Swim coach quit saga: the debate continues…

The original report:

This has to do with my previous posting on 7 July (see here) on the controversy surrounding the resignation of national swimming coach Jack Simon after just three months on the job and the parental furore that resulted from it.

Subsequently, I received this comment on 13 July from a reader who goes by the name “Concerned Swim Fan”, which I felt was quite interesting:

Having followed with interest the developments in SSA and its COE program, it was great to see that John Dempsey was elevating Singapore standards to a level that appeared very promising for the future.

 

With success comes envy and as it is often in Singapore, people in and around the SSA became envious about the looming success of the COE. Clubs always want a piece of this success to enroll swimmers, the SSA and more so the committee likes to dance to the whistle of the big clubs to get re-elected and the song goes on and on and on…..

 

Professional coaches like John Dempsey and Jack Simon that are without a doubt of world-class standard do not leave their swimmers without pressing reason and, more so, they wouldn’t leave them before one of the perhaps most important event  – the Olympic Games.

 

Now, wouldn’t it make objective people think that if two international top coaches that are working subsequent from each other leave in such a short period of time and moreover just before the Olympics, something is wrong with the environment or conditions they are facing?

 

These are conditions and an environment that the SSA is creating and is responsible for. To be a coach that brings National success through the swimmers in the Olympics is a situation that breeds envy and in the SSA, this envy finds nutritious ground to grow.

 

Unfortunately, like in many other associations and clubs around the world, it is not about the athletes as it should be but about politics, power and egocentric individuals that yes may give up a lot of their time but not for the ultimate benefit for the athletes but rather to decorate themselves.

 

Perhaps the finger should go back to point at the SSA for not being able to retain world class coaches for their swimmers at a time the swimmer would need it most.”

 

**********

 

On the same day, this letter (below) from Ong Chee Tiong appeared in The Sunday Times, providing yet another view of the matter:

 

 

Coach’s leaving untimely; let’s move on  (The Sunday Times, 13 July 2008)

 

I have been following the reports concerning the furore between the Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) and some ‘unhappy parents’ over the change in concept of the Centre of Excellence (COE). 

 

As a parent of a national swimmer (who was never a part of the COE concept), I have taken an active interest in the swimming scene for at least 10 years. Perhaps I can offer some observations to put things in a more objective perspective. 

 

In my opinion, the problem arose out of the second coach’s immediate resignation.  For whatever reasons he might have had, it was highly unprofessional of him to leave his swimmers in the lurch, especially during the Olympic trial period. 

 

As a result of his resignation, swimmers/parents under his wing felt abandoned by SSA. Being a swimming parent myself, I fully empathise and sympathise with the parents of the affected swimmers. 

 

When the COE was established four years ago, I chose not to send my son there for personal reasons, the first of which was loyalty to our club.  Improving one’s personal best times is important. However, a swimmer must also learn important values, among which is that one cannot change coaches every time there is a better alternative. 

 

I also deem it necessary to put it in perspective that there are many swimmers who did not have the benefits of COE training, and yet did well during the last SEA Games.  For the record, out of the eight individual gold medals, only one came from a COE swimmer.

 

Hence, this latest  SSA concept of decentralised COE will ideally cater to a broader base of swimmers.  As to its implementation and mechanics, the officials should seriously work out the details. 

 

It is untimely that SSA should be looking for five or six ‘good’ coaches when the Olympic fever is raging. To be fair to the SSA, they do need time to source for good coaches.   

 

There have also been comments about SSA’s ‘couldn’t care less attitude’ by some quarters. This, I find, is not true. 

 

Take the most recent example of what the SSA has done for some national swimmers. Even though they did not qualify during the Olympic trials, the SSA sent them to Sydney for one more try. This shows that they do care enough for the swimmers as they are going above and beyond, to help these Olympic hopefuls.  

 

After everything that has been said and done, my contention is that the swimming fraternity should just move on from this saga.  While the loss of two integral coaches might have hit a small portion of the swimming fraternity hard, there are other national swimmers who have benefited from the current management. 

 

Ong Chee Tiong

 

My thoughts:

I thought long and hard about Concerned Swim Fan’s points, which I felt were valid.

But I also have an issue with the other point that he raised: that under normal circumstances, world-class coaches would never leave their charges leave their charges before a huge event like the Olympics, and as such, it is clear that something is wrong with the environment and working conditions at the Singapore Swimming Association if two renowned international coaches can quit in such a short period of time.

I feel that the whole point is being missed here. Yes, there could be something wrong with the way things are being done at the SSA.

But honestly, it is even MORE WRONG for Jack Simon to quit on his young Olympic-bound charges and leave them in the lurch with just a month to go before the Games.

To me, that smacks of unprofessionalism and, spitefulness. 

Essentially, I got the impression that Simon chose to make a statement from the timing of his resignation, which seemed to be: “Okay, SSA, I’ve had enough. Now let’s see you guys handle this situation that my quitting is going to put you in.” 

But my argument against Simon still stands: if he had an issue with the SSA, why did he choose to make Quah Ting Wen, an innocent party, the victim of his actions and suffer the consequences of his quitting?

Why couldn’t he wait until the Olympics were over before quitting? In other words, why couldn’t he discharge his duties as a coach fully before leaving?

Finally, didn’t Simon go into his employment with his eyes open? After all, he was employed by the SSA in March 2008 as its first elite-level coach under the SSA’s High Performance Coach Scheme AFTER the closing down of the SSA’s Centre of Excellence (COE) programme.

“I’m a pretty easy-going guy, as long as everyone’s doing things the right way,” he was quoted as saying in The Straits Times report about his appointment (16 March 2008).

In light of this current fiasco, it’s now very clear what Simon meant by that quote: he’s an easy-going guy as long as everyone is doing what he thinks is the right way.

And yet, he did the wrong thing as a coach – he chose to abandon his trainees, one of whom is making her Olympic debut and two of whom (Nicholas Tan and Marcus Cheah) were still trying to qualify for the Olympics.

Now we’ve seen the repercussion of his actions – as a result of his quitting,  both Nicholas and Marcus’s training schedules were disrupted and both of them eventually saw their dreams of swimming in Beijing being shattered. Can you imagine how disappointed, demoralised and let down they must feel?

Is this what a professional and world-class coach does?

So, back to my original point: maybe things are not going right at the SSA, that I will concede. But that is also a separate issue from Simon’s sudden decision to quit. And it is the latter that I take issue with, and as a Singaporean and a parent, I am personally offended by.

It just boils down to a sheer lack of respect for one’s athletes.  

Finally, my thanks to Concerned Swim Fan for writing in. Your feedback is much appreciated. Hope you will continue visiting this site and sharing your views. Cheers.

Yours in sport

Singapore Sports Fan

Related links:

July 8: Swim coach quit saga – Why is SSA, and not Jack Simon, getting the flak?

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