and mine,” Lydiard said. Having “stuttered out the word yes,” Magee found himself in Arthur’s are for another twelve years.

The refusal to be shortchanged by anyone, whether it be by someone’s criticism (which he took extremely badly) or by their lack of dedication, could often come across as qualities bordering on stubbornness and an opinionated vanity. However, those who knew him recognized that what was really present was, in Roger Robinson’s words, a complete conviction in himself. He was a “compulsive teacher” whose passion in life was helping others. Incidentally, he used the word “coach” very, very rarely. He referred to himself as a “teacher” and claimed to have “helped” people with their athletic careers. “I helped the Finnish national team,” Arthur would say, referring to his time in Finland as a national coach. He’d say the same thing about being in Mexico and when referring to various other places he’d visited and runners he’d known. From his words, you’d have thought he’d just sent these teams and people a few letters, watched them run a couple of miles and went home. In some ways, his program was all about him – he invented it, he fought for it and he believed in it fervently. On the other hand, once his own running career was over, it was not about him in the slightest. When I was in his home, it was all about me.

Young people won’t recognize how pioneering Lydiard’s attitude towards women athletes was. Women and men who grew up in the eighties and nineties have spent their entire twenty or thirty years understanding the notion of sexual equality in sports. The marathon was made an official Olympic event for women in 1984, and many athletes will not remember a time when it was not included. Of course, to a certain extent, hangovers from the days when women were not considered fit to partake in heavy exercise still exist; however, in the time when Lydiard was developing his initial program, the idea of anyone, let alone a woman, exercising as tirelessly as he proposed was truly revolutionary. He was an avid feminist in his refusal to entertain the thought that women couldn’t take part in his training.

Someone who should know about sexism in sport is Kathrine Switzer. She was the first woman to officially enter and run the Boston Marathon, because her 1967 entry of “K.V. Switzer” was assumed to be male. She survived race co-director Jock Semple’s attempt to forcibly remove her from the event by leaping from a press bus and grabbing her. With her coach and boyfriend, Switzer finished the race in around four hours and twenty minutes, even though her time was never officially recorded and her participation not made official, either.

Her experience in Boston, and in future races, gave her the determination to work for equality in sport. Seven years after her first Boston Marathon, Switzer completed the same race in two hours, fifty-one minutes, smashing the three hour “barrier” and running the race officially, as women had been welcomed to the event in 1972. Her efforts in Boston and worldwide are remarkable. She is married to Roger Robinson and talks about Arthur Lydiard like he was a rock star.

“He believed in women’s ability to succeed when most people didn’t. He thought there was no difference. It was just a matter of making them believe,” Switzer says. But his belief in women, she thinks, also stemmed from a more personal source. “Another motivation was his sex appeal. He was a sexy guy. Charismatic. Vain. He loved women’s attention, but didn’t like silly women. There were sunbeams bouncing off him! He was quick and critical and witty. Because of his personal belief in his success, he radiated a kind of aura. Arthur really knew that he was charismatic and he loved the attention that this brought him. He was motivated by his own charisma.”

Switzer’s other belief is that he was convinced of his idea that there were talented, hard-working people on every street corner in every country; they just had to be found and given the right training and motivation. “At last week’s Boston Marathon, I was talking to
some athletes going into the international hall of fame. They all came from one area of Boston. Arthur showed us that “talent is everywhere”. These boys (Snell, Magee, etc) went to the Rome Olympics and they were from the same neighborhood.”

Robinson and Switzer also point out Lydiard’s egalitarian qualities when it came to runners. Not only did he take people to international glory, he also made people get out of bed after heart attacks and do some exercise. His knowledge of the human body and its physiology led him to believe that exercising after an illness is often the best way to a speedy recovery. Now, Nike does a roaring trade and “joggers” are prolific worldwide. Also laying claim to the coinage of the term “jogging,” Lydiard wrote the first book on the subject, Run For Your Life. The single person who sparked this trend that now has everybody from high school students to pensioners pattering around the sidewalks, a half hour in Italy in 1960 is most certainly not the defining moment of Arthur Lydiard’s life.

What did you do in the war, Barry?

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Two or three Swimwatch articles ago I mentioned that one of our life guards served in Vietnam. Since then Barry has been telling me more about his time “in harms way”, defending our way of life. How is this relevant to swimming, you may ask? Well, Barry’s war resulted in him acquiring swim coaching status most coaches envy and few achieve; but more of that later.

Barry’s war did not have an auspicious start. For two months he was posted to Camp Eagle just 40 miles from the North Vietnam border and close to Hue, Vietnam’s ancient capital. Camp Eagle is where a Viet Cong shell killed a soldier in the hut next to Barry’s. It’s also where Barry was assigned the daily task of burning the camp’s human excrement. This inspiring work involved removing full cans from the latrines, mixing the contents with liberal quantities of aviation fuel and setting the delightful mixture alight; a shit of a job.

Proving that the blackest cloud can have a silver lining, Camp Eagle is also where Barry met Hank. It seems that Hank was one of those guys who know everything that’s going on. You know the sort; a guy with a line on every deal, every wrinkle. Anyway Hank found out that the US Army had decided to coach the South Vietnam teams taking part in the prestigious South East Asian Peninsular Games. They needed coaches in basketball, swimming and track. Hank had some experience in basketball and Barry had swum for three years on the Southern Illinois college team. They would apply. It had to be a step up from his current job; from burning shit to international swim coach.

Hank got the basketball job and Barry became an international swim coach. He flew to Saigon, booked into the up-market Dia Nam Hotel and presented himself for work at the exclusive Circle Sportif Saigon. Their club pool was to be used to prepare South Vietnam’s swimmers for the Games. For three months and for two hours each day Barry coached the national team. His remaining hours were spent enjoying the delights of the Saigon Club or taking in the city’s tourist spots. Not a bad way to defend democracy.

All good things come to an end. Sadly the US Army would not let Barry travel with the team he had so diligently prepared. Through some misguided sense of propriety they decided Americans and Barry in particular should not be seen to be too involved with the preparation of the Vietnam Team. Barry had to stay in Saigon and begin the search for another job. He certainly did not want to go back to Camp Eagle’s toilets.

He was in luck. The base in Nhatrung needed an 84G20, photo-lab technician. You probably don’t know this but Nhatrung was Vietnam’s plum posting. It was in the far south and near some of Asia’s best beaches; a beautiful spot to serve out the remaining seven months of Barry’s war. Perhaps Barry thought he may be able to fit in a little surfing at those acclaimed beaches.

A week later he reported for duty at the Nhatrung base. It was everything Barry imagined. His photo lab mates told him the nearest beach was just three miles away at Cove Hon Chaum. The surf was fantastic; so good in fact that they had rented a two story house right on the beach. If he liked, they said, Barry could become a partner. That didn’t take much thought and Barry was soon part owner of his own surfing heaven. Not only that, he would build his own surf board to conquer Vietnam’s perfect shore break.

The board was soon built. Barry seems a bit vague about the source of the foam and fiberglass and resin. However he’s a very honest bloke so I’m sure it was all above board, if you’ll excuse the pun. The Board was painted with a large red peace symbol and Barry was ready to roll.

Now, I have to tell you I’ve been fortunate enough to see photographs of Barry’s beach house and photographs of Cove Hon Chaum taken from the house. It’s beautiful. I’ve seen beaches all over the world, in New Zealand, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and yes, even Brighton Beach in England. Well if Barry’s photos are to be believed Cove Hon Chaum is the match of any of them; lovely white sand, beautiful tropical flowering plants, clear blue sea and sky and a perfect break.

For seven months Barry developed air reconnaissance photographs during the week and honed his surfing skills over the weekend. Exactly one year and two days after his arrival in Vietnam Barry was on an airplane home. His tour of duty had not been wasted. Barry says he’s never met anyone that had a better war. In one year Barry was converted from raw recruit to international swimming coach, well qualified life guard and a pretty bloody good surfer; an Army of one.

"Discipline" Continues

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

By David

Skip Kenny seems to be having a few discipline problems. I don’t know anything about Kenny or what he’s been up to with the Stanford records; but if he tried to alter history, it’s a really dumb thing to do. Mind you, he wouldn’t be the first.

On a much grander scale, that guy Ahmadinejad who runs Iran just now tells us the holocaust never happened. Now that’s really stupid. I was in Moscow a few years ago. Our government supplied guide refused to talk about any Russian history prior to the Revolution. Finally I asked her why she never mentioned the Tsars and their role in Russian history. The question clearly made her uncomfortable but she did explain that her bosses in the Kremlin had ordered guides to tell us that Russian history began in February 1917 when the Tsar’s troops in St. Petersburg were ordered to open fire on their own people.

Mind you there are still a few out there who try and tell us evolution never happened and green house gas is caused by sheep and cows farting. That guy Falwell has made millions telling the world that rubbish; six days, bang and here we all are. Well, evolution did happen and global warming is caused by us. That’s history and can’t be changed, no matter how hard Jerry tries. Have you ever thought it slightly ironic that while Falwell blamed the tragedy of 9/11 on “gays and lesbians” the guys who were really responsible did it in part because of an offer of 72 celestial virgins.

Two of my master’s swimmers spend at least one morning a month trying to convince me that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. No, the effort to rewrite history is not restricted to Skip Kenny.

Several years ago in New Zealand, Toni Jeffs beat the daughter of a woman who kept the district swimming records. When the results were published I noticed the daughter’s name was not included. Someone else was shown as coming second. I asked my secretary to call and say a mistake had been made. You’ll never guess what she was told. She was told, “Oh, I remember the race. Jennifer never swam that event.” History was changed. She’d have felt right at home in Iran or Jerry Falwell’s church.

You know what they say about people in glass houses though. Be honest, in the days before the Colorado Computer kept us all on the straight and narrow, weren’t you ever tempted to improve little Suzie’s best time by two one hundredths so she could get into the 10 and under girls 25 fly? After all, her Mom worked the concession and her Dad put up the tents at the away meets, and it was only two one hundredths. It wouldn’t hurt and no one would know.

If Skip has misbehaved, there’s a bit of him in all of us.

And so to the question of what discipline was appropriate for “Georgia”, my wayward swimmer at the Mare Nostrum meets. G. Andrews said more information was needed, more discussion, more consultation. Sasha said send her home. Incidentally, one of the Australian coaches noticed my swimmer’s behavior and said the same thing but in stronger and more colorful language. Robert Nole said fire her from the team. I didn’t do any of those things.

I certainly didn’t go through the whole consultation, meaningful discussion thing. That’s fine for the public school system. International sport is made of sterner stuff. It has to be. It’s tough and cold up here. You don’t see much of the warm feelies from Talbot, Sweetenham, Touretsky and Lydiard.

I didn’t send her home either. Practical considerations like the cost of changing tickets and arranging a new schedule made that next to impossible; although I did think about it.

And I didn’t wait until we got home and fire her from the team. I thought that was too harsh even for Georgia’s stunning performance.

What I did do was suspend her for six months from team practice. She could come to the pool and train on her own before or after normal practice. I would stay and coach her, one on one, through every minute she was at the pool. She had however shown that she did not want to be part of the team and for six months she would train on her own.

Georgia and her parents went ballistic and began the two month email assault. Finally Georgia demanded to go to Australia and train. Her parents chose Grant Hackett’s old coach and off she went. It was never going to work. If she couldn’t survive me she certainly was not equipped for my Australian version. If you can’t fly a two seater Cessna you’re probably not equipped for a 747. Sure enough, in three months she had retired from the sport. Gone but not forgotten. I still think Georgia’s parents would have been teaching her a better life lesson by going along with my plan.

Update: Some of you may notice that we’ve deleted a comment that may be considered libelous. We’re also planning on switching hosts within the week, so expect some changes. Yep, we’re as tired of Blogspot as you are.

Discipline on the Traveling Team

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

There is a small, well rounded tree at the entrance to the Kiwi Packer Lodge beside the Rotorua Aquatic Center in New Zealand. My team called it the “Jan Tree”. I’m told it’s the tree Jan Cameron, the National Coach hid behind at midnight after the National Championships in 2001 to make sure her athletes never “hit the town”. She remained well hidden, I am told, because of the striking similarity between the trees stature and her own.

There must be as many ways of imposing discipline on a traveling team as there a coaches. I tend to rule with a pretty loose rein.

Don Talbot, Cameron’s ex husband is rumored to have ruled with an iron fist. When Talbot was in charge, members of the Australian team fell into two categories; those that went to bed early and those who were world renowned as masters of deception. The problem for coaches like Talbot and Bill Sweetenham, another Australian tough bugger; is they tend to inspire rebellion or dishonesty.

New Zealand’s best swim coach, Duncan Lang was a hard man too but didn’t impose a rigid set of “Southern Baptist” rules. I went with him to a World Cup Final in Majorca in 1992. He treated the team with trust and dignity. To the best of my knowledge the team’s behavior reflected that trust. I remember Toni Jeffs beating David Wilkie at pool in some bar at 2.00am on the last night, but not before she and every other team member had collected a medal in the Championship Finals. I bet that’s the last time New Zealand managed that at a meet that had “world” in its title.

Duncan could get angry though. He and New Zealand’s best breaststroke swimmer, Paul Kent, had a minor brawl in Rome Airport a few years ago. They exchanged some punches that caused neither of them any harm. Swimming New Zealand was horrified, of course. I thought the skirmish cleared the air wonderfully.

New Zealand’s current Director of Coaching, Clive Rushton, had a difficult situation to deal with a few years ago. On the last night of the Yokohama Pan Pacific Games, a sizable proportion of the New Zealand team appears to have gone right off the rails; throwing up in other people’s rooms, all that sort of thing. Whether the fact Cameron was in charge had anything to do with it I have no idea, but more than a good time was being had by many.

In the past Swimming New Zealand would have sought out the offenders and imposed summary punishment. On this occasion Rushton sent a letter that simply said, he knew what had gone on, he was new to New Zealand, nothing more would happen on this occasion but if it occurred again their would be all hell to pay. I thought it was a terrific letter. It put New Zealand’s swimmers on notice. The responsibility was theirs; obey or perish.

I’ve had a couple of moments of my own. One swimmer on a team I took to the Mare Nostrum meets provided my most remarkable moment. She had been arguing on the bus with the parent of another swimmer. She ended up giving him the stiff middle finger as she climbed from the bus outside our Canet hotel. I got the team’s rooms organized and took the hotel’s tiny elevator to the third floor. As the doors opened I heard and saw my swimmer thumping on one of the doors.

Get out here now,” she screamed, “get out here now. I haven’t finished with you yet. Get the fuck out here now.”

Cut that out. Get to your room.” I yelled above her scream.

I haven’t finished with that fucking bastard,” she shrieked back.

I’ll drag you by your hair out of here,” I threatened.

She seemed to realize I meant it and slunk away, still muttering obscenities. I knocked on the door. Steve was a big guy; about 6ft4, played college football, but I was sure would be hiding petrified at the onslaught on his door. You can imagine my horror when the door opened and two small, elderly German ladies stood on the other side. My swimmer had attacked the wrong door.

It turns out they were in their eighties, in France on holiday and came from the German city of Dresden. Now, I don’t know whether you are aware but on April 16 1945 Dresden was badly bombed by British and American airplanes. Over 5500 tons of bombs were dropped destroying 30,000 lives; 12,000 houses; “24 banks; 6470 shops; 640 warehouses; 31 large hotels; 26 public houses; 18 cinemas; 11 churches; 19 hospitals and 39 schools.”

I asked if the two would like to have a drink in the hotel bar in order that I could apologize properly. They accepted. As we sat there, they told me about that night in Dresden and the unimaginable horror of it all. Then one of them looked thoughtfully at her friend and said a line I will never forget.

That was bad,” she said, “but I think this afternoon was worse.”

I know what I did to discipline the errant child. It caused her parents great stress. In the following month they wrote some 20 emails accusing me of destroying their daughter and their family. One delightful one called me “a horrible lying man.” Before I tell you what I did though; what would you have done? What discipline would you have imposed? I’d really like to know. Next week I’ll post what was actually done in the comments section of this story so we can compare what I did with some alternative views!