One Big Mistake


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Editorial by John Leonard

I am a big believer in the wisdom of the largest possible groups. One such is our House of Delegates of USA Swimming, which, despite its numerous flaws, is usually VERY GOOD at making the right choices for the overall good of the organization. But as pundits have pointed out over the years, it’s really hard for a group to “vote others into a position of influence and lower their own influence.” This proved out in late September at the USA Swimming Convention in California.

I find myself considerably disturbed that the HOD rejected the motion from its Governance Committee to re-order the days of the convention (beginning in 2019!!!) in order to allow our University coaches to attend and contribute to the house of delegates.

By my count, exactly two coaches who have been Olympic Coaches in the past 16 years were present at this year’s HOD. And both were there to speak to this issue and were not allowed to do so by the Chair of the HOD, who cut off debate with them at the microphone (a display of nastiness I have not seen the likes of in quite some time……surprising to me from that individual, since clearly, their comments, which might had helped educate the group, would not likely have changed the vote…)

Meanwhile, 16 year-old athletes in the elevator are discussing, “What time did you get in last night, 3 or 3:30?”

“Oh, 3:30! And Disney World is much better than Disneyland.”

We are prioritizing these voices over that of University Coaches in our most important meeting of the year?

I might be off in my count, but our very best, most elite coaches, are NOT at convention right now, except sometimes for a showing at Steering where a very few people see them and hear them.

We are all about Build, Promote and Achieve, are we not? Not BUILD, PROMOTE and achieve.

I wonder where our organization would be without our continued OLYMPIC SUCCESS. IF our organization is taking this for granted, we need a collective lesson in swimming history, looking specifically at our friends down under. IT IS NOT AUTOMATIC. Not even for us, and we’d have to be pretty stupid to screw up our advantages….but we can do it, apparently.

One way to screw it up, is to become more insulated, isolated, and listen to any more of these arguments about us being solely a “grass roots” organization. We are a NATIONAL GOVERNING BODY. Grass roots to Elite and including all. It seems MANY at the convention, who are paid by their LSC’s to attend, seem to think we are all about the grassroots.

As someone quite famous said last week, “I wonder how many of these people would be here if they had to pay their own way?” The “commitment level” of many of our grass roots volunteers runs “wallet deep” and no deeper. That’s why so many of them talk about convention week as their “reward” for their hard work during the year. Some reward for the rest of us.

Right now, our very BEST AND BRIGHTEST are effectively removed from our HOD decision making by the need to keep their jobs and be present for football/recruiting saturdays. And they are now removed essentially through 2020. The soonest we could have our best and brightest in attendence is 2021, IF we get this changed next year. One of those “best and brightest” said last week, “We need to do everything we can to get all of our minds in the same room and hear each other talk and listen to what each other is thinking.”

One of the most ridiculous arguments I heard against this proposal is “the college coaches don’t participate at the local level, why should we let them vote at the national level?” How about the vast majority of individuals/teams that never participate at the national level…that’s about 4/5ths of our club membership, represented in our LSC’s. How about we have a governing body that excludes all but those who are participating in our national championships? That makes about as much sense as excluding the University Coaches for failure to contribute locally….which of course is a lie anyway. Most Universities contribute facilities and expertise and camp opportunities to ALL in our LSC’s.

In my DNA from my earliest years in coaching (1970-76) is the FACT that all of sport is a pyramid. The Base (learn to swim, summer, league, age-group swimming) contributes to the PEAK (our Olympic Team) and the Peak contributes to (by inspiring and informing) the base. Development of one means development of BOTH. EACH must contribute to and support the other. It’s true in my club team and it’s true in every major team that aspires to excellence in all the world.

Rudyard Kipling said the same a few centuries earlier, with, “The Strength of the Wolf is the Pack. And the Strength of the Pack, is the Wolf.”

Our elite athletes, teams and coaches need the support of our Base. And our Base needs the Elite coaches, athletes and events to lead us in inspiration to be all that we can be.

If it’s just going to be about grass roots for the sake of grass roots, a lot of us are going to look for alternatives, where EVERYONE is valued.

We have essentially rejected our Olympic Coaches from our think tank, and their potential huge influence over important decisions there. Is this how a first class organization operates?

With complete respect to our USA Swimming Leaders both staff and volunteer, I agree that USA Swimming is the flagship of Olympic Sports in the USA. BUT, this sort of decision and the process it implies, will take us down from that lofty perch unless others are even more backward than we are. (Which I acknowledge may be possible.)

This is no small problem and if we think it is, we’re in trouble. The best organizations in the world ALL include their best thinkers in decision making, and “protect their rebels,” who bring new ideas to their organization.

We have good thinkers “as we are.” But if we honor and value achievement then we need to find a way to include our “best and brightest” (among them our collegiate and Olympic coaches..) in our decision making and discussion at the House of Delegates.

This “small thing” has huge long term consequences. We need a correction and a solution. JL

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