Archive for June, 2013

Lock Up Your Daughters And Sons

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

By David

I’m not sure how many swimmers are in Swimming New Zealand’s Millennium Squad. My guess is seven. There used to be quite a few more. But then Burmester, by his own admission, broken and disillusioned, retired, Mellisa Ingram gave up the fight and strangely started working for those who had denied her the prospect of swimming fame, Glen Synders and Kane Radford realized their mistake and fled the country, others, like Penelope Marshall and Karl O’Donnell, retired after their trip to the London Olympics and a couple of others found refuge in the North Shore Club program.

The end result is that Miskimmin’s new national swimming coach, David Lyles, has only seven swimmers on which to exercise his highly trumpeted talents. What was it the new CEO of swimming, Christian Renford, said; something about being delighted to have attracted someone of Lyles’ status?

“He brings the highest quality technical skill set for our elite swimmers, and has the record at international level in terms of not only producing finalists and medallists but in developing a world class programme.”

It is an unusual; perhaps even bizarre circumstance – the state employs a coach, pays him the highest wage of any New Zealand swimming coach and then provides him with a team of only seven swimmers. It must be the only team in the world with more lanes than swimmers. The support staff of High Performance Director, Coach, physiotherapists, massage therapists, psychologists, mechanical analysts, whole-of-life trainers, medical staff and dry-land trainers well outnumber the swimmers. I’ve lost track of what the whole thing costs. I think the High Performance budget is around $1.6 million. That has to pay for Gary Hurring’s Wellington team as well, so let’s say Lyles’ seven swimmers cost you and me $800,000 per year; that’s $115,000 per swimmer. Not even Michael Phelps costs his team that amount each year. There is not a private enterprise program anywhere in the world that could survive that level of training cost. At West Auckland Aquatics we provide a Millennium service, including a USA Level Five coach, for about $2000 per swimmer.

I suspect New Zealand can’t support the indulgence of $115,000 per swimmer for long. New Zealand’s highest paid swimming coach must spend most of his time at training, reading or playing space invaders. Lyles can’t be happy. A legitimate swimming program, even one funded by the state, for a privileged few, requires more than seven swimmers.

I have no doubt that Lyles has given Swimming New Zealand’s High Performance Director, Luis Villanueva, a piece of his mind – “go find me some more swimmers”. To run a successful program Lyles needs a team of at least 20 swimmers. I’m guessing that nothing will be done before the Barcelona World Championships. But after that Swimming New Zealand will be out hunting for swimmers to join the government’s swim program. And that should be of very serious concern to every club coach in the country.

The chances are that, in three months, Luis Villanueva and David Lyles will have their eyes set firmly on every good swimmer in New Zealand. No one will be safe. If Lyles wants a team of 20 swimmers, and he has only seven now, then he’s looking for thirteen more. And the only place SNZ can find them is in your squad and mine.

The game will be massively unfair. The state needs swimmers. Renford, sanctioned by Miskimmin, will do and pay whatever it takes; advertising, promotion, clandestine meetings with parents at the Wellington Short Course Nationals, trips to see the North Shore facility, coffee in the Millennium’s entrance hall coffee shop with its line-up of flat screen televisions and offers of accommodation and education. Resources will be applied beyond anything clubs can afford, beyond anything clubs can imagine. The state needs swimmers and will happily strip bare your club and mine to get them.

Renford recently ordered Swimming New Zealand staff to include the words, “Excellence Integrity, Accountability” at the end of all Swimming New Zealand correspondence. Do you think his words mean anything or are they a meaningless extract from the Reader’s Digest school of management? Why anyone would align a New Zealand sport with the US military’s dictum of, “Integrity, Service, Excellence”, I have no idea. Is Renford planning to invade someone? Well, yes he is – your swim club and mine.

Many swim teams have members who will attract the attention of SNZ. I have two. One of them is the National Short Course 50 breaststroke champion. Just like Duncan Laing did with Danyon Loader and Bret Naylor did with Anna Simcic I have spent countless hours preparing these swimmers for bigger contests ahead. Every coach in New Zealand with similar swimmers has done no less. That is our job. I described what club coaches do in my first book on swimming, “Swim to the Top”.

So a coach is someone with whom you travel, who is a means of conveying the student or athlete along a rough road to a difficult destination. There is a moral in the dry dust of the dictionary. If we think of coaching as a means of travel, we may perceive more clearly both the importance and the limits of the coach’s role. The coach has indispensable functions: to instruct, to motivate and to inculcate strategy, especially that long-term strategy which no young competitor can know by instinct. The coach should also observe clearly defined limits: not to intrude into the ultimate aloneness of the competitor nor to diminish the essentially individual satisfaction of sporting achievement. The coach’s achievement and satisfaction are equally real, equally valid, but different. The means of travel is not the traveller.

That is our function. That is our investment. What we do has nothing to do with supplying swimmers to a government swim school in Auckland. But I have no confidence SNZ will act with anything resembling, excellence, integrity or accountability.  SNZ will see their poaching as vital to the strength of the Millennium program and by extension to the survival of Miskimmin and the reputation of the state. With the efficiency of an 18th century press gang SNZ will find parents unable to resist the lure of the Millennium’s offer of honeypot services. Club after club will be invaded, raped and pillaged by those responsible for the protection of clubs. Miskimmin, Renford and Villanueva will get away with it. In the love fest going on just now any atrocity will be forgiven. And swimming in New Zealand will have lost again.

Certainly it is about time New Zealand clubs protected themselves from a voracious and predatory Swimming New Zealand program. Each club has invested heavily in the sort of swimmers Swimming New Zealand is out to snatch. Those club assets should be protected. Good swimmers should not be relinquished without appropriate compensation. But what can we do?

Well, guidance on the subject is provided by a sport that has one hundred years of history on the subject of player retention and player transfers – British Football. In their sport, talented young players are contracted into a Club’s two or four year Training Academy Program. Transfers out of a club’s training academy are then tightly controlled. For example, if a player wishes to terminate his registration for any reason the Club holding the player’s registration will be entitled to compensation for that player. Any direct or indirect approach to training academy players is a serious breach of the rules.

Of course SNZ, with behaviour devoid of any integrity or accountability, try and get around the ethics of good governance by saying Millennium swimmers are still members of their home clubs. For example, Mathew Stanley still maintains the charade of swimming for Matamata. But membership of a swimming club’s “training academy” gets around this sham. Each club is entitled to compensation, not for transferring from the club, but for a swimmer transferring from the club’s training academy.

In the case of swimming, an athlete transferring to the Millennium training facility should cost SNZ four years training fees of $8000 plus a compensation fee of $2000 for approaching the swimmer without consulting the current coach; a total of $10,000 per swimmer. That’s $130,000 for the thirteen swimmers Renford is chasing; a small price for the work done by those swimmers’ home programs. It’s an idea. New Zealand club members need protection.

There may be some who see this sort of suggestion, not as protection, but as preventing swimmers take advantage of the Millennium’s plenteousness. But, believe me, this is protection. Just look at the history of use and rejection that’s gone on in that place. As a close friend of mine said, “Just have a look at the athletes they have trained. If none have an Olympic medal, that’s how you’ll end up!” Here, in the private enterprise world, we’ve certainly done better than that. Give it some thought. Perhaps enrolling your best swimmers in a club training academy could be in the very best interests of them, their coach and their club.

Christan Renford on Christian Renford

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

By David

In our previous posting we discussed a Lee Radovanovich interview with Christian Renford, the new CEO of Swimming New Zealand. Our main concern was to determine Renford’s position on the centralized delivery of elite sport compared to a diversified federal approach.

However this was not the only item of interest to emerge from the discussion on Radio Sport. Renford had some pretty telling things to say about the standard of coaching he had seen on his tour of New Zealand swimming clubs. I have no idea whether Renford has any academic or practical training that qualifies him to pass judgement on the standard of New Zealand swim coaches. I suspect he has none. However he did it anyway.

This is what he said. “One of the central themes that has come out of my Regional tour, I think, it (coaching) is an area where we need to do more work in. It’s an area where we need to put a bit more attention to.”

And when Lee Radovanovich asked him to explain why the new National Coach, the High Performance Director, the CEO of Swimming New Zealand and the Director of High Performance Sport New Zealand were all aliens, Christian Renford had this to say;

If we had the domestic talent that we needed we would have been looking in that (the New Zealand) direction. You need to hunt for the best talent you can get available in the water and out of the water and if they come from overseas then so be it. Your point before about building up our coaching depth is that we want to make sure we have a good calibre of domestic coaches pushing these guys. In the short term we absolutely have got the best talent that we can get our hands on for the national swim program.

I do note Renford’s aspiration to have “domestic coaches pushing these guys”. Rest assured this domestic swim coach and contributor to Swimwatch will work tirelessly to make certain Renford’s request is satisfied in full measure.

As for the rest of it, Christian Renford, thank you for nothing. How dare you come to New Zealand and after eight weeks dismiss the men and women who work in my profession. How dare you say that there is not a New Zealander good enough to manage High Performance Sport New Zealand or to manage Swimming New Zealand or to coach Lauren Boyle and her mates or to manage the SNZ High Performance Program. How dare you suggest that foreigners were needed because New Zealanders were not good enough. How bloody dare you.

I know of a dozen New Zealanders well qualified to fill all those positions. You don’t believe me? Well, go back to Australia and we’ll get one better qualified to do your job. Miskimmin’s worship of things foreign is an embarrassment – and it’s dangerous. You don’t think so? Well consider this.

Taking into account the pillaging of New Zealand coaching talent that went on through the decade of the Australian import that used to manage New Zealand Swimming’s High Performance Program, New Zealand coaches have done well to survive at all. For ten years Swimming New Zealand openly poached New Zealand’s best swimmers. Three came from Greg Meade in Gisborne, one came from Russell Geange in Carterton, Gary Hurring in Wellington supplied three or four, Hamilton sent two or three to the North Shore, Hastings sent three, Matamata sent a couple and so did Christchurch. It was an institutionalized human heist.

You do not need to be the holder of a USA Swimming Level Five coaching diploma to know that it is difficult for home coaches to perfect their coaching skills when the sport’s national body snatches the country’s best swimmers and ships them off to the Millennium Institute. When that has been standard practice for ten years the coaching destruction is nuclear. The standard of New Zealand coaching is excellent given the hurt an Australian caused the sport. And according to the new Australian, Renford, that submissive role for New Zealand club coaches is just fine. Remember what he told Radovanovich, “We need to make sure that (the centralist elite program) is supported by a decentralized development pathway that underpins the centralized model”. If we take him at his word, the future for New Zealand coaches is as bleak as it was under the last Australian to run this sport.

Before I discuss the next aspect of the foreigners that run New Zealand sport, let me tell you that I have some knowledge of family members competing for different countries. My wife, Alison, ran for New Zealand, Scotland and Great Britain. My daughter, Jane, swam for New Zealand and the United States Virgin Islands.

I make that point only to demonstrate that I have no problem with athletes whose careers involve representing two or three different nations. My understanding is however being tested when I noticed that the Canadian who is in charge of High Performance Sport New Zealand, Alex Baumann, has two children who are both good swimmers and train with a New Zealand swimming club. They could have chosen to go through the process involved in becoming eligible to represent their new home; the country that has provided their family with a generous life style. Instead, at the Santa Clara Meet this weekend, Baumann’s daughter chose to represent Canada.

I am sure his family’s allegiance to Canada will not affect Baumann’s ability to promote high performance New Zealand athletes. The perception, though, of divided commitment is not a good one. In international sport exclusive loyalty and national pride are important qualities. The perception that the boss of High Performance Sport may have divided allegiances – even if he hasn’t – is not a good one; especially when his organization spends $60 million of our money on elite sport. After all Baumann’s daughter swims the same events as New Zealand’s best swimmer, Lauren Boyle. If both make the 800 final in Rio, the boss of High Performance Sport New Zealand should be rooting for a New Zealand win. The perception could be that his family and Canada might come first. And, as we know, if a thing is perceived to be true, even when it is not, it may be real in its consequences.

Finally, in this post, it may not be fully appreciated why I dislike the involvement of the state in the management of New Zealand sport. I have spoken about how a free enterprise method of elite sport management produces superior results. Certainly seventeen years of the state’s management of New Zealand swimming has been stunningly unsuccessful. I have also discussed my philosophical opposition to the state’s involvement in something that is none of its business. Only a committed Marxist would argue that employing swimming coaches and training swimmers is a legitimate role of the state. New Zealand has crossed that line; the state in the form of Sport New Zealand is involved in swimming up to its eye balls, and that is wrong.

However I also believe there is a darker, more sinister, danger in the state’s involvement in elite, representative sport. And here it is.

Renford and New Zealand would be well advised to remember that on every occasion that the state has become invested in the performance of a sport’s team, to the extent that the New Zealand state is now involved in swimming – it has ended badly. Just look at how deeply Miskimmin and the New Zealand Government are into the sport of swimming.

Miskimmin funded the Moller investigation into swimming. That cost the Government $178,171. He paid the two authors, Moller $31,406 and Sue Suckling $42,014. Travel and accommodation incurred during the inquiry cost the Government $42,245 and administration cost a further $20,506. The Government, in the form of Sport New Zealand then effectively, wrote the sport’s constitution, appointed its High Performance Sport Controller, its CEO, its High Performance Director, its National Coach, its Chairman and two of its Board members.

Miskimmin and Renford even shifted the sport’s national administrators into the same building used by the athletes. And that is really, really dangerous. That’s what the East Germans did. I know because, after the Seoul Olympic Games, I employed the East German National Women’s Coach for three years. Mike was clear. Much of the abuse that characterized sport in East German swimming was aided by the physical closeness in Potsdam of GDR managers, administrators and performers. Those functions are best kept geographically separate. Administrators should stay well away.

The New Zealand Government’s representative, Miskimmin, rejected federal management by the membership of swimming in favour of control by the state. The reputation of the New Zealand state is now inextricably tied to how fast Lauren Boyle and her Millennium mates can swim. If Boyle fails – the state fails. When the state has been in that position in the past bad things have happened. The East Germans indulged in systematic drug abuse. China did the same. State run sports have seen it all, bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft, and embezzlement. I do hope that the centralist, Government controlled path swimming in New Zealand has begun to travel does not end up in a very dark place. There was another way and we should have chosen it.


Monday, June 3rd, 2013

By David

Swimming New Zealand has a new CEO. His name is Christian Renford. He’s Australian. A couple of weeks ago he did a radio interview on his first eight weeks in the job. The journalist involved was, ex New Zealand tennis player, Lee Radovanovich. And Radovanovich was superb. With deceptive calm he quietly asked Renford all the questions that needed to be asked. More importantly his questions subtly exposed trickery and softly laid bare deception.

The interview needs to be listened to carefully. I’ve played it six times and am only now beginning to appreciate Radovanovich’s skill and Renford’s confusion. For any who think that the recent changes at Swimming New Zealand are more than window dressing, this interview will correct that sad misconception.

I was interested in Renford’s opinion on one core issue. What were his views on the relative merits of the centralized delivery of elite sport compared to a diversified federal structure? Thanks to the talent of Lee Radovanovich we found out how the new CEO of Swimming New Zealand views this subject. It seems that the policy that has failed New Zealand swimming, that has been proven not to work, is not about to change any time soon. The message from this interview was that the old failed centralized delivery of elite sport will not change. But this time, according to Renford, a new clutch of foreigners will do it better. Renford says it was never the policies that were wrong. The old policies just weren’t applied well enough.

Like those who have gone before him – Christian Renford is wrong. And he is about to spend millions proving it to us all over again. If that sounds harsh, see what you make of these extracts I have taken from the Radovanovich interview.

Recognizing that the term “centralized” delivery of swimming has lost favour in New Zealand Renford prefaced his comments on this subject with the claim that swimming is a “combination between a centralized and a decentralized model”. Being as swimming in New Zealand is now as centralist as any Soviet Republic, I wondered what on earth Renford was talking about. Had the smell of chlorine gas already affected his judgement? But then he explained. We he said “Need to make sure that (the centralist elite program) is supported by a decentralized development pathway that underpins the centralized model”.

So there you have it. In his own words the new CEO of Swimming New Zealand sees the function and role of every club coach in New Zealand as a provider of swimming talent to his coaches at the Millennium Institute. Jeremy Duncan, Paul Kent, Horst Miehe, Jonathan Winter, Donna Bouzaid, Greg Meade, David Wright and many others exist solely to nurture and pass on New Zealand’s best swimmers to David Lyles on the North Shore. Jan Cameron would be proud. Another Australian is selling her brand of snake oil.

Except Renford’s brand of centralized delivery is about to make Jan Cameron look like an Adam Smith of sporting liberalism. This is how Renford explained his socialist doctrine to Lee Radovanovich. “We need to be realistic where we put our funding. A very targeted focus can achieve on the world stage. We need to be a lot more targeted than what we’ve been in the past.”

Would you believe it? New Zealand has imported another Australian and this one, unbelievably, thinks Jan Cameron was too liberal. He wants to be even more targeted; more elitist. And ironically, Renford is another foreigner who will fail because of it.

Renford continued his Millennium empire theme when he discussed the appointment of new Head Coach, David Lyle. This is what he said. “His skill set is well suited to what we have at the moment, a relatively targeted program. It’s why we hunted him (Lyle) down, was his ability to work with individual athletes as opposed to leading an overall program. His one-on-one ability with individual athletes is something that we needed; was the shining light we saw coming from his direction”.

Surely the picture is beginning to emerge. The money, the new coach and the rest of us involved in New Zealand swimming are all about supplying and paying for a Miskimmin, Baumann, Renford empire of half a dozen swimmers at the Millennium Institute. This is not about finding another Loader in Dunedin or Simcic in Christchurch or Jeffs in Wellington or Moss, Kingsman and Hurring in Auckland. Stuff the “overall program”. This is about a few pampered swimmers and the bloated egos of the Millennium’s swimming bureaucracy. This is about paying whatever it takes to promote Boyle, Stanley and Kean in a desperate attempt to vindicate the socialist dream and state welfare lifestyles of the aliens who now run sport here. Of course the pressure of it all will prove too great and three more fine swimming talents will likely give up the fight as unfulfilled and barren as Burmester, McLean, Ingram, Norfolk, Kent, Fitch and others were, that went before them.

Sadly, Renford then made a really pathetic attempt to justify the state plundering other coach’s swimmers and putting them into the Millennium Institute. This is what he said. “By putting the best athletes together they are available to push themselves. We need to make sure the best are surrounded by the best and they can continuously push themselves.”

Renford needs to do some serious study or get off treating us like idiots. That sort of rubbish devalues himself and his position. There is no evidence to support the view that a group of good athletes training together perform better than an individual on their own. In fact the data on the winners of Olympic championships seems to support just the opposite. Would Phelps have been better if he had trained with Lochte? Almost certainly not. Was Loader disadvantaged by training on his own in Dunedin? No. I know of a dozen world class swimmers and track athletes who would go out of their way to avoid training with athletes of a similar standard – Ovett, Foster, Wright, Rudisha, Weir. Besides which, if training together is such a brilliant idea – how come Renford followers have been doing that on the North Shore of Auckland for seventeen years and still haven’t won a cracker. One of the first and most basic rules of good coaching is “It’s training not straining.” Putting the best in close proximity carries with it the huge risk of violating that imperative. When will they learn that Millennium Institutes, centralization and targeting in the two mainstream individual Olympic sports of swimming and athletics do not work?

Clearly sport in New Zealand is not about to experience a Christian revival. Swimming’s second coming is going to have to wait for its saviour on another day.