Michael Brooks, North Baltimore Aquatic Club
WE all want what is best for the child. That is sometimes hard for coaches to understand. That is also sometimes hard for parents to understand. Much of the historical tension between coaches and parents can be avoided if we agree on two golden rules: first, let’s cut each other some slack and not jump on and over-react to the first unsubstantiated third-hand rumor that comes down the pike. And second, let’s communicate, often, and not just when we may have a problem.
YOU are key to your child’s swimming. A parent’s attitude toward swimming, the program, the coach, and his child’s participation, is key to the child’s attitude and success. The young swimmer takes cues from his parent. If the parent shows by word, deed, facial expression, etc., that he does not value swimming, that he doesn’t appreciate having to drive to practice or sit in the stands during meets, that “it’s not going to matter” if the child skips a practice, that morning practices are just “optional” and that the child would be better off with the extra sleep, then the chances are very good that the child will lack commitment, have little success, then lose interest in swimming. Support your child’s interest in swimming by being positively interested.
ALLOW your swimmer to be resilient. Failure, and facing that failure, doesn’t cause kids to melt. Failure isn’t such an evil thing that parents should try to shield their kids from it. Allow them to fail, then teach them to get up off the canvas and try harder to succeed the next time. If parents are continually sheltering their swimmers from the storm, cushioning every fall, making excuses for them, finding someone else to blame, the children never learn anything. Even worse, they never learn that they are responsible both for their failures and for their successes. Allow them to stand on their own, and you will be helping them immeasurably down the road.
TEACH them to dream big – a world of infinite possibilities. If you try to temper your child’s dreams, if you teach her to settle for the ordinary, you may indeed save her from many a heartache and many a failure. But you also rob her of the opportunity of achieving great things, and the opportunity to plumb her depths and realize her potential. Winning big means failing many times along the way. Each failure hurts, but these temporary setbacks create the strength for the final push. Instead of having children avoid failure by never taking risks, teach them how to think correctly about failing: risk-taking and failure are necessary for improvement, development, motivation, feedback, and long-term success.
WHAT success is. Only one swimmer can win the race. Often in the younger age groups, the winner will be the one who has bloomed early, not necessarily the swimmer with the most talent or the most potential to succeed in senior swimming. It is expected that every parent wants his child to succeed, wants his child to have a good and learning and valuable experience with swimming. Every child can succeed – only make sure you define success correctly: being the very best you can be, striving for improvement in every aspect of swimming. That leads to lasting success. And lasting enjoyment.
DON’T reward success by bribery. “Bribing” your swimmer to perform well by promising presents, money, special meals, etc. for meeting various standards is highly discouraged. While bribery may work in the short run – the swimmer may indeed swim fast this afternoon – the long term consequences are never good. You have to keep upping the ante, and you must ask yourself: why does my swimmer want to swim fast? What is really motivating him? Is this good? What is a twelve-year-old going to do with a new car?
NO little league parents. Kids sometimes make mistakes at meets. If your child is disqualified at a meet, don’t complain, don’t whine, don’t make excuses. Your child’s DQ is not a reflection of the quality of your parenting. The official is not blind, he does not have a vendetta against your child or your family or your team, and he is not incompetent. In fact, he has a much better vantage on your child’s race than you do, and he is looking on dispassionately. You are sitting up in the stands where you can’t see precisely, and you are paying attention to everything except the exact angle of your child’s left foot as he kicks in breaststroke. If a DQ is questionable, as sometimes is the case, the coach – and not the parent – will take the proper steps. And even then, DQ’s are almost never overturned, so don’t get your hopes up.
By the by, most DQ’s aren’t surprises to the coach. If a swimmer rehearses an illegal turn forty thousand times in training despite a coach’s feedback, then that illegal habit will likely show up under the stress of a race.
BURNOUT is over-rated. So many times parents and kids will say, “I don’t want to commit to swimming because I don’t want to get burned out.” But for every one case of “burnout” caused by a swimmer’s spending too much time in the water and working too hard, we will see a hundred cases of “pre-emptive burnout”: in order not to be burned out, the swimmer only comes to practice when she feels like it, doesn’t work out very hard, skips team meets with regularity, and generally makes no commitment to the program or to the sport. Not surprisingly, the swimmer swims slow, makes little to no improvement, and sees her formerly slower competitors whiz right by her. Then we wonder why she “just can’t get jazzed about swimming.”
TO BE CONTINUED