Five Ways to Not Be THAT Swim Parent

Maybe it’s because when my oldest started swimming, I was already friends with many veteran swim parents. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I never really babied my girls, and have always done my best to teach personal responsibility and independence.  Quite possibly, it’s just because I am a level-headed personal without anxiety or mental impairment; but I have never been that crazy 12 & under parent like the scores of them I saw this past weekend and over the past few years. There is a major difference between 13 and over sessions and 12 and under sessions, the main difference being the parents’ level of cray-cray.  It’s because I haven’t been that crazy parent, that I can tell you how to avoid becoming one of “those parents.” Because, you see, if I can tell swim parents how to avoid becoming crazy, then perhaps I won’t have to continue to kick you off the pool deck, sometimes multiple times throughout a meet. Here are five things you need to know to avoid being that crazy swim parent:

1. Missing Races: It is 100% inevitable, that the vast majority of kids will either miss their event entirely, or come really close to missing their event at least one time in their swimming careers. Most swimmers who do miss an event, will only do so once. It’s a tough way to learn, but I would venture a guess that most of the kids who miss an event never do so again. I’m going to let you in on a little secret as to the #1 reason that young swimmers miss their events. . . they have helicopter parents who think that it is better for their swimmer to hang out with them in the bleachers/stands, on the side of the deck somewhere, out at the concession stand, or in a hallway outside of the pool area. If your child is old enough to join a swim team, survive at a preschool, or go to elementary school, it is pretty safe to assume that your child will also survive a swim meet where they must sit with their team/coach and avoid talking to you. Allow your swimmer to experience a little independence, even if they’re scared, even if they’re young, even if you’re scared. And if a swimmer misses their event, do not immediately assume that your child has been abducted and has left the building. (True story. Turns out the child was SWIMMING a race in the next heat while the mother was screaming and crying and searching all over the place and accusing anyone and everyone of child abduction.) Don’t be this parent. Take off your propeller hat and sit in the stands like a big girl, unless you want your child living in your basement when they’re 45.

2. The Super Cheerleader: I have this thing where once the first whistle blows, I will yell, “Go ‘Fly Girl'” or “‘Go Sassy’.” It’s sort of a superstition thing. Most swimmers (and their swim parents) have some type of superstition. For example, my oldest will not brush her hair on the day of a morning meet. I used to yell all during the races for my girls, not to the point where those around me wanted to kill me, but enough to make me feel like my words were pushing them a little faster. Then I asked my oldest if she ever heard me when I was yelling for her. Her answer? “Well, when I’m swimming breast stroke, all I really hear is ‘ahh’ pause ‘ahh’ pause.” That cemented it for me. Unless the race is SUPER close and I am absolutely CERTAIN that only my cheering will get her to the wall first, I pretty much keep quiet. (Those of you who were seated near me when Fly Girl took 1st by a ridiculously small margin at a big meet last March, shhh. That never even happened.)

There is a woman in my previous LSC who is notorious for being the most obnoxious parent in the stands. Her husband videotapes each race while chewing gum so fast I can’t imitate if I try; and his wife stands and wiggles (think convulsions), while screaming in this shrill, absolutely mind-splitting voice as she CONSTANTLY repeats her son’s name over and over. Once I thought my friend was going to be knocked unconscious, because she also shoots random fists out in the direction she wants him to go in. At the end of the race, she thrusts her elbow back past her hip and screams “Right on SCHEDULE” which makes every parent in a 15 ft radius instantly feel capable of murder. Your child CAN NOT hear you, so watch your volume and PLEASE think of the ears of those surrounding you, especially those right in front of you.

3. Pre-Plan Meet Snacks: I can not tell you how many bags of goldfish crackers I hand-delivered to “starving” children this past weekend at the meet. One man tried to storm right past me, clutching the crackers to his chest, like he was carrying a football past a defense-man. My girls bags are LOADED with snacks, more than they could ever possibly consume. They have peanut butter oatmeal energy bites, granola packets, tons of fruit, usually a sandwich, a water bottle filled to the top with ice and water, and I can count on zero hands the number of times they’ve come asking me to get them snacks during a meet this year.  Plan ahead and spare your child the starvation, and the meet marshall the frustration of having to chase you down and ask you to leave. You are not allowed to deliver food on deck. Period.

4. Be a Parent, Not a Coach: There is a reason we shell out good money for swimming programs. It’s because my husband and I are not swim coaches. The girls need instruction from knowledgeable people. We are great at telling them what a wonderful swim they had. We are awesome about shuttling them to and from practices and meets. We volunteer for the swim club and get on board with our team. We do NOT question the coaches. Not ever. At our previous club, we were co-Presidents. I knew our coaches quite well and spoke to them frequently about matters regarding the club. Occasionally I asked their opinion or for their help with something related to swimming. But I knew my role and I played it. I am NOT a coach. Parents of 10 & under swimmers who think they are coaches to their kids are not doing their kids any favors. Choose to be the parent, and leave the coaching up to the professionals. Also, your reading of every swim article and book you can find does not make you a swim coach.

5. Stop Acting Like Your Kid is Going to the Olympics: There is not a single 10 and under swimmer who holds a world record for anything swimming related. Not one of them. How your child swims as a 10 and under swimmer (and frankly, you might as well include 12 & under in this group too, and you could potentially even include 14 & under. . . ) is zero indication of how good your swimmer will be later on. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.  Only 11% of Top 16 swimmers as a 10 & under are still ranked by the 17-18 age group. Roughly HALF of the top swimmers develop AFTER their Junior Year in high school.  Take a minute and soak that in.

This is now our 6th year involved in swimming and I can not tell you the number of 12 & under swimmers I’ve seen who were really something special at a young age. Almost like magic, many of them turn 13+ and they’re not even swimming anymore. All those young years of examining videotapes, and looking for the edge over other swimmers are absolutely pointless. It’s hard not to get caught up when you see your child performing extremely well and continuing to improve. However, for many, there’s a hard wall coming; and most times, that wall is hardest hit by the parent as they watch their own Olympic stands dreams fizzle out.

When we knew we were moving and were interviewing coaches and looking for a new swim club, something one of the coaches said struck us both. A top coach in USA Swimming whose club is consistently ranked among the best in the country, had some insight on 12 & under girls. He said that even the worst coach can take a 12 & under female swimmer and “wring her out,” meaning that girls this age will continue to do what they’re asked to do without question. You can drive them into the ground with extra practices and a push for more and more yardage. You can add on dry land and start hitting weights and you’ll see rapid fire improvement. You’ll feel you’re on the right course and so will your swimmer. . . until they hit the inevitable wall. They reach a point of complete and utter physical and mental exhaustion after years of being the “yes” girl. Don’t be tempted by coaches who claim they can make your 12 & under a national champion. Don’t buy into every specialized program made just for swimmers, because it’s really the money they’re looking for; and like this coach told us, any coach can wring out a 12 & under girl. But she’ll have little chance of a future in swimming. And wouldn’t it be a shame to waste all that time and energy for such a short career that no one will even remember? There are many Olympic swimmers who didn’t start swimming until well beyond the 12 & under window. Starting young and being a phenom at an early age is not an indication of future success; but it could be an indication of future injury and major burnout. Don’t be that parent.

There you have it. Take it or leave it. If you’re one of those parents, you’re likely to leave it. But perhaps I can catch some of you newbies and guide you down the path that won’t make veteran swim parents want to wring your neck. You’re welcome.

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