Welcome to the exciting world of swimming! By joining Team Eugene Aquatics, YMCA Swimming and USA Swimming, your child has become a member of one of the country's largest, most organized, and competently coached youth sports.
This section has been prepared with the goal of acquainting you with the sport of competitive swimming. It contains information that will help you and your family to get the most out of participating in age group swimming. With a positive attitude and a willingness to lend a hand, you will have a great impact on your child's athletic environment, and his or her love of swimming.
There are many benefits to participating in the sport of swimming:
Meeting terrific people. Many swimming buddies become lifelong friends.
Beneficial exercise for cardiovascular and overall fitness
Life skills. These include time management, self-discipline and sportsmanship.
Fun! Age group swimming can be fun, exciting and rewarding. Remember that not every swimmer becomes a world record holder, but everyone can gain from his or her swimming experience!
This is a MUST read for parents- a great article by Michael Brooks-Head Coach, North Baltimore Aquatic Club.
The following links are a collection of good learning tips and advice for parents. We'll add to the list whenever we happen to see something great, and if you have seen something you'd like to pass along to other parents, let us know!
From the Deck
Good Coaching for Parents on the Team
by Dr. Alan Goldberg of Competitive Advantage
A successful swimming experience depends on parents being proactively trained to play the right role on the parent-swimmer-coach team. Coaches should take the time in the beginning of the season to educate parents on their very important support position. The coach should appeal to the parent's proper involvement for the team's and their child's success. In parents’ meetings and in written handouts the coach should present and discuss the correct parent, coach and swimmer roles, the “do's and don'ts” for success.
1. DON’T COACH - Leave coaching to coaches. This includes pre-race psyching, motivation, after race critiquing, setting goals, enforcing additional cross training, etc.
2. SUPPORT THE COACH - Your coaches are the experts. They need your support for everyone to "win".
3. SUPPORT THE PROGRAM - Get involved. Volunteer. Help out at meets, fundraisers, etc.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. TAKE YOUR CONCERNS AND PROBLEMS DIRECTLY TO THE 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.
8. UNDERSTAND AND DISPLAY APPROPRIATE MEET BEHAVIOUR - Remember your child's self-esteem and race performance is at stake. Be supportive and cheer but always be appropriate.
9. 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.
10. MONITOR EATING AND SLEEPING HABITS - Be sure your child is eating the proper foods and getting adequate enough rest.
11. 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.
12. “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 him keep things in their proper perspective including losses, disappointments and failures.
13. 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.
14. 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.
50 Things You Can Do to Help Your Child Achieve
-by Wayne Goldsmith and Helen Morris
1. Love them unconditionally.
2. Support their coaches.
3. Accept that they cannot win every time they compete.
4. Allow them to be kids and have fun.
5. Help them to develop as people with character and values.
6. Turn off as a sporting parent: don’t make sport the one and only topic of conversation at the dinner table, in the car, etc.
7. Don’t introduce your child as “This is my son/daughter the swimmer.” Their sports are something they do, not who they are.
8. Don’t do everything for them: teach responsibility and self-management.
9. Reward frequently for success and effort but make the rewards small, simple, practical and personal. Kids don’t need a CD or $20 just for playing a sport or getting a ribbon.
10. Reward them with what they really love: your time!
11. Be calm, relaxed and dignified at competitions.
12. Accept that progress in any sport takes a long time: at least 7 to 10 years after maturation in most sports for the athlete to reach full potential. A little manual work and helping out with household chores are important lessons in developing independence.
13. Believe it or not, kids can learn to pack and unpack their training bags and fill their own water bottles: teach and encourage them to take control of their own sporting careers.
14. Don’t reward championship performances with junk food.
15. Skills and attitude are most important. Don’t waste money on the latest and greatest equipment or gimmicks, hoping to buy a short cut to success.
16. Encourage the same commitment and passion for school and study as you do for sport.
17. Avoid relying on or encouraging “sports food” or “sports supplements”-focus on a sensible, balanced diet which includes a variety of wholesome foods.
18. Allow kids to try many sports and activities.
19. Don’t specialize too early. There is no such thing as a 10 year-old Olympic swimmer.
20. Junk food is OK occasionally. Don’t worry about it, but see #14 above.
21. Praise qualities such as effort, attempting new skills and hard work rather than winning.
22. Love them unconditionally (worth repeating!!)
23. Have your “guilt gland” removed: this will help you avoid phrases like “I’ve got better things to do with my time” or “do you realize how much we give up so that you can swim?” Everyone loses when you play the guilt game.
24. Encourage activities which build broad, general movement skills like running, catching, throwing, agility, balance, co-ordination, speed and rhythm. These general skills can have a positive impact on all sports.
25. Encourage occasional “down time”-no school or sport-just time to be kids.
26. Encourage relationships and friendships away from training, competition and school work-it’s all about balance.
27. Help and support your children to achieve the goals they set, then take time to relax, celebrate and enjoy their achievements as a family.
28. Never use training or sport as punishment-i.e. more laps/more training.
29. Do a family fitness class-yoga or martial arts or another sport unrelated to the child’s main sport. Everyone benefits.
30. Car pool. Get to know the other kids and families on the team and in turn you can allow your child to be more independent by doing things with other trusted adults.
31. Attend practice regularly to show that you are interested in the effort and process, not just in the win/lose outcome.
32. Help raise money for the team and kids, even if your own child does not directly benefit from the fundraising.
33. Tell your children you are proud of them for being involved in healthy activities.
34. Volunteer your time for the team.
35. Teach your child the importance of “team”-where working together and supporting each other are important attributes.
36. Even if you were an athlete and even if you are a trained coach, resist the temptation to coach your own child, it rarely works.
37. Be aware that your child’s passion for a particular sport may change.
38. Be aware that skills learned in one sport can often transfer to another.
39. Accept “flat spots” or plateaus-times when your child does not improve. During these times encourage participation for fun, focus on learning skills and help develop perseverance and patience.
40. Believe it or not, American kids are unlikely to die from drinking tap water!
41. Cheer for your child appropriately. Do not embarrass yourself or your child.
42. Make sure that each week includes some family time where you do family things and talk about family issues-not about sport.
43. Take a strong stand against smoking and drug use (both recreational and performance enhancing.)
44. Set an example with sensible, responsible alcohol use.
45. Don’t look for short cuts like “miracle sports drinks” or “super supplements”-success comes from consistently practicing skills and developing an attitude where the love of the sport and physical fitness are the real “magic.”
46. If one of your children is a champion athlete and the others in the family are not so gifted, ensure that you have just as much time, energy and enthusiasm for their activities.
47. Eliminate the phrase “what we did when I was swimming.....”
48. Encourage your children to find strong role models but try not to let this decision be based on sports only. Look for role models who consistently demonstrate integrity, humility, honesty and the ability to take responsibility for their own actions.
49. Encourage your children to learn leadership and practice concepts like sharing, selflessness, teamwork and generosity.
50. Don’t compare your child’s achievement to another other children-good or bad. This creates barriers and resentment and we don’t need any more of that!
“Parenting My Champion: Developing Talent”
Recommended Guidelines for Successful Sport Parenting
(US Tennis Association, used with permission - linked through USA Swimming)
How to be a Winning Parent
If you want your child to come out of his youth sports experience a winner, (feeling good about himself and having a healthy attitude towards sports) then he needs your help! You are a vital and important part of the coach-athlete-parent team. If you do your job correctly and play YOUR position well, then your child will learn the sport faster, perform better, really have fun and have his self-esteem enhanced as a result.
Helping Your Child's Team
The first question really should be, "Why should I help the team?" The answer for many people is not clear, although it seems like it should be. The simplest reason is also the most powerful. You should help because your child benefits greatly from the program. The second reason is that most clubs cannot function without substantial volunteer help. The economics are not there for a full professional staff to do all the things that need doing.
To read more about why you should help your team and what you can do to help, click here.
What's the lowdown on supplements?
Do you wonder if your child should be taking extra vitamins or maybe a supplement you can purchase "over the counter" to give her that extra boost? In a word, NO. Everything she needs is in a nutritious diet. Here are some more facts to understand the risks of supplements:
Supplements Fact Sheet
Understanding Growth and Development
Many parents (and coaches!) have limited knowledge and understanding of childhood growth and development. While children follow predictable growth patterns, the rate of development can vary widely. Whether a child is an early maturer or a later maturer can have a huge impact on athletic development and performance.
The Successful Sport Parenting CD has extensive information on growth and development, including charts, documents and interviews with an expert on the topic, Dr. Dan Gould of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University.
For an article on the basics of growth and development, click here.
Build Self-esteem and a Positive Self-image
Learning about oneself while enjoying the sport is one of the most important aspects of swimming. The swimming environment encourages learning and fun, helping your child to develop a positive self-image. Athletes who find their self-worth through winning will go through tough times when they lose, and everyone, even Michael Phelps, will lose sometime!
It is not healthy for your child to compete only in those events where he can “win.” When the coach enters your child in new events, encourage him. He needs the experience of trying (and perhaps failing) so that he can learn how to handle defeat and develop improvement goals. He will learn that losing does not make him a failure as a person, a big step in building self-esteem.
It takes more that just encouragement on your part. When your child fails, you must show the same unconditional love and approval as when he succeeds. Don’t praise dishonestly. Children see through that. Just show love and approval for the child, not for his performance. Continue to encourage your child to take on new challenges.
Keep Things Balanced
Some children become so involved in athletics that they neglect studies, families and social responsibilities. Both you and your child need to remember that swimming is only part of life. Sometimes children overemphasize sport because their parents do. Ask yourself if you’re giving unbalanced attention to your child’s “swimming career.” If so, slack off and show interest in other areas of your child’s life. Otherwise you risk giving your child the impression that swimming is the most important thing in life. If you are overly involved in the team or overly concerned with the outcome of your child’s races you are not modeling the balance that your child needs to learn. Other signs that things are out of balance:
* You spend a lot of time talking with the coach about practices, meets, and your child’s development
* Your child asks you not to come to meets or practices
* You require your child to take extra practice or private lessons
* You are the indispensable “swim team parent”
Learn Optimal Push
Interestingly, there is a positive side to the idea of ‘parental pushing’. USA Swimming research conducted in 1996 shows that kids say parents can enhance fun in swimming by providing a push. Be careful, however. Remember that there is a fine line between pushing in a positive way and pushing to the detriment of kids’ enjoyment. It seems a slight push from parents can enhance subsequent enjoyment and, as kids point out, is often needed. Optimal push shows love, support and caring without applying undue pressure. A parent who encourages a child to attend practice and who is ready, willing and able to drive the child shows that he cares about the child’s interest and successful development. A parent who takes a “hands off approach” hoping to avoid pressuring the child may actually be sending the message “I don’t care about you and your activities!” Be there, be available, be ready, willing and able to help. Sometimes we all need a little push to get us moving, to get us out of bed, into the car and into the pool. We need to know that someone cares. A child who says “do I have to go to swim practice?” may be very happy to have you make the decision by saying “yes.” He may just want to see if you care.
Help Your Child Set Performance Goals
Goal setting, especially with older swimmers, is mainly the domain of the coach and swimmer. This is another example of the need to “let go” and trust the coach! Younger swimmers may want your guidance is setting goals. (Then again, they may not!) First make sure that the goals are the swimmer’s goals, not your personal goals. Avoid statements like “I want you to do this,” or “I think you can do that.” Second, make sure that the goals are compatible with instruction given by the coach. For example, if the coach is working on long term growth and encouraging your child to complete IMX events, you should not be talking about getting an “A” time in the 50 breaststroke! Finally, focus on performance rather than outcome goals. Performance goals emphasize skill improvement. Outcome goals emphasize winning or time achievement and place undue pressure on the athlete. Examples of performance goals are completing each race legally or maintaining a breathing pattern. Achieving performance goals is one sure way to measure skill improvement.
Let the Coach Do the Coaching
When parents take on the roles and responsibility of the coach, it takes away from the fun in swimming. Critiquing races, offering suggestions on what went wrong or how to improve, and placing expectations on performance are examples of things parents do that tend to decrease the kids’ enjoyment. You must trust the coach to guide your child’s sports experience and you must be able to accept the coach’s authority. Not only will your instruction and criticism diminish your child’s enjoyment, it might also confuse the child, leaving him to wonder who he should listen to or who is giving the correct advice. The coach-athlete bond can be a very strong one. Some of the admiration and respect once directed solely to you now must be shared with the coach. Provide support and resist the urge to compete with the coach! Respect the coach and do not criticize the coach in front of your child. If you have serious concerns about the instruction or advice your concerns.
Provide Support for Your Swimmer
One resounding theme coming from kids is that parents increase the fun in swimming by providing unconditional encouragement and support. A physical presence at meets and interest in what the child is doing both go a long way toward enhancing swimming enjoyment. Kids enjoy swimming when they feel their parents support them regardless of the performance outcome. Your main job is to feed, shelter and transport your swimmer while showing love and support!
You may be wondering what are some things to say to your child after practice or a meet that show support and interest without pressure?
Here is a partial list of appropriate questions to ask your child:
* Did you have fun?
* Did you swim better this week?
* What did you learn today?
* What do you need to work on in the future?
* Did you talk to the coach? What did she emphasize?
* Were you a good sport?
* What was your favorite part of the race/meet/practice?
* Were you nervous? If so, why?
* Was there anything that you didn’t like?
* Is there anything I can do to help you?
Emphasize Fun, Skills and Effort
Without fun, your child may not want to keep swimming. Swimmers of all ages rank “fun” as the number one reason they swim. Olympians with years of experience say that they will continue with the sport as long as they are having fun! Children don’t have fun standing around at practice. They don’t have fun when they feel pressure to win. They have fun in well organized, skill oriented practices. They have fun competing and striving to win while developing their skills. Fun for kids is not just fun and games. Fun encompasses learning, competing, training and being with their friends. Remember, your child won’t be able to control all of the factors that go into winning a race. She has no control over her competitors! But she will find success and fun in developing and improving skills. This is one of the most satisfying aspects of sports. The most important question you can ask following practice or a meet is “did you have fun today?”
Keep Things in Perspective
Remember which one of you is the swimmer and do not overburden your child with pressure to win or achieve best times. It’s a sport, it is supposed to be a pleasurable experience for your child. Let him know that first, he is the child you love and second, he is a swimmer. Stated another way, place the athlete first and winning second. This doesn’t mean that winning is unimportant; striving to win is essential to enjoyable competition and swimming is a competitive sport! However, an obsession with winning often produces undue pressure, resulting in below par performances and unhappy children. We award medal and ribbons to the winners, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else in the race is a loser! Remember that fun and improvement are equally important and worth striving for. Accept both your child’s successes and failures as belonging to the child. Neither is a reflection on you! You did not swim the race just as you do not practice and train for the race. In a recent study conducted in the Pacific Northwest LSC, “58% of coaches believed that parents sometimes, often or almost always lived through their child and defined their self-worth in terms of the child’s success.” If swimming is important to your child it should also be important to you. But don’t forget that being a swimmer is only part of who your child is.
Be a Role Model for Your Child
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!
View Swim Meets an Enjoyable Part of the Learning Experience
Swimming is a competitive sport. That is a fact. While we encourage you to emphasize individual growth, development and improvement with your child, it is undeniable that the main means of measurement is a competitive situation, i.e. the swim meet. Swim meets should be enjoyable for you and your child. If the meet is a high pressure, scary experience for your child it would be worth evaluating several factors. Is the child:
* Ready for competition?
* Ready for that particular level of competition?
* Feeling undue pressure to perform or “win?”
The messages that you send before and after competition have a great deal of effect on your child’s perception of the competition. When you emphasize fun, skill development and effort you help your child gain a winning perspective. The same is true for comments you make and questions you ask before and after swim practice. Some children are naturally more competitive and are very aware of times, places and outcomes. Others are less interested in such things. The highly competitive child may need to be taught to focus on other aspects of competition so that she doesn’t become obsessed with winning and afraid of failure. The less competitive child may need more encouragement to recognize personal improvement.
Learn How to Deal with Disappointing Performances
Sometimes, in spite of the best preparation and intentions, swimmers have disappointing performances. Learning to deal with disappointment is one of the important lessons of sport. As a parent, you must also learn to deal with your child’s disappointment. Although you mean well, children can detect phony comments and resent them. In short, praise generously and criticize sparingly, but don’t be a phony. When a child knows she did not swim well, a comment like “I thought you looked great” is not helpful. Similarly, telling a child “it’s not important, forget about it” denies the child the dignity of her disappointment and unhappiness. Acknowledge the child’s unhappiness for a reasonable amount of time and then encourage the child to move on by focusing on the next race or meet. Do not conduct “post mortems” or in depth analysis of the performance. Leave that to the coach. If the child is unduly upset, she may be enjoying the attention she is getting from you by continuing to carry on. “Take your wind out of her sails” by changing the subject, leaving the area or sending her back to her teammates. Remember, love, support and move on!
Understand Long Term Development
One of the beauties of competitive swimming is that participation can extend from early childhood well into adulthood. Parents must understand that improvement is a long term process. It is critical that parents be supportive through the good times and bad, encouraging long term development over short term success. Age group swimming is fun, exciting and rewarding. Many children improve rapidly during the developmental stages due to growth and improved technique. It may be difficult to resist the temptation to push the young athlete. However, please don’t begin planning your child’s Olympic career. And remember, there are no 10 year olds on the Olympic Team. It is great to be the 10 year old state champion, but technique and fun, rather than intense training, are most important at this stage. Once a child reaches puberty, scientists and coaches feel that more serious training can begin. However, performances may sometimes plateau while training takes even more time and dedication. It can be a frustrating time and it often coincides with the normal trials and tribulations of puberty. It is critical that parents and coaches be cooperative and very supportive during periods of growth and adjustment. Remember, the role of the parent is to be supportive, not critical!