Archive for January, 2022


Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

New Zealand is blessed with many hugely talented swim coaches. In spite of the effort administrators like Cotterill and Cameron made to destroy that vital infrastructure, we survived. And now with good people like Gary Francis around we have a chance to prosper.

But there is one aspect of coaching that is of concern. Most coaches are employed by committees made up of parents. Those parents include the good, the bad and the ugly. Believe me I have had as much experience of all three as any coach alive. I even ended up taking a case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal because of a very ugly member of a swimming club committee. But that is a story for another day.

This story is about one of the best coaches in New Zealand – Jon Winter. Over the years our paths have crossed on many occasions. It is true, my mother did teach him to swim in the Wainuiomata School pool. After a few lessons she had Jon diving for 50 cent pieces. For years as Jon went on to represent New Zealand at Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and Pan pacific Games, my mother told me it was her lessons that had honed his talent.

Years later Jon joined what became the Capital Club coached by Gary Hurring and me. I left the club but Jon went on with Gary to successfully represent New Zealand. In fact, the only independent swimmers on the Manchester Commonwealth Games team were Liz van Wellie, Toni Jeffs and Jon. The others were all members of Jan Cameron’s centralised squad in Auckland. Jan called a “team meeting” on their first day in Manchester and excluded the three independent swimmers. Only her Auckland exclusive group was invited. Ironically the three non-Jan swimmers were by far and away the most successful at the Games.

Jon went on to coach for 11 years at the Sun Devils Club in Hastings. He took that club from nothing to one of the best in New Zealand. I would have thought coaching a New Zealand champion and record holder out of that Hasting’s concrete bath, an impossible task. But Jon did it. Interestingly William Benson who followed Jon has done the same thing.

Then Jon went to Auckland and coached at the United Club for four years.

And for the last 11 years he has coached Raptors Swimming, both at their old rundown pool beside the beach and at their new facility.

Without question his career as a swimmer and as a coach has been stellar. I’ve watched him coach on several occasions. He has a talent for the job possessed by very few. Jon is a natural teacher. He is able to get swimmers to work hard and enjoy the experience. He employs a subtle use of games and hard work that is beyond my understanding. Most swimmers coached by Jon will end their careers well satisfied with the experience.

And he can produce results. In the past couple of years three Raptor swimmers have accepted scholarships to swim and study in the United States. Jon has given them much more than a successful swimming career. He has given them a head start on life. At West Auckland Aquatics I had two swimmers leave in the same year to study and swim on an American scholarship. One lunatic Board member asked me why our best swimmers “were leaving in droves”. What an idiot. I bet Jon is being asked the same thing by some intellectually challenged Board member.

Anyway, what the Raptors’ Board has decided to do is advertise Jon’s job. The Board say their decision is to make sure the Club has the best possible person in the coaching position. I have several thoughts on that suicidal action:

  1. Why would any committee decide to undermine the spirit and commitment of their most valuable asset?
  2. Do they understand they already have one of New Zealand’s best?
  3. Do the Committee realise that 99% of the membership are committed and loyal to their current coach?
  4. Has anyone ever listed anything he has done wrong?
  5. Do they have any idea of Jon’s depth of experience as a swimmer and a coach?
  6. Do they see the enjoyment their children get from swimming?
  7. Are they judging club numbers at the end of a nineteen-week lockdown? If they are, every coach in New Zealand would be for the chop.

For what it’s worth, for the good of Raptors Swimming, Jon should be reappointed. And certainly, NO COACH in New Zealand should apply for Jon’s job. With all swim coaching in New Zealand has gone through recently we can do without coaches eating one of their own.

Best wishes and God speed, Jon.


Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

There does not seem to be anything of interest rocking New Zealand swimming at present. So, I thought I would reminisce about my worst weather training day. I have some experience on the subject. I have coached through the fringes of Florida and Virgin Island’s tornadoes. Through my high school years, I trained every day in the Hawkes Bay, Hangaroa River. There were some bad weather moments there. Flooding, silt water that stung deep into your eyes and dead cows and sheep floating past were normal events during the winter months.

But the worst of the worst happened in Wellington. For three years at university, I was woken by my grandfather at 5.00am to be served with a huge plate of thick Scottish porridge. I then caught the 5.30am Kilbirnie to Courtney Place bus and walked around to the Freyberg Pool. “You can’t beat Wellington on a good day”. That walk was no exception: past the central fire station; past the Embassy Theatre, oblivious to the Peter Jackson first night events that were to make it the centre of worldwide attention; past Oriental Bay’s brightly coloured boat sheds broken only by the exclusive opulence of the Wellington Sailing Club. Unaware that years later I was to be entertained for lunch there by Bill Garlick, then President of the New Zealand Olympic Committee. And into the Freyberg Pool, usually just in time to see the SS Wahine glide the final few metres into port after its overnight journey from Christchurch.

But the 10 April 1968 was different. The rain and wind were lashing down. I was not looking forward to my morning walk. My grandfather recognised the problem and said he would drive me to training. As we battled down the hill, around the Basin Reserve, I saw the torn New Zealand flag and said, “Wow, this is pretty bad.”

Now my grandfather knew the meaning of bad weather. He had spent his working life as an engineer in the Royal and merchant navies. He smiled and said, “You will see a few like this, David. This is Wellington.”

Along Kent Terrace our Ford Prefect was being pushed across the road by savage gusts of wind. At the pool I discovered, apart from the receptionist, I was the only person there. For an hour I swam alone, peacefully unaware of the drama taking place outside. Unaware that is until I heard a crash. I stopped. Behind me, shattered into a thousand pieces was one of the pools huge plate glass windows. Unable to stand the beating of the Wellington winds it had given up the fight and crashed into the pool. That was the end of training for Wednesday 10 April 1968. I wasn’t too worried. Being Wednesday, it was my recovery swim. No great harm done.

Two other important events happened that day. Of course, the SS Wahine sank after it hit Barrett’s Reef at the entrance to Wellington Harbor. Tragically 51 people lost their lives. Over 200 were saved.

Wellington’s busses had stopped by the time I left the pool. I had to walk around to the cable car to get up the hill to university. By the time I got to the cable car my socks were soaking. When I began university, my mother had given me her Kirkaldy and Stains credit card with strict instructions that it was only to be used in an emergency. I convinced myself this qualified as an emergency. A few minutes later I emerged clothed in a lovely new, woolly and warm pair of socks. In three years, it was the only occasion I used her card.

As it turns out I could have saved myself the trip to university. Lectures were cancelled for the day. I spent it in the university library (with very warm feet) sitting in exactly the same chair as I was sitting in a year later listening to Neil Armstrong say, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Eventually I got home. My grandfather suggested we drive to Seatoun to see the Wahine. As we sat looking at the helpless hulk lying on its side in the now pacific still water, I couldn’t resist saying, “I hope you are wrong and there are not too many days like this in Wellington.”


Monday, January 17th, 2022

The image of a drunken Minister of the Crown breaking a child’s swing at a 10 Downing Street party the night before the Queen sat masked and alone at her husband’s funeral is disgusting and horrifying. It smacks of the same self-entitled arrogance shown by Djokovic. Johnson and Djokovic deserve to be banished to the scrapheap of history.

In the case of Boris Johnson, it is not the booze I object to. As is often the case, it is the surrounding circumstances – the amount, the timing and the effect on others. In fact, I am pretty liberal when it comes to the consumption of alcohol. Not the rule breaking that went on in Downing Street or the stories that swirled around some international swimming trips. There is no excuse for a drunken swimmer, sitting on some foreign toilet, having his photograph spread over the internet. A swimmer waking up in spew-soaked sheets is equally unacceptable. So no, drinking to excess is deplorable whether it happens at Downing Street or on a New Zealand swim team.

A legal age swimmer having a drink though is perfectly okay. For legal age swimmers I’ve always thought the attitude of Swimming New Zealand was Victorian nonsense. To be fair, Swimming New Zealand’s Code of Conduct and Swimmer’s Contracts have become more liberal in their attitude to swimmers having a drink.

In the past swimmers were asked to sign contracts that prohibited the consumption of alcohol. Toni Jeffs used to draw a line through the clause, initial it and send in the amended contract. She was never asked about the alteration. I thought her position was entirely appropriate. Although she only drank occasionally, she was legally allowed to drink. If she wanted a glass of wine during dinner or a beer on a hot day, it was no business of Swimming New Zealand. She had no intention of complying with the prohibition clause, so the correct action was the amend the contract.

She caused a stir at one National Championships by pointing out to the Dominion newspaper that while swimmer’s contracts had the prohibition clause, officials were upstairs at the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre, in full view of everyone, tucking into copious quantities of Federation supplied wine and cheese. It made for a great headline the following morning.

In 1992 New Zealand’s most successful swim coach, Duncan Laing and I were sitting together on a flight to Spain for what was then the World Short Course Championships. As our flight headed over the Tasman Sea a steward asked if we would like a drink. I ordered a beer. Duncan did the same.

“Thank God for that,” he said, “I thought this trip was going to be dry because you would insist on those Swimming New Zealand rules.” The rule he was talking about is still there. It says, “Encourage and promote a healthy lifestyle – refrain from smoking and drinking alcohol around athletes.” I have no idea why Swimming New Zealand believe that a beer on a 24-hour flight to Spain is not healthy. It sure didn’t seem to harm the performance of either of our swimmers. Both returned from the Championships with medals. Just think how good Danyon and Toni might have been if we had resisted the temptation to have that beer.

There have been some sanctimonious types in Swimming New Zealand. At a national Championship in Hamilton Mark Haumona had finished racing and came to me and asked if he could buy a six pack of beer and spend the next day surfing. I agreed and that is what Mark did. A week later I received a note from Swimming New Zealand asking me to explain why the National Coach, Mark Bone, had seen one of my swimmers walking out of a liquor store with a six pack of beer. Bone had complained that my swimmers were bringing the sport into disrepute. I explained that the swimmer was close to 30 years old and had asked and been given permission. Mark Bone should keep his interfering nose out of other people’s business.

It is interesting how the puritan busy-body attitude of the Mark Bone types compares with other views on alcohol around the world. In Germany, New Caledonia and Spain I have enjoyed many a drink in their training centre poolside bars. In every case a glass of wine and a salad beside the pool was relaxing and civilized. Hell would freeze over before Swimming New Zealand apply for a license to sell booze at the Millennium Pool. Besides what would Mark Bone say?

But perhaps the most civilised attitude to swimmers and alcohol is in France. When I went to my first Mare Nostrum Meet in Canet in the south of France, the reception lady gave me a present from the organisers. I was told each team got the same present. I opened my souvenir to find a gift box selection of 6-bottle wines from local vineyards. I’ve been back to Canet five times and every year have been welcomed with the same gift-wrapped sample of local wine. What a contrast with attitudes in New Zealand. What a promotion for a local industry. What a benefit to their national swim team. A team that knows they are adults competing in an adult world. Not Mark Bone led youths on their way to a swimming primary school.

In all this I’m not promoting some Downing Street Partygate. Not at all. As with all things, a mature attitude to alcohol helps produce a mature sport. And mature sports win big meets. Wouldn’t it be nice for Eyad and me and every club at the next National Championships to be presented with a gift of the Waiheke Mudbrick Flagship tasting case of six – two Chardonnay, two Syrah, one Cabernet Sauvignon and one Mudbrick Velvet. Duncan Laing’s son, now a prominent coach in New Zealand, could carry on a fine family tradition.

And that would be a swimming step forward into a brave new world.   


Saturday, January 15th, 2022

As we are about to enter the Halberg Award season, I thought it might be fun to look at the history of the event. What do the numbers tell us about New Zealand sport – if they tell us anything that is? For overseas readers the Halberg Award is the name given to the individual or team voted as New Zealand’s best sport’s person each year. There are five sub-categories, best Sport’s Man, best Sport’s Woman, best Team, best Para-athlete and best Coach.  

In 72 years, the main award has been made 69 times. Three years have been lost. 1961 and 1962 were missed for lack of interest. That omission robbed Peter Snell of one and possibly two additional awards. Also 2020 was missed because of COVID problems.

19 sports have been represented in the winning award. Without question that is a healthy sign of the diversity present in New Zealand sport. The leading sport by quite some way is athletics, whose members have won the supreme award on 17 (25%) occasions. Second place in the number of supreme awards is rowing. Members have won on 12 (17%) occasions. Third is rugby with 6 (8%) wins. Two sports, golf and cricket, follow with 5 wins each. Sailing has 4 wins. Swimming and motor sport have three wins each. Cycling, canoeing and netball have 2 wins each. The remaining 8 sports have one win each – tennis, boxing, squash, equestrian, triathlon, snow sport, basketball and football.  

I was surprised at the dominant performance of athletics. I guess that is a bit silly given the likes of Halberg, Snell, Walker, Faumuina, Walsh and Adams. The sport has had some pretty stelar names. That fact is reflected in their award’s performance. Their dominance may not have been expected but is entirely justified by performance.  

I also expected rugby to have more than 6 individual or team winners. That is probably only because of the history and national obsession for the sport. But to have less than one winner from rugby per decade does seem disappointing.  

What did not surprise me was the distorted weight of the supreme award in favour of men. Males have won the award on 50 occasions (73%) compared to women’s 19 (27%) wins. Something needs to be done about that. Fortunately, women like Valerie Adams and Lisa Carrington are beginning the drive for equality. New Zealand sport and New Zealand as a country will improve when this statistic shows more justice.

The highest number of supreme awards to the same individual or team is 3. 4 individuals or teams have won the award on 3 occasions – the All Blacks, the Rowing Eight, Villi (Adams) and Wadell. 6 individuals or teams have won the award twice – Bond/Murray, Hadlee, Mauger, Snell, Walker and Williams. The remaining 28 individual and team winners have won the award once.

Because this is a swimming biased blog, I guess we should mention the 3 winners from swimming. Phillipa Gould won the award in 1957, the same year she broke the world record for 200m and 220y backstroke. Gary Hurring won the award in 1978, the same year that he won the 200m backstroke at the Edmonton Commonwealth Games and won a silver medal at the World Swimming Championships. Years later I went to the Halberg Awards with Gary when they were held in Wellington. Danyon Loader won the award in 1996, the same year as he won the 200m and 400m freestyle at the Atlanta Olympic Games. The gap between swimming (3) and athletics (17) is far too big. Everyone involved in swimming needs to be on that case. It is my view that the years of centralised training have hurt this aspect of swimming. It is interesting to note, for example, that the three swimming winners were competing well before the days of swimming’s millennium madness. The experience of swimming is comparable to athletics where Halberg, Snell, Walker, Faumuina, Yvette and Roy Williams, Ryan, Taylor and Roe had nothing to do with government hand-outs or state supplied national coaches. Even the two most recent athletic winners Walsh and Adams negotiated their financial arrangements but held on to control of their coaching and competing independence. A Raelene Castle appointment is never going to tell those two how to put a shot. About 18 (26%) of winners have been involved in centralised training. The vast majority 51 (74%) have beaten the world the way Swimming New Zealand are structured now. Independent, local, competitive and proud. That sure is one important message of the Halberg Awards.


Wednesday, January 12th, 2022

In my time standing around a swimming pool I have been lucky enough to learn at the feet of four stunningly good coaches – Duncan Laing, Mark Schubert, Arch Jelley and Arthur Lydiard. All four coached an Olympic champion in either swimming or track and field. That fact alone meant they were good at their trade. But, why, I wondered. Was there something common to all four? Was there a characteristic that made them different? Did they coach in a way that was different from club coaches? Was there something that made these guys better than the rest?

It certainly wasn’t their personality or education. Both Mark Scubert and Arch Jelley are university educated. Arthur Lydiard and Duncan Laing ended their formal education at high school. So, education did not explain what I was looking for.

Their personalities were also different. There was a common care, a genuine warmth, for the athletes they coached. Authoritarian is not a word you would associate with these master coaches. They led their charges to the top of the world. But they did it with compassion.

Apart from that they were very different. Arthur was direct to a fault. Someone once told me Arthur was the only person who said hello like it was an order. But the same man always had a room available in his house for us to stay. If he was overseas, he would leave his house keys with the neighbors so we could stay for the weekend.

Duncan was similar, gruff, direct and warm. I remember when Jane was selected for her second New Zealand team, we arrived at Auckland Airport. Duncan’s first words were, “Hello blondie, how are you today?” Now, you need to understand, no one gets away with calling Jane terms like “blondie”. I was expecting an explosion. Instead, Jane smiled and said, “Very good. Thank you, Mr. Laing”. I guess it’s a thing called charisma.

Arch is quieter than the other three – more academic. And what an amazing life. He started in the Royal Navy during WW2 as a navigator on an escort submarine taking war supplies to the Russians. That would be a lifetime of adventure for most of us. Arch went on to lead New Zealand’s top teacher education school and coach some of the world’s best runners. I certainly owe him my career in coaching.

Mark is direct and tough beyond belief. I guess that is, in part, where the 10 Olympic Champions came from. But behind the granite is a warmth and care for the underdog. I rang him from Saudi Arabia to ask if he could help two girls who were mad on swimming but were not allowed to swim in their home country. In less than a week Mark had them a home to stay, they were in Huntington Beach and training in Mark’s programme. In Mark’s world everybody deserves a chance.

And so, if it is not education or personality, what does make these men different? And then one day I found the answer – simplicity. One look at a Laing, or a Schubert, or a Jelley, or a Lydiard programme and you know exactly the purpose – aerobic, anaerobic or speed – always separate, always obvious. The quality of simplicity stands out. The best in the world were telling me if it was time to do anaerobic training, then do that and go home. Simplicity drives some coaches and many parents crazy. For some reason the belief is that unless the programme is too difficult to understand it can’t be any good. But the purpose of training is to swim faster – not to impress parents.

In 2011 an assistant coach working for me went to a Swimming New Zealand training camp. She was surprised at the difference between the “aerobic” training used in our programme and the “aerobic” training demonstrated at the camp. Here is what had been written on the white board.


4×150 – 50 free and 50 fist closed and 50 free or back – sc take 1 less every 150

2×100 – kick NB on 4 positions

2×150 – back 6 underwater kicks off the walls, good streamlines and breakouts

2×100 – kick NB on 4 positions

2×150 – Pull Buoy, 100 moderate and 50 breathe 5 hard

8×25 – fins, odd underwater 15 fast, even dead start flags to flags sprint

Aerobic: Heart Rate 50 beats below maximum

1×200 – on 3.00 then 4×50 # 1 drill main stroke

2×200 – on 2.55 then 4×50 “King Fish” tumble main stroke

3×200 – on 2.50 then 4×50 free jump outs

4×200 – on 2.45 then 4×50 sprint middle 20 meters as a “King Fish” tumble

Dives and skills

I could see the reason for her confusion. I began my coaching career in a sport where aerobic conditioning meant spending three hours running at a firm pace through the Waitakere Ranges, or along forest trails in Boulder, Colorado or down a dusty road in Kenya’s Rift Valley. What did this fruit salad mix have to do with that sort of international aerobic conditioning? The answer, of course, is not a damn thing!

In fact, it is full of expressions common to tough anaerobic training programmes. For example:

  1. Breathe every five strokes hard.
  2. 8×25 underwater 15 meters fast.
  3. Dead start, flags to flags sprint.
  4. 4×50 jump outs.
  5. Sprint middle 20 meters as a “King Fish” tumble.

The sad aspect of a program like this is that for years Sport New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand taught this nonsense to young coaches. It will take time to clear New Zealand of the problems caused by centralised training. If you want an aerobic session run around the Waitakeres or swim a main set of 8000m straight.