How To Be an Awesome Swim Parent Article
Your Role as Parents
Competitive swimming programs provide many benefits to young athletes, including self- discipline, good sportsmanship and time management skills. Competition allows the swimmer to experience success and to learn how to deal with defeat, while becoming healthy and physically fit. As a parent, your major responsibility is to provide a stable, loving and supportive environment. Show your interest by ensuring your swimmer’s attendance at practices and meets and by watching and cheering for your swimmer at swim meets.
Parents are not participants on their child’s team but instead contribute to the success experienced by the child on the team. Parents serve as role models, and children often emulate their attitudes. Please show good sportsmanship at all times toward coaches, officials, opponents and teammates.
Be enthusiastic and supportive. Remember that your child is the swimmer. Children need to establish their own goals and make their own progress towards them. Be careful not to impose your own standards and goals. Do not over burden your swimmer with winning. Learning about oneself while enjoying the sport is the most important part of the swimming experience. The swimming environment encourages learning and fun, which will help your swimmer develop a positive self-image.
The best way to help your swimmer achieve goals and reduce the natural fear of failure is through positive reinforcement. No one likes to make a mistake, however if your swimmer does make one, remember that this is a learning experience. Encourage your swimmer’s efforts and point out the positive things. Your role is to provide support.
The Parent-Coach Relationship
It is important to remember that parents and coaches share the same goals. We both care about your child, and we are both working together to give him/her the greatest chance to improve as an individual and to succeed in a team environment. As a parent, you will have questions and concerns. Please approach your child's coach privately, in a respectful manner and at an appropriate time (i.e. not on deck during practice), and s/he will be happy to address your concerns. Please do not jeopardize the swimmer-coach relationship by bringing your child in the middle of a problem; again, save your comments for a private discussion with the coach. Keeping an open and honest relationship with your swimmer's coach will benefit everyone.
The Parent-Swimmer Relationship
In regards to knowledge about the sport of swimming, the coach is the expert. You, as a parent, are a cheerleader and supporter; please remember that staying positive is one of the most important things you can do for your swimmer. If your swimmer has a rough race/meet/practice/whatever, criticism is the last thing he or she needs. Instead, give a pat on the back and a positive observation. If any corrections need to be made, the coach will handle them.
Even if you have been involved with swimming in the past, keep in mind that the sport has changed tremendously; any swimming advice you give may contradict what the coach has said and, consequently, only serve to confuse your swimmer.
The Parent-Parent Relationship
As a parent, you are also part of a team...a team of fellow parents. You are always surrounded by a wealth of knowledge and supportive peers. Look for carpools, ask questions, share advice, etc. It behooves you to take advantage of such wonderful resources. Please avoid unproductive gossip in the stands. Also show respect for your fellow parents.
Patience in the Learning Process
Learning takes time and, when you think about it, swimming is a pretty complex sport. Kids enter an entirely different realm, with new laws of physics, whenever they hop into the water. For new swimmers, it takes time to learn how their bodies move and to gain a sense of balance and control. You can do things in the water that you can only dream about doing on land, which is one reason why swimming is such an attractive sport, so kids need time to explore and have fun in this new environment.
Also, understand that kids need to internalize knowledge as their own before they can apply it and accept it into habit. This is what practice is all about--kids will just do what the coach tells them to do until, at some point, the right brain connections click together and, all of a sudden, they're doing the same skill not because it's "what coach says" but because their brain is telling them it's the right thing to do. This is sometimes a very quick process and other times a much longer process, depending upon the learner and the complexity of the skill.
Different kids learn different skills at different rates and in different ways. This requires patience and understanding from coaches, parents and also teammates. If your swimmer is feeling discouraged due to a perception that other kids are excelling at a faster rate, try to get him/her to understand the truth about the individual learning process--how it is not fair to judge your own success by how well others do--and encourage him/her to talk with the coach about those feelings. Improvement can be relative to the person doing the assessment. Oftentimes, the coach can notice progress in areas that swimmers or parents tend to overlook.
Motivation: How should we motivate kids?
We should find ways to allow them to motivate themselves. Passion is by far the best motivator. No matter what emotion is feeding it, motivation that stems from a passion within is a powerful driving force. We want kids to be passionate about things, and internal motivation is what pounds in the hearts of passionate people. Your swimmer has chosen to swim for his/her own reason, so let it be that way, and if s/he feels like exploring other sports and hobbies, let it be that way, too. It is perfectly acceptable to be involved in more than one sport, assuming it is not too stressful and schoolwork does not suffer.
Everything you do influences your performance, but your food choices have the most effect due to the long term and short term benefits. A proper diet, including proper selection of foods, will help your training and performance while also achieving a healthy lifestyle once you stop competing.
To help ensure a balanced diet, remember that there are no magical nutrition remedies. So forget the fads and eat a variety of wholesome foods from the four food groups – dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables, and grains. Foods in these groups provide protein, fat carbohydrate, fiber and all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Your ideal diet should include the following percentage of calories:
- Carbohydrate 50-60%
- Fat 20-30%
- Protein 14-18%
This nutrition series is designed to help you better understand good nutrition and to provide guidelines for ideal food choices. Within sports, there are four major periods that nutrition will impact:
- During Training. Training represents the period in which athletes spend most of their time. Therefore, this category represents the most critical period. During this time, a diet high in carbohydrates is important. This is important since it is not uncommon for athletes training 4 – 6 hours a day to burn 2500 to 4000 calories a day. The best way to replenish these calories is with a high carbohydrate diet. By being conscious of this and by taking high carbohydrate foods or drink in the first 30 minutes following a workout, you can minimize depletion of energy stores.
- Pre-Event Nutrition. The major purpose of the pre-event diet is to ensure sufficient energy and fluid for the athlete. Two to three days before competition, a high carbohydrate diet with plenty of fluids should be emphasized. The pre-event meal should include a light, high carbohydrate meal three to four hours before the event.
- Nutrition During Competition. Provided that good nutrition practices were followed during training, middle distance and sprint events will not be limited by nutrition related factors. During a three to four day competition, make sure you consume plenty of fluids and each meal should include high carbohydrate, low fat selections.
- Nutrition After Competition. High intensity work will deplete the muscle’s energy supplies. Therefore, carbohydrates play an important role after competition to make sure energy stores are maintained.
USA Swimming is a non-profit organization made up of very dedicated volunteers. Interested parents donate their time, energy and expertise at every level from local swimming clubs to the national Board of Directors. Your role as a volunteer is very important to our sport. You can be actively involved in your swimmer’s swimming program and you can also be instrumental in strengthening swimming in the United States. With a positive attitude and a willingness to lend a hand, you will also have a great impact on your swimmer’s athletic environment and love of swimming.
Be a Role Model
Children learn behavior from many different people, including coaches, teachers and peers, but the people they learn the most from are their parents! You’ll have many opportunities as your child participates in sports to model good behavior and attitude. For example if you tell your child that he must respect others, your message will be lost unless you also model respect for others.
And don’t forget, nonverbal messages, like a look of disgust or disappointment, often speak louder than words. Here are some other tips to keep in mind as you sit at swim meets:
Model good sportsmanship. Being a ‘good sport” is much easier said than done. You can model good sportsmanship by encouraging and supporting all swimmers, controlling your emotions when upset or frustrated, and abiding by coaches’ and officials’ decisions even if you disagree.
- Model team spirit and loyalty. Cheer for your team and have only positive things to say about the team and coach.
Let go of your own ego. Put your child’s development and desires ahead of your own. Examine your motives for your child’s participation.
Have fun. If you are having fun and enjoying the swimming experience, it is more likely that your child will do the same. If you complain and don’t enjoy yourself, your child will pattern that behavior also.
- Help the team as a volunteer. Your role as a volunteer is crucial to our sport. You can be actively involved in your child’s activity, meet new people, have fun, and be instrumental in strengthening swimming in the U.S. Ask the coach or the volunteer coordinator for your team what you can do to help. No experience is necessary for most jobs. Don’t wait to be asked, be a volunteer!
By John Leonard,
Executive Director of the American Swimming Coaches Association
One day, a few years ago, a club board member accused me of “having favorites” on our club team. Several other parent board members nodded their heads in agreement. The implication was that this was a terrible sin. When I was a younger coach, I thought it was terrible also. And he was right. I did have favorites. My favorites were those athletes who most fervently did what I asked of them. Those that did, I gave more attention to. I talked to them more. I spent more time teaching them. I also expected more of them.
The implication that he was making was that my favorites got better than the others because they were my favorites and that was somehow unfair. He mistook cause for effect.
The fact is that the athletes who came to me ready to learn, ready to listen, ready to act on what they learned and try it my way, even if it was more challenging and more difficult than they imagined, were ready to get more out of our program. And they were my favorites.
As a coach, I have only one thing to offer to an athlete. That is, my attention. Which means that I attend to their needs. The reward for good behavior should be attention in attending to their needs. The consequence of inattention, lack of effort, unwillingness or unreadyness to learn, or just plain offensive or disruptive behavior is my inattention to that athlete.
How could it be other than this? If you have three children and you spend all of your time and energy working with the one that is badly behaved, what does that tell your other two children? It tells them that in order to capture your attention, they should behave badly. What we reward is what we get.
As a coach, I want athletes who are eager to learn, eager to experiment in order to improve and eager to work hard. I want athletes who come to me to help develop their skills, both mentally and physically. I want athletes who are willing to accept what I have to offer. Otherwise, why have they come to me? I am going to reward that athlete with my attention. In doing so, I encourage others to become like the athlete above. If I spent my time with the unwilling, the slothful and the disruptive, I would only be encouraging that kind of behavior.
The link I want to forge is between attention and excellence. Excellence in the sense of achieving all that is possible and desired. My way of forging that is to provide my attention to those who “attend” to me. This does, of course, result in increased performance for those that do so. I am a professional coach, and when I pay attention to a person, that person is going to improve. Over time, this makes it appear that my “favorites” are the better swimmers. Not so at all. The better swimmers are those that pay attention and thus become by favorites.
What Dad didn’t realize is that you must have favorites if anyone is to develop in a positive fashion. The coach’s job is to reward those who exhibit positive development behaviors. Those are my “favorites” and they should be.
Getting Parents on the Team
by Dr. Alan Goldberg of Competitive Advantage
- DON’T COACH - Leave coaching to coaches. This includes pre-race psyching, motivation, after race critiquing, setting goals, enforcing additional cross training, etc.
- SUPPORT THE COACH - Your coaches are the experts. They need your support for everyone to "win".
- SUPPORT THE PROGRAM - Get involved. Volunteer. Help out at meets, fundraisers, etc.
- BE YOUR CHILD’S BEST FAN - Support your child unconditionally. Do not withdraw love when your child performs poorly. Your child should not have to perform to win your love.
- SUPPORT AND ROOT FOR ALL SWIMMERS ON THE TEAM - Foster teamwork. Your child's teammates are not the enemy. When they go faster than your child, your child now has a wonderful opportunity to improve.
- DO NOT BRIBE OR OFFER INCENTIVES - Your job is not to motivate. Leave this to the coaching staff. Bribes will distract your child from proper race concentration.
- TAKE YOUR CONCERNS AND PROBLEMS DIRECTLY TO YOUR COACH - If you have a problem with the coach, do not go to other parents to discuss it. Go straight to the coach involved. Talking behind the coach’s back will not get you what you want.
- UNDERSTAND AND DISPLAY APPROPRIATE MEET BEHAVIOR - Remember your child's self-esteem and race performance is at stake. Be supportive and cheer but always be appropriate.
- MONITOR YOUR CHILD’S STRESS LEVEL AT HOME - Keep an eye on your swimmer to make sure he is handling stress effectively from the various activities in his life.
- MONITOR EATING AND SLEEPING HABITS - Be sure your child is eating the proper foods and getting adequate enough rest.
- HELP YOUR CHILD KEEP HER PRIORITIES STRAIGHT - Help your child maintain a focus on schoolwork, relationships and the other important things in life besides swimming. Also if your child has made a commitment to swimming, help her keep the priorities around this in mind.
- “REALITY TEST” FOR YOUR CHILD - If a swimmer comes out of the pool with a personal best time and a last place finish, help him understand that this is a "win". Help them keep things in their proper perspective including losses, disappointments and failures.
- KEEP SWIMMING IN PERSPECTIVE – Swimming should not be larger than life for you. If your child's performances elicit strong emotions, keep these away from him. Remember your relationship will continue with your children long after their swimming days are over. Keep your goals and needs out of the pool.
- BE AN APPROPRIATE LIASION TO THE COACH - Keep the coach informed as to how your child is responding to the experience (when appropriate). If your child is having trouble with something that happened in the pool or with something the coach said, help the child deal with it and if necessary, speak directly with the coach.
Ten Commandments for Swimming Parents
by Rose Snyder, USA Swimming
- Thou shalt not impose your ambitions on thy child. Remember that swimming is your child’s activity. Improvements and progress occur at different rates for each individual. Don’t judge your child’s progress based on the performance of other athletes and don’t push your child based on what you think s/he should be doing. The nice thing about swimming is that every person can strive to do his or her personal best.
- Thou shalt be supportive no matter what. There is only one question to ask your child: “Did you have fun?” If meets and practices are not fun, your child should not be forced to participate.
- Thou shalt not coach your child. You have taken your child to professional coaches. Do not undermine the coaches by trying to coach your child on the side. Your job is to support and love your child no matter what. The coaches are responsible for the technical part of the job. You should not offer advice on technique or race strategy. This is not your area. This will only serve to confuse your child and prevent that swimmer/coach bond from developing.
- Thou shalt only have positive things to say at a swimming meet. If you are going to show up at a swimming meet, you should cheer and applaud, but never criticize your child or the coaches.
- Thou shalt acknowledge thy child’s fears. A first swimming meet, 500 free or 200 IM can be a stressful situation for your child. It is totally appropriate for your child to be scared. Don’t yell at or belittle him/her. Just assure your child that the coaches would not have suggested the event if s/he was not ready to compete in it.
- Thou shalt not criticize the officials. If you do not have the time or the desire to volunteer as an official, don’t criticize those who are doing the best they can.
- Respect thy child’s coach. The bond between coach and swimmer is a special one, and one that
contributes to your child’s success as well as fun. Do not criticize the coach in the presence of your child. It will only serve to hurt your child’s swimming.
- Thou shalt not jump from team to team. The water isn’t necessarily bluer at the other team’s pool. Every team has its own internal problems, even teams that build champions. Children who switch from team to team are often ostracized for a long time by the teammates they leave behind. Often times, swimmers who switch teams never perform better than they did before they sought the bluer water.
- Thy child shalt have goals besides winning. Giving an honest effort, regardless of the outcome, is much more important than winning. One Olympian said, “My goal was to set a world record. Well, I did that, but someone else did it too, just a little faster than I did. I achieved my goal and I lost. This does not make me a failure, in fact, I am very proud of that swim.”
- Thou shalt not expect thy child to become an Olympian. There are over 225,000 athletes in USA Swimming. There are only 52 spots available for the U.S. Olympic Team every four years. Your child’s odds of becoming an Olympian are about 1 in 4,300. Swimming is much more than just the Olympics. Ask your coach why he coaches. Chances are, s/he was not an Olympian, but still got enough out of swimming that s/he wants to pass that love for the sport on to others. Swimming teaches self-discipline and sportsmanship; it builds self-esteem and fitness; it provides lifelong friendships and much more. Most Olympians will tell you that these intangibles far outweigh any medal they may have won. Swimming builds good people and you should be happy your child wants to participate.
No! I Have FINALS!
by Coach Pete Raykovich
This is the attitude that seems to prevail during this time of the year. Because both parents and coaches recognize and encourage a priority that places academic excellence above athletics and other activities, we have allowed our student-athletes to absolve themselves of virtually any other responsibilities during finals week. Not only may they choose to miss several swim practices, but they also forfeit other obligations such as household chores, walking the dog, etc. or any other participation that would otherwise be required of them.
Is this healthy? Does it prepare them for college? Does it prepare them for a career? Does it prepare them for family responsibilities? As a parent, when a job or personal crisis confronts you, are you able to retreat completely from all other responsibilities for a week? I doubt it. Perhaps, we should encourage our student-athlete to budget their time effectively, prepare in advance and accept their normal obligations, even as they emphasize their study efforts.
Since 1986, at both my previous positions, Indian Valley Aquatics and the University of Tennessee, I kept statistics to see what our best student-athletes were doing. In short, those swimmers with the highest grade point averages missed the least number of practices. Those with grade point averages of 3.5 (out of 4.0) and above missed an average of less than one workout per week.
Those with grade point averages of 3.0 to 3.4 (out of 4.0) missed just over one practice per week. And those below 3.0 (out of 4.0) missed approximately 50% of the workouts. I believe that other college and club programs have similar statistics.
To suggest that the student-athletes with the highest grade point averages are simply more intelligent than their peers is not only dead wrong, but is demeaning to the efforts that they put in each week to stay abreast of their responsibilities in the classroom. They are not looking for reasons or excuses to miss practices, chores, etc. Rather, these student-athletes are looking for ways to meet their commitments. They perform well in the classroom in conjunction with, and not to the exclusion of, their normal obligations. This is the behavior that we as coaches and parents should strongly encourage.
I am not sure that we do our young people any favors by allowing them to ignore their routine responsibilities and to isolate themselves from life in order to “study” (cram) for finals. That is not a luxury afforded them as they grow older and, in my experience, these individuals are not going to develop into becoming your better students.