So Your Child is A Swimmer – The Role of a Swimming Parent


Although we have only finished one week of the season, it’s never too early to help parents understand the role they can play in helping their swimmer get the most out of the sport.
USA Swimming used to have a lengthy list of parent responsibilities on their site.  It had about a dozen points on it, and really complicated the role of the parent.  Their site now has 2 points, and only 2. I’ll summarize them, but you can go HEREfor the complete article. (Comments on Swimming Canada’s lack of contribution to this issue are at the end of this blog.)
1) Be your child’s biggest fan, no matter what. Be positive and supportive, and help them feel better about themselves, especially after a poor swim.
2) Don’t coach. USA Swimming correctly points out that coaching involves critiquing their performance, which implies criticism. And its not only that you may not have the knowledge to coach, it’s that your job is to support them. Let the coach do the coaching.
These are fantastic points. Your swimmer will feel enough pressure from their coach, their peers, and especially themselves that they don’t need more pressure from their parents. In fact, swimmers perform best when they are relaxed. The perfect scenario is when they know that they can mess up in a race, and they will still be loved, supported and encouraged afterwards.
The second point is wonderful as well. I can’t tell you how many times at meets I’ve overheard a parent in the stands tell their child how to swim the next race. I feel so sorry for the coach, mainly as the suggestions are not at all useful. But the key issue here is that the child now has to swim the race a certain way in order to please the parent. This pressure isn’t helpful.
Swimming is an odd sport in that it uses muscles and coordination that are just not required for land-based sports – the most important of these being the core muscles. In fact, a well trained 10-year old can usually out swim their parents. And this certainly isn’t because the 10-year old is stronger, or in better shape, or has more knowledge. It’s just that their bodies have been trained to do things that land-based athletes have trouble doing. Ultimately, this means that your vast knowledge of hockey, football and golf isn’t going to help them.
I’m going to drift into the realm of the mundane here and add a few additional housekeeping issues to the 2 points USA Swimming makes.
3) You are probably driving your kids to practices and meets. So please be on time. In fact, please be 10 minutes early. Our team policy for swim meets is that swimmers should be on deck and ready to swim at least 10 minutes prior to the start of warmup.
4) Get involved! The team is run by volunteers, and we need some help. Many volunteer positions require very little time, or are only required a few times a year. And many of you have expertise that would be an incredible help.
5) If you have to cancel your swimmer from a meet, try to let us know as soon as possible IN WRITING. I just will not remember a casual comment made in a brief post-practice conversation. In fact after a practice I can barely remember my name. Meets have scratch deadlines. If we scratch after that point, then we (you!) are paying the meet fees anyway.
You can read the full set of suggestions from the Mighty Tritons buried deep in our Team Handbook HERE(pages 21-22)
You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Swimming Canada in this blog. While they really should address the role of swimming parents, Swimming Canada has restricted itself to Swimming 101 providing the basics of swimming for parents (very useful indeed), and a generic Sports Parent’s Guide to Long TermAthlete Development (an incredibly complicated 28-page guide that only the most fearless insomniac could contemplate reading.) In other words, you won’t get any insights here.
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6 comments

  1. While I agree that most parents shouldn’t coach their kids, it can be quite helpful if it’s done in the right way. By the right way, I mean the parent should first learn as much as possible about swimming and the latest research on swimming. I did and found that the coaching my kids got from my rec club was woefully inadequate. Not every coach out there is informed and up to date with current swimming science and pedagogy. In additional coaching should take place in the off season as a trial period and to avoid conflicts with the team practices. Once you determined that your coaching methods are helping your child to improve and there are no personal conflicts, the one on one attention is much more effective than the team practices. Face it, no coaches can give a swimmer the love, attention, and dedication a parent can! If your child is in the bottom 10 pepercentile, it’s going to take a lot of work to get them to the top 10 percentile. You can pay for a lot of private coaching, but there’s still no guarantee that it would work. But it’s also very expensive at $50/hr! Bottom line is parent coaching can work for some. Let’s not categorically deny it!

    1. Allen, I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
      First of all, there is no need for private coaching, and no need for parental coaching. If you disagree strongly with the coaching philosophy at your club, then change clubs! Otherwise, trust your coach to have your child’s LONG TERM welfare in mind when they structure practices. You may want your child to swim more often, and harder, and get better quickly, and reach that top 10 percentile. But if your child is young, that type of pressure just increases the chances they’ll quit before they get a chance to reach their potential.
      Your job as a parent should be to find a program you trust, and then trust it. Then support your child the best you can, no matter how they do. Coaching them implies criticism, which implies not accepting their effort or performance.
      Lastly, off seasons are very important for athletes. It gives them a mental break from the training stresses that occur for our very long seasons. I don’t want my swimmers to be swimming during the 1-2 months off they have every year. They should be active, but in some activity other than swimming.

  2. Yes, we’ll have to agree to disagree. Parental coaching is not for your average parent and athlete. It should be done with the utmost care and consideration. It’s been a great opportunity for my son and me to connect and spend quality time together. And the results speak for itself. I am sure you are aware that Peter Andrew coaches his son, Michael Andrew. They seem to have a great time together. Yes, it’s rare, but it’s a successful model of parental coaching.

    1. Hi Allen. Just to clarify, are you talking about a parent who is also the team’s swim coach, or a parent who wishes to also coach outside of the team environment?

      If it’s the first, there are many good examples of a parent who is also the official coach. And you’re right, it’s very tricky as there has to be a clear demarcation between when the coaching hat is on, and when the parent hat is on. I’ve heard parent-coaches talk about the car as that boundary. Once in the car, the parent hat goes on. Difficult, but doable.

      I had been assuming based on your comment about supplementing team training with outside training, that you were talking about the parent coaching outside of the team environment. I’m completely against this, as there is no demarcation. The time not training with the team now becomes a combination of parent and coach. I don’t think that’s good for the athlete’s emotional welfare, or their longevity in the sport.

      In any case, thanks for the discussion. It’s been interesting.

  3. I am talking about it being possible for both situations. I would encourage every parent to do as much or as little as they wish for their child(ren) to reach the child’s fullest athletic potential. In my situation, I was first a parent who just wanted my son to try swimming as his first competitive sport. After he completed the first season, we decided together that I would help him during the off season. So we started our long journey together learning swimming techniques from the internet and Youtube. I only trained my son when he wanted to be trained, which was everyday including weekends and holidays. We didn’t know what to expect the following season. There was absolutely no pressure or expectations. Luckily, he was very successful. He was 2nd overall in the 11-12 age group in our conference. There were about 65 swimmers total. He also broke the 15 year old breaststroke record. The club offered me a position on the coaching staff and I coached with the team for about 1/2 of the season. Now, I continue to coach my son who just turned 14 recently and preparing him for high school swimming come February. The bottom line is I wouldn’t discourage any parents from wanting to coach their kids if that’s what they and their kids want to try. It can be successful because many of the problems people bring up are overstated. Let the kids take ownership of the training. They decide what they want to work on and how hard they want to work. The parent is only there to provide guidance and technical instructions and feedback. Rely on current swimming science and technology, not swimming dogma. Don’t be afraid to break from the status quo if you want to separate yourself from the masses.

I love comments, especially when they disagree with my view.

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