Disquieting Thoughts Fallout from the Great Swimsuit Debate of 2008


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Disquieting Thoughts Fallout from the Great Swimsuit Debate of 2008

Editorial by John Leonard | Posted: October 15, 2008

I’m proud that the ASCA Board took a firm stance opposed to the use of the new high tech swimsuits introduced in 2008 at its most recent Board Meeting in September of 2008. I’m gratified that the Board asked me to work on solving this issue in a reasonable way. I’m happy that the USA Swimming House of Delegates voted to restrict, in a “beginning” sort of way at its most recent meeting in Atlanta in Sept. I’m delighted that various Local Swimming Committees of USA Swimming have chose to enact even more restrictive legislation within their own LSC since then.

Its nice to know that a very authoritative source tells me that nearly 100% of Australian Coaches agree with us and want the tech suits banned for all ages including internationals.

And then the gnawing doubts start.

First, we’ve heard virtually nothing on this topic from Australia in official terms, except that they will follow the FINA rule. Australian Swimming is heavily sponsored by a major swimsuit manufacturer. Ok, well, surely the Australian Coaches will speak up as ASCA has done? No? Well, ASCTA is heavily sponsored by Australian Swimming. No independence there at all.

I’m sure USA Swimming will speak up officially from the leadership. No, the official silence is deafening. Volunteers at USA Swimming are leading the way in restricting the suits for age groupers. Good. USA Swimming also has a contractual relationship with a swimsuit manufacturer as does virtually every National Govering Body in the sport.

Now like a lot of people, when I am thinking something through, I argue with furniture a lot. Or my dashboard in the car. Or scenery on a run.

That dang couch is stubborn, the dashboard is downright obstinate, and the palm trees here in South Florida are downright arrogant!

As I argue with the couch, the dashboard and the palm trees about the suit issue, I say to them, “well, guys, if worst comes to worst, since all the coaches hate the new suits, we simply can tell our kids not to wear ’em.”

In fact, a high ranking volunteer (and coach) in USA Swimming told me, “while I agree with your premise, I am irritated that my coaches association is telling me, via pushing these rules, what to have my kids wear and don’t trust me to make the right decision on my own!”

I can’t even argue with that. I agree with him.

So I picture myself walking into every coaches meeting I attend in the next two years and saying “Listen Guys, even if FINA can’t see beyond their noses here, and the national federations are kowtowing to the suit companies, we can solve this problem on our own by just telling our kids they can’t wear the suit. Problem solved.”

And I know intuitively, that I am dead wrong. 100% wrong. Or more accurately, 92% wrong. Because that 8% is the number of coach owned or coach run programs in the United States of America.

IF you own or run your own club in the good ole US of A, and if you are brave enough to risk the estrangement of the parents on your team, or financially independent enough to not care, you can say “Guys, NO FANCY SUITS! Swim fast with hard work, attention to detail and guts, like its always been done, has always meant to be done and SHOULD be done.” I stand up for “no shortcuts,” no magic pills, no buying of success. Stand up for what you believe in.

But for the 92% of the clubs in the USA who are NOT coach owned or coach run, those coaches work, directly or indirectly, for parents. And THOSE coaches, are not going to be free to make the beautiful speach in the paragraph above, unless they want to risk their employment and their families regular eating of meals on their support of principle here.

Because “a lot” of parents will want to be “good mommies and daddies” and buy their children the latest and greatest gear for their activities – including fancy technical swimsuits that they can “grow into” (another gag line we’ve heard recently) that will make them magically faster than they are now, today, right now, without any additional work, effort or attention to stroke technique and detail. Buy some succcess, in other words. i And if they DON’T do it, in many of their communities, they will be doing their children a dis-service, and look like “bad mommies and daddies” to their kids and the other swim families around them.

And of course, the suits actually WORK to make poor swimmers better and good swimmers great. So all it takes is one or two parents with more money than sense, and values, and competition is no longer fair. And our sport, at the very local level of your community pool, is no longer about talent, hard work and attention to detail. Its about buying technology to give you what you are unwilling to work hard enough for.

And the entire nature of our sport, changes.

Do you want to coach kids to think they can buy success?

I don’t. I won’t. Its not what I’m in the sport to help teach.

But for those coaches out there who work for a parents group that is “in charge,” they likely won’t have a choice to reject the suits. Their parent groups will stand up four-square for their right to spend money to make their child faster with a magic suit. I heard just last week that it was “un-American” to set rules that limit what you can buy for your child.

Wow. I had no idea. I thought rules were for the betterment of society. And sport.

Most sports have rules. Rules about equipment. We don’t, because a group of men and some women who are called the FINA Bureau don’t understand our sport well enough to know what they set loose on the sport when they allowed the manufacturers to set the uniform rules. And the FINA Bureau is supposed to be the guardians of our sport and its legacy.

Some guardians. Some legacy.

So, what SHOULD coaches be telling their athletes to be wearingin competition? That will follow on the ASCA home page shortly. The bottom line, coach is that YOU need to be the guardian of the philosophy of our sport that you believe in.

The Leadership Issue, Exposed by the SwimSuit Issue.

The fact is, the FINA Bureau and their buddies running most sport federations are the last amateurs left in the Olympics.

Most disturbing is that 92% of American Coaches who are economically unable to direct their club as they see fit, because of their employment situation.

The suits bring all that to light, you see. If you can’t tell your athletes what you believe they should be wearing, in order to guard the integrity and fairness of our sport, what exactly are you in charge of?

I salute the 8%. I hope each of you who is in the 92%, is thinking immediately after reading this, “How can I join the 8%? “

Coaches need to guard the values and philosophies of our sport. Coaches need to lead. These are sobering conversations. Have them with your fellow coaches today. This suit discussion provides you with the perfect opportunity to exhibit and develop leadership whether you own your own swim club, or are the director of your swim club, or not. Coaches understand the sport. Many parents do not. This is a chance to rationally direct the conversation about suits to the conclusion that best serves the athlete and the sport. Leaders guard values and philosophies and help set them. And frankly, unless you have been involved in the sport for a significant period of time (as most coaches have) you will have a hard time understanding the damage that can be done by the Magic Bullet solution of buying better performances.

Coaches, exercise your leadership here.

John Leonard


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