Sunday, July 10, 2011

Do we need to make a change at USA Swimming? How about ASCA?

There is something rotten in the state of American swimming.  USA Swimming is doing well competitively, but there are some serious issues that are beginning to appear in it's administrative side.  The American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) provides many useful services, but it's leadership is the source of much scorn, and the organization seems to have a monopoly on coaching certification and accreditation.  Has the time come to make a change in the USA Swimming leadership?  Do we need an option to ASCA for our coaches?

I have been a member of Alaska Swimming for 34 years.  I began swimming competitively at the age of 7, and have been swimming and for, and then coaching from that point forward.  From a time before USA Swimming was the National Governing Body (NGB) for the sport.  The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) governed swimming back in the day, and while a lot of things have improved since the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, some things have gotten worse.

I was at the USA Swimming convention in 1997 when Chuck Wielgus took over as the CEO of our organization.  I attended many of the workshops and meetings, and was extremely impressed with the efforts he and his staff were making in the branding and marketing of our sport.  I was convinced that he had what it would take to make USA Swimming, and it's athletes, household names.  I was right, and USA Swimming actually has become the biggest Olympic sport with the biggest stars.

Under the Wielgus regiem we have a lot for which to be thankful.  However, in recent years, we have begun to see and hear things that may be an indication that it is time for a change.  His interview with 20/20 in April 2010, concerning sexual abuse by some coaches, was a disaster.  He came off as arrogant and insensitive, and while I sincerely believe that he does care about the victims  of the abuse, the damage was done...and he knew it.

His response was to revamp and re-implement a fairly weak background check system that was being used by USA Swimming to screen out monsters and sexual predators like those brought to light in the 20/20 investigation.  There has been some question however, as to how much money USA Swimming is getting as a "kickback" from the firm contracted to perform the background checks...Acxiom.

There is no argument from me that background checks for all coaches in USA Swimming is necessary.  It is a tragedy that any adult could abuse any child in such a way.  However, now USA Swimming has expanded it's search for these sexual predators to all officials and key deck personal (computer operators, deck management, etc).  I can't help but think that perhaps this is starting to get a little on the ridiculous side.  As people like the computer operators at swim meets begin to line up to be checked two images come to mind: 1) Big Brother from Orwell's 1984 and 2) the cash that is being stuffed into USA Swimming's pockets from background check kickbacks.

I can't imagine a reason that a computer operator would need a background check when there is nothing keeping a "creeper" from videoing swimmers in there racing suits.  What is next...background checks for everyone who walks into a swim meet?  Why not?  It is certainly much more likely that a deviant would be sitting in the stands at a swim meet than in a white shirt, on deck, with all eyes on him/her.  Does anyone else think this is crazy.

Then there is the is my most recent beef with USA Swimming...the LSC Evaluation & Achievement Program or LEAP.  This is a program who's stated purpose is to help LSC's become more effective.  A noble pursuit I suppose.  My biggest issue with the program is that it is mandatory.  Just recently Alaska Swimming came up against the deadline for completing their LEAP Level 1.  The program has 50 separate items that need to be checked off or uploaded for evaluation.  As an executive board member of Alaska Swimming I received an email with the following letter attached.  Keep in mind, this was our first warning:

Whoa!  What kind of organization did I volunteer for?  By my estimation, Alaska Swimming has been doing just fine since the early 1970's.  Since when did we need USA Swimming to come in and "spank" us for getting our assignment in late?  And why are we being forced to complete this LEAP anyway?  Where was this $100/day fine going to go?  Any most of all, who wants to be a member of an organization that institutes such punitive actions against it's volunteers?

Let's segue from USA Swimming to ASCA by taking a look at the requirements (other than the background check) for being a coach member of USA Swimming.  A coach must have current CPR, 1st Aid, Safety Training for Swim Coaches.  Great!  Safety first is what I say.  Let's make sure all of the swimmers and coaches on deck are in a safe environment, and let's make sure that all of the coaches are trained to recognize and take care of whatever emergencies may arise.  No problem, I have met all of those requirement and I have been hired to be a coach by a board of parents...or better yet, I will start my own club.

But wait, there is one more requirement...each coach must pass the "Foundations of Coaching" test.  Well how hard can it be?  I'll just log into USA Swimming at take this test.  Wow, it has 180 questions. Ok, this is going to take some time.  Oh, it seems to have a lot of questions that refer to this video and online text book...which by the way costs $25 (in addition to your annual USA Swimming registration fee).  Who publishes this incredibly one sided and often questionable video?  Why it's  USA Swimming....and ASCA.

I have been a member of ASCA since 1992 and a life plus member since 1995.  I have attended dozens of clinics and workshops over the years.  I have taken correspondence classes and traveled to special training classes.  I have been a member of USA Swimming and ASCA long enough that I am "grandfathered" from having to take this "Foundations of Coaching" test, but I have taken it with several of my assistant coaches...and it is esoteric, subjective, and poorly written.  How is it that ASCA is the only authority on who is qualified to be a swim coach?

The Executive Director of ASCA is John Leonard.  He has been in this position for over 26 year and it would appear that be a coach of any stature in USA Swimming, you must "kiss the ring" of John Leonard.  This is the same John Leonard that has allegedly, according to various websites and blogs (,,, had multiple brushes with the legal, moral, and ethical boundaries espoused by the very organization he leads.

Is there a cabal between John Leonard and Chuck Wielgus to control swimming in the United States?  Are these the kind of people that we want to have "lead" us.  John Leonard seems to be out of control and a particularly bad influence on the direction of our sport.  Likewise, it would seem it is time to take the positive things (branding, TV coverage, etc) that Chuck Wielgus has given us and move on to someone who can provide leadership away from the negatives...a growing, power hungry, and overpaid bureaucracy.

What is the next step?  I am not sure, but something has to be done...soon...before all the progress we have made is lost.


  1. The next step is for parents to get more involved in electing a new board of Directors for USA Swimming and then a competent group of coaches or perhaps a physical education branch to ask for the right to bid against ASCA as a certification body.

    ASCA has a no-bid contract and that may violate anti-trust laws. USA Swimming is allowed to be a monopoly but do they have the right to create a monopoly underneath them? I don't think so. Compound the fact that you have to be ASCA certified to coach a USA Swimming club means they have a monopoly and I don't think a judge would like that.

    New board = new decisions.


  2. It has been hard for me to get to this point, but Tony, I totally agree. I may need to get myself down to the USA Swimming convention this year. No sense complaining if I am not going to try to do anything about it.

  3. Dear Coach
    You make some salient points that I can definitely agree with. But you miss that fact that most of the problems you mention are set up by the HOD at the convention, like a mandatory LEAP program. It is your representatives that vote to keep status quo or institute such new policies.
    Why is ASCA the only swim coach authority, because no one else has stepped up to do anything in the world of coaching. Bob Gillett tried with the NCSA but that has become a one meet entity, not a coaches association. Stopkotte and his scandal rag is only interested in causing problems since he has been banned from USA Swimming for cheating and lying and is about to go on trial for embezzeling childrens funds from a HS in Indiana. That is the person who is probably behind the scandal rag, a known theif, liar and cheat.
    The claims against John Leonard are all false, but cowards like Stopkotte, are happy to either make false claims anonymously or like Mr. Austin, like to then claim they are only referring to other publications. Check your own facts before repeating lies.
    On a possible cabal, I have been an officer for both USA Swimming and ASCA and also a USA Swimming employee, I know the people named in all these blogs and I know first hand the lies that are being told about them. No cabal exists, just a mutual desire to do the most they can for the sport and those involved. Even for those who would call them names and make false accusations.
    Mr. Austin has one thing right, these organizations are all people governed and if you don't like the direction things are going then by all means get to a place to vote and change the board. We both know however that most bloggers like to just stir the pot and do absolutely nothing to really improve life or in this case swimming.
    Final note, the LSC is an arm of USA Swimming, only through USA Swimming do they have any power. In many situations the same problems that you point out with USA Swimming can be pointed to in the LSC fifedoms that so many have created.

    Ira Klein
    USA Swimming Coach
    ASCA Board Member
    LSC Sr. Chair

  4. Perhaps run for office? I will endorse you.

  5. Ira, I am unimpressed with your ASCA CEO though you do seem more reasonable than he is. Do you care to comment on John Leonard's behavior who had the temerity to threatened to sue both myself and a retired school teacher named Sarah Gerstad for posting factual information regarding ASCA's lapsed corporation in Iowa?

    Do you realize how disturbing that was to Sarah G.? I have the resources to defend myself, she doesn't.

    I think it is clear that there is discontent within ASCA and I suggest to you that you send out surveys and start talking to your coaches. There is discontent.

    Also, is ASCA really people governed - could you vote out Leonard if enough coaches asked you?

  6. Ira, one other thing, you distort the facts regarding my link to Sarah G's post. That very week I did a second write-up which included screen shots, phone numbers, names of the people that verified what was stated and other factual points. Note: I never dodged my claims by saying I was simply linking to someone elses allegations.

    Yes, I put up detailed references and when told by your "CEO" that I would be hearing ASCA lawyers, I heard nothing! BTW, I was prepared to defend myself aggressively.

    In fact I published his threats to my blog and my measured responses back. I then included his terrible emails to Sarah where he breaks into profanity after she writes back how distraught she is over this. Well, she stood her ground too.

    Face it, that meltdown on Leonard's part was eye opening, disgraceful and it seriously makes me wonder why you and the other board members tolerate someone as seemingly unprofessional as he was.

    Could it be that ASCA is not really a corporation but rather a sole proprietorship?

    I challenge you to fire him.

  7. Coach Ira,

    While I'll preface this response with the fact that I am a friend of, a former swimmer of and former assistant coach under, Ken Stopkotte, I am very certain that he is not behind or involved in the rogue website that is critical of ASCA and USA-S. I'll also say that I'm in agreement with a lot of Coach Murray's points, but I see your points and agree with some of your arguments.

    I'm not saying Ken should have gotten a free pass from USA-S on the inserted times incident, but there are two sides of the story and before you refer to Ken as a thief, liar and a cheat, you should wait until he has his day in court and his side of the story comes out on the times incident. In my opinion, the times thing should have never blown up the way it did in the first place. Indiana Swimming handled it poorly and Ken made a bad decision by getting a NY attorney and fighting ISI the way he did. The ISI/Stopkotte battle is one that raged for all four years he was at Fishers and two wrongs don't make a right. The whole thing was unnecessary, time consuming, expensive and embarrassing for everyone involved.

    I was at a meet Ken's former club hosted this winter and he is still regarded there as a hero there. I was told by one of the board members that Ken did what he was told to do by the school's athletic director and he was thrown under the bus by the AD and a crazy swim parent (no longer with the team) that had an axe to grind because his daughters weren't given special treatment. The board member also said that if this goes to trial, people will be lined up outside the courthouse to testify in Ken's behalf. I hope these issues get resolved someday because I think Ken can be a nice guy and a great coach and the sport needs people of his caliber. He's got to just focus on coaching and stop getting himself into silly battles with organizations and individuals.

    You're right, change is going to come from the people and that part of the problem lies in how the LSC fifedoms that have been created. Please don't take this the wrong way, but if 5% of what is being written on the blogs and the scandal rag are true, there are major problems. It would be nice if someone came out, once and for all, and actually made a statement on what is true and what is not. It's sad, but I personally don't know if the currently leadership of ASCA or USA-S can heal the lack of trust issues that are permeating within the membership of USA-S. It might be time for new blood just because of that fact alone.

  8. Coach Klein,

    With your past and current positions/affiliations with USA Swimming and ASCA. As a fellow coach and as the Alaska Swimming Admin Vice-Chair, I respect your comments. I do realize that both ASCA and USA Swimming are board run, and as a result the issues that I have with both organizations (and their all too cozy relationship) can be solved by getting the right folks in office.

    As a coach of modest origins (I am originally from North Pole, Alaska), I have allowed myself to think "those coaches/administrators/volunteers from other LSC's certainly know more than I do". Shame on me. I will continue to state my "beefs" in this blog and elsewhere, but I am ready to put my money where my mouth is and represent AK Swimming this fall at the USAS convention.

    The perception from way up here in Alaska is that USA Swimming is "Big Brother" and he is fleecing us any number of ways (background checks, etc) and that ASCA is making a buck off the coach members of USA Swimming through the certification process.

    Thanks for the feedback guys.