So Who Should Take Her Place?

By David

Last week we suggested Jan Cameron, the boss of high performance swimming in New Zealand, should resign. Our article raised questions about her job performance, her staff selection, her commitment and the omnipresent mood of discontent in New Zealand swimming. However it is not sufficient to abandon the old without proposing an alternative. The balance of this post will detail a management option that should replace the Cameron regime.

All first year business administration students will be familiar with autocratic, paternalistic and democratic styles of management. Cameron manages New Zealand’s high performance regime according to a pretty standard autocratic model. She likes to make all the important decisions. There is little in the way of two way communication and there is a classic “them and us” character to her portion of the sport. In our view New Zealand swimming would be more successful if it adopted a democratic style of management where authority for the sport’s international performance was delegated to coaches throughout the country; where elite performance decisions were made by numerous local coaches. Bill Gates ran Microsoft according to the democratic model. Why? Because it is known as being the management style best suited to succeed in an environment that requires specialist skills to make complex decisions; exactly like high performance swimming.

Of course Cameron would be an unsuitable candidate to implement such a change. Anyway she probably thinks the whole idea is marginally fatuous. Besides, her personality is not suited to a democratic style of management; a case of oil and water, I’m afraid. What the job needs is a very good manager; a person whose inclusive management skills are more important than swimming knowledge. Hilton Brown has those skills. So have Bill Garlick, Arch Jelley and John Fay. Swimming New Zealand once employed a woman called Catriona McBean. She’d do a good job of managing high performance swimming according to the democratic model.

So, with a manager in place how would a democratic high performance program go about winning Olympic gold medals?

First of all the program should never mislead its members, its financial backers or the New Zealand public. We’ve had too much of that. For example Cameron’s last report from New Delhi on the Swimming New Zealand website says, “We commenced this year with 4 top 16 rankings (Moss, Glenn, Hayley and Daniel from 2009 world champs). Present world rankings in top 16 in Olympic events are:” It then lists six swimmers and relays with Cameron’s version of their current world ranking. And they are just plain wrong. The table below shows Cameron’s list and compares it with the swimmer’s actual world ranking. Our source is from’s rankings service. The support of Swimming New Zealand’s members, the New Zealand public and corporate and government financial backers depends on being given an honest appraisal of our current position; a quality not immediately obvious in this Cameron report.

On the subject of Cameron’s last report, it includes this stunning sentence. “I believe that this was a successful campaign with further learning’s which can and will help us even more going forward:” I imagine few of you will have read a worse hatchet job of the English language. Who in this world ever told her the verb learning could be used as a noun.

Second, the Millennium Institute’s high performance program should be closed. It is relevant to remember that the man who built the Millennium folly has been quoted as saying, “Arthur Lydiard is the worst thing that ever happened to New Zealand athletics.” It is prudent to be cautious about the sporting judgment of a man with that view. The Institute’s High Performance program is fatally flawed. Its coaches and swimmers should operate like any normal swim club. Swimmers above a certain level, whether they swim at the Millennium Institute or Capital, or United, or Aqua Gym, or West Auckland Aquatics or any other club, should continue to be paid of course. Coaches at all clubs including the Millennium Institute should not be paid a salary but should receive a monthly grant per swimmer placed on the national team. The balance of their pay should come from normal swimming fees. Yes, even at the Millennium Institute.

Third, the High Performance Manager should visit every coach in New Zealand who has an interest in producing world class swimmers. Each visit should result in an annual plan and a budget prepared by the local coach. It should detail:

  1. The elite athletes the coach plans to produce.
  2. How fast they will swim.
  3. Their preparation, training and competition.
  4. How much money the coach needs to fund the program.

Fourth, the High Performance Manager should have each plan evaluated by a team of swimming experts. Suggested improvements should be discussed with each coach and a final plan approved.

Fifth, each team’s plan will be collated into a national plan. Funding to finance the consolidated package will be negotiated.

Sixth, the High Performance Manager will monitor each team’s performance and spending by means of monthly reports and bi-monthly visits.

A plan like this is based on the conviction that Jeremy Duncan in Invercargill, Gary Hurring in Wellington, Jonathan Winter in Auckland, Donna Bouzaid in New Plymouth and a dozen others scattered over New Zealand are quite capable of identifying the swimming talent in their district and are certainly able to guide it to Olympic gold. Laing did it from Dunedin. Lydiard and Jelley did it from Mt. Albert. Robertson did it from Christchurch. Come to think of it Bowman does it from Baltimore and Salo from Los Angeles. This generation of New Zealand swimming coaches is quite capable of doing the same thing and better. All they need is help and support at a regional level. What they don’t need is interference or poaching or the pressure of propping up a dysfunctional and ineffective white elephant based on Auckland’s North Shore.

  • Paul Newnham

    Hi David,
    Keep up the good work. We all need poking in the ribs occasionally so we can challenge ourselves and grow.
    You may not be popular for this line of discussion but you have my support.
    I grew up training in an outdoor pool alongside Donna Bouzaid. We produced good swimmers. There is talent hidden everywhere that just needs opportunity to flourish. Our most successful swimmer (Loader) would not have had a chance under the current regime!!
    Regards, Paul