Time For A Change


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Time For A Change
An Editorial by John Leonard
“To enter into a practice is to enter into a relationship not only with its contemporary practitioners but also with those who have preceded us in the practice, particularly those whose achievements extended the reach of the practice to its present point. It is thus the achievement and the authority of tradition which I then confront and from which I have to learn. And for this learning, and the relationship to the past which it embodies, the virtues of justice, courage and truthfulness are prerequisite in precisely the same way and for precisely the same reasons as they are in sustaining present relationships within practices.”

from Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

In the practice of coaching swimming, I have learned over the course of my career that I have a direct connection to the past. From the personally instructed lessons I have learned from Peter Daland, Doc Counsilman, George Haines, Don Gambil and Forbes Carlile, to the reflected and written lessons I have learned from Matt Mann of Michigan, Harry Gallagher, and Frank Guthrie of Australia, Robert Kiputh of Yale, and the coaches of such great swimmers as Charles Daniels in 1906, Coach Otto Wahle, and Johnny Weismuller, Coach William Bachrach of the Illinois A.C. I am also connected to, and grateful for, the educational lessons learned in discussion with our great contemporary coaches like Niels Bouws of Germany, Lars Erik Paulsen and Sten Helquist of Sweden, Janos Satori of Hungary and Germany, Mark Schubert, Richard Quick, Jack Nelson, Ed Reese and so many others in the USA, and Don Talbot, Bill Nelson, Scott Volkers, Laurie Lawrence and others in Australia.

And I am aware that in my present position, I have been a conduit for knowledge and information passing on to a younger generation of coaches. The line of time, and coaching information is strong. Many of us do things daily that come from sources we do not even know, but that we have learned at the hand, the knee and the morning workouts of others.

Only a foolish person fails to appreciate the gift we are given by this linear relationship of coaching thought and advice. And only an ungrateful person does not respect and hold holy their responsibility to the past and the future of our sport. Respect our Sport. Respect the Game. Respect Racing. Respect Competition. Respect the Past, and hold dear the Future for your sons and daughters.

Yet the fact is that in the past thirty years, coaches have left the administration of the sport to others. To officials and administrators who did not have the coaching background that gives us the profound respect for the sport that coaches have. They have allowed our sport to degenerate into a drug-filled morass that sometimes seems impossible to extricate ourselves from. They have in some cases allowed their self-interest in joining the IOC or the FINA Bureau, to compromise their ability to stand up strongly for the integrity of the sport we hold dear.

For one hundred years, coaches have been excluded from the decision making mechanisms in FINA, the international body of our sport. As a result, people without true respect for the swimming arena have compromised themselves into our present drug and money dominated position. Perhaps they haven’t done so with harmful intent, but the result is now pathetically obvious.

The number two point of the WSCA “Three Points” document for change in world swimming, is to add swimmers and coaches to the FINA Bureau, for direct voting impact on how our sport is conducted. FINA still says NO to that request.

Coaches, the most knowledgeable part of our sport, the part that brings athletes into the sport, nurtures them throughout the process, and brings them to the highest level of achievements, are excluded from running our sport.

Athletes, on whose backs the sport rests, on whose energy and muscles the sport flexes its strength in world market positioning, are denied a place at the table, and only given a pittance of the huge sums of money raised by FINA through the athletes’ skills and effort.

Meanwhile, beaurocrats and functionaires run our sport at the FINA Bureau. Their lack of respect for our sport has put it in its present condition. Their mantra, whenever a problem has arisen, has been, “Leave it to us, coaches, we’ll take care of it. You go back down to the pool deck.”

No more! I say, loud and clear, we shall never again leave it to others to respect and protect our sport. It is time for change, time to do it ourselves.

At the Atlanta Games, I daily walked down a concrete path towards the pool with Coaches Nort Thornton and Peter Daland. We were going to work on the pool deck and in the stands. At one point, Peter and Nort were asked to help pick up garbage in the stands. Peter Daland. Dean of active American Coaches. Coach of more Olympians than Mustaapha Larfaoui has years in swimming. Nort Thornton. One of the most distinguished family names in all of swimming. Joe King, 84 year old Australian Coach of multiple Olympians, standing outside, unable to get in because he couldn’t get a ticket. Hoping for the kindness of others to let him in. All three, an outrage. I personally will not accept it anymore. I urge you not to accept it. We must demand respect for those who have made our sport great. And they are NOT administrators.

Peter Daland stood in the athletes’ section and tried to stop potential fistfights as athletes came into a seating section that was big enough for only 2/3 the number of the athletes entered in the meet. Trying to see their teammates swim. Trying to watch their sport. The athletes were not important enough to have their own seats reserved for them.

As we would walk down that path every day, we would pass a sign. It said “Olympic Family.” An arrow indicated, “go this way.” “This way” was to an air conditioned “tent” where cavier and fine champaign was being served daily. This “tent” was located on a balcony overlooking the entire venue, much as the old Roman Caesars and later, the Fascist Government leaders could overlook their vast domains. It was earily reminiscent of both. None of the coaches could go down that path. Nor could the athletes. This “tent” was where the “Olympic Family” could avoid being with the athletes and coaches, with the spectators, with anyone real.

The Olympic Family. It makes me see red even today, more than two years later.

I have a dream that someday the Olympic Family will be not the beaurocrats and money grubbers, not the sponsors who use the great Olympic Ideal and the symbol of the five rings for commercial gain, but the REAL Olympic Family…the athletes, the coaches, the officials, the ones who really respect what the sport is all about.

A family is about people who live together, work together, dream together and strive together. Not people who trade favors and political considerations with each other.

The real Olympic Family is Charles Daniels, Mark Spitz, Don Schollander, Shirley Babashoff, Shane Gould, Dawn Fraser, Adolph Kiefer, John Naber, Jon Sieben, Jeff Rouse, Vladimir Salnikov, Tracy Caulkins, Mary T. Meagher, and Kieran Perkins, and ALL their coaches, including Joe King, Nort Thornton and Peter Daland, among many, many others.

The Olympic Family is Athletes and Coaches. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different. And if you believe in the dream, help create world change. In Perth, at the World Championships, the American Swimming Coaches Association will propose to the World Swimming Coaches Association that we work on concert to form an organization that will promote, lobby for and stand up for three key points that WSCA presented and got 3000 signatures in support of. The time has come for hard lobbying by all those athletes, coaches and officials who believe in clean sport, in athletes and coaches in decision making positions, and in financial considerations for those who “are” the sport. To do so, we need a world-wide organization open to all these people, where their interests and efforts can be coordinated into a strong voice until change is made in our international governing body, FINA.

When the world returns from Perth, we’ll have a plan and perhaps, an organization. We’ll ask for your support.

We owe the support of ACTION to the line of coaches and athletes from 100 years of swimming competition. Its about respect.

John Leonard, December, 1997, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Regardless of its other faults, the governance of United States Swimming is a perfect example of how athletes and coaches can be properly and profitably included in the governance of swimming. Since its inception in 1978, United States Swimming has included and encouraged both athlete and coach participation in all levels of the sport. Athletes have been placed on all committees ranging from the Board of Directors (20%) to the most short term committees in operation. While not everyone agrees with all athlete input, it provides a balance that is useful and productive. Coaches have been active in the administration of the Board of Directors since the beginning, and on technical issues in particular, their advice is present, sought and listened to. Coaches have run for United States Swimming President and have won Vice-Presidential elections. The current organization of the structure of United States Swimming was suggested by a swimming coach, Mark Schubert, during his tenure on the USS Board. When the most successful swimming organization is history can include Coaches and Athletes, FINA should take notice.

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