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Eight Phrases for Swim Parents to Avoid

Eight Phrases For Swim Parents to Avoid

By Coach Ryan Woodruff

First, let me say that we have an amazing group of parents on our club.  They make sacrifices to help their children succeed, care about our club, and are supportive of our coaches.  A few parents have asked me specifically what they can say to their swimmer  to help.  Indeed, the conversations that happen between a parent and child can have a dramatic impact in shaping a swimmer's attitudes toward swimming. Even the best parents with 100 % good intentions can sometimes say things that have a negative effect on their swimmers. As a swim parent myself, I know how delicate this can be. The phrases or situations below are all actual statements I have heard uttered that made me cringe a little. Each is an example of something that might be said with good intentions but could have an unanticipated negative impact.


1. Introducing your child to someone as "the swimmer." As in "this is my daughter Jenny, the swimmer." Swimming is something your child does, not who she is. Help your child cultivate her identity as a person, and encourage her to be the best she can be at swimming. Ultimately, she will better be able to weather the storms of failure and enjoy the fruits of success in swimming if her identity is not wrapped around it.

2. "We came all this way/spent all this money/took all this time... and you swam slow/didn't try/performed poorly." Your kid is probably already disappointed in her own performance, without the added weight of your parental sacrifices. Understand that it is the nature of human performance that your child will not perform at his best at every meet or in every race. The effect of making this comment is that the next time you make a sacrifice to go to a meet, your child will feel the added pressure - possibly to the detriment of his performance.

3. "Good job" (When your child doesn't perform well) She probably knows when it was a good swim and when it was a bad one. False praise does nothing but cheapen the praise when it is actually deserved. Try "you'll get 'em next time", "I love you anyway," “I still enjoyed watching you swim,” or the best option: “So… where you do you want to eat lunch?”

4. "WE need to get this cut, WE need to win this event, etc." How many lengths of the pool are you swimming, mom? It is your child's swim, not yours, and it would help to promote his ownership of his performance. Be his biggest fan--there to support him through good and bad--not his teammate or 50/50 partner.

5. "It's probably your training or coach hasn’t been giving you enough X" (as a reason why you swam slow). As a parent, it is important that you buttress your child's confidence in his coach. If you have concerns about your swimmer's progress or the coaching he or she is getting, please address them with the coach. Passing your concern on to your swimmer only weakens the coach-swimmer partnership.

6. "It's okay, you don't have to go to practice today." As I discussed in The Law of Kid Inertia, this one is tough -- you may not want to take him to practice either. Help your child take ownership of his performance and encourage him to make a commitment to attend practice.

7. Any technical advice. “You gotta pull harder and move your hand like this (demonstrates technique).”  This technical advice can blur the line between parent and coach at best and at worst can be completely contrary to what the coach may have asked the swimmer to actually work on.

8. Anything that compares your child to another swimmer.  “Jimmy had 8 best times this weekend, and I saw him really kicking hard.  I know you can do it, you just gotta kick hard like Jimmy.”  99% of kids are already constantly comparing themselves to their peers.  The worst form of this is the unfavorable sibling comparison: “Joey had 3 cuts when he was 10, congratulations on getting your first one!”

Coaches, do you have more you would like to add? Parents, any questions about effective ways to talk swimming with your kid? Let me know!