Things to Ponder

Children compete in sport for many different reasons, including health and fitness, building friendships, and learning new skills.  However, the main reason why children take up sport is because it’s FUN.  It is vitally important that parents never forget that enjoyment goes hand in hand with excellence in sport.  And not only in the early years.

“Mainly I like to have fun.  Swimming is all about fun, and I am a firm believer that you should keep swimming as long as you are having fun; but I can say it becomes much more fun as you get older and learn more about sport, life and especially more about yourself”.  Scott Goldblatt, US Olympic medallist.

The unconditional love and support of a parent is an important contributing factor in the development of young athletes in all sports.

Being a good swimming parent requires a bit of training, effort and education.

The behaviour of children up to age 10 is very much a reflection of behaviour taught and accepted by parents.  Successful sports behaviour commitment to task, self-discipline, determination, confidence and a work ethic – can be shaped early on by parents, and then developed by parents and coaches.

As a parent your major responsibility is to provide a stable, loving and supportive environment.  This environment will encourage your child to continue swimming.  Show your interest by facilitating your child’s attendance at training, by supporting at meets, by volunteering to help out with the running of the Club and at our Club Champs and Open meets.  Parents contribute to the success of their child and the Club as a whole, and they serve as role models for their children.  Your children will emulate you so it’s really important that you strive to be positive .

Let the Coach Coach

The best way to help your child achieve goals and reduce natural fear of failure is through positive reinforcement.  No one likes to make mistakes, and if your child makes one remember that it is a learning experience, not a life changing situation.  Encourage your child’s efforts and point out positive things.  The coach in the one you have entrusted to judge their performance and technique.  Your role is to provide support regardless of outcome.

“All that craziness,” is how Monics Teuscher described the rituals of other parents who nervously followed their children’s swimming development.  Mother of US swimmer Christina, a 1996 and 2000 Olympian, she never owned a stop watch.  She didn’t know all her daughters times off by heart, shout during her races, or regularly seek out her coach for private chats after training.  During meets she read or knitted, only to be amused when other parents gave her a rundown of her daughter’s swims, complete with splits. 

When asked about his world record time, Debbie Phelps, mother of Michael, famously responded, “I’m not sure – 1:50 something?”.

While not necessarily advocating a total hands-off approach, parents need to find a healthy balance, and to stand back and let the coach do their job.

Process vs Outcome

There are two types of goals that swimmers can set:

  • Outcome goals: focus on the end result of performance. ” Win, make finals.”
  • Process goals: relate to process of performance.  ” Breathe every 4th Stroke, streamline.”

Swimmers have much more control over Process Goals.  Outcome Goals are uncontrollable since they also involve the performance of other competitors.  Swimmers and coaches, especially at the Age Group level, should concentrate on Process Goals.

The most successful swimmers and their parents have learned to focus on the process and not the outcome.  Giving an honest effort regardless of what the outcome, is much more important than winning.  One Olympian said, ” My goal was to set a world record.  Well, I did that, but someone else did it too, just a little faster than I did.  I achieved my goal and I lost.  Does this make me a failure? No, in fact I am very proud of that swim.”  What a tremendous outlook to carry through life. 

Positive Parenting Tips

  • Love your child unconditionally
  • Support their coach
  • Accept that they cannot win or PB every time they compete
  • Allow them to have fun
  • Help them to develop as a person with character and values
  • Turn off as a sporting parent; don’t make sport the only topic of conversation at home
  • Don’t do everything for them teach them responsibility and self-management
  • Don’t bribe and offer material rewards
  • Understand development – long term as an athlete, and the way individual growth and development impacts performance
  • Don’t impose your ambitions on your child – swimming is their activity, not yours.  Don’t expect them to become and Olympian.
  • Emphasise performance and effort, not just outcome
  • Be clam, relaxed and dignified at competitions
  • Provide great nutrition and don’t reward championship performance with junk food
  • Don’t play the guilt game. “Do you realise how much I have had to give up for your swimming”.  Everyone loses.
  • Encourage the occasional down time, and encourage friendships and activities away from swimming: it’s all about balance
  • Show interest in and support your child’s training effort; don’t just show up at meets to watch the outcome
  • Get involved in the running of the Club and it’s meets
  • Don’t ever coach your child, whatever background.  You have taken your child to a professional coach; don’t undermine them and don’t confuse your child
  • Accept plateau.  There will be times then your child does not seem to be improving.  This is normal.  Encourage focus on learning new skills, having fun, and help them to develop perseverance and patience.
  • Don’t compare your child with others.  Children develop at different times in terms of size, strength, co-ordination, emotional and intellectual maturity.  Measure them only against their best efforts.
  • Don’t criticise the officials, and never criticise the coach in front of the swimmer.
  • Work to form an effective coach – swimmer – parent triangle
  • To maintain good club morale and a positive culture, air any genuine grievances or concerns with the coach or Management Committee rather than with other parents
  • Love your child unconditionally.

For an entertaining approach to the swimming parent debate, take a look at ” Ten Ways for the Swim Parent to sabotage Their Child’s Swimming Career”.