Youth Sports: If I Knew What I Know Now

swimming pool in Palm Springs

Our beautiful city pool where our team practices.

I made a major mistake as a swim mom. This is a true confession of how I blew it and how I wish I knew years ago what I know today. I’m talking about understanding the role of a swim parent. I listened to a webinar yesterday by Growing Champions for Life’s founder David Benzel. He said he started his not-for-profit because he made so many mistakes as a sports parents and wanted to help others from making the same mistakes.

That’s how I feel, too. That’s why I began writing parenting advice for SwimSwam, the world’s most read swimming site. What I heard yesterday from Benzel made me remember a lot of the mistakes we made — yes, I’m dragging my husband into this, too.

Picture a triangle. In the center of it all is the youth sports team, whether it’s club or school. Your child, the student-athlete, is at the top of the triangle. The left bottom corner is the coach and the remaining corner is the parent. We each have a different role to play. It’s crucial we understand what our role is and not get in the other person’s lane.

For athletes, their role is to have fun, learn new skills and develop character through sports.

For parents, we need to teach character lessons, build family unity and reinforce sports messages.

For coaches, their job is to teach sports skills, build team unity and to reinforce character lessons.

That simple equation of Swimmers swim, Coaches coach and Parents parent hit home. I realized that one big mistake in swim parenting started when the kids were very young. There was a much more experienced swim dad who worked at the same firm with my husband. He told us how great a sport swimming was. He suggested reading up on technique because of the fine details like how a swimmer holds their hand and enters the water could make a difference in how fast they swam. That sounded so fascinating to me and my husband.

That little bit of advice and information opened up a can or worms. We thought it meant IT WAS OKAY TO COACH OUR KIDS. It’s not. It’s very confusing for kids when we are yelling from the sidelines, or telling them to do something a certain way after practice, on the drive home. Their coach may be focusing on something altogether different.

Now that I became a swimmer with my own coach. I understand that he often gives me one or two things to work on. He doesn’t overwhelm me with everything that’s wrong with my stroke. He tries to correct head position, or rotation. Something basic and integral, before moving on to the next “fix.’

As parents, we often have no clue what the coach’s objective is. We don’t know what they are focused on. By inserting ourselves into the wrong lane — the coach’s lane — we can cause confusion for our kids, frustration for us and the coach. I talked to my daughter about how we tried to coach and how wrong that was. She said, “You did forever. You guys never stopped.”

Another reason why it’s bad to put on the coaching hat, when we aren’t the coach, is this: kids want to please their parents. Continual coaching and correcting can make our children believe they have failed us.

Best to focus on telling our kids, “I love to watch you swim.” Tell them how proud you are of their hard work and let them have fun.

my kids and me at PAC 12 swimming champs

At the PAC 12 swimming championships with my son and daughter.

What experiences did you have as a sports parent and did you ever catch yourself coaching when you shouldn’t?

Day 181: Power is Out!

It’s day 181 since our county was told to shelter in place. What a strange day it is. We have a planned power outage and the temperature is supposed to hit 103 degrees. I had the AC on blast this morning to keep the house cool. I was planning ahead. But then we forgot the obvious. We didn’t open the garage or pull a car out to the street. We are seriously on lock down now! I hope our old house stays cool. I’m using my iphone as a personal “hotspot” to post this. So I’m keeping it short.

I am going to share something positive and beautiful today. It’s a video of gorgeous music by two of my son’s girlfriend’s sisters. My daughter shot the video. It brings me joy to watch it, I’ll probably play it several times today as I sit in our house without electricity — that is until my phone’s battery dies.

 

How do kids learn good sportsmanship?

Hopefully your kids are back competing and going to practice, but for many that time hasn’t arrived yet. I was fortunate to observe a lot of kids who were really good sports during my years as a swim mom. I wondered, how did those kids get so happy, humble and blessed at such a young age? Usually the answer was having parents who showed good sportsmanship, too. Is it something that can be learned?

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Open Water Nats–being good sports after a close 5k race.

Nobody likes a sore loser and I think it’s even worse to have a gloating winner. Several years ago, I found an article on CNN called “If I Were a Parent: Teaching kids to be good sports” by Kelly Wallace, the number one way to teach good sportsmanship is through role modeling.

“Losing is not easy for many kids, and being a graceful winner can in some ways be even harder, so the question becomes: what can parents do to teach their children good sportsmanship?

“Rule No. 1 seems simple enough but is too often overlooked by helicopter parents who are living vicariously through their children. Parents should model the behavior they want to see in their kids, said John O’Sullivan, author of “Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids.”

“Kids are not very good at listening, but they are fantastic at imitating,” said O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing the Game Project, which says it seeks to “put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’ “

“And so if you want your kids to display good sportsmanship, you should. If you don’t want your kids to yell at referees, you shouldn’t yell at referees.”

The article goes on to talk about the flip side, lousy winners:

“And as for teaching your child how to win and win gracefully, remind them how it felt when they were on the losing side. “The biggest thing that I always say to my team when you’re winning by a lot is, ‘you know what, you’ve been on the other side of it where you’ve lost by a lot. Do you remember how that felt? So don’t do anything that’s going to make your opponent feel any worse right now,’ ” O’Sullivan said.

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Cheering on a teammate at PAC 12 swimming championships.

What do we mean when we talk about being a good sport? It’s easy to point out kids and parents who aren’t. They are mean, rude, usually loud and they do not care about how they affect those around them. Parents who are bad sports are causing fights these days with coaches and landing in jail! With social media catching every incident of bad parent behavior, it seems like it’s happening more frequently, but I haven’t seen any stats to know if that true or not.

Being a good sport is simple. It’s treating others with respect. It’s not talking badly about others behind their backs or throwing your equipment down. I remember when my brother was on the golf team in high school, there was a player that broke their golf clubs more than once when they lost — and he was the best golfer on the team. Staying composed and not getting too caught up in the moment helps us be better role models. In our kids’ sports, the process is just as important–or more so–than winning.

I think another important element in teaching good sportsmanship, besides being good role models, is to compliment our kids when you see them being a good sport. In swimming after races, you often see swimmers reaching over lane lines to hug the winner or you see the winner reaching out to competitors to shake hands. When you see your child being a good sport, point it out and say you’re proud of them. If you see other kids showing good sportsmanship, be sure to tell your child how much you admire them for their actions.

How do you teach your children good sportsmanship?

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My daughter showing good sportsmanship at a college dual meet.

 

Why Our Kids Need to Play Sports

Two years ago I wrote about the importance of having our kids play sports. Today, so many of our kids’ opportunities have been taken away thanks to COVID-19. With the Big 10 deciding to allow sports to resume this fall, I’m hoping the PAC 12 will join them. My daughter was a swimmer in the PAC 12 for the Utes and I’m a third generation UW Dawg. I think so many activities for our kids, regardless of their ages, will sorely be missed this year. Here are many of the reasons why our kids need to play sports:

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My kids at the last PAC 12 Championship Meet.

I’ve written extensively that one of the best things we did for our kids was sign them up with the Piranha Swim Team, our local USA Swimming club team. There are too many benefits to list, but here are a few: physical fitness, self confidence, friendships, teamwork, good sportsmanship, and time management.

I found a parenting column written by syndicated columnist Armin Brott in the Courier from Waterloo, Iowa where he’s asked “You’ve talked a lot about kids and sports. Why are sports so important?”

His answers touch on several different areas including how healthy sports are for kids. I agree that the health aspects are great. My kids have always been physically fit and never battled with being a couch potato or being overweight. My son who left swimming after high school works out like a mad man. He wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to row in the Bay area’s Estuary with a rowing club and he works out at a gym. My daughter swam through college and likes to try other activities like spin classes, kick boxing and yoga. Their high level of fitness began when they were young kids and it’s an integral part of their life to feel good physically.

Here’s what Brott said in his article:

One in three children is now overweight or obese — triple the rate it was for us — and school shootings and other violence committed by children, which was largely unheard of in our day, is startlingly common.

The question of what we can do to, quite literally, save our children (or at least improve their lives) is a popular one. Despite all the debate, one of the most effective solutions to so many of the problems that affect young people these days rarely comes up: sports.

Kids who get involved in sports during middle and especially high school are better off in a variety of important ways. Compared to non-athletes, sports-involved kids are less likely to be obese, smoke tobacco or take drugs, and have better cardiovascular fitness, coordination and balance. Student athletes also get better grades and are more likely to graduate high school and go on to college; they handle stress better, have better self-esteem and are less likely to report feeling lonely or anxious or to become teen parents.

Sports also teaches kids valuable skills in communication, cooperation, teamwork, goal setting, problem solving, learning to lose, resilience, respect for authority, controlling their emotions, patience, self-sacrifice and more, says Graham Clark, a retired high-school football coach in Kingsport, Tenn.

Another topic the author touches on in his column is Title IX. Although the purpose of Title IX is admirable–allowing more opportunities for women in sports at the college level–like most things a bunch of politicians come up with — there are unintended consequences. The unintended consequences are less opportunities for men. Because of the large rosters of football teams, and Title IX require a proportional number of female and male athletes, lots of smaller men’s teams get the axe. In the PAC 12, the conference my daughter swam in, there are nine women’s swim teams while only six for men. In Division 1 Swimming, there are 136 teams for men while there are 196 women’s team. As for scholarships, men have 1,346.4 and women 2,716.

Here’s what the column says about Title IX:

We also need to develop policies and procedures to ensure that children and young adults have access to sports at every level. Right now, colleges around the country, and a small but growing number of high schools, are using Title IX — which is ostensibly designed to promote equality — to cut sports programs, especially those for men and boys. They’re using the concept of “proportionality,” which states that percentages of male and female student athletes must be the same as the percentages of male and female students in the institution as a whole.

Nationwide, the on-campus female-to-male ratio is 57:43. However, since those percentages are roughly reversed for student athletes, institutions are resorting to cutting men’s teams to produce “equity.”

“With all the known positive benefits that boys gain from participating in sports, it makes absolutely no sense to cut male athletes from high school teams just to comply with Title IX’s gender quota,” says Eric Pearson, chairman, American Sports Council.

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My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine years ago.

How are your kids’ activities impacted because of the Coronavirus?

How to help when your child feels down

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Waffles looks sad, too.

As a parent, have you ever tried to help your child feel better when they’re feeling down — only to find you’re making them more upset or angry?

I have. I seem to do it quite frequently these days with my daughter. She’ll be upset over something, and I try to say something to make her feel better. Our conversations tend to get heated and I get berated for not understanding or for saying the wrong things.

I ran into an article today that is meant for younger kids, but I think I can use some of the advice. It’s from the Harvard Health Blog and called 4 parenting tips to break the negativity loop by Negativity loop accurately describes how I feel when I try to reassure or comfort my daughter and we go down a dark hole. Sperling offers advice on how to use validation so your kids know you’re listening to them.

Here’s an excerpt:

Start by validating emotions

Parents have a lot of wisdom to share with their children, and their advice often is filled with a lot of logic. Unfortunately, that logic tends to backfire when shared with someone experiencing an unhappy emotion, and can make the emotion even stronger. Both children and adults need to feel heard before their ears can open up and hear what else you have to say, so try to validate first before you try to help children appreciate positive aspects of a situation.

Validation allows us all to feel heard. You are not agreeing or disagreeing with the emotion; you’re showing that you see it. For example, if your daughter comes home sulking after scoring two goals in soccer and missing the final one, you might have the urge to say, “Why are you so sad? You scored two goals and looked like you were having so much fun while playing!” Your intention is kind, yet does not match your daughter’s experience. Instead, try reflecting how she is feeling by saying, “You’re disappointed that you didn’t make that final shot.” This acknowledges that your daughter is disappointed without agreeing or disagreeing with her.

Another tip she offers is to practice gratitude. She has several ideas depending on how old your kids are. Click to read more here.

She suggests having your child write three things they are thankful for and she states it will help improve their mood. I read a book called “Flourish” by Martin Seligman who is the Director of the Positive Psychology Center at U Penn. In that book, he described an exercise called the “Three Blessings,” where you write three things in your day that were positive and then write an explanation of why they happened. He found through his studies that the Three Blessings exercise is as effective as meds. I get started with it in the evenings and stick with for a week or two and then I forget about it. I’m going to make an effort to get back to that practice.

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Olive in a negative mood.

How do you stop the negativity loop with your kids?

So much stuff and how to let go

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The view from where I work. The home we’ve lived in for 28 years.

We have lived in our house for close to three decades. During that time, we’ve acquired a lot of stuff. We had our babies here, raised them and sent them off to school and adulthood. They left most of their stuff behind in their bedrooms. It’s time to declutter!

We are in the process of clearing out junk, getting the yard cleaned up, and fixing the house up. We’re talking about moving. Whether or not that happens will be seen, but we’re cleaning out our clutter, painting and fixing things up as though we’re going to do it.

It’s a difficult process and I have so much trouble letting go of things. When we moved in we brought all our junk with us from our prior house. Then we got keepsakes from our parents, not to mention years of swim meet medals, school awards and assorted keepsakes from our children — and our own honors, awards and baubles. Then there’s the photos albums, camping gear, beach stuff, artwork, manuscripts, etc.

Today I called my son and told him I made a trip to our local thrift shop Angel View, that supports crippled children’s homes. I had trouble parting with two caps he used to wear. I finally tossed them in the “to go” pile

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My son’s caps filled me with nostalgia.

and both kids told me, “Oh no!” One was from Guide Dogs of the Desert from when my son raised money for the charity rather than accept birthday presents in the second grade.(I wrote a story for the LA Times about that and wrote about it here.) The other was from Olympic Trials in Long Beach where he got Olympic swimmers to sign his cap as well as his teammates. I am fighting the urge to go back to Angel View and buy the two caps!

Here’s excerpt from an article from NPR with tips by Emma Bowen called ‘But Do I Love You?’: Tips For Homebound Declutterers

Where to start

The sheer volume of possessions accumulated through generations, compounded by any associated sentimental value, can create what might seem like an insurmountable task when it comes to the weeding-out process.

Overcoming those challenges, Hall said, starts with having the right mindset.

“You have to be really brutally honest with yourself. What do you want? If you want to thin out, if you want to downsize your home and get rid of some of this clutter, you have to want it,” she said.

From there, she recommends recruiting friends or family members to help discard or donate items. Cabinets and closets are always a good place to begin chipping away at the mess, she said.

Hall’s approach to tackling these heaps echoes the philosophy of tidying expert Marie Kondo, who asks her declutterers to dispose of items that don’t “spark joy” for its owner.

“For me, the key has always been to make peace with the items I’m letting go of,” Hall said. “I hold it, and I look at it and I say, ‘Do I like you? Yes, I do, but do I love you? No, I don’t.’ And if I don’t absolutely love it and cherish it, I take a picture of it and I let it go.”

sunset and palm tree view from my yard

Sunset view at home.

Have you decluttered during the pandemic or made a move? How do you handle the stress of deciding to let go of your worldly possessions?

What we can learn from Sam Darnold’s parents and why I’m a fan

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I wrote this a while ago when Sam Darnold was a quarterback with USC. I liked his low key, humble way about him. Now he’s the QB for the NY Jets and I’m still a fan. As a mom who was engrossed for years as a swim mom, I found Sam’s parents to be exceptional at sports parenting. We can all learn a lot from them. 

They were parents who let their phenom athletically-gifted kid, be just that. A kid. We can learn so much from Sam’s parents regardless of the level of talent our kids have, or what their passions are. 

My husband asked me to read a story from the Bleacher Report about USC Quarterback Sam Darnold. I put him off for a day because frankly, I wasn’t that interested. I finally read it to appease him and found Sam’s story to be fascinating—mainly because of the parenting style of Mike and Chris Darnold.

From childhood through high school, Sam played basketball, football, and baseball. I think he played volleyball, too. His parents let him try and decide what sports he participated in. They didn’t make him specialize or get him private lessons or coaches. In fact, Sam believes his success in football is from playing all different sports and learning a variety of skills. In a refreshing story written by Jeff Perlman, you find out about a dying breed of parents—ones who believe in fun and no pressure. Parents who let their child lead his own life.

“USC’s star quarterback and his parents do not live by the LaVar Ball theory of the universe. They let a multisport supernova grow up into his own man. And that’s why this 20-year-old might be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft.”

Yet the story of Sam Darnold isn’t the story of the modern quarterback, loud and sparkly and created to own the internet’s 24-hour hype machine. Nope, it’s the story of a young man on the verge of superstardom because, not long ago, he was allowed to diversify.

He was allowed to be a kid.

The Darnolds’ Capistrano Beach household is in the heart of south Orange County, where there are youth sports leagues atop leagues atop leagues, and private coaches atop private coaches atop private coaches.

In Orange County, it’s not uncommon for a nine-year-old pitcher to throw sliders and curveballs nine or 10 months of the year—with a father behind the backstop holding a radar gun. It’s not uncommon for a quarterback to play Pop Warner, then a season of flag and then spend the summer under the watchful eye of a $200-an-hour passing guru.

This was not going to happen to Sam.

“My parents,” the quarterback says, “wouldn’t have allowed it.”

On paper, this might come as a surprise. One would be hard-pressed to find a more sports-centric family than the Darnolds. Mike (Sam’s dad) was an offensive lineman at the University of Redlands, Chris (Sam’s mom) a volleyball player at Long Beach City College. Sam’s older sister Franki starred in volleyball at the University of Rhode Island and three of his cousins—Allie, Michele and A.J.—also participated in collegiate volleyball. Sam’s late grandfather, Dick Hammer, played basketball at USC and was on the 1954 team that went to the Final Four. He was also a member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team.

Put simply, organized athletics are a big deal in the Darnold world and have been for decades.

“But,” says Chris, “they’re not everything. We’ve always tried to keep things in perspective. Yes, our children have always loved playing sports. But around here, in this part of California, it too often becomes live and die. That’s a big mistake in my opinion. It has to be fun.”

“One day you open your eyes and it’s, ‘Holy cow, your son is in this position,’” Mike says. “I mean, it’s crazy, right? Crazy, crazy, crazy—one in a million.”

He pauses. Though Chris is acknowledged by family members as the emotional one, the father has been showing his soft side of late. He insists he never cared whether his children played sports or an instrument or worked a job—as long as they were involved and happy and tried different things. But to have a son as USC’s starting quarterback; to have a son who is a Heisman Trophy front-runner; to have a son who is humble and decent and respectful?

“Say what you want,” Mike says. “Sam’s not flashy, he’s not a yeller, he’s not a trophy collector, a bragger. But I feel like we worked hard to raise our kids the right way. And it’s paid off.”

I believe the Darnolds have lessons for many sports parents, myself included. Of course, they had an exceptionally athletic son who could have been recruited in basketball, baseball or football. But more than that, they raised a humble, balanced kid. They are proud of him as a person, not just as a star athlete. Their attitude and parenting style helped develop Sam into the man he is and will become.

I hope you take the time to read the entire Bleacher Report article about Sam Darnold and his parents. There’s also another great article in the Los Angles Times called “As expectations swell, USC’s Sam Darnold finds comfort at home near the beach” by Zach Helfand.

I’m excited to watch him play football this year. Here’s a YouTube of his 2016 highlights.

Click here to watch a recent interview with Sam Darnold by CBS’s Allie LaForce.

What do you think about kids specializing in one sport at an early age?

 

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photo of Sam Darnold from the Bleacher Report