Parent Handbook (PDF)
How to For Swim Meets (PDF)
Swimming 101 For New Parents (External Link)
Swim Meet Basics (External Link)
10 Commandments For Swim Parenting (External Link)
Fueling For Performance (External Link)
Getting Parents On The Team (External Link)
Sticking With Swimming...What Can a Parent Do?
Swimmer's Shoulder
USA Swimming Parent Education Library (External Link)

For New Swimming Parents

Welcome to the exciting world of swimming! By joining 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 also 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!


Sticking With Swimming...What Can a Parent Do?  

The Unfortunate Path that Many Swimmers Follow:

By the time swimmers are 10 or 11 years old they (or their parents) may realize that twice a week practices or summer only swimming is not enough to compete with others who are practicing more frequently. Physical ability and natural coordination can still help athlete to stay competitive and have success but it is getting harder to stay on top. More big changes and rude awakenings are lurking in the future.

The swimmer’s career often starts with 8/under success and high parental enthusiasm. The child is encouraged by parents and others to excel and a big deal is made out of every accomplishment. As the child changes age groups and moves into the 9/10 group, even the most successful child may struggle because he or she has a harder time finding success against 10 year olds. What successes are achieved may not be as noticeable. Unfortunately, as many as one-third of the young swimmers and their families do not make it past this point.

The first Big Change: From 10/under to 11 & 12

  • Events become longer going from 25’s and 50’s to 50’s and 100’s and even some 200’s and distance freestyle events. 
  • Competition changes from sprint competition to race/pace/competition. 
  • In some programs, one half of the athletes and their families do not make this change. They never give the coaches or the program a chance to help the athlete adapt to the changing nature of swimming competition.

The second Big Change: From age 12 to 13&14/Senior swimming

  • Events change again. Now it is all 100’s & 200’s along with 400/500 and 1000/1650.
  • The athlete must develop a work ethic and intensify the training aspect of swimming.
  • Physical changes affect both male and female athletes. Athletes get bigger and stronger, but many, especially the girls, may struggle to cope with their “new bodies.”
  • This can one of the most rewarding phases of an athlete’s career, yet many will give up.

The third Big Change: A focus on college swimming

  • Swimmers who remain in the sport start to look at the possibility of swimming in college.
  • Questions arise concerning the choice of colleges, the level of swimming, the possibilities of scholarships and the willingness to compete and train for another four years.

Let’s put these changes into “real” numbers:

Suppose a team has 12 Novice swimmers

  • Only 8 will remain in swimming past the first Big Change
  • Only 4 will remain in swimming past the second Big Change
  • Only 2 will remain in swimming past the third Big Change

The Role of the Parent in Navigating the Big Changes:

Sometimes, unfortunately, it is the parents who are responsible for their child leaving the sport. For example:

  • Parents who are former athletes, especially former swimmers, may have unreasonably high expectations.
  • Parents believe that they are in charge of the athlete’s happiness and that only “winning” can bring happiness.
  • Parents believe that early success equates with long term success. The 8/under star will, of course, become an Olympian.
  • Parents may not understand the need for technical and skill development before “swimming fast.”

Parents must examine their own motives. Form a philosophy that emphasizes the process, not the outcome. Be the guides on the “fun path” not the “victory path.” When parents use these words, their emphasis is misplaced:

We - Beat - Win - Fast - Lost - Try - Only – My

What Can Parents Do to Reverse the Trend?

Parents must develop, progress and grow the just as athletes do. Experience is the key and communication is the mode. Swimmers already have coaches, friends and teammates. They need a parent to fill the parental role. “Coaches coach children, parents raise children. “

Here are some of the benefits your child will garner if he or she sticks with swimming:

Life Lessons: Only one swimmer can win the race. Does this mean everyone else is a loser? Of course not! Swimmers need to constantly be reminded that a top-notch effort on their part will result in personal satisfaction and a contribution to their team. Most USA Swimming clubs design a program of competitive training and competition for our younger swimmers based on long term development. Therefore, we may not stress early competitive success with a great deal of fanfare. Remember that swimmers under the age of 12 are very inconsistent which can be frustrating to a parent or to the swimmers themselves. Fun and patience are the keys here.

Leadership: In many cases, our team leaders and successful Senior swimmers were not outstanding age group swimmers. Those who “stick with it” often develop into outstanding leaders, having learned patience, dedication and commitment. Steady progress and understanding the meaning of various accomplishments will make a motivated, well adjusted Senior swimmer.

USA Swimming clubs go to great lengths to provide opportunities for all swimmers equally, although sometimes it may seem that more emphasis and time is spent on Senior swimming. An 8/under will swim no more than 45 minutes two or three times a week, while a Senior swimmer may be in the water 18 hours per week! Both swimmers are having their needs met as part of a long term progression. Understanding the long term benefits and the long term progression will help parents navigate the waters of a swimmer’s career. If you associate “time” with “attention”, the longer a swimmer stays with swimming the more attention he or she will receive.



Swimmer's Shoulder

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 child is receiving, make an appointment to speak to the coach privately to discuss your concerns.

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 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”

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.

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.

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!