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Paul Quinlan

CANBERRA - Deryk Snelling, the recently appointed National Performance Director for Great Britain Swimming, visited the Australian Institute of Sport in January. He took some time out to discuss his new position and his plans for British swimming.

"Now I'm called the National Performance Director (NPD) for Great Britain Swimming, that is England, Scotland, and Wales. Each of the countries has a Director of Swimming, like Paul Bush was before.

"Paul is with the United Kingdom Sports Council. Their job is to work with different aspects of British sport, probably similar to your Sports Commission. His role is to work on identifying young athletes. For us it is a good connection; he can keep us abreast of all the ins and outs of things, like funding, which is going to be very critical to swimming. We will be able to do a lot of things for swimming, but at the moment we can only do maintenance work, because we're waiting for the funding to flow.

"The United Kingdom has taken a large piece of the national lottery. That's the first time ever for Great Britain. I don't know what the figure is, but it's pretty substantial. The critical areas the Sports Council is interested in are athletes, coaching, international competition (attracting major meets to our country), and facilities. Of course, there are other items on the agendadifferent sports have different needsbut these are the critical ones. I'm running a little ahead of the game because I was employed before the thing got off the ground.

"Swimming and Track and Field are going to be amongst the very first recipients of good funding. We put in a comprehensive plan. I designed the technical part and we've got David Sparks, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the ASA and of the Amateur Swimming Federation of Great Britain (ASFGB). So he's heading up all those administration plans and he's my boss, my line boss. He's all I answer to in my contract, which is for the four-year period to the 2000 Olympic Games. Like Don Talbot, I will be the Head Coach of all major international teams for Great Britain."

There are 2000 clubs and 300,000 children in competitive swimming in Great Britain.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Deryk Snelling will be the Head Coach for the next World Championships and Olympic Games. The Commonwealth Games are handled differently, with each country England, Scotland, and Wales having its own program. Ireland comes under the United Kingdom, but not for the Commonwealth Games. Snelling will overview all performances at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, but more as a father figure than as a leader.

"England and Great Britain used to be one association. Scotland and Wales were always separate. Now England, Scotland, and Wales are all separate, but above them is this new umbrella thing, and this is at the high performance level."

Snelling has been busy since arriving in his new position.

"I started on the first of October, and believe that I've been able to get some good planning done, using the Canadian structure, which is still one of the finest, as an example. This was brought in about 1980, probably because of the Montreal Games. We saw Sports Canada becoming a power, and other countries that set up national systems used it as a model. Of course, the Canadian system took some of the German concept. So if you go back now to this thing that looks generic across the world, it came into Canada, America, and Australia because of Don's (Talbot) experience. They're looking very similar: coach education, funding athletes, professional coaches.

"The only thing is that Britain has none of those in place, what I call The Final Layer. We have only thirteen 50-metre pools in all of Great Britain, and I've been able to visit them all. What is very obvious is that Britain is not lacking in talent. Its geography is excellent; you can get to thirty countries in an hour to an hour and a half. That's a great location to become an international player."

With an existing infrastructure, customs, and tradition, it is not always easy to move and create change in the world's larger countries. Does Snelling find this is the case with the ASFGB?

"I think there's bound to be a challenge if you're going to create real change. You are going to disturb what is in place, even though I think what's in place is good. I think the biggest thing is there's an infrastructure, which is powerful; it's massive. There are 2000 clubs and 300,000 children in competitive swimming in Great Britain. Not only that; there is a very high standard of basic swimming. There is a very good level of academic education, through the college structure, through the teachers, and I would say Britain is by far the most advanced nation I've ever seen at that level.

"I drove 7000 miles in eight weeks, visiting centres, looking for where the current best swimmers and coaches are, coaches such as Terry Dennison. I looked at all the 50-metre pools to see where we could make a quick infusion to get the program going. £300 million (about $540 million) has already been put into facilities, a lot of it in 25-metre pools controlled by leisure and recreation, which means swimming competitive will never get in there."

Some people suggest that if coaching programs can get into the 25-metre pools, they might be able to produce the high standards of results desired by Great Britain. Cecil Colwin showed it was possible in South Africa many years ago. Coach Colwin's swimmers broke world records following ten days of orientation in the long-course pool after doing the majority of preparation in a 16.66-metre pool in Johannesburg. Can that be done today?

"Coaching in the 25-metre pool can be very good. It's easier to teach, it's easier to coach, closer eye contact, all that sort of thing. Fifty-metre pools, however, offer another option. International swimmers have to be really proficient at not only racing, but also training in the 50-metre pool. But I think the kids are going to come out of every little village and town from all over the country that have all got 20-yard, 33.3-yard, or 30-metre pools. There are hundreds and hundreds of these pools. I think the keys are coaching, leadership, and direction; focussing in on world swimming, not just concentrating on domestic internal politics. That's the only place where Britain is lacking, and I think they're ready to make a step."

When asked how he and his ideas were received by the administrators and the coaches, Snelling replied, "My feeling is that Don Talbot did a lot of good, even in the short time he was in Britain (as a consultant), because he clearly explained to the people who will be running the sport what you must do, and he sold himself as well as what his policy and philosophy would be. I would say a lot of ground work was done for me.

"There were very mixed feelings about Don; everything from, `This man will do everything, he can walk on water' to `I don't think this man is going to fit in to the tight structure of a thousand years of tradition.' Because of that, I think you'd put me more in the middle. I think I can walk that line very well, and that is how I believe I was perceived.

"Maybe a few people have thought they were going to get a dictator in place, and a lot of people think they have an easy touch. They're both wrong. I like to think they have a benevolent dictatorship, which will lead to getting these people on track very quickly."

Deryk Snelling believes everyone wants the same thing; they just see it differently. Everyone wants to see Great Britain succeed. "So the one common thing we have is Great Britain. I believe that I've had an incredible reception and just can't believe it, having gone in with my guard up, assuming that there would be doubt, aggravation, and challenges to what we're doing.

"But I think what has happened is we had an OK Olympic Games (in swimming), but as a nation, we had the worst results we have ever had in the history of the Games. Consequently, we have people saying we must change, and if I expect them to change, I must also change. Having said that, I've done a lot of work with the coaches' association at the national championships / trials: setting up meetings, explaining where we're going and listening to everyone, being able to speak to the key players who will lead the charge into a different philosophy for Great Britain.

"Hopefully there will be good support. Not everything is going to work and not everything is going to be easy, nor is everything going to be the way every individual would like to see it go."

Snelling states that Great Britain is going to go the same route as any team that has to win, and that is to focus on the goal, to get the job done at the top end. "Britain will open up and become a real global player. We will very quickly get our coaches up to speed. They're not lacking intelligence, intuition, guts, work ethic, but they have some basic problems: no facilities to train in, no professional coaches, all working for an authority or in a profession. There are still coaches who can't afford to go to the nationals, because they are full-time employees in another job. That will change quickly. The funding will instantly create a new profession by definition, because that will mean they will get paid. However, they've all been doing a very professional job, but on limited time because of their other work.

"We have coach Ian Turner here on this trip and he has just been appointed Head Coach at the new 50-metre pool at Bath University. Coach Dave Calleja (who coaches Graeme Smith, the 1500 bronze medallist), another upcoming professional coach, is also on the tour this time. There are, I think, only about four or five coaches who are coaching professionally in the whole of Great Britain."

The purpose of this trip to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra is very simple. "It's to create for Great Britain the message that we're on our way to Australia in 2000. We'll not only have a team in Perth for the World Championships next year, but we will, for the next three years, have a squad that is training in Australia, somewhere. We want everybody to understand where we're going. That's the first thingyou have to get the location, then print the maps on how to get there. Secondly, I want these two coaches to see how a professional operation at the AIS with good international coaches works. It's exposure for them to your library, information services, and to the facilities, just to see how that's going to change from what they've been doing in the past. It's an educational trip for the coaches, and we've put together a small team of six men and one woman who were finalists in Atlanta, primarily relay swimmers. It's a good model to start building a team from, building trust amongst each other as you have to do with any team.

"You know I love Australia, but it's the World Championship and Olympic destination, and there are a lot of great athletes and coaches in Australia we can rub shoulders with and develop friendships. Also we have to learn how to travel. These athletes, when they go to France, have had an international meet. They think they've travelled, and it's only a thirty minute trip!"

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