Archive for November, 2009

A Week of Fun and Games

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

By David

The Delray Beach “Adopt a Swimmer” program is one week old. It’s been a good start. From funds received we have paid the monthly training fees for seven swimmers. We have purchased one swim suit and three pairs of goggles. And the beneficiaries are having a ball. The young girl I mentioned in the first article is as proud as all can be, in her new blue suit and red silicon bathing cap. Already cruising through 3000 meters a day, she looks just the part. With her new team mates, she has already learned tumble turns, racing starts and the twenty drills I use to improve their strokes. I make far too much of the fact that these drills were invented by Toni Jeffs who swam for New Zealand at the Barcelona Olympic Games but were also used by fellow internationals, Chellingworth, Copland, Quevedo, Myrvang, Hutchins and Jeffrey and US National qualifiers Foster, Meeder, Skuba and Ling.

I suspect the swimmers getting your help in this program already know far too much about life’s negative traits. For years they have heard “no” and “can’t” more often than “yes” and “can”. To be included with this list of fine athletes, to be doing the same drills they did, is more important than just swimming fast. From time to time I have been told exploring the limits of a swimmer’s talent could be selling false dreams. I don’t accept that argument. Besides, it’s not false if a dozen swimmers have done it already. While I’m writing this, the Miami Dolphins v. New Orleans Saints football game is playing on television. The commentator has just said one of the Saints’ players has the motto, “Better to live on the edge than die on the porch.” I agree with that. We are selling a dream and with your help will provide the means for it to be achieved.

In the first week we have had support from around the world. Donations have been received from the USA and England. Questions have been answered from New Zealand, Singapore and Australia. It’s been great. It seems to be a paradox of life in the United States. On one hand there is a harsh “independent” character to society here. On the other hand there is a huge generous factor. We have received help from small donors and large. We have been contacted by opinion leaders in the City of Delray Beach, Washington DC and Tallahassee (the capital city of Florida) asking about the program. To you all – thank you very much.

An unexpected consequence of the program’s first week has been the line-up of future recruits. Nina, the Pool Manager tells me she is fielding a stream of “can I join the swim team?” requests. We want the program to grow. At risk children want to be involved. Your help in making both happen would be deeply appreciated. You can donate by using the Paypal button. If you have any questions please email any of the contacts listed below.

Administrator – Benn Stille, Email

Swim Team Treasurer – Peter Kariher, Email

Pompey Park Pool Manager – Nina Salomom, Email

Coach – David Wright, Email

Musings and Other Things

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

By David

I see the New Zealand Short Course Meters Championships are being held this week. They are only about halfway through so it’s a bit early to form an opinion on quality of the event. However, three items have caught my attention.

I was pleased to see that Melissa Ingram is back competing. She won the 400 freestyle on the first night of the Championships in 4.05. Regular readers of Swimwatch may remember our story about last year’s World Cup meets in Moscow, Stockholm and Berlin. I was delighted to be there and see a New Zealand athlete out there, on her own, taking on the world’s best swimmers and winning. In everything Ingram did she was a fine ambassador, carrying on a proud tradition of competing anywhere against anybody characteristic of New Zealand’s best athletes. Her performances in the World Cup series would have made her my first choice for the Beijing Olympic team. Instead of that Swimming New Zealand insisted that she swim some very fast qualifying time at the selection trials. That requirement works well in Australia and the United States. New Zealand however is not so overwhelmed with swimming talent it can afford to copy their cut throat selection policy. The way swimming does it, Peter Snell would never have got to Rome, let alone win the 800. Prior to the Olympic Trials Ingram had more than proved her worth; more than earned her place and certainly would have placed better than eleventh; the best anyone else could manage.

I see Jonathan Winter is at it again; coaching fast swimmers I mean. This time he’s come up with a butterfly/freestyle swimmer called Tim Dawson. Dawson won the 100 butterfly on the first night of the Championship in 51.40. He beat the far more fancied Bell and Burmester. Whoever writes the meet reports for Swimming New Zealand made me laugh. Dawson’s win obviously came as a surprise and he beat swimmers from their treasured North Shore International Training Center. SNZ’s reporter clearly felt the loss needed to be explained. Dawson being faster was not going to be enough. Here is what their report said, “In the absence of champion Corney Swanepoel, who is swimming off strokes at this event, Dawson held off swim stars Daniel Bell and Moss Burmester to win the final in 51.40s.” Congratulations on a fine job Jonathan and thank you for taking the time out to travel to Wellington last week for my mother’s funeral. For those who may wonder at the connection, Jonathan attended the elementary school where my mother taught. I think she may have even taken him for some learn to swim lessons. If she did, she played a small part in producing a very good swimmer and successful swim coach.

I see in the news reports that swimmers from the North Shore International Training Center who swim slower than their best or who shockingly get beaten are excused because they are, “currently competing here while in full training load.” I’ve never understood all that. Either train or compete; don’t do both. But then I learned this trade at the table of Arthur Lydiard whose phrase for this nonsense was a cryptic, “Don’t try and run a four minute mile and around the Waitakeres at the same time.” It seems to me some coaches are more intent on proving how tough they are than winning a swimming race. Nothing else could explain swimming a full training load in the middle of the National Championships. Besides it shows scant respect for the nation’s premier swim meet. New Zealand has gone far too long without winning a medal in a world competition. This sort of decision is part of the reason why.

In other news, I recently got a call from a sports book publisher. They wanted to know if there was a possible sequel to my previous books, “Swim to the Top” and “Swimming – A Training Program”. I asked whether they would be interested in a book on “Sporting Parents Behaving Badly”. Over my years as a swim coach I’ve seen some pretty bizarre behavior; some of it illegal, much of it slanderous, all of it bad mannered and rude. The sad fact is that in every case the real victims have always been the children of the angry malcontents. Not once ever have I seen the child of a badly behaving parent achieve elite swimming success. That should not come as any sort of surprise. There are exceptions, but it is generally true that success in elite sport requires a certain type of honesty, a degree of loyalty and as the movies say, “But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” There are some who do not teach their offspring these values. Instead they teach dishonesty, they preach hatred and instill deception. Most of all they demonstrate the fraud of never accepting responsibility for your behavior when you can blame someone else. Champions do not grow well in such an environment. To my surprise the publisher is most interested. In principle he agreed to publish the book. And so I have begun. The first 1500 words are tucked away – only 68500 to go. Fortunately a fair number of the remaining words have already been written in emails from the crazies. They can be the stars of their own show.

Can You Help Us Adopt A Swimmer?

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

By David

One of the pools we use is in a less well-off neighborhood. I like it actually. It’s the sort of place you drive through dodging youths throwing 50 meter passes to each other, of front yards crowded with ladies sitting on plastic chairs discussing their children and old men preparing an evening grill. The local City of Delray authorities are doing a great and unheralded job of providing recreation here. Every afternoon the field behind the pool is filled with a hundred small nippers, dressed in pads and bright green football helmets going through their drills, preparing for the National Football League. The basketball courts beside the pool are home to their taller cousins shooting a thousand baskets and cheerleaders practicing for their call to come cheer for the Dallas Cowboys. Two tennis courts on the other side are littered with a hundred balls: the home to potential grunting Williams sisters. It’s busy, it’s active and it’s good to be a part of.

It has presented me with a problem though – swimmers whose parents simply cannot afford our pool and swimming fees. Already I have agreed to coach five local swimmers for free – on scholarship. And then yesterday I saw a young girl cruising the pool with the relaxed ease seldom seen in even the well coached. She’s tall and lean: the sort of build East German recruiters used to revere. The Pool Manager tells me she is eleven years old and doesn’t own a swim suit. She borrows one from the pool office each afternoon. There is no possibility her family could ever afford swimming fees. I have always been firmly of the view that no one should be denied the right to explore their talent because of a lack of money. Talent after all is not the sole prerogative of the well off. This girl is a classic example of that truth: just perhaps a female Cullen Jones waiting for her chance, needing a break.

There is a real need to expand the scholarship program beyond the five students I already support. The full cost of registration, coaching and pool fees is $1000 per annum: made up of $840 swimming fees and $160 pool fees. If there is anyone reading Swimwatch who can help by adopting this swimmer or others like her we would love to hear from you. Even the smallest donation makes the world of difference.


Here’s the way it works

The swim team has established a Pompey Park Swimmer’s Account through PayPal. By following the instructions below, a donation of any amount can be made to the Pompey Park Swimmer’s Account. Each month the  Account will then pay the City of Delray Beach the monthly coaching fees and pool fees for swimmers from difficult circumstances that are selected for scholarship assistance. I will anonymously report on Swimwatch the amount of all assistance received.

Here’s how to help

Click on the “DONATION” button:

Follow the instructions for making your donation

Here’s who you can contact

If you want to discuss the Adopt a Swimmer program and confirm your donation is going directly to help a swimmer from the Pompey Park area, here are some contact numbers.

Administrator – Benn Stille, (561) 732-9305, ext. 6208, Email

Swim Team Treasurer – Peter Kariher, (561) 767-0192, Email

Pompey Park Pool Manager – Nina Salomom, (561) 243-7358, Email

Coach – David Wright (561) 703-2858, Email

Coaching swimming in this community can be incredibly satisfying. I am teaching some adults to swim just now. When one particular lady arrived, just getting down the steps into the water took her a full measure of courage. Three lessons later, she can swim about ten meters, kick 50 meters and float on her back. I have been fortunate enough to help some good swimmers. However, the delight in this learner’s face when she discovered the new world of just floating was as satisfying as coaching a National Championship or Master’s World Record. Not more or less satisfying but certainly equal. I would imagine there may be some who doubt the honesty of that thought, but it’s true. When you next see someone float for the first time, look closely into their eyes. You will find there all the wonder of discovery. The last time I felt that way was when I flew an aeroplane solo for the first time. I had joined a new club, glimpsed a new environment and discovered a new world to explore. Clearly swimming has offered this learner the same feeling of awe. I suspect the most extravagant comment she has ever made was her reply to my question, “Have you told them at home about your swimming?” She said, “Yes, I’m bragging.” But as Muhammad Ali said, “It ain’t bragging if it’s true.”

Age Is Just A Number

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

By David

On two or three occasions I have written articles about members of our Master’s program. The program is a pretty good one. There’s about fifty of us. We’ve had four US National Champions and last year one of them set two FINA Master’s World Records in the men’s 50 and 100 meters butterfly. For those who are interested, the times were 24.17 and 54.98. But more important than all that the team is made up of interesting, fun people that make the trip to training a ball.

Take Lesley for example. She’s a good swimmer who works her way through 5000 meters every morning. I haven’t been able to talk her into competing yet but when she does she could well become National Champion number five. Her early life is a compelling jumble of the eccentric and colorful. She’s actually done what the rest of us either make up or tell lies about. You don’t think so? Well how many of you have worked as an analyst in a major investment bank, been homeless and slept under bridges in Boston for six months, bought and sold Palm Beach gold, made tie dyed t-shirts to sell at rock concerts, been a bicycle courier through two New England winters, spent five years in a VW Kombi van following the Grateful Dead from concert to concert, nannied for the family of the Duke and Duchess of something in the London suburb of Chelsea, waited tables in an up-market Delray Beach restaurant or made a hundred rehab trips before finally giving the whole dangerous lifestyle away? They say your life experiences make you what you are. In Lesley’s case that’s true. She reflects the diverse complexity of her life. She’s interesting, loyal, compassionate and kind and, as I said before, a good swimmer as well. An old farming friend of mine in New Zealand used to say, “Judge your mates by whether you’d want them with you in the bush on a cold, wet night.” Lesley easily passes that test. Since I’ve been in the United States I’ve met one or two guys who really like to think they’re tough. They collect guns, drive jingoistic trucks, take their daughters to gun ranges, boast about their High School football feats and talk big about their country invading or bombing just about everybody. I wouldn’t have one of them anywhere near me in the bush on a dark night. That requires someone you can trust. You can trust Lesley though. But that’s not the problem. It’s more difficult than that – I’ve still got to get her into a bloody swimming race.

And then there is Master’s swimmer Martin. He was born and raised in a small town at the top of New Zealand’s South Island called Blenheim. It’s a lovely place. I once had a training camp there and for most of his life my father had a small farm just outside of town. My brother Pete was the Sport’s Editor of the town’s main newspaper and coached the local provincial (state) rugby team. Martin went to the same University as I did in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. The University’s brightest and best read politics and philosophy. For some reason, best known to himself, Martin chose to graduate in accountancy, imagine that, accountancy. Like many New Zealanders he then left New Zealand to see the world. Only Martin did it in a most unusual and exotic way. He took a gamble on his good looks and triathlon body and signed up with the 5th Avenue, New York, Ford modeling agency. One of our other swim team parents, Doug, is also on Ford’s books and we once had a team member who had been a finalist in the Miss. Venezuela contest. If nothing else, we sure as hell are the best looking master’s team in Florida. If you know anything about modeling you will be aware that Ford is probably the world’s leading agency. Here’s how their website describes themselves “One of the most recognized and respected agencies in the history of modeling, Ford impeccably represents a wide spectrum of models from supermodels like Jerry Hall and Carmen to hot faces like Chanel Iman and Lakshmi Menon.” Right now Ford represent only 62 models, two of whom are ranked in the world’s top 50 female models and seven ranked in the top 50 male models. Well, Martin was one of those. For ten years he wandered the world wearing designer clothes on the catwalks of Paris and Milan, having his photograph taken on the beach in Monte Carlo and on the side of Mount Fuji in Japan. I had dinner at his place two weeks ago and after a couple of bottles of wine he agreed to let me see his portfolio of photographs. It was bloody incredible; dozens of photographs of Martin dressed in the most expensive clothes, sometimes smiling, often with that slightly pouting scowl favored by the world’s best male models. God knows how he’s done it but after all that jet set lifestyle he is married, happily swimming on the Master’s team and the father of a daughter and son who swim on our USS team.

The team has a whole bunch of others who lead uncommonly interesting lives. There’s Kerry, three fingered Steve, Sarah, Matha, Peter, Ben, Noelle and a dozen others. We’ve run out of space in this article but I will tell you about that crew next time. You can see photographs of many of them on the master’s team website – In Lesley’s photograph she is being difficult and has a towel over her head. She says it’s because her hair looks awful when it’s wet. Martin has yet to be photographed for the team’s website. When we do we will try and get him into one of his Ford style poses. Let’s see if he’s still got it.

Guard Pacific’s Triple Star

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

By David

The New Zealand National Spring Championships have just ended. As normal the Championships displayed promise and hope. As usual they evidenced flaws. There is one failing in particular that is cause for concern.

In a recent Swimwatch article titled “Make our Country Good and Great” we argued that the policy being followed in New Zealand by Jan Cameron was fundamentally flawed. Her intention was to concentrate talent and resources on Auckland’s North Shore. She called it the International Training Center (ITC) and from its well financed pool international champions would flow. That hasn’t happened. I know of several prominent coaches who predicted the plan’s failure. Foremost among them was someone who really knew his stuff when it came to winning Olympic gold medals – Arthur Lydiard.

Arthur argued that sporting success required the person doing Cameron’s job diversify and strengthen swimming throughout the country. He did not want to see Emily Thomas shipped up to Auckland. He wanted to see her Gisborne coach provided with the skills and money to take her to Olympic success in Gisborne. Burmester should have been able to and encouraged to stay in the Bay of Plenty, Fitch in Hamilton, Benson in Hastings and a dozen others in their home town with skilled and well funded coaches who had probably been with them since before they could swim.

Why was Arthur right and Cameron wrong. Well, you see a fundamental law of elite sport is that “to compete successfully requires competition – lots of competition.” Cameron’s plan has stifled competition. The very life blood that makes the whole thing work has been drained. The table below illustrates the point. It examines the results of three national championships – New Zealand, the United States and Australia.

And so you can see the dramatic effect Cameron’s policies have had on the competitiveness of swimming in New Zealand. In the USA 14 clubs shared the spoils of 24 races and in Australia 14 clubs shared 34 gold medals. In New Zealand only nine clubs were good enough to be home to one of 34 national champions. The very best and most competitive club in the USA could win only four national titles. In a country where powerful clubs like Stanford, Longhorns, Baltimore, California, Trojans and others are well financed and well coached, none of them could dominate their National Championships. The very best could win only 15% of the races on offer. The situation in Australia is the same. The most successful club won only five races, also 15% of the total. In both countries competition is cut throat and close. That’s called being competitive.

In New Zealand on the other hand one club, North Shore, won 15 of the 34 races or 44% of the total senior races swum. The points gap between North Shore and New Zealand’s second placed club was a stunning 278 points; more points than the second placed club managed to score. In the United States the points gap between the first and second place clubs was just 30 points; once again close and competitive.

The really sad thing about all this is that there are many in New Zealand who point to the dominance of North Shore as a sign of strength. A strong North Shore is a strong New Zealand, we’re told. We need to centralize the way the East Germans used to, they say. Cameron got her national job on the basis of her clubs dominance so of course she was going to stay with what she knew. It brought personal success before, perhaps it will again.

Unfortunately for my country her job had changed. A National Coach is responsible for strengthening the whole country. Cameron’s job was not to have her old club win 15 of 34 medals. Her job was to strengthen swimming throughout the country so that North Shore could win only four or five races. A National Coach is responsible for building swimming in Wellington, Hamilton, Auckland, Dunedin and Hastings so that only a few points separate the nation’s top clubs. A National Coach strengthens a country not a club. The closer the competition from clubs throughout the country; the more difficult it is for North Shore to win anything, the better. A successful National Coach makes the sport more competitive. And the data on this table shows that has not been done. The lopsided dominance of one club is New Zealand’s weakness and the National Coach’s failure.

It is a serious failure. At some stage another mentor will take over the position of National Coach. It is my hope that North Shore will still win the points and medals table. But it is my wish also that they only win by the slimmest of margins. I hope Neptune, Capital, Enterprise, United and my old club Comet are so strong and so tough that every National Championships is a fight for every last point; for every last medal. The coach that achieves that will have strengthened swimming in a manner that will result in Olympic winners.