The Root Of ‘Failure’ In Sport? An Open Letter

[Photo: courtesy of Swimming Australia]

“You mention the word “committees” in your next sentence and for those at the highest level of international sport, we all know that if you want to destroy high performance or compromise growth, then form a committee. This will do it quicker than anything else” – Bill Sweetenham in his open letter to Sir Clive Woodward, whose criticism of Australian sport has caused a storm Down Under

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“You mention the word “committees” in your next sentence and for those at the highest level of international sport, we all know that if you want to destroy high performance or compromise growth, then form a committee. This will do it quicker than anything else” – Bill Sweetenham in his open letter to Sir Clive Woodward, whose criticism of Australian sport has caused a storm Down Under

Comments

Coast Boy

Well said, and how true. I normally don’t agree with Mr Sweetenham but this time I feel he hit the nail on the head with 95% of his statements. Australian swimming is in trouble, it has been for a while. It started with the changes they did with the state programs especially in New South Wales getting rid of proven coaches and pushing swimmers into only 3 “super” programs. If they didn’t join this they lost their state funding. (this didn’t include any swimmer from the AIS).
Swimmers don’t work with all coaches.They need belief and feel like their coach has their back and always will support them and the coaches need to understand the swimmer and serve programs that will engage and challenge the swimmer within his limits.
Once you get rid of all the talented coaches who continued to produce swimmer after swimmer then this was the beginning of the end. But I don’t agree that Australia and England has swapped at least in swimming or even rugby (Wales is the current 6 Nations champions and fielded 8 starting positions in the B&I Lions). England swimming will always be dragged down by the long term development plan (introduced by Sweetenham). This will not only effect England now, but in the next 10 years if they don’t do anything about it. It is not used in Australia as promoted when it was introduced.

Craig Lord

Nice comment and valid points … thanks… a couple of notes: its British swimming…England only at Commonwealth Games. and… As for the long term planning, it was sorely needed after two decades of truly underwhelming team performances … I know that Australia swimming, like USA Swimming, includes long-term plans in its strategy (each nation a different basket / model, of course) … and, the record shows, in Sweetenham’s time in Britain, swimming was not dragged down but dragged up, no question.

Clive Rushton

Great report. Wonderful insights and aphorisms, as always, from Bill S, especially his highlight of the confusion amongst sports of the difference between management and leadership. It’s not only in sports; read all the leading business writings on “leadership” and most are actually about management. The same confusion exists between another current business buzzword, strategy, and planning. Articles purporting to be about strategizing deal with planning without realizing that planning is not strategy and strategy is not planning. Leadership and management hold the same condused relationship.

Definition of terms is a important factor in understanding the issues: Craig, you refer to long term planning needing to be in place after a period of underwhelming team performance. This is absolutely true and something that had been lacking in GBR for almost all the time I can remember. However, I believe Coast Boy was referring to long term athlete development models which is not quite the same thing and has, justifiably, come under quite severe criticism in recent years. I deliberately said “almost all the time I can remember” because I was privileged to be involved in some of the GBR national initiatives leading into the 1988 Olympics (1 each of gold, silver and bronze) and the following year’s European Championships where GBR had two world records, not a common occurrence in British swimming history either before or since that time. The components were identified and available for a world’s leading model to be implemented but the proposals were scuppers by the management policies and methods of the era.

Sir Clive Woodward’s original article identifies the Aussie problems as coach problems. I would say in 99% of issues relating to swimmers, the cause is a coach issue. However, there are areas of national policy where most coaches are unready or unwilling to go the blazer route and make a difference. A new NSO model is required which places, as Bill says, appropriate and effective accountability AND authority in the hands of coaches at each stratified level. Then we would see much more of Clive W’s wonderful ‘flying sulphur’ and its well- managed consequence, much more incredibly wonderful sporting success.

Craig Lord

Thanks Clive for all of that … and sorry coastboy if I misunderstood the point you were making

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