Should SNZ Come With A Health Warning?

By David

I’ve never understood the purpose of Swimming New Zealand training camps. For over twenty years I’ve sent swimmers to these events. On almost every occasion swimmers have returned home completely spent or physically injured. Anything good is very rare.

The best Swimming New Zealand camps involved Duncan Laing. I sent him the training planned for my swimmers. Duncan followed the program at the camp. Not once with Toni, Nichola or Jane did he stray from their planned schedule. He added his knowledge and personality to the training but the content was just what they would have done at home. Nichola and Jane performed well at two Pan Pacific Games and Toni broke a New Zealand record in Paris after spending time with Duncan Laing.

Toni walked out of a New Zealand training camp run by Bret Naylor. The training he wanted her to swim was so different to my schedules she climbed out of the pool, walked across to where I was sitting and said, “This is ridiculous. Go and tell him I’m leaving. I’ve had enough.” I did it because she was right.

However my most recent contact with a Swimming New Zealand training camp has exceeded any stupidity I have witnessed before. On the 22 May one of my swimmers was invited to attend the Swimming New Zealand National Youth Camp. This is what the Swimming New Zealand letter said.

Congratulations, you have been identified as one of the top Youth swimmers in the country. Swimming New Zealand cordially invites you to participate in the 2013 National Youth Camp – a part of the Youth and Age National Development Programme. These camps are an integral part of Swimming New Zealand’s National Development Pathway.

There will be a subsidy from SNZ to help keep costs down. However, there is a user pays component for this camp of $275 per swimmer.

I am sure you will agree, the invitation was certain to impress. With its “National Development Programmes” and “Pathways” and “top youth swimmers”, what fledgling athlete or their parents could resist. The national body had identified and selected the cream of the crop. This camp was a passport to fame. It was held last week from the 21-23 June at the Millennium Institute.

To understand the rest of this story I must tell you a little about the training my swimmers have been doing for the past twelve weeks. They have been swimming through the build-up aerobic portion of their training. Here is how I described this period of training in my first book, “Swim to the Top”.


“Build-up training is aerobic, swum at a pace within the swimmers’ capacity to use the oxygen they are getting to supply the energy they require. They are not going into oxygen debt. Runners have often described it as “moving at a pace at which the athlete can still hold a reasonable conversation”.

Any tiredness comes from the distance covered, not the speed. Because they are swimming up to 100kms a week swimmers are tired, but not puffed. Only a limited amount can be done to provide variety in steady-swimming pool work. Pull, kick and drills in all four strokes can be included but not much can be done in the way of pace variation. Everything is long and at a steady pace. Some fartlek swims are possible but the firm portions of these should not be too fast — avoid becoming anaerobic.”

So the West Auckland Aquatic’s swimmer that arrived at the SNZ National Youth Camp had been training at a relatively slow aerobic pace for twelve weeks – over 700 kilometres of long gentle swimming. That’s not to say she is exactly slow. In fact she is the current National Open Women’s Short Course 50 metres breaststroke champion. But at this stage of her preparation her speed had been put to one side while other physiological goals took priority.

And do you know the training session Swimming New Zealand gave this swimmer when she attended their Camp. Unbelievably some lunatic asked her to get into a swimming pool and swim 100×25 metre breaststroke sprints in under 18 seconds – going on an average of every 40 seconds. Yes, most certainly, Swimming New Zealand Camps should come with a government health warning. What they got the swimmer from our club to do was wrong in so many ways.

  1. No one called me to find out what training we had been doing prior to the camp. No one seemed to care whether Swimming New Zealand’s plans for country’s best young swimmers were compatible with their home training.
  2. Sprinting a young swimmer straight out of build-up conditioning is stunningly dangerous. It carries a huge risk of injury. Muscles get pulled and torn that way.
  3. Sprinting a young swimmer straight out of build-up conditioning can quickly lead to a condition called over training. Excessive fatigue and ill health can follow.
  4. Giving a young athlete a workout that, because of their current training, will certainly result in failure is gross bad coaching.

There should be no misunderstanding on what is being said here. I have no problem with 100×25 as a training session. For swimmers raised on a diet of that sort of thing I am sure 100×25 does all sorts of good things. What I do know is that for an athlete raised in an aerobic based program, 100x25s is just bloody stupid. Recognizing that truth does not require an American Swim Coaches International Level Five coaching diploma.

In fact the dangers are so starkly apparent, the lack of care so evident, one can only believe Swimming New Zealand’s coaching appointments are incompetent or simply don’t care. Well, we care Swimming New Zealand. When you invite one of my swimmers to your Millennium Institute you need to do a lot better than this. If you can’t, we would prefer to stay away in future. The best thing you did all weekend is make it positive certain that a West Auckland breaststroker has no interest in your ridiculous Millennium program. And for that we are all deeply thankful.




  • Jane_Copland

    It’s totally a matter of what you have been trained to do, and if the people running the training camp never even talked to you as her coach, surely that’s a massive oversight?

    When I turned up at Washington State in 2002, my new coaches were well-aware of the work I had done at home. By the time I was a year or so into that programme, I could have (and did) handle sets like 100 25s on 40. They were beneficial to me, but I was trained up to it. There were quite a few beneficial sets we did at WSU that would have been a bad idea straight-off-the-plane from Auckland. Similarly, if I had taken a teammate home for the summer who’d never done distance, asking her to jump into an 80 – 100km week would have been really stupid.

    That’s also why training in the first couple weeks of each school year felt like a relatively gentle discovery process for freshmen. The coaches, even though they’d spoken to the new recruits’ home coaches, were figuring things out. We actually had one “sprinter” turn up as a freshman and, over the period of 3 years, reach the US’s top 10 in the 1,650 (the NCAA alternative to the 1,500m, commonly referred to as “the mile” and the only true distance event swum at an NCAA championship level). Even if my coaches had decided that Erin swam more like a distance swimmer, they did not try and make an 18 year old who’d done nothing but 50s and 100s for six years into a miler overnight.

    I never understood the training-camp-with-a-coach-you-don’t-know thing either. I’ve been to a couple of them and the shock to the system of doing something totally different doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to be beneficial when done over a period of just a few days.

  • Trevor Nicholls

    It is with sadness that I hear your views on the SNZ camps in such a light after the huge effort put into the youth and age camps over the last 8 years, many of our current Aqua blacks have benefitted from the camp program along with our junior coach’s, I sincerely hope this has not all been in vane for all those involved that have contributed to their success.
    Trevor Nicholls