It's been a while since I've commented on the articles of the foremost (outside of our own Tom Duke) swimming writer in jolly old England, Craig Lord. Yesterday, he posted something that I just couldn't ignore. It's one of the articles that reminds you that Lord's primary sources of information are an ever aging and conservative cadre of coaches and officials. He is the official mouthpiece of their grumbling. Yesterday's complaint? There are too many high level meets. Let's address his points:
How do I know who Lord's sources are? Let's look at some of the reasons and try and guess where they came from:
"many who serve on committees and commissions cannot be at the meetings where they are supposed to dispense advice to FINA"
"makes stars of 16-year-olds"
"runs in the face of what many leading programmes work towards when it comes to success on the very biggest of occasions, with leading coaches from USA to Hungary and Australia, China and many others sticking to the truth of the matter: one big moment a season suffices"
"It is a model that will not bring extra attention to swimming through more broadcast and print media outlets and coverage because no-one beyond the swimming world cares about a meet that does not feature the equivalent of Phelps Vs Lochte"
Some of the quotes are more obvious than others. The farther I have gotten in coaching the more I have realized that it is in the interest of those at the very top to centralize as much as possible. Why? Because it benefits them. If you are the coach of a World Champion swimmer, of course you don't want any of these distracting other meets in the way of your big meet.
So here is my argument against all of the above. I think that the wide swath of high level meets is great for a number of reasons. I think it serves as significant steps along the developmental ladder along the way to the true "big" meets that Lord mentions, Worlds and the Olympics. The leap from, say, Danish Nationals to World Championships is a huge one, made significantly more gradual by the presence of Nordic Juniors, European Juniors, European Short Course, the Mare Nostrum series, and more. I am arguing in much the same way Cliff Murray made an argument against the huge gap between US Sectional Champs and Junior Nationals. We can't have these chasms between levels of competitiveness, especially with the increasing frequency of professional, veteran swimmers.
Having a lot of "fast" meets also allows more new coaches to come into the fold. If the bar for prominence in coaching is set at getting a swimmer to the Olympics or World Championships, you're going to see considerably less change in the coaching ranks. The coaches of swimmers that have in the past coached someone to the Olympics will always have a higher likelihood to coach future Olympic talent.
Lastly, I think that these meets are the foundation for year round excitement about swimming. Lord is right that currently there is little excitement for a non World or Olympic meet. The problem comes primarily in promotion. This is really starting a whole entire other blog, but the promotion of swimming by FINA and many national governing bodies is poor at best. In fact, I'll save that for later. Until then...