Swimming Working Group

By David

A battle has been fought and won. Project Vanguard is dead. Swimming New Zealand spent quarter of a million dollars pushing a Head Office grab for power and they lost. Swimwatch and the Coalition of Regions said, “No, not under any circumstances.”

Today, it’s almost impossible to find Project Vanguard mentioned on the Swimming New Zealand website. Imagine that: two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and nothing to show. The grass roots of swimming refused to hand over ownership of the sport to the Coulter gang. The never honoured votes for approval to proceed, Coulter’s slick marketing talk and the offer of swimming Shangri-la faded and finally died on the scrap heap of numerous other costly follies.

Or did it? Has Project Vanguard gone away? Is Swimming New Zealand’s grab for power dead? Has Swimming New Zealand found a better way of achieving the same thing? And has Swimming New Zealand found new and powerful allies prepared to push and pay to get it done? I think that’s exactly what’s happening.

Swimwatch warned the Coalition of Regions that the offer of mediation was a con. We were concerned that in the mediation process unreasonable people would take advantage of good regional people and con them blind. Swimwatch is convinced that this working party is about to introduce Project Vanguard again, through a different door; dressed in a new name. An unholy alliance will see the end of swimming’s regional structure and the imposition of power from Wellington. Federalism will be replaced by central unitary power. SPARC will look after its own.

Swimwatch will fight on, determined to see swimming preserve a federal regional structure; determined to ensure a decentralized network of coaches are charged with the responsibility of delivering championship swimmers. But it should never have come to this. The Coalition of Regions was winning. They had the votes. They had the AGM remits. The bad guys were on the ropes. The hard work had been done. One last AGM punch and it was all over. But the Coalition was not up to the task. They had to be reasonable. They told us:

better progress could be made through engagement.”

They let us down and now we will have to begin the fight all over again.

There are aspects of the so called management of sport in New Zealand that really beat the hell out of me. Take Peter Miskimmin for example. He’s the CEO of SPARC, the organization the government established to fund sport in New Zealand. He has an important job. Everyone treats him like sporting royalty; lots of kissing and hugging but no real affection. Byrne’s only interest in Miskimmin is to make sure the next government welfare check is as big as possible. The way some organizations, including swimming, prostrate themselves at Miskimmin’s feet is positively embarrassing.

I’ve been to two meetings where Miskimmin was specifically asked why he didn’t get involved in sorting out swimming’s management problems. On both occasions Miskimmin was very clear – the governance of a sport is a subject for the members to decide. SPARC and its CEO have no place interfering in swimming’s management structure. I was impressed. Miskimmin knew the limits of his authority and was not afraid to make his position public.

Now I think the bugger couldn’t lie straight in bed. Five minutes after his convincing expression of independence, he appoints himself to a Steering Committee charged with directing an overhaul of swimming. He says he wants the committee working for him to tell him about:

  • Governance factors such as existing constitutions board policies, strategic planning, board membership and linkages to organisational performance
  • Organisational structure performance management including the link between roles, resources and strategy
  • Relationships between constituent sections of SNZ and related parties providing aquatic products, services or facilities
  • The membership model and its relationship to governance and to a revised operating model
  • Comparable processes in other sports.

That sounds pretty much like getting involved in the management of swimming to me. It is a real problem. You can’t believe a thing the leaders of our industry say. Miskimmin says one thing and thinks nothing of doing the opposite. The evidence seems to suggest he’s just a lying prick.

Moving on from the squalid political side of swimming, I said I would let you know how our guys got on in the Auckland Level One meet this weekend.

Well, Rhi swam 57.17 and 2.04.67 for the 100 and 200 metres freestyle. The 57.17 was inside the qualifying time for the US Olympic Trials. So Rhi will be appearing on that portion of the Olympic stage again. I was pleased with the 200 metre swim. She swam the last 50 metres in 30.17 which shows some of the huge ability she had to finish races well is on its way back. After three years off and in only nine months back Rhi Jeffrey is in a very good swimming space. Well done Rhi.

Jessica improved her best 800 meters freestyle from 9.13.08 to 8.58.89 (2.6%). That improves her 2011 New Zealand ranking from 12th to 6th. Her swim this weekend was always intended as a trial for her swims next week in the Singapore and Beijing World Cup meets. This good trial indicates she will swim her 800 and 400 meters much faster in Asia. Good luck in the big time, Jessica.

Justin swam great. He has not had the easiest of years; with all the Court action required to secure approval to be in the pool at all. This week he passed the required number of credits to graduate from High School and won the 50 (26.11) and 100 (57.38) metres butterfly, both in personal best times. He is a fine young man. His 2011 open New Zealand ranking in the 100 improved from 30th to 14th and in the 50 from 28th to 19th.

Jane won the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke events. Her times were not quite as fast as her personal bests. She has huge potential though and after another build up (Jane hates the thought of that distance conditioning) she will be going much faster. She is a great competitor and looked easily in control of these events.

And finally we have Nikki Johns. She won the 50 metres backstroke in a modest time, for her, of 32.90. However when I explain that on Wednesday she had her wisdom teeth removed and swam with her face still puffed up like a World Cup football, perhaps you will appreciate the character required to complete that swim. I think that’s about the seventh time she has had a general anaesthetic procedure in the past six months. Yup, 32.90 sounds pretty good to me.

Some of the other West Auckland swimmers also performed well. Lara went under 30 seconds for the 50 freestyle for the first time and improved her 100 freestyle best time by two seconds. After a week spent tramping in the Ruahine Ranges, sleeping in DOC huts with what she describes as rain beating on the roof, wind howling through the trees and a single candle for light, her two personal best swims were a pretty good result. And Billy, Abigail and Israel all recorded personal best times.

So that’s the good and bad side of swimming this week. Swimming New Zealand’s Annual General Meeting is being held today. I’ll see if I can find out what’s going on and report on Swimwatch next week.

  • Sensible Swimming

    There is something about your ‘ragtag crew’ from West Auckland which I find quite appealing. Your ability to bring them to life for us all is a great reminder that our sport is made up of people who are real and functioning human beings rather than automates and machines.

    From your tales we all feel as though we have got to know your Rhi and her Justin, Lara and Jessica and Jane and the redoubtable and courageous Nikki, even though I have never met them. Good luck to you all.

    David, you have your critics, not least those who are critical of your coaching, but this ragtag bunch are giving those critics some food for thought I hope. It is great to see that there is room for variety and success to coexist.

    I hear that the regional delegates voted in favour of an external review process at the SNZ AGM yesterday. This has to be better than the corrupt and discredited Project Vanguard although I take your warnings about the SPARC agenda seriously. I and others will watch that closely as I am sure you will for us. As time passes we will surely hear you write on this subject many more times.

    There will be some anxious moments as we watch this all unfold but if it produces a world that is free of Mike Byrne, Ross Butler and his cronies then it will be a major step forward.

    I hear there was some entertainment at the beginning of the meeting when Butler and Byrne both made groveling ‘mea culpa’ apologies for bad behaviour. Apparently they both read apologies which were scripted but which neither looked very serious about. I think there might be more to this than I have been told at this stage, maybe you can find out more about that David as I am sure that you will have had some of your informants there because I did not get a lot of detail told to me. Apparently it was something to do with Byrne being quoted in the Sunday Star Times article that you wrote about a few posts back and also about the SNZ Board reappointing Butler, again all the stuff you were writing about. It sounds like you may have hit a raw nerve back then.

    My sources told me that Ross Butler looked and behaved like a sleaze ball insurance salesman (but then I guess that is what he really is in real life) and that it looked and felt as though there was real tension between him and Byrne. Apparently the abrasive Jane Wrightson was nowhere to be seen as with the fixit men from SPARC Kerry MacDonald and Nelson Cull. I guess SPARC didn’t feel like stumping up another $1500 for each of them to be there when Peter Miskimmin could be there himself. Humphrey Pullon was the only board member other than Butler who spoke during the meeting and it sounded like he was making a play to be appointed as the chairman if Butler is deposed. There was passing mention by Butler of Murray Coulter but nothing of ‘she who must not be named’ who has been written out of the story for the time being.

    I understand that there are two new SNZ Board members, Neville Sutton from Wellington and the NZ Coaches group and Suzanne Speer who you have written about previously as being one of the courageous ones who stood up to the corruption of Project Vanguard. I do not know much about Neville Sutton’s politics but will watch with interest to see if he and Ms Speer are able to create or influence change.

  • @ Sensible Swimming – not trying to criticise you here, as I know you mean very well, but it does confuse me me every time I see a comment along the lines of “David has his critics. but look, some of his swimmers are doing okay! Wow!”

    He began his swim coaching career with a girl from Whakatane called Toni Jeffs, who became an Olympian, a New Zealand champion and record holder multiple times, and who continued swimming well into her 30s.

    Then, he coached Nichola Chellingworth, who was also a New Zealand representative, record holder and champion. After she was no longer coached by David, she went on to represent Australia and then New Zealand again in her late 20s.

    This was all in Wellington in the 90s. At the same time, we had multiple people make the open nationals, win Wellington and Auckland titles, and our team beat clubs like Capital in relay events – I was there, swimming the breaststroke, aged 12.

    Moving on to Hawke’s Bay, David coached me. Now, I do not have nearly the natural talent of Rhi Jeffrey, but he helped me become *not too* shit. I held the New Zealand short course 200 breaststroke record for three and a half years, before Gary Hurring’s swimmer, Kelly Bentley, broke it. I also took my body that had been through years of that “dangerous, boring” conditioning and flew through a four year NCAA scholarship, swimming in the NCAA championships and breaking a school record at WSU (now also broken).

    In Florida, David coached Rhi for the first time, and Joe Skuba, who’d dropped out of USC as a freshman. He could barely swim a kilometre when he came to David’s pool, he was so out of shape. By the time David and Skuba parted ways, Skuba’s long course 100m freestyle time was 50.96. David also helped Ozzie Quevedo at the same time (Ozzie was an accomplished swimmer, and 2000 Olympian beforehand too). Ozzie ended up swimming a world record for 30-34 year olds in the 100m butterfly that season.

    He has coached Rhi twice, and both times her swimming has been great as a result.

    Lately, one of his swimmers has broken 9 minutes for the long course 800m freestyle for the first time, and as he pointed out, his young breaststroker, another Jane, is coming on as well.

    He may not churn out hundreds of fifteen year olds, but those who stick with his programme do well given their abilities. Everyone from the girl we had swim with us in Hawke’s Bay who was *the* most unnatural swimmer I’ve ever known, and who ended up swimming a 29 second long course 50m freestyle, to someone of the immense talent of Rhi.

    I don’t know when the “David Wright is shit” story is going to die, but since Toni went to Barcelona in 1992, I broke that record and won my national titles in 2001, Skuba swam his 50sec 100 in 2009, and Rhi is going to US Olympic Trials in 2012, I guess it’s here to stay.

  • Sensible Swimming

    Thanks Jane – I am delighted to see that David’s team are producing measurable results that vindicate what he is doing and his methods. It takes time for those results to show through. David knew that and I have read of his promise to the club that he would produce measurable improvements over time. The results David is reporting now with these swimmers demonstrate that he has taken a club and swimmers on a really positive path over the last 18 months. Of course, you always knew he would.

    This is the same club which had been a strong and successful force under Donna Bouzaid and earlier leaders until 2008, but which had been let down very badly by David’s immediate predecessors who had replaced Donna, who clearly were not up to the job and who had failed the same swimmers who David is helping today. This club was on its knees when David arrived and there were plenty of people to be found who believed that David would simply finish it off. Most certainly there was never any expectation that Nikki, Erica, Jane, Jessica or Justin would shine out under an earlier regime. Rhi knew more than others and came here because she knew from past experience that David ran the right programme for her. Her confidence in him is now showing that it was well placed.

    Time has shown that far from finishing off the club and its swimmers as many said he would, David has added a lot. For me personally I could not be more pleased for David that he is now enjoying the ‘fruit of his labours’.

    I am aware of ongoing criticism that gets leveled at David by amongst others the same people who he replaced and who would like nothing more than to see him fail. They and others, many of whom simply do not like David’s politics, have run a constant campaign of criticism which does get repeated. The success of David’s swimmers now leaves them uncomfortable and will undoubtedly result in them increasing rather than diminishing their criticism.

    David speaks of the virtues of honesty, diversity and what he calls rugged individualism. That same individualism and independence is often mistaken as rebellion and sedition. To take on the swimming establishment for as long as he has, often over such fundamental issues as integrity, will always draw the critics. Yet he backs his philosophy with his own actions and as you and he knew it would, it is now showing returns in the pool.

    I am confident that the people who listen to the “David Wright is s**t” critics do so out of ignorance of not only his coaching methods but also his past successes. That his coaching philosophies work is undisputed and yet as he himself has so often said, coaching diversity is a positive and healthy thing for our community as it gives swimmers choice.

    But there is nothing like a good set of meet results to dump on a critic’s parade.

  • Tom

    May be old news to some of you, but here is a report on the new (another – wait, didn’t we just have one?) review of SNZ: http://nz.sports.yahoo.com/news/article/-/11265974/swimming-nz-announces-major-review/

  • Curious and Curioser

    I have just seen this posted and it has got my blood boiling.


    Ross Butler is now Pegasus riding into to save swimming in New Zealand is he? Ross Butler is widely credited with bringing all the parties together and saving a bloodbath? I don’t think so. Ross Butler has been a director for a little over 4 years? Well I guess if 5 years 11 months and 3 weeks is a little over 4 years then that maybe true.

    What an absolute load of complete rubbish.

    David, please expose this man for the complete charlatan that he is. Get this man and his mate Byrne out of our sport and out of our lives. We have seen enough of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee thank you.

  • James T

    Geez David “where the bloody hell are ya?”

    Just seen a piece in the Sunday Star Times about FINA investigating SNZ. If true, what a massive slap-down. It doesn’t seem to be online though.