The Good, The Bad and the Very, Very Ugly

By David

I’m as mad as all can be. Regular readers may have noticed Swimwatch has been through a quiet couple of weeks. That’s because there have been a few things going on around here. Let me explain.

A week ago I got a very cheerful email from Helen Norfolk inviting me to a meeting with Swimming New Zealand’s new High Performance Committee. I accepted and we met on Monday afternoon. It seemed like a constructive couple of hours. The Chairman of the Committee, Ross Butler was there. I’ve never met him before but he did a good job not letting Swimwatch get in the way of a friendly encounter. I presented a seven page report on the structure that should replace Cameron’s mess. Although it is a bit long to put up on Swimwatch you will find it at the conclusion of this post. My report is based on the precondition that Cameron had already left the building. However that may be wrong. Day after day goes by and she’s still here. But before we address the question of Cameron let me tell you about a deal I did at the conclusion of the High Performance meeting.

Ross Butler asked me to agree to refrain from publishing Swimwatch criticism of the High Performance Committee’s work. He said he wanted the Committee to be given a fair crack of the whip and for their work to be constructive, unaffected by harsh outside censure. That seemed like a fair enough request so I agreed and we shook on the deal. It was only afterwards I began to wonder if the presence of Norfolk and Fitch on the Committee and this deal with me meant that all opposition to Swimming New Zealand had been silenced. Were we being conned?

Mind you, if that was their game, they are in for a big surprise. I will refrain from criticism of the Committee. I will honour the deal not to discuss their work. In fact I wish them well. Swimming New Zealand’s High Performance programme needs to change. Hopefully this Committee can be the catalyst to bring that about. What Swimwatch will not do is let Swimming New Zealand off the hook. That is a completely different subject.

Which brings us back to Cameron. Why is she still here? Why are Coulter and Byrne still hanging around? I have never seen an official document more critical of anyone’s behaviour than the Ineson Report. Any worse and Ineson’s text would have been unseemly and bad mannered. Short of calling them all “brain dead”, Ineson was as blunt as it is possible to be.

But it seems like Coulter, Cameron and Byrne are attempting to ride out the storm. Coulter has done a shocking job of fielding media attention. He has come across as a bumbling idiot. For a guy whose writing is an exercise in the perils of school boy gobbledygook, his verbal communication places him in a special needs class of his own. Full of “ahs” and “ums” and half finished sentences; he is an embarrassment. Mind you, only the very best can lie and cover the indefensible without pause or hesitation. And Coulter is certainly not in the “very best” category.

Cameron and Byrne however have gone to ground; nowhere to be seen. Cameron, “So where the bloody hell are you?” Clearly the Board have told her to say nothing. Coulter will take the heat and they may just be able to ride this one out. What concerns me is that Coulter may just be right. By setting up their little Committee, by sucking in the likes of Helen and Alison, by doing a deal to silence Swimwatch, they may be able to see this one through. Cameron may survive.

Just take a look at what Swimming New Zealand Board members are saying. Coulter is reported as saying, “We are not talking about people losing their job here.” Another Board member is reported as consistently refusing to discuss anything to do with Cameron’s performance. According to him personal issues are nothing to do with the Swimming New Zealand’s High Performance shambles. Let there be no misunderstanding – without the immediate sacking of Cameron, Byrne and Coulter, Swimming New Zealand is lost. When the Ineson Report was published there were 408 days to go to the London Games. Today there are 394 days left. Fourteen days, twenty eight training sessions, four percent of the total time has gone forever and what has Coulter done? He has set up a Committee. Those individuals, charged and found guilty are still wandering the streets, still making the same decisions that have wrecked swimming for a decade.

Some of New Zealand’s best sporting brains saw through Cameron’s facade ten years before Ineson exposed her failings. Arthur Lydiard was a close friend of mine and knew Cameron well. They met shortly after the Tokyo Olympic Games when Arthur, Jan and some other Olympians were touring Australia speaking to groups about their Olympic experience. Arthur told me his association with Jan gave him a special appreciation of how she worked. On tour, up close and personal, provided a unique insight. Certainly Arthur remembered the details of their time together very well.

Their time together did not blind Arthur to the failings of her high performance programme. In fact it seemed to have made Arthur more aware of that Jan was incapable of delivering on her Olympic promise. He compared the approach he used in Finland with Cameron’s grand scheme. He pointed to the “podium” success he achieved in Finland and the empty returns of the Cameron plan. “It will never work,” he said. And as far as we have gone, he’s right.

It seems obvious that these three, Coulter, Byrne and Cameron are holding on in the desperate hope that someone, anyone can produce a medal at the World Championships in Shanghai. If, by some chance, that happened my guess is they will try and convince SPARC that the Ineson Report is all a big mistake. But by then forty six days will have gone by since Cameron should have been sacked and we will be eleven percent closer to the London Olympic Games. Eleven percent of the total time available wasted because of an intransigent Australian and two incompetent New Zealanders.

In the meantime here is the Report I presented to the High Performance Committee.

HIGH PERFORMANCE GOVERNANCE COMMITTEE

PRESENTATION MONDAY 27TH JUNE

INTRODUCTION

It is entirely inappropriate to begin a positive look at the future of High Performance swimming by considering what not to do. So that’s just where I think we should start. Being negative can set parameters that a positive solution should meet. That is the case in this instance. So here is a list of negatives I believe the Governance Committee should consider.

NEGATIVE PARAMETERS

Abandon the Cult of Personality

For six years through the blog known as Swimwatch I have opposed the concentration of power and responsibility for High Performance swimming in the hands of one person. That was not so much a reflection on the person involved. It was a criticism of her High Performance program. A different person with Cameron’s powers would still be a mistake. That would simply be Cameron with a different name. A dictator, even a benevolent and highly talented one, is not what High Performance swimming needs. I know of a hundred people just now who are naming Swimming New Zealand’s next messiah; Mark Schubert, Mark Regan, Bill Sweetenham, Bob Bowman. There are a dozen names out there. All those well meaning people fail to understand it is not the person who needs to change. The most brilliant coaching brain in the world will fail trying to operate in a Cameron style program. New Zealand needed to change Cameron – that was true. But far more important – New Zealand needs to change the Cameron system it currently uses to deliver High Performance swimming to the nation.

Abandon the Millennium Institute as a single focus High Performance Centre

The Committee would be surprised at the number of people who have congratulated me since the Ineson Report was published. Even main stream journalists have begun interviews with expressions such as, “You will be pleased that Jan Cameron has gone” or “The Ineson Report’s criticism of Cameron has validated the position you have taken in Swimwatch.” These comments seriously misrepresent my position. My criticism in Swimwatch was all about the Cameron system; not the Cameron person. I have visited the Canberra Institute of Sport, the Colorado High Performance Centre and the Font-Romeu High Altitude Centre. All three were experiments in concentrating a whole nation’s high performance swimming in one place. All of them failed. Their role now is to support rather than to dominate. All Swimwatch ever argued was that the same fate would eventually befall the Millennium Institute. And so it will. The single national centre concept is old fashioned. It’s out of date. It does not work. The promise of a stream of Olympic medallists flowing out of a single provider was always flawed. It was never going to happen. It is ironic that at the same time Swimming New Zealand trumpeted “excellence in every pool” it was pouring all its High Performance resources into just one pool. Their logo, “excellence in every pool” is the program they should have followed.

Abandon poaching swimmers from their home coaches to the Millennium Institute.

The Millennium Institute poaching swimmers in New Zealand has become institutionalized. It is accepted and encouraged by Swimming New Zealand. And it is wrong. The practice of poaching swimmers is specifically forbidden in most countries. In New Zealand it is actually promoted and advertised each year on Swimming New Zealand’s website. The fact that it is the national body doing the poaching does not make it right. This is not to say swimmers should be prevented from moving to new programs for swimming or education or employment reasons. Of course swimmers should be able to move in these circumstances. But they should be able to move to Dunedin, Christchurch or Wellington just as freely as Auckland’s North Shore. What is wrong is when the resources of the state are spent promoting one coaching program and a select one or two coaches. Two members of this Committee moved from their home programs to Auckland; nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is that Auckland was their only option. They should have been able to stay at home or relocate to any other program on exactly the same terms as they ended up getting by moving to Auckland. After all, it was their talent that merited support not Cameron’s club or coaching program.

Abandon the privileged arrogance of the Millennium program.

About a month ago I received an email from a previous Swimming New Zealand Director of Coaching, Clive Rushton. His email contained a quote from an international swimmer. Here is what she said.

The Head Coach did not fulfill her role as head coach. From day one of the trip, she made a clear division in the team between those swimmers who train at the Millennium Institute and those who did not. Everything from training times, transport arrangements, consulting swimmers about arrangements, uniform requirements, and even ‘team’ meetings were segregated, creating a distinct ‘them and us’ dynamic within the team. There was a clear message of “if you’re not one of ‘my’ swimmers, then you don’t matter”. I believe that if New Zealand Swimming is to move forward then swimmers must feel that when they make the same qualifying standard as other swimmers, they are just as valuable as part of the national representative team as any other member. They should also feel that there is one team that is supportive of all its members, not two-tiers within the team, with the criteria for these tiers being whether or not your home programme is under the head coach or not.

The sport experienced a similar climate of segregation at the recent World Championship trials. Cameron fought tooth and nail to avoid entering Millennium swimmers through the normal channels. Direct entry through Swimming New Zealand was the only procedure good enough for her. During the meet, the Millennium swimmers arrived wearing black uniforms adorned with the silver fern and were offered exclusive seating next to the selectors table. Cameron was probably trying to lift the esprit de corps of the Millennium swimmers. The effect actually produced an appearance of arrogance. Certainly the exclusive treatment of swimmers who have yet to win an international swimming race was not good for them or their sport. None of the Millennium crew needs to win an Olympic Gold Medal. They already occupy a position of class and privilege. I was pleased to see the two Olympic Champions in the room, Danyon Loader and Rhi Jeffrey sat on the workers side of the pool mixing with their mates. No ideas above their station in those two.

A NEW ZEALAND HIGH PERFORMANCE PLAN

INTRODUCTION

This plan for High Performance swimming is not my plan. It is advice given to me by the running coach Arthur Lydiard. It is the product of a hundred weekends spent at his home discussing the failings of Cameron’s program and what New Zealand should do instead. However Lydiard’s High Performance program is not just academic theory. It is the program he applied as Head Coach of athletics in Finland. It is the program that directly produced the winners of the 1500, 5000, 10000 and third in the 3000 steeplechase at the Munich Games and the winners of the 5000 and 10000 at the Montreal Games. Five gold medals and one bronze from a country not much bigger than ours in the space of two Olympics make it a program worth considering.

THE LYDIARD PLAN

When Lydiard arrived in Finland he understood he could not identify all the Olympic talent available and provide the mix of programs required to nurture a number of Olympic champions. As we all know some athletes respond to sprint based programs; others prosper on a diet of distance. No one coach can possibly provide the diversity of training programs required to bring the multiplicity of athletes available in an entire country to Olympic championship form. Cameron was attempting the impossible. Lydiard was not going to make the same mistake.

The alternative, Lydiard thought, was to coach the coaches. Establish an army of highly trained and motivated coaches throughout the country all capable of nurturing Olympic athletes. Whether the program the coach followed was sprint or distance based Lydiard saw his job as making sure it was the best version of that type of training available and that the coach was resourced sufficiently to bring the athletes through to their full potential.

This is what happens in the United States. Dave Salo coachs a sprint based program in Los Angeles that produces world and Olympic champions. For years Mark Schubert coached the world’s best swimmers using a Lydiard style distance program. Bob Bowman in Baltimore uses a mixed distance and speed program to prepare Phelps. Ryan Lochte’s father coachs his son in Florida using an original copy of Lydiard’s classic book, “Run to the Top”. Diversity is a word that has been much devalued by Swimming New Zealand in the Cameron era. Project Vanguard continues to pour scorn on the very quality that could save this sport. The American’s however recognise that their coaching diversity is their strength. US swimming is able to offer a wide variety of excellent programs offering the nation’s best swimmers a huge choice of training options. In the US there are 32 coaches of national team swimmers: that diversity is their strength.

So that is what Lydiard did in Finland. He travelled the length and breadth of the country teaching, helping, supporting the country’s coaches to improve. Not by making them all distance coaches like he was but by making them identify what they were good at and then encouraging them to do it better. He provided ASSISTANCE and ACCOUNTABILITY. The end result was that three coaches all of whom used different programs prepared the Finnish runners who won five gold medals and one bronze medal at two Olympic Games. And Lydiard was awarded a Finnish knighthood.

ASSISTANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY – HOW DOES IT WORK

Every coach in the country becomes responsible for preparing the country’s Olympic Champions. Those coaches who produce swimmers on the National Team are rewarded financially with the same income earned by the swimmers they coach. Swimmers and coaches on the National Team remain on the team for twelve months irrespective of performance.

A Director of Coaching is appointed whose job is to coach the coaches; to assist them become better coaches and make them accountable for their results.

I have been back in New Zealand coaching for over a year and have never been contacted by Swimming New Zealand (until now) to discuss my program or the athletes in my program. Unlike in the United States I have received no assistance and I have been made accountable to no one. And of course that is the same for Paul Kent, Jeremy Duncan, Gary Hurring, Jonathan Winter and a dozen others. To those who say New Zealand has to go overseas to find good coaches I say – how do they know? For a decade New Zealand’s coaches have never been made accountable for New Zealand’s swimming results. That responsibility was palmed off to Jan Cameron. If Swimming New Zealand made us all accountable in the way Lydiard did in Finland we would deliver Olympic Champions all right.

No one is asking Paul Kent to become a distance based coach or me to change to a Paul Kent type sprint program. Someone though should be making us both deliver the very best programs of our type to the swimmers we coach. Every day we should be expected to explain what we did today and what we plan to do tomorrow towards producing an Olympic Champion. If we produce international results we should be financially assisted. We must be encouraged to deliver the very best program and we must be made to deliver international results. The goal genuinely is “excellence in every pool”.

Let there be no misunderstanding: this is a better way of doing things. Cameron used state money to poach swimmers from all over the country. It hasn’t worked. The coaching plan suggested here worked in Finland and works in the United States. It will work in New Zealand. It is an inclusive program that potentially involves every coach and every swimmer in the country. Any alternative program that requires coaches like me to hand over our best swimmers to some national coach on the North Shore is bound to fail. I have never handed over a swimmer and never will. I will simply not participate and would encourage my fellow coaches to make the same stand. My plea is – don’t replace us, make us better.

In Swimwatch I called the plan suggested here “rugged individualism”. It is a concept that gave New Zealand Olympic Champions; Peter Snell, John Walker, Danyon Loader and Murray Halberg. It has given the United States, Phelps, Lochte and a hundred others. We really should put our faith in an improved version of it again.

RECOMMENDED SPECIFIC STEPS

  • The Millennium Institute should be closed as a national training centre. The pool should be made available for normal club training programs. There is no reason why the backup medical and sport’s science services available at the Institute should not continue to be available to all the country’s swimmers and coaches.
  • The current Millennium Institute team should be disbanded and the swimmers and coaches should be absorbed into Club programs of their choice throughout New Zealand.
  • The standard of swimmer being paid now should continue to be paid. The difference would be that swimmers would be entitled to those benefits irrespective of their team, coach or geographical location.
  • Swimmers should be on an annual contract that cannot be terminated during the period of the contract.
  • Coaches of paid swimmers should receive the same remuneration as their highest paid swimmer, also on a one year contract. That should be the only remuneration paid to any coach.
  • A Director of Coaching should be appointed. His/her terms of engagement should clearly define the role as coaching New Zealand’s coaches. The Director of Coaching is not to get involved in coaching swimmers.
  • Essentially the Director of Coaching would spend much of his/her time travelling the length of New Zealand visiting coaches for the purpose of:
  1. Setting their coaching goals
  2. Setting training and performance goals for their best athletes
  3. Costing those coach and athlete goals
  4. Evaluating their performance against those goals
  5. Providing assistance and input into their coaching that may assist produce a better result.
  6. It would be up to the Director to ensure that every coach in the country was aware that it was their job to prepare Olympic medallists; that New Zealand’s Olympic results were their responsibility and they were being evaluated against that standard.
  • The Director of Coaching’s role would be one of assistance and accountability. Most coaching personalities work best under pressure. It would be the task of the Director of Coaching to provide assistance but also to apply that pressure.
  • Done properly and New Zealand will end up with 15-20 well trained and motivated coaches doing what two coaches are expected to accomplish in the Cameron regime. We are certain to provide a better outcome.
  • Andrew

    Hi David,

    I find it fascinating that the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand suspends a swimmer ( http://www.drugfreesport.org.nz/site/drugfreesportnz/files/News/PDF/Jacobs_Media_release.pdf ) based on a drug test at a National Championship and there is a zero public response from Swimming NZ. They have an opportunity to educate and improve awareness around supplements and their ingredients. Something as simple as posting the link to http://www.drugfreesport.org.nz/ might help someone avoid the fate of Mr Jacobs.

    Andrew

  • Chris

    So David – lots to comment on!

    If you can’t have a go at the HP Committee, then I will. Namely, why is Ross Butler heading this – from the same failed SNZ Board, a supposed independent Board member (how can you claim to be independent when you have been on the Board as long as he has, overseeing this whole HP era). He has no background in sport (of any note), no background in swimming, and certainly zero background in elite performance in Olympic individual sports. I would guarantee he would be hard-pressed to even name what events are swum at the Olympics! Sorry, but for all the hoopla (they have had the report for 3 weeks now, and the Board had it a week before the public did), as I feared, Ross Butler is there to protect the Board.
    What the hell are the regions dithering around for?

    But more on that later.

    So for the news headlines in the Herald and the airwaves yesterday … clearly there is a another story not being reported here David? Would I be right in suggesting that Mike Byrne is telling more porkies? Call me suspicious, but it seems anytime Mike Byrne opens his mouth, lies, half-truths and spin have a habit of tumbling out.