Archive for April, 2015

Don’t Believe Swimwatch? Try Fortune Magazine

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

By David

For ten years Swimwatch have published 100,000 words on the management chaos at Sport New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand. I have argued that the appalling standard of sport’s management in New Zealand has been directly responsible for two generations of lost New Zealand swimmers. I have no doubt that Miskimmin and Renford either discount me completely or can’t stand the mention of my name. But do I care? No. You see they are wrong; fatally wrong. You don’t believe me? Well ignore Swimwatch and read this summary of a report published in the highly respected “Fortune” magazine this week.


The secret is consistent management, according to a new study.

USA Swimming, with its 520 total Olympic medals (220 of them gold), is first among all countries—and it isn’t close. Australia, in second place, has only 171. Swimming has been among the most successful Olympic sports for the U.S. for more than 25 years. So: how is America so good at swimming?

You might be tempted to think the answer is as simple as “Michael Phelps.” But the U.S. has been dominant in the sport since long before Phelps’s first Olympics. And now the organization has produced a study that it believes explains why: management. The “excellence study,” which USA Swimming shared exclusively with Fortune, closely examines the leadership and structure of America’s swim program and concludes that it is the school (so to speak), and not any individual teacher or student, that drives the success.

For a sporting body to basically say “we win the most because we’re the best run” might sound unsurprising, and perhaps silly. But Chuck Wielgus, executive director of USA Swimming, is dead serious about the study and its findings. “We wanted to know,” he says, “what is USA Swimming doing so right?”

To answer that question, the U.S. Olympic Committee tapped Finbarr Kirwan, its high performance director

The study rests on the premise that consistency in structure has served American Olympic swimmers better than any one part of the program. USA Swimming’s motto is, “Build the base, promote the sport, achieve competitive success.”

You would assume all countries have the same rigid management map for their Olympic teams. But Kirwan says that’s not the case. In Ireland, he says, “people would often say that some of the athletes were succeeding despite the program, not because of it.” And it isn’t that young American amateur swimmers have more raw talent than young swimmers in other countries, either. Their talent is shaped more effectively: “The problem we had in Ireland was we couldn’t properly manage the talent,” says Kirwan. “The structured environment we have here just wasn’t in place.”

Clear definition of roles is another key to the program, and provides something of a corporate management lesson. Wielgus uses his own job as an example. He is executive director, and the coaches and athletes all know him, but he is careful to keep his sights on the business (“We’re a not-for-profit with a bottom-line orientation,” he says) and let the trainers and coaches fulfill their roles unfettered. “Performance by committee is a major mistake,” he says. “So coaches run their show, directors do their part, and it’s a separation of state.” There is also an entrepreneurial spirit among the staff.

Lochte says the program’s management structure is no lip service. “It all starts at the top, with Chuck,” he says. “We have a system. If you go to other countries, they’re going to say the same, but when it comes down to it, Team USA is just the best. And I think it’s because we have something in our system that we don’t break.”

And so back to Swimwatch – it seems the message to Miskimmin, Baumann and Renford is do whatever it is you do – but for the love of God stay out of our business. Wielgus calls it “a separation of state”. New Zealand, on the other hand practices authoritarian rule. Miskimmin has spent years interfering in areas of swimming he knows nothing about. His mismanagement infects those he hires. Just consider the arrogance of Renford, a rowing administrator, who arrived in New Zealand, did a week-long tour of some clubs and told Radio Sport that the problem with swimming was the poor standard of coaching. How would he know? Who the hell is he to decide? With management like that no wonder SNZ never gets anywhere near consistent Olympic success.

I think I might write an article for Fortune magazine. I’ve decided on the first two lines.


The secret is unreliable management, according to a new study.

Please Explain

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

By David

The Swimwatch blog was never intended to be a vehicle for pushing the author’s personal agenda. Ten years ago the first couple of stories were personal and addressed an issue I was having with the Napier City Council. But all that had a pretty short shelf life and we transformed the blog into a discussion on swimming in general and swimming administration in particular; subjects of much more interest than the life and times of David Wright.

However on this occasion I would like to address a personal event that did occur this week.

One of our swimmers recently attended a Swimming New Zealand coaching course. She passed the class work section of the qualification and was left to complete the practical poolside coaching hours. This she did working under my supervision coaching swimmers attending the 2015 Auckland Junior League. All that was needed was my signature confirming she had done the hours – and, as an aside, had done them very well indeed.

But wait, all was not what it seemed; enter Swimming New Zealand in the form of Donna Bouzaid. “David Wright” she said,” cannot sign off the coaching hours. He only has an American coaching qualification. We need to have the signature of a coach with a New Zealand qualification. Find someone else.”

Now there are several things really stupid about that demand; things that I believe reflect poorly on the integrity of author.

  1. The form is going to end up being signed by some NZ Bronze level coach who has no knowledge of nor took any part of supervising the student’s coaching hours. Well done Donna.
  2. My American Swim Coaches Association International Level 5 qualification is certainly the best known and probably the most respected coaching qualification in the world. This is what the ASCA website says about its five level certification process.

“The 5 Levels of the ASCA Certification Program each have its own required school. The purpose of these schools is to provide State-of-the Art fundamental information on coaching to the appropriate level of coaches. Since 1985, this 5-level progression of courses has been the world standard for coaching education, used in more than 18 nations around the globe.”

Well done Donna

  1. It beats me why signing off this form should all of a sudden become so important. I signed off exactly the same form two years ago for another one of our coaches without Donna’s interference. Well done Donna
  2. While I was writing this story I discussed it with a friend who then sent me the following email.

“That is disgusting. SNZ accept on a regular basis the signature of any Director or Owner of LTS programs across the country as a proof that Swim Instructors have put in their hours of  teaching be it poolside, in the pool or just shadowing other Instructors. This is clearly aimed at you personally.”

Well done Donna.

  1. I may well have missed it but in the “Education” section of the SNZ website I can find no reference to the signing supervisor requiring a specific New Zealand qualification. I’m prepared to be proven wrong but in the meantime – well done Donna.
  2. And finally the list of signing authorities who have no formal SNZ qualifications make Donna’s demands look ridiculous. For example:
  1. David Lyles has been the National Coach and has signed off all sorts of stuff with no NZ qualifications.
  2. Mark Regan has been the National Coach and has signed off all sorts of stuff with no NZ qualifications.
  3. Louis Villanueva has been the National Coach of sorts and has signed off all sorts of stuff with no NZ qualifications.
  4. Bill Sweetenham has been the acting National Coach and has signed off all sorts of stuff with no NZ qualifications.

It may be time for Donna to get onto her superiors about this clear neglect of her rules – well done Donna.


In the meantime the form will be signed. But in the process Swimming New Zealand will have lost just an inch more integrity; an inch more relevance.

Absent Without Leave

Monday, April 20th, 2015

By David

On many occasions recently I have been asked why Swimwatch has fallen silent. The reason was because other things were occupying my time but, just as importantly, Swimming New Zealand was doing a magnificent job of publicizing their abundant deficiencies. Swimwatch had become surplus to requirements. Mainstream journalists from Craig Lord in London to Juan Perez in Barcelona and Simon Plumb in Auckland were bringing the Renford and Miskimmin circus to the world far better than I could.

Swimming New Zealand’s treatment of David Lyles was a disgrace. The Employment Authority found that SNZ had done no wrong. I can understand that decision. In fact, given the evidence, the Authority clearly made the right decision. However the fact SNZ complied with the law does not mean what they did was just or morally right. Two years ago SNZ employed one of the world’s most respected coaches. Lyles committed himself and his family to the cause. But SNZ needed a scape goat to explain their dismal Commonwealth Games performance. The scape goat was David Lyles. A plan was prepared, presumably by Lyles’ boss, Villanueva and the CEO, ironically called “Christian” Renford. And on Friday last week, the 17 April 2015, David Lyles was no more.

You have to say though that David Lyles has had the last laugh. Several of his swimmers performed brilliantly at last week’s National Open Championships. With two making the World Championship team I do hope Lyles applies for a coaching position on the team. I wonder how SNZ plan to reject that just cause.

And then Lyles’ boss, Villanueva, announces he has had enough and is jumping off New Zealand’s swimming Titanic. Would you believe it? He effectively sacks the Head Coach and buggers off back to Spaiin; seems like he’s a responsible character. Baumann did a great job of selection there.

And then to tidy up the mess SNZ announce the following coaching plan for the $1.6 million per year, expensive folly known as the Millennium Institute

  1. Lyles would coach up until Friday the 17th April.
  2. Villanueva would take over the coaching for two weeks before he takes the Swimwatch counsel and buys a ticket back to Spain.
  3. Swimming New Zealand Board Member, Clive Power, will then defy the organization’s Constitutional order preventing him working for SNZ and will coach at the Millennium Institute through to the World Championships.
  4. Gary Hurring, being the decent chap he is, will then accept the hospital pass of coaching the New Zealand team at the World Championships.

A coach a month! I wonder what Sport New Zealand genius recommended that plan.

And so now you know why I stopped writing Swimwatch stories. Even the most loyal supporter of SNZ must accept this is a disaster that needs no explanation from Swimwatch. There is no need to ask me where Swimwatch has gone. We are sitting here just as amazed as you.

No wonder Lauren Boyle is on an airplane hot-foot back to her Australian coach. All I would ask is that as her Airbus A380 climbs above Auckland and turns west towards Brisbane could she pause for a moment and offer a short, sympathetic thought for those of us sentenced to life in the Swimming New Zealand mad house.


Rules? What Rules?

Friday, April 17th, 2015

By David

I was surprised when Swimming New Zealand decided to sign a form saying the Wellington’s Kilbirnie Pool complied with all FINA facility regulations. That simply was not true. But Swimming New Zealand signed Lauren Boyle’s World Record Application anyway. I thought their behaviour was one enormous lie. Why didn’t SNZ simply attach a note to the Record Application saying that although the Wellington pool did not meet the minimum depth requirement, the record should stand as the swimmer had received no advantage? In fact the shallow pool could well have made Boyle’s swim more difficult.

That would have been true. It would have been honest and Boyle would have received a world record unblemished by the spectre of administrative dishonesty.

However simple honesty does not seem to be part of Swimming New Zealand’s genetic DNA. That was highlighted again today when I received notification that Clive Power will coach SNZ’s Millennium Institute team. Clive Power is about to become SNZ’s temporary Head Coach.

Whether Clive Power is fit to coach at that level is a topic that could be debated well into the night. With no disrespect to Clive Power I do not think his qualifications or experience match the likes of Lyles, Regan or Rushton. Power did a great job in the Bay of Plenty. But that was the Bay of Plenty.

What I cannot understand is how he can be appointed temporary National Coach and remain a Board member of Swimming New Zealand. This is what the new Swimming New Zealand Constitution says on that subject.

No one is “eligible to be a Board member” who is “an employee of Swimming New Zealand” or “who holds any other key role in the sport”.

I have no doubt tricky SNZ could get around the “employee” clause. Just don’t pay him or have him work as a self-employed contractor – there are a million ways of skirting that rule. All of them dishonest but technically SNZ, being SNZ, would argue Power was not an employee.

But just how, even Swimming New Zealand, plan to slide around the “who holds any other key role in the sport” rule is beyond me. Perhaps Renford is about to tell us coaching the Millennium Institute swimmers is not a “key role”. Who knows?

Whatever they do it stinks. The Constitution is there to control the behaviour of those in charge, probably more than grass roots members like you and me. When those in power ignore or cheat on the rule of law, chaos will result. It always does. SNZ is a mess and it looks to me like that’s just what they deserve.


Now We Are Confused

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

By David

I have just arrived home after watching the first night of the New Zealand Open Swimming Championships and World Championship Trials. The swimming was pretty standard for a New Zealand national event. Lauren Boyle’s 4.06 in the 400 freestyle was probably the best swim of the night.

But real confusion was caused by Swimming New Zealand – isn’t it always – or more specifically caused by John Mace the President of Swimming New Zealand. He was asked to present Lauren Boyle with her FINA world record certificate. You may remember Boyle broke the world 1500 meter record in Wellington. The record attracted some controversy because Wellington’s Kilbirnie Pool, that we all thought she swam in, was below the minimum depth required by FINA rules.

But perhaps we were confused, because tonight John Mace told New Zealand on live Sky Television that Boyle spectacular swim was in fact swum in Wellington’s Freyberg Pool. Now that is strange because not only is the Freyberg Pool below the minimum FINA depth, it is also 33.33 yards long. However John Mace tells us that’s where Boyle’s performance took place – and as we know Swimming New Zealand are always right.

Well done Swimming New Zealand on cocking up Boyle’s presentation. You really are a stunning organization. Monty Python’s swimming circus.