This is my (almost) annual post regarding the role of swim parents. The beginning of every swim season is an exciting time for both swimmers and parents. And every year, I try to make sure that parents know how they can best help their swimmers achieve their goals. And the short answer is fairly easy.
Provide unconditional love and support.
Sounds easy, but as a parent myself, I recognize that support can sometimes stray into coaching territory. So let’s change the dynamic here.
Instead of developing a vision of future glory, let’s develop a vision of something much better and much more realistic. Let’s focus on joining a team where your swimmer will have fun. Where they’ll develop a whole new set of traits that will benefit them in the future: discipline, perseverance, attention, time-management, ability to handle success and failure, etc. Where they’ll learn that progress can only come through hard work and attention to detail.
In all honesty, those traits are far more important in the long run than how high up the long ladder of performance they climb.
Here are 7 basic rules / suggestions that can help a parent become an asset to their team, and a positive force in their child’s life. The first two are directly from USA Swimming. I should point out that I still cannot find any guidance for swim parents on the Swimming Canada web site.
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.
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.
2) Don’t coach.
Coaching involves critiquing, and that implies criticism. Your job is to support your child no matter well how they do. Besides, the chances are overwhelming that the coach knows more than you about swimming. If you insist on telling your child how to swim a race, or how to swim a stroke, then your child is now guaranteed to disappoint either the coach or the parent. It’s a classic no-win situation for the child. That kind of pressure is what makes kids quit.
It really boils down to this. You’ve trusted your child to this coach, so let them coach. And if you don’t trust the coach, get your swimmer out of the program. Now.
3) Do NOT disrupt the practice.
This seems obvious, but so often disregarded. The coach is trying to pay attention to all of the swimmers in the pool. Correcting, urging, cajoling, monitoring, etc. We really don’t have the time or attention to start a conversation with a parent unless it’s an emergency. Seriously.
4) Get involved! Find a volunteer position you feel comfortable with, and help out!
Most teams are run by volunteers, and we need help to provide the complete program. Many volunteer positions require very little time, or are only required a few times a year. And many of you have expertise that can be an incredible help. Get involved!
5) You are probably driving your kids to practices and meets. So please be on time. In fact, please be at least 10 minutes early.
Late arrivals disrupt the flow of a practice. Our team policy is that swimmers should be at the pool and ready to swim at least 10 minutes ahead of time.
Late pickups after practice is now a huge problem for coaches (see Rule 7). We are never supposed to be alone with a minor athlete. Don’t put us in that position!
6) Pay attention to your team’s rules on entering and scratching from meets.
If something comes up and your swimmer can longer attend, let the coach know as soon as possible IN WRITING. Personally, I know that after a long practice I won’t remember a casual comment made by a parent concerning a meet. Also be aware that meets have scratch deadlines. The team still has to pay the entry fees if the swimmer is scratched after that date. Which means the parent is paying the entry fee. There’s nothing we can do about that.
7) There are new rules regarding coaches and minor athletes. Please read up on them.
Safe Sport USA has released a new Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policy (MAAPP) that lays out some strict and necessary rules to prevent situations that could lead to child abuse. If you’re interested, here’s the link to the USA Swimming version.
Basically, coaches are now limited in how they can interact with minor athletes. For instance, one-on-one meetings must be observable and interruptible. Coaches are to have no one-on-one social media or electronic communications without their parent/guardian included. Coaches are not to follow or be followed on social media by minor athletes. Coaches are not to travel alone without advance consent from the legal guardian in advance, and are never allowed to stay overnight with an unrelated minor athlete.
There’s much more in MAAPP, but you get the idea. Read it.
One last suggestion.
Every parent should read this incredible article by Steve Henson in The Post Game, “What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent — And What Makes a Great One.”
1) The worst memory of these athletes from playing sports is the ride home from games with their parents. Think about that.
A fascinating aspect of the survey is that kids love having their grandparents at the games. Grandparents are far more likely to just enjoy watching them participate and give them a hug later. No critiques.
2) This is the big point. The statement made by parents that made them feel the best about themselves and their sport? Just 6 words.
“I love to watch you play.”
That’s it. A completely non-judgmental statement that gives complete support and makes them feel good about themselves.