Time To Turn Out The Lights

By David

So now Regan has deserted the Millennium Institute. In what could be his most important contribution to swimming in New Zealand, he has resigned. Sport New Zealand’s wholly owned subsidiary, Swimming New Zealand, must be the only national sporting body on this planet with a multi-million dollar high performance center and no coach. Jan Cameron went, Scot Talbot-Cameron followed his mother and now Regan has had enough.

I’m delighted. It is no secret that I find the centralized delivery of elite sport abhorrent. The more damage that can be done to Swimming New Zealand’s so called elite program, the better. I have no time for anyone who has supported, swum in or worked in that place. All those who have participated in the Millennium program in any capacity have aided and abetted an organization that has done immeasurable harm to the sport of swimming. Those who have coached there should be ashamed. The Cameron and Miskimmin program has done nothing but damage those it was charged to serve.

I am not silly enough to think that the departure of Regan will sink Swimming New Zealand’s love affair with the centralized delivery of sport. It will cause damage, and that is good, but it will not be fatal. We will need to see more failures; we will need to fight more battles before this sport sees true reform. The Coalition of Regions did their best but, as we predicted, they were out classed by a guileful foe. Defeated and without hope they have given up the fight. That is sad and reflects badly on the Coalition’s leadership. And so it is left to those of us who, six years ago, began this fight to see it through. And that is what we intend to do.

But, there is some light. We are not alone. Have a read of this article copied from the New Zealand “Stuff” news website.

“A former rugby representative and septuagenarian has turned a passion for the national game into a PhD. Tom Johnson, 74, who once played for Hawke’s Bay, completed his doctoral thesis – A case study of the Winning Ethos and Organisational Culture of the All Blacks (1950-2010) – at Massey University last year.

In November he became a doctor of philosophy in management. His 276-page thesis involved extensive interviews with captains and coaches of our most successful sports team, and investigated its organisational culture over three 20-year periods.

“It summarises the culture of New Zealand rugby over a 60-year period and looks at why it has been successful,” he said. The combination of a strong culture and an ability to adapt to change had been key to the team’s success since its first game in 1903.

He said the 2004-11 coaching team of Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith formalised an existing ethos of team leadership and was a recognition that “the old leadership principles of ‘one leader, one way of doing things’ wasn’t going to work”.

He said he had also found recent events within the national cricket team interesting. “One thing is very evident and that’s that there are leadership problems and that leadership group must bear responsibility for the dysfunctionality that has occurred, which is of course reflected in results. “I’ve always followed New Zealand cricket but I’ve always thought following our national team was the surest way to cure constipation,” he said.”

You have probably guessed already that the line that struck home to me is the one that says, “the old leadership principles of ‘one leader, one way of doing things’ wasn’t going to work”. Amen to that! Our argument has always been that the strength of USA and French swimming lay in their diversity. Strong swimming programs in Canet, Nice, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Gainesville, Marseille and a dozen other clubs, towns and cities produced almost every London Olympic swimming Gold Medallist. For ten years in New Zealand it’s been the Cameron, Ansorg, Talbot-Cameron, Regan way or nothing. And it didn’t work. They and it failed. It will not work in the future either. It is a structure that will never be strong enough to beat the swimmers that learn their trade in independent, private enterprise, entrepreneurial programs in the United States, France, Germany or Holland. Cameron was wrong and the coaches she employed compounded her error and the hurt it caused. Swimming New Zealand needs to read Mr Johnson’s thesis. On the wall of every club room, pinned to every coach’s white board, read out loud before every swimming Region’s Board Meeting should be his observation:

“The old leadership principles of ‘one leader, one way of doing things’ wasn’t going to work”.

Not as important but still relevant to the plight of swimming in New Zealand is Mr Johnson’s observation that “I’ve always followed New Zealand cricket but I’ve always thought following our national team was the surest way to cure constipation,” You see cricket and swimming have quite a bit in common. Winning is a distant memory, both sports can’t find or keep a decent coach, swimming and cricket love the idea of autocratic central control and their current management structures, at least that’s what they insist on calling them, are the product of the same man – Chris Moller. There is nothing more certain than the on-field disasters that have befallen both sports, reflect and are the product of, poor management. Peter Miskimmin seems to court failure. He appointed Chris Moller to sort out swimming’s problems knowing that Moller’s cricket empire is the laughing stock of world cricket. The new constitution, imposed by Moller and Miskimmin, and the management it spawns will lead this sport to the same sad state – the laughing stock of world swimming and most likely a second sure way to cure constipation.