I was never a swimmer. I grew up playing soccer my entire life. I
was fortunate to have played at a high level competitively my
entire youth, as well as progress into playing NCAA Division I
soccer for four years. However, it was certainly no easy road, and
my dad didn’t make it any easier.
I love my father. He’s the hardest-working person I’ve
ever met in my life, and I’ve never once heard him tell a
lie. He has a moral center as hard as steel, and there’s no
one else in the world I’d rather have as my dad. Having said
that, he was a horrible soccer parent, and the way he behaved
towards me during my youth soccer years had a terrible effect on
our relationship, not only growing up, but for years afterwards
As a swim parent, whether you realize it or not, you play an
enormous role in helping shape your child’s overall mindset,
not only towards the sport of swimming, but towards themselves.
With this article today, I want to speak to you, the swim parents
out there, to give you some great approaches for helping your child
develop a healthy mindset towards swimming and towards themselves
so that you can be the best swim parent you can possibly be.
Let’s take a look.
Encourage them to prioritize fun and enjoyment before times and
Outside of swimming, I work with professional athletes from a
plethora of different sports –golf, soccer, baseball, mixed
martial arts, etc. And, in the 12 years I’ve been doing this
work, I’ve worked with very accomplished athletes, athletes
who have won things and earned a lot of money, yet were still
miserable, unhappy and unfulfilled. Why? The reason is quite
simple: They started perceiving their sport as a grind. A
carrot-chasing exercise. A job they felt like they were forced to
do rather than a game they loved and enjoyed doing intrinsically.
Times are important. Results are important. External success is
something your child should be encouraged to strive for and work
for. However, like the professional athletes I mentioned
previously, those things won’t matter in any meaningful way
if your child achieves them by feeling like swimming is some kind
of miserable grind. You need to make sure your child understands
that their love for swimming, the fun they have doing it, and the
joy they get from participating in it is, and always will be, more
important than any time, result, or medal. Not only is loving
swimming, having fun, and enjoying the process important for
preventing burnout, it will help them perform better and,
consequentially, help them achieve the external success both you
and they would like to achieve.
2) Let them
know that failure is perfectly acceptable – under certain
It’s so silly how people tend to demonize failure when it is
both necessary for improvement and completely unavoidable. The fact
is, failure is an important and inevitable part of, not just
swimming, but life as a whole. How can your child learn and improve
unless they are able to fail and see where and how they need to get
better? How can your child develop the mental strength and
emotional resilience needed for a healthy mind if they’re not
allowed to fail, experience the feelings that come with that, and
learn how to work their way through them?
There’s a very big difference between not wanting to fail and
being afraid to fail. No one WANTS to fail. I don’t want to
fail. You don’t want to fail. Your child doesn’t want
to fail. However, that doesn’t mean you, your child or I need
to be afraid of it. You need to make sure your child understands
failure is not some boogie-man they need to be frightened of. They
should be encouraged to see failure for what it actually is –
a growth opportunity, a chance for them to improve themselves both
physically and mentally to make them into a better swimmer and a
stronger human being.
Most importantly, they need to understand failure is only
acceptable when it happens under certain conditions. They need to
understand there’s a right way to fail, and a wrong way to
fail. If they go out there, attempt to coast through their swims,
aren’t fully committed, have a bad attitude, and fail that
way, that’s the wrong way to fail. They need to know
that’s not acceptable in any way. However, if they go out
there, give it their absolute all, are fully committed, have the
right attitude, and still fail, they need to know that’s
perfectly acceptable. That’s the right way to fail.
criticism with praise.
Both coaches and parents play an enormous role in shaping the
development of a swimmer. It’s the coach’s job to
critique your child’s swimming, to point out their
shortcomings and the areas where they need to improve the most.
And, that’s certainly a job you should leave up to your
child’s coach. But, having said that, you have a job that is
equally as important, and that’s to provide the necessary
balance to the criticism they’ll receive from their coaches
by providing them with the praise they need to thrive.
Criticism is important, because your child needs to understand what
their weaknesses and faults are so that they can continuously learn
and grow as swimmers. Their coaches will provide them with that.
However, they also need praise and acknowledgment of their
strengths and the things they do well. That’s your role.
It’s extremely vital that you act as the source of positive
reinforcement and support for your child, because in the end, a
large part of their motivation to swim is to impress you. They want
to make you proud. When they do well, acknowledge their effort and
commend them for having a great attitude. When you do, you’ll
keep them in a positive frame of mind, build their enthusiasm for
swimming, and help them sustain the motivation need to keep pushing