PUBERTY complicates everything. You would think that because they are getting bigger and presumably stronger, your swimmers would be getting faster. Yes, and no. Whether fair or not, in the end, puberty is highly beneficial to almost all boys, but with girls can be more ambiguous. Boys
lose fat and gain muscle, getting bigger and stronger; girls, too, gain in height and strength, but they also add fat deposits. With proper nutrition (that does not mean starvation diets or eating disorders) and proper training (lots and lots of aerobic work, consistently), these questionable changes can be kept to a minimum, with no long-term harmful effects.
In the short run, during puberty kids are growing, but they are growing unevenly. Arms and legs and torsos don‟t have the same proportions as they did last week, either of strength or length, so coordination can go haywire. Strokes may fall apart or come and go. Also, various psychological
changes are affecting swimming and everything else. Interests change and priorities are re-ordered. All these changes can cause the child‟s athletic performances to stagnate. It can be a highly frustrating time for all involved. Fortunately, it doesn‟t last long.
THE perils of getting older. Aging up is sometimes traumatic. Formerly very good ten-year-olds become mediocre 11 & 12‟s overnight. And often, the better they were in the younger age group, and the higher their expectations of success, the more traumatic the change is for them because the more their “perceived competence” has suddenly nose-dived as they now race against bigger and stronger and faster competition. They are bonsais racing sequoia trees, and the standards of judgment have ratcheted up dramatically. The fastest kids are much faster than they are, to the point that they think they cannot compete, so they figure, “Why try? Working hard isn‟t going to get me far, anyway. I may as well wait until my „good year.‟” Often we see a tremendous jump upwards in practice intensity as swimmers approach their last meet in an age group (they want to go out with a bang),
then a tremendous plummeting in that intensity as they become just one of the pack. This is in despite of the coach‟s discussing the matter with the swimmer.
SUPPORT, NOT PRESSURE
THE Rock of Gibraltar. As they succeed then fail then succeed again, kids will ride emotional roller-coasters. One of your most important functions as a swimming parent is to provide emotional support during the tough times, of which there will be many. Let them know that they are still loved, no matter how poorly they think they swam. And don‟t let them get cocky when they win.
DON’T coach your kids. If the swimmer is hearing one story from his coach and another from his parent, we have one confused swimmer. A swimmer must have trust in his coach and in the program, and he will not if his parents are implicitly telling him that they know best. If you have concerns
about the coaching or the coaching advice, talk to the coach directly. If in the end, you feel that you cannot support the coach or the program, your best course is to find a team whose coach you trust. Your swimmer has a coach; who needs you to be a parent.
THE next Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps?? No matter how good your swimmer seems to be as a ten-year-old, don‟t get your hopes too high. Don‟t expect an Olympian (you are allowed to hope for an Olympian), and don‟t judge his every move (or swim) by Olympian standards. In order to make it to the Olympics so many things over such a comparatively long time have to go right, so many decisions have to be made “correctly” (and can only be seen to be correct with hindsight), and so much plain good luck is required, that the odds are heavy against it. Further, many kids are physically talented, but few have the mental talent: the poise, drive, and persistence to develop the gifts they are given. As psychologist Howard Gruber, who has made a life-work out of studying great achievers, has argued, the difference between the very good and the truly great isn‟t talent but much harder and consistent work.
IN praise of famous kids? Don‟t puff up a 10-year old, or we will end up with a monster on our hands. Don‟t get too impressed, don‟t praise too highly – leave room for when they get a lot better. No matter how fast a child swims, it is still a child swimming, and the level of accomplishment is very low compared to how high she will reach five or ten years from now. Don’t treat him like a superstar, because the more you treat him like a superstar, the less likely he will become one.
Pampered kids aren‟t tough. Similarly, be careful not to brag about your swimmer to other parents. No one likes to hear continuous talk about someone else‟s kid, and if your swimmer is really good, it will be apparent to everyone without your having to tell them. Dale Carnegie said, “Talk about them, not about me.” Translate this into: “Talk about their swimmer, not about mine.”
EVERY Soviet victory a victory for Soviet socialist ideology? How your child swam in the 50 fly ten minutes ago is no reflection of your value as a person or as a parent. A first-place ribbon does not validate your parenting techniques or the quality of your genes. Alternately, a slow swim should not
bring into question a family‟s commitment, financial and otherwise, to a child‟s swimming. Swimming is hard enough for a child without having to carry around his/her parent’s‟ self-esteem on his/her shoulders when they race. Also, remember that what goes around comes around. The better you allow yourself to feel about a victory now, the worse a loss will feel next meet or the next event.
JEKYLL and Hyde. Coaches often undergo miraculous transformations. It is always interesting to watch parents‟ changing attitudes and behavior towards the coach when their children are “succeeding” or “failing.” When the child swims well, the coach is a good chap and everyone‟s happy. When the child bombs, the coach is an Untouchable who should not be looked in the eye. Sometimes this change occurs in the space of half an hour. Precious few parents treat the coach the same way no matter how their children perform.
TO BE CONTINUED…..