Spot The Difference

By David

I guess the swimming world, and perhaps even the wider world, has identified the Mesa Grand Prix swimming meet in Arizona with the return of Michael Phelps. The public relations effect of his return has been truly remarkable. This morning his very good 52.84 swim in the heats of the 100 butterfly made the sports news on TV1, Maori TV, Sky Sport and Al Jazeera. Phelps deserves the acclaim. In a sport like swimming, making a comeback is very difficult. I would have said impossible. Clearly one swallow does not a summer make. Success in Rio is going to take a lot more than a 52 second heat swim at a domestic Grand Prix meet. Michael Phelps knows that better than any of us.

However, just as interesting as the result of the men’s 100 butterfly, was the following poster included on the Mesa meet’s website.

On Swimwatch we have spoken before about the difference between the recognition and treatment of coaches in the United States and New Zealand. You don’t believe me? Well just pause and read the poster again. A “social” for coaches at the “Arizona Golf Resort” from “8.30pm to 12.00am”. In New Zealand that alone is an impossible dream. Swimming New Zealand would never approve of a swim coach staying out until after midnight.

A few years ago, at the National Short Course Championships in Rotorua, Ross Anderson, Keith Stewart, Toni Jeffs and I were having dinner in the China Town Restaurant on Amahou Street. You should try it. It’s still there. Anyway, we were having a great time. Keith Stewart is one of New Zealand’s leading wine journalists. He was determined to see what New Zealand wine would produce the fastest 50 freestyle from Toni the following day. Ross Anderson had an endless line of stories that grew ever more suspect as the evening and the wine wore on. It was great fun. Toni was in the middle of helping Ross act out one of his stories when the god’s of Swimming New Zealand walked in for a very late night supper after one of their important meetings.

Sadly the evening died a bit after that. Clearly two coaches, a leading club administrator and New Zealand’s fastest swimmer were not supposed to be up, drinking and eating at 11.00 o’clock at night. Toni tried her best to rescue our reputations by breaking the NZ record for the 50 freestyle in the heats and again in the final the following day. Sadly, it did not work. A week later I got a letter from Swimming New Zealand asking me to explain why Toni Jeffs had been seen drinking wine in Rotorua. I thought it was a stupid question and none of their business, so I never replied.

Anyway back to the poster. It goes on to say, “complementary beer, wine and appetizers”. Can you imagine Miskimmin’s new Swimming New Zealand giving club coaches “complementary” anything? And certainly not beer and wine. In 1992 I flew to what was then the World Short Course Championships with New Zealand’s most successful swim coach, Duncan Laing. As our airplane climbed to 35,000 feet over the Tasman Sea I asked for a glass of wine with my lunch. Duncan’s deep voice said, “Thank God for that. I thought I was going to have to sit here without a drink in case you told Swimming New Zealand I’d been up to no good.” Brian Palmer and Bronwin Radford got a free lunch out of Miskimmin once. Unfortunately, there is the impression that Miskimmin’s largess ended up costing us the sport of swimming.

I think it’s fair to say that there is very little Swimming New Zealand give away. Generosity is not the first word that springs to my mind when I think of Layton, Renford, Lyles and Villenueva. But, when I think about it further, how can they give stuff away? Not when all those Mazda SUV’s have to be paid for.

There is however a serious side to the poster. A side that reflects the gulf that exists between the way coaches are treated in the United States and New Zealand. When Renford arrived in New Zealand he did a short tour of various clubs. He missed West Auckland Aquatics. I wonder why? Shortly afterwards he was interviewed by Radio Sport. He saved his most telling criticism for the performance of New Zealand swim coaches.

It is worthwhile reminding Renford that New Zealand coaches have a record that is significantly better than his precious Millennium Institute. I haven’t seen any Olympic Champions, Olympic place-getters or world record holder come from that pool, no matter how much money has been thrown at the folly.  Any recent damage to the standard of the country’s coaching is a direct result of policies pursued by his organization; policies that Renford currently endorses, promotes and defends.

In New Zealand every time a coach turns around someone from Swimming New Zealand is questioning his or her performance. Tell a person often enough that they are not as good, not as able, not as experienced as the national organization’s foreign import and it’s little wonder New Zealand coaches struggle. Treat us like monkeys and that’s what you will get. The implication of their promotion of the Millennium Institute and its foreign Australian boss, its foreign Spanish director and its foreign English coach is that we are not up to the job. Well we are.

The Americans value their coaches. I know. I coached there for eight years. America’s success and our failure is directly related the treatment of their and our coaching resources. In a Swimwatch story recently I said we needed a Millennium Institute of twenty or thirty well-resourced and respected coaches from all over the country. New Zealand coaches need to be well managed. They need their work to be valued. And that’s impossible while the Miskimmin philosophy of centralized delivery is pursued by his foreign imported underlings.

I wish it were otherwise but in New Zealand our Coaches Social from 8.30pm to 12.00am including complimentary beer, wine and appetizers will have to wait for another day.