One of the absolute toughest roles in the sporting experience is that of being an athlete’s parent. For the most part a parent wants only success for his/her daughter/son. The role the parent plays changes as the athlete gets older and more experienced. Imagine Michael Phelps’s Mom’s role over the years. As a swim parent you go through several levels as the swimmer grows up both chronologically and experience wise.
An 8 year old needs to be transported to practice even encouraged to go on many days. They need suits and goggles picked out and purchased. Events at meets need to be chosen and then entered (and paid for). Driving to the meet, feeding, handling the towels and all the logistics fall in your lap. In many ways all the 8 year old does is swim the race and you as parent pretty much do all the rest. The coach plays a role here but in reality probably much less of a role than she/he thinks. The overall focus here is FUN. Make swimming and racing fun and the little ones will keep coming back for more.
If a swim doesn’t turn out exactly how the swimmer wanted it to (and keep in mind that many of them have no real idea how they want it to turn out) as a parent you MUST hide your disappointment. Remind the swimmer they have lots more races and things will change for the better. For the young ones this is true beyond a doubt.
As the swimmer gets older they can start to connect the dots between effort put in to practice and results achieved in meets. They can begin to pick events they choose – not the ones you have chosen for them…remember they do the swimming. If you really think they should swim a 500 but they prefer the 100 perhaps you need to join a Masters team and enter a 500, you know, to sort of get it out of your system☺.
And remember, as they get older and start to distance themselves from you, you must still hide your disappointment when they do not perform up to their and or your levels of expectation.
Trust us on this one point if on no other. No matter what your relationship is with your swimmer, as a parent they so much want your approval, especially when things are going tough for them; and every swimmer on the planet has down cycles. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team as a sophomore. As a pro, he was trusted to take the game winning shot and failed 26 times in his career. He got over it. Your swimmer will get over his/her slow swim; they may never get over the look of disappointment on your face after a tough race. Show and give love and support and you will win another day, sooner than later. You MUST hide your disappointment.
Not long ago we were coaching at the local Junior Olympic long course meet. We observed a young man in the 15-16 age group racing the 1500 meter swim. His Dad was counting for him. After about 300 meters it was obvious – at least to the Dad by his body language – the swim was not going particularly well. At about 600 meters the volume in the Dad’s voice came up 20 or so decibels and had a decidedly critical tone to it. As the swimmer came into the turn Dad was furiously shaking the counter up and down and yelling “Kick harder, come on kick harder”. We wondered if the swimmer could read the counter since it was moving up and down pretty fast. We wondered if the swimmer could actually hear the words the Dad was yelling. We think there is a difference between a loud voice exhorting a swimmer on to glory and a loud voice yelling “commands”.
When the race concluded the Dad walked away from the end of the pool, heading down to the finish end, his head hung down dejectedly muttering to himself. One could only imagine the scene that was to become the swimmer’s next life’s chapter. The ride home gave us pause to think.
Swimming is important to our kids especially as they get older. As one gets closer to 0:00.00 the time reductions become more challenging to achieve. Olympians often go years without improving a time, rather they look for improvement in how well they swim, not merely how fast.
Our sport offers a refreshing respite from subjectivity. No one cares how good you look (though every coach worth her/his salt cares about how good you look in the water!!) they just hand out the medals based upon how fast you swam relative to the rest of the competition. And at the end of the day as a parent it is your responsibility to reward your swimmer’s effort based upon their level of accomplishment in the big view, not merely upon time. There are many swimmers who have posted a very fast time and yet the swim was not done correctly. Conversely, we have seen many excellent swims where the time was not a personal best but there was a lot to be excited about of which to be proud.
As Helen Swartz said many times in the last few months of her glorious life, “I think it is important for each of us to do the very best we can. And only we know if we are doing our best.” As most of you know, Mom’s often have the final word!