Archive for February, 2019

Don’t Call These Two Wimps

Thursday, February 28th, 2019

PS: I have just received an email about the following post.

“Interesting too, that Peter Snell, John Walker, Murray Halberg and Nick Willis were all about 20 years old when the commenced serious training.”

I have written about the decision of the North Harbour Rugby Union to abandon under-14 representative rugby. Of course their decision is controversial. Some parents and media commentators have branded the decision as a symbol of national decline. They argue that New Zealand children are being raised as a bunch of wimps.

We know what the attitude of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) is to pre-teen children participating in competitive sport. SNZ has just completed what effectively amounts to a national championship for swimmers 12 years of age and under. For months SNZ advertised the event in the hope of attracting as many children as possible to national competition. I have no doubt that the primary motivation of SNZ CEO, Steve Johns, was not to exploit children. The motivation was to extract as much money as possible out of their parents. Someone has to cough up the inflated salaries paid to Johns and Francis. Why shouldn’t it be several hundred New Zealand children? Their athletic exploitation is a sad by-product.

Even a nation as competitive as the United States has long recognised the futility and destruction of pre-teen national championships. Their Junior Nationals are restricted to swimmers 18 and under. Qualifying times set for 18 year old swimmers effectively mean very few swimmers under-17 qualify. Certainly no 10 year olds are involved. But in New Zealand two weeks ago 309 children 10 years of age or under lined up to compete in the 50 freestyle national championship. How many 12 and under swam I have no idea; well over a thousand I would think. What a travesty. What an injustice. What stupidity. No one can tell me that Francis, Cotterill or Johns have the best interests of swimming at heart when they take money from a thousand young children and line them up for competitive slaughter.

On the subject of slaughter, 394 youngsters were disqualified in the junior championship. That’s another 394 children who will be looking around for another sport this week. Well done Gary Francis, top marks Steve Johns – another successful weekend for swimming in New Zealand. SNZ got paid plenty but the cost was far higher than that.

As you have probably realised I am full of admiration for the action taken by North Harbour rugby. Swimming would do well to take note; because I am not alone. In fact two of the toughest men of New Zealand rugby agree with me. Add their voices to the Country’s most successful Federation and one of the world’s most successful athletes and there is quite a formidable school that agrees with North Harbour rugby and disagrees with SNZ. Let’s look at the four opinions lined up against the policy being followed by Cotterill, Johns and Francis.

First the New Zealand Rugby Union has sent a strong message to its provincial unions and franchises, saying it sees little value in representative rugby at under-14 level. In a document sent to provincial, school, regional and Super Rugby bosses, the national body outlined its position on the merits of age-group rugby.

The letter, written by head of participation and development Steve Lancaster, made it clear that New Zealand Rugby feel representative rugby at a junior level was potentially counterproductive.

“We do not see value in representative programmes at under-14 and below in relation to both identifying those players likely to go on to the elite level and encouraging the largest pool of players who may have the ability to play at the elite level to stay in the game,” Lancaster wrote.

Second, the hard man of New Zealand Rugby, Buck Shelford, said he never made an age group side as a young player, but it didn’t impact his future.

“I got dropped out at primary school. They probably thought I was no good. I never made another team until I came to Auckland and made the Auckland under 17’s. I still wanted to win. I still wanted to play rugby at the highest level.

“I look at it and go, – well we didn’t play outside the Bay of Plenty in my day. Do you really need it for the kids that are that young? They can still aspire to win. They still play for their club sides. Do you really need a representative team to play in another tournament?

“I don’t think because you’re not in a rep team, you’ll stop developing. As you go through the college system most schools have pretty good coaches and they develop kids anyway and when they finish schools they go back to the club and get more development. So, do you really need to have representative football at a really young age?”

Third, Jeff Wilson, probably one of New Zealand’s most talented sportsmen who represented his country in rugby and cricket. He believes the changes will encourage more children to play rugby, whereas traditional club representative sides can leave some kids feeling disillusioned with the game.

“I feel pretty strongly about this, I actually think it’s a great move. I just don’t understand the reasoning with kids of that age, to say that they’re not good enough, and that ‘we’re going to pick these rep squads. When you say ‘rep squads’ a lot of clubs are saying that they’re rep teams but they’re just the best of a grade coming together. At that age it’s about enjoyment and trying to help as many kids enjoy the game as possible. It’s a great move. The priority is, particularly at a young age, let them get out there and have some fun and enjoy themselves.”

And fourth the great American sprinter Carl Lewis, who had more talent at a young age than just about anyone who has come before or since. On this subject he is reported to have said, “There is no correlation between a childhood success and a professional athlete.”

So there you have the choice. Do you take the advice of a bureaucrat New Plymouth Boys High School “wannabe” and a North Shore age group instructor? Or do you heed the advice of the country’s most successful federation, the country’s toughest rugby player and All Black captain, a hugely talented double international in rugby and cricket and a nine times Olympic Gold Medallist.

Of course you can decide. But for my money I’m going with the NZ Rugby Union, Wayne Shelford, Jeff Wilson and Carl Lewis. My guess is they have forgotten more about sport than the two bureaucrats, paid a fortune to sit in Antares Place, have ever known. Not that that would be too difficult.

Dew Point

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

I’m not sure what to think about the review into the Black Stick’s women’s hockey team. Lawyer Maria Dew found 24 of the 33 current and past players she interviewed had serious concerns about what she called a “negative environment”. She also found Hockey NZ had not done enough to respond to players’ concerns and to promote players’ welfare. Dew made five principal recommendations. These are shown in the table below.

1.    Establishing a role which will have oversight of the welfare of the Black Sticks women and be an extra communications channel

2.    Start the process to recruit a permanent head coach

3.    The appointment of an HR professional to advise the board, and sit on the people and culture committee

4.    Develop a workplace code of conduct

5.    Schedule opportunities for players to educate themselves on a HR policies, among them health and safety, well-being, discrimination, bullying and harassment

The reason for my confused attitude towards the Dew Report is because on the one hand I believe there has been a precious wallflower attitude in hockey towards a tough and successful coach. Player power has been allowed to run riot. On the other hand I support Maria Dew’s criticism of the head office of hockey and especially its attitude to health and safety, well-being, discrimination, bullying and harassment. Let’s look at each of these separately.

First – the accusation that players are wimps; too soft to hack the tough side of good international coaching. There is evidence that this is certainly true. Financial supporter Sir Owen Glenn seems to think so. Radio DJ Mike Hosking thinks the sport has gone soft.The Chairman of Hockey, Mike Bignell, couldn’t even define “negative environment”. I have little doubt Mark Hager was a tough coach from the old school. But then so was or are Arthur Lydiard, Rusty Robertson, Dick Tonks, Arch Jelley, Duncan Laing, Steve Hansen and hopefully me.

Have I occasionally told an adult swimmer that their training effort was not good enough? I have even suggested that playing marbles would be a better use of their time. I have told Eyad and a dozen other senior swimmers that my Grandmother could swim better than them. Representing your country does not come easy. It is an awesome responsibility that requires the highest standards of application, discipline and performance. If, as they say, the fire is too hot in the kitchen, leave and do something else.

In this instance NZ Hockey and Maria Dew have failed to communicate that message. Hockey NZ Chairman is “deeply sorry” and begging for forgiveness. The players are running the asylum. There has been a mutiny. Captain Hager has been executed and the mutineers are sailing around the world on their personal “Bounty” at our expense. Two or three mutineers blamed a “toxic environment” when I suspect the only thing toxic was the player’s attitude to hard work and good old fashioned discipline.

And then on the other hand the Dew Report takes a shot at the administration of Hockey. If my experience in swimming is anything to go by these accusations and recommendations could well be true. How did Maria Dew put it? That’s right, she said – “Schedule opportunities for players to educate themselves on a HR policies, among them health and safety, well-being, discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) could well take that recommendation to heart. Oh, SNZ say all the right things in the sport’s Code of Conduct but Cotterill and Johns act as though the rules do not exist. I have no doubt they will continue to act as petty dictators, above the law, until it is too late and swimming looks as ridiculous as hockey. When that does happen – and it will – it will do none of us any good to say we told you so. In my opinion those two guys are as dumb as a post. And a post has the advantage of modesty.

I guess making the accusation that swimming ignores the Dew Report’s recommendation requires me to give examples.

Well here is example one. There is a coaching member of SNZ. Two years ago SNZ received a complaint about his coaching. The accusations were outrageous. They included claims that the coach had recommended senior female swimmers get pregnant so that they could take advantage of an early pregnancy boost in blood levels to train harder. The coach then said, according to the complaint, that the pregnancy should be terminated before the additional blood was required by the foetus. The coach was also charged with forcing senior female swimmers to attend an Auckland strip club.

SNZ took the complaint seriously and hired a senior criminal psychoanalyst to investigate and report on the complaint. SNZ assured the coach he would be given a full copy of the final report. The coach spent three days being grilled on the charges. It was a chilling experience. He said, she said, situations are always troubling. A report was prepared and the coach waited for his copy. It never arrived. He asked SNZ to honour their promise and send him the report. They refused. SNZ had lied. They were in breach of several of their Code of Conduct rules. Their behaviour made the problems in Hockey look like a Sunday school picnic.

The coach complained to the Privacy Commissioner. That organization is currently deciding on the legality of the SNZ refusal to provide the coach with the report. I suspect the conclusion will be that SNZ has acted with no regard for the “health and safety and well-being” of the coaching member. SNZ’s actions have shown the worst aspects of “discrimination, bullying and harassment”.

You may be wondering how does David Wright know this is a true story? I know because I am the coach. I will let you know what the Privacy Commissioner decides.

My second example involves a swimming member of SNZ. He had a difficult start to his swimming career. His home in Syria was bombed into a pile of rubble and family members were murdered by – we don’t actually know who pushed the button or pulled the trigger. It might have been an American or a Russian or a member of the Syrian army. I guess it doesn’t matter who. A pile of rubble and dead bodies don’t change because of where the bullets were made.

The swimmers family escaped to Saudi Arabia. Swimming was a struggle there as well. The Saudi government would not let him swim in their public swimming pools. The reason? He was Syrian and in apartheid Saudi Arabia, that’s enough.

Eventually he applied for refugee status in New Zealand and was accepted. His swimming began to improve. After one year in New Zealand he had best times of 51.71 for 100m SC freestyle and 23.64 for 50m SC freestyle. He was faster than the Syrian who had swum for the International Olympic Committees (IOC) refugee team at the Rio Olympic Games. Perhaps he too could join the IOC’s team and receive assistance to compensate for the impossibly difficult start to his swimming life.

But there was a problem. His IOC application had to be approved by the NZ Olympic Committee (NZOC) and they turned him down. Acting on information they received from SNZ, they said he wasn’t fast enough. He didn’t meet their standards. When he was faster than any other swimmer on the IOC refugee team why did SNZ and the NZOC have a problem? What was the real reason for refusing to progress his application?

Like the bullets that murdered his family members I guess the real source of the IOC and SNZ “discrimination, bullying and harassment” doesn’t matter. Its effect is just as devastating as the Saudi apartheid. New Zealand is a better place than that. The NZOC and SNZ deserve to be held to account and they will be. How do I know? I coach the swimmer. His name is Eyad Mosoud.

New Zealand sport is not being well led. On that Maria Dew and I appear to most certainly agree.

From The Home Front

Monday, February 25th, 2019

Alison was wandering through the library in Henderson, Auckland on Sunday. The picture here is what she discovered. There on display as a “new book” was a copy of “Shaping Successful Junior Swimmers”. That’s the book I completed recently. The Auckland City library website tells me copies are available in the Glenfield, Manukau and Henderson libraries.

The book discusses the errors that can cause damage to junior participation in sport. Certainly the problems discussed in the book are a current hot topic. North Harbour rugby is debating the issue of junior rugby and trialling a possible solution. Elite pathways for under 14 players have been abandoned. Participation in rugby is taking precedence over elite performance. Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) has long recognised the problem swimming has with junior dropout (estimated at 90% before 18 years of age) but continues to pursue policies that make it worse.

But the good news for SNZ is that they can now get a copy of a solution for free from their local library. And if the local library hasn’t got the book in stock, I’m told that Gary Francis can order it “on request” and in three days it will be available for him to collect for free from his local branch. If Steve Johns likes I’m happy to pop into his office and sign the title page to personalise his borrowed copy.

Just goes to show you the benefits being bestowed upon Auckland City from having Phil Goff as a Labour mayor. I told the Chairman of SNZ, Bruce Cotterill, that the weight of South Auckland voters in the election of the city’s mayor was a good thing. Just look at the books Phil is buying for his libraries. Perhaps it’s time for Cotterill to change his vote. Consider the positives. A good read about New Zealand swimming is available in the libraries of the country’s largest city. When was the last time that happened? Well-written, informative and local – what a bonus. (LOL) All it takes is a little effort to get over the fact it was written by that ignoramus David Wright.

But seriously the book does discuss an important issue. The centralised training policy followed by SNZ for ten years created a whole series of problems for junior swimming in New Zealand. The new SNZ policy initiated by Gary Francis is only making matters worse. “Shaping Successful Junior Swimmers” is an effort to suggest an alternative policy to reverse SNZ’s current suicidal program. And it is available to SNZ for free from all good Auckland City libraries.

Also on the home front this weekend Eyad swam in the Auckland Level One competition. He was entered in the 100 freestyle and the 100 IM. I was pleased with the results. He won them both in times of 52.64 and 1:00.64. There is still improvement required but with two weeks to go before Eyad swims in his main event for the summer season, the ASA Age Group Championships, he is in a good position to swim well. Entries have not closed but he is currently ranked third in the 50m freestyle and first in the 100m freestyle.

It will be interesting to see how Eyad performs in the championships. SNZ and the NZ Olympic Committee have recently refused to submit Eyad’s application for inclusion in the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) refugee program. In the Rio Olympic Games the IOC refugee program’s fastest swimmer, Ramis Anis, swam the 100 freestyle in 54.25. Eyad’s current PB is 53.41. It is interesting therefore to note that even though Eyad is faster than any refugee swimmer currently on the IOC refugee program, according to SNZ and the NZ Olympic Committee, in a letter received last week, Eyad “does not meet the criteria that has been set by Olympic Solidarity as determined by the NZOC”.

I believe that is a disgusting response founded on nothing but prejudice against the swimmer and/or his coach. Independent judicial authorities can look at the facts and decide. In the meantime Eyad and his coach will continue to improve and, in the process, make life more difficult for the prejudiced and discriminating face of New Zealand Olympic sport.

They Can’t Both Be Right

Sunday, February 24th, 2019

Well done North Harbour Rugby. The “Weekend Herald” has interviewed the General Manager of the North Harbour Union, David Gibson to discuss the Union’s decision to dissolve its junior representative program. Instead North Harbour will introduce “rugby development experiences” they are forming in conjunction with the clubs and that will be available to all players.

The dramatic shift in emphasis had been the result of 14 months’ work and was evidence-based, Gibson said. It was supported by figures released by New Zealand Rugby that showed a sharp drop-off in the numbers of school-age boys playing the national sport. One of the key reasons given for this was that teenagers quickly lost interest if they did not feel they were on a performance pathway. The evidence Gibson and his colleagues studied pointed to representative rugby and the prominence being given to high-performance as an impediment to participation. Introducing performance and representative programmes too early can create behaviours that discourage participation and have a negative impact on children’s physical and emotional development.

Harbour’s stance is supported by AUT academic Simon Walters, who runs the coaching research team.

“An overriding focus on winning at an early age has a number of costs,” he said. “These include closing the door on late developers and late maturers; children not developing the all-round skills they will need later if they stay with the sport; greater rates of overuse injuries; burnout and, ultimately, dropout.”

In my most recent book, “Shaping Successful Junior Swimmers” I argued the same points as are now being addressed by North Harbour rugby. Article after article in Swimwatch has criticized Cotterill, Johns and Francis for walking down the same path that North Harbour has rejected. The stupidity of Swimming New Zealand beggars belief.

Gary Francis is paid a fortune to produce lists of elite junior swimmers and cart them up to Auckland for training camps. And just like the centralised training that the Francis folly has replaced, the whole thing spells disaster. What does the AUT scientist, Simon Walters call it; “overuse injuries; burnout and, ultimately, dropout” How does David Gibson describe the effect of Francis style lists? This is what he said. “Teenagers quickly lost interest if they did not feel they were on a performance pathway.” In swimming we have Francis proudly producing “performance pathways” and wandering around New Zealand telling everyone how marvelous they are. Idiotic does not get close. In my view he is destroying a good and treasured sport.

Cotteril, Johns and Francis cannot be so stupid that they do not read or understand that the membership of their sport is constantly declining. They must know that income is down. They must see that Sport NZ is turning their back on swimming. They must be aware that no medals at the 2018 World Short Course Championships and one bronze in the Commonwealth Games is a catastrophic result. With all that evidence do they ever pause and ask why?

In fact they may ask the question but lack the knowledge or IQ or both to come up with an answer. Which is really dumb because they could have read “Shaping Successful Junior Swimmers” or the pages of Swimwatch. And now an AUT academic is telling them the same thing. Let me repeat in capitals for emphasis what he said.


So what does Gary Francis do in response to that warning? He produces another list of juniors capable of “winning at an early age”. Crazy, crazy stuff, but there you are, that’s Swimming New Zealand for you. The policy initiated by Francis and being followed by Cotterill and Johns is fatally flawed. It will inevitably see the further decline of swimming into a minority, nothing sport; a sport rejected by youth in favour of a more rewarding environment in places like North Harbor rugby.

Does anyone believe that your average city swim meet is a good, exciting and interesting place for young people to spend a day of their time? Of course it is not. Auckland makes it as difficult as possible just to get into and leave the meet. The policy they follow in opening and locking doors is designed to make attending their meet a nightmare.

Does anyone believe that badly trained officials who in New Zealand disqualify young swimmers at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world is good for the sport? Do Cotterill, Francis and Johns feel good about sending young swimmers home in tears because they have been disqualified by some overzealous autocrat? Is that good for the sport? Over my years in coaching I have attended 95 World Cup swim meets. The ultimate irony is that a seven year old in Auckland gets policed to a far higher standard than a world record holder in Paris ever is. Is that good for the sport?

Of course it is little wonder that Cotterill, Johns and Francis don’t understand the destruction of their policy. They are the vandals here. But when was the last time you saw any of them at an Auckland, Counties, Northland, Taranaki, HBPB or Southland swim meet? Never. That don’t know the wasteland they are creating. They never see it.

Following a more inclusive policy does not mean you are less competitive. It simply means you are waiting for the right time to be competitive. I coached a swimmer who could swim non-stop 800 meters when she was three years old. However she ended up swimming for New Zealand and earned a four year full ride in a Division One American University in an event she never swam at all until she was thirteen years old;  the 200 breaststroke. Why was she kept away from her best event? The answer is back up this page in the stuff printed in capitals. It is priceless advice.

For the love of this sport, please, please Antares Place read it slowly and try and understand. Or call Simon Walters or David Gibson. They may have more success in explaining it to you.

Double Fault

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

The news coming out of Tennis New Zealand is hard to ignore. Not because I have a deep interest New Zealand tennis, but because the timing of serious tennis problems seems to coincide with the period when the current CEO of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ), Steve Johns, was CEO of Tennis New Zealand. That’s either stunningly bad luck or Johns is a one man business disaster zone.

I have previously written two articles on the tennis problems dating back to the Steve Johns’ era and reported in the national press. This week the Stuff website reports on another list of problems dating back to when Johns was in charge of tennis. Here is the first Stuff quote.

While things aren’t as bad as they were a decade ago, where infighting, cliques and egos within Tennis NZ and the regions left tennis in a fractious state in New Zealand, these are the first signs that there is some discontent over the way things are being run.

Wow, consider that – the Chairman of SNZ, Bruce Cotterill, hired a guy to run swimming in New Zealand who is now being associated with “infighting, cliques and egos” that left tennis in a “fractious state”. If any of that is true it sounds like swimming has drawn a very short straw. Who are we to know whether the reports of the disaster Johns left behind in tennis are accurate or not? We simply don’t know.

However, there are two things we do know. We know that the performance of SNZ in the two years since Johns arrived has been pretty bad. Membership is down, income is down, government support is down and international elite performances have been a disaster. And second we know that the source of the reports coming out of Tennis New Zealand is pretty sound. The current Tennis New Zealand CEO, Julie Paterson, is the source of most of these reports. She should know the truth. Clearly she has a dim view of the shambles she inherited.

The second report this week comes directly from Julie Patterson. Here is what she is reported to have done recently.

“There’s a significant expense for that and under Julie’s leadership, she’s made the decision that we absorb all of the costs of that and don’t charge the kids for that representative opportunity anymore and in the past we have.”

Once again wow, wow, wow. This time the report is explaining why international tennis travel costs have gone up to an annual cost of $758,000 in the two years since Steve Johns left Tennis New Zealand. Julie Paterson’s explanation is that she decided to pay player’s international travel costs – something tennis did not do in the Johns’ era. The report says, “She’s made the decision that we absorb all of the costs of that.”

All I can say is well done Julie Patterson. She clearly has a strong appreciation of the things that are important. She knows what needs to be funded by the national organisation. And that’s more than can be said of the CEO we inherited from tennis. Remember it was six months ago that Steve Johns continued his old tennis trick of charging the players for everything. Elite swimmers were invoiced by the Johns’ administration for $84,800 to travel to a World Championship. You clearly wouldn’t find Julie Patterson doing that. I doubt that you’d find anyone doing that except Steve Johns.

In a Steve Johns administration as long as Johns and Francis and their mates are being paid, all is well with the world. Everyone else had better have their cheque books ready. They are about to pay big time.

Mind you the leadership Steve Johns gets from the SNZ Chairman, Bruce Cotterill, is nothing special. In a recent report in the North Shore Channel magazine Cotterill is reported to have said, “One of our goals at present is to drive down the ‘user pays’ component for parents.” It’s stating the obvious to say Cotterill has been on the SNZ Board for six years and this is still “one of our goals”. What a pathetic joke. Clearly Cotterill is incapable of sorting out the disaster of charging elite athletes $84,800. Perhaps we could help him. Maybe there is a nugget of advice that could solve the user pays problem in a heartbeat. What could it be?

I know – hire Julie Patterson to run SNZ. If she can find three quarters of a million dollars to fund players international travel she sure as hell could find 10% of that to get senior swimmers to a World Championship; something the guy she replaced at Tennis New Zealand was incapable of doing.