Who knew youth sports was a $15 billion industry?

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My daughter racing, a few years ago.

Who knew that the youth sports industry in the United States has turned into a $15 billion a year industry? According to Time Magazine’s Sean Gregory, “Across the nation, kids of all skill levels, in virtually every team sport, are getting swept up by a youth-sports economy that increasingly resembles the pros at increasingly early ages.”

As a swim mom, I understand how easy it is to get swept up in kids sports. “Before Swimming” is how we refer to the years before club swimming took over our lives. “BS” we used to take ski vacations in Snowmass, CO and ski weekends in Big Bear. I took my son and daughter to youth tennis where they laughed and ran around with their friends. My son tried Cub Scouts and my daughter went to ballet.

They did a number of activities back in those days. Then they both fell in love with the pool. After taking lessons for water safety since they were six months old, my son around age seven was skilled enough to join the Piranha Swim Team. We were so proud! Then my daughter soon followed and every evening we found ourselves with other parents around the pool deck.

During my daughter’s high school years, I’d add up the costs of swimming just to see….I won’t give you a figure—but with dues of $160 per month, private lessons, and hotel stays at travel meets, and meals out, it added up. Then we came up with the brilliant plan of buying an RV to avoid the hotel costs and restaurants. Thing is….we never used it for a meet. It never seemed to be convenient.

From the Time article called “How Kids’ Sports Became a $15 Billion Industry:”

“The cost for parents is steep. At the high end, families can spend more than 10% of their income on registration fees, travel, camps and equipment. Joe Erace, who owns a salon and spas in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, says Joey’s budding baseball career has cost north of $30,000. A volleyball dad from upstate New York spent $20,000 one year on his daughter’s club team, including plenty on gas: up to four nights a week she commuted 2½ hours round-trip for practice, not getting home until 11:30 p.m. That pales beside one Springfield, Mo., mom, who this summer regularly made a seven-hour round-trip journey to ferry her 10- and 11-year-old sons to travel basketball practice. Others hand their children over entirely. A family from Ottawa sent their 13-year-old to New Jersey for a year, to increase his ice time on the travel hockey circuit. A sponsor paid the teen’s $25,000 private-school tuition. This summer, 10 boys from across the U.S. stayed with host families in order to play for a St. Louis–based travel baseball club.”

I enjoyed reading the Time magazine article and I agree with most of the parents who are interviewed. If your child is passionate about their sport, it’s natural to do everything you can to help them out. My life soon got absorbed by the team. I was writing the newsletter, press releases, fliers to hand out at schools. Soon, I was serving on the board, planning banquets, fundraisers, organizing goodie bags and buying year-round gifts. I remember breaking down in tears when I had to chase one parent down to do a minimum of a few hours volunteering at a meet—and he refused. He refused loudly and rudely. But then, I also remember early on when our family was asked to help at a meet with set-up and tear-down and we told the president of the team, “Sorry, but we have a life.” I guess we did, but that was “Before Swimming.”

I don’t regret a moment of my swim parenting days, though. I’d do it all over again.

Are you involved in the $15 billion youth sports phenomenon? What sports do your kids participate in and how involved are you as a sports parent?

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Third place relay at Junior Olympics, 9-10 age group.

 

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What Happens When Parents Do Too Much for Their Kids?

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My young Piranhas. They are never too young to learn responsibility for their actions.

I read an interesting article that a friend posted on FB called “8 Things Kids Need to Do By Themselves Before They’re 13” by Amy Carney. Carney is the mother of triplet teen boys and two other younger children and she’s got parenting down.

Her article listed things that parents need to stop doing or we won’t have independent well-functioning kids. I thought it made some really good points, and I wish I would have heard about this list before my kids were in middle school. I have been known to bail my kids out, rushing to school with their forgotten homework or lunches. Their lack of planning on big projects became my emergencies and stress. I wasn’t helping them at all by picking up the pieces. In truth, I bailed out one child more than the other, and that child almost failed out of college his freshman year. He was not ready to go because I was doing everything for him, including waking him up in the morning.

Here are four of the eight things on her list. To read her complete list click here.

1. Waking them up in the morning
2. Making their breakfast and packing their lunch
3. Filling out their paperwork
4. Delivering their forgotten items

Monday morning we pulled out of the driveway and screeched around the corner of the house when daughter dear realized she forgot her phone. “We have to go back, Mom!” Another exclaimed that he forgot his freshly washed PE uniform folded in the laundry room. I braked in hesitation as I contemplated turning around. Nope. Off we go, as the vision surfaced of both of them playing around on their phones before it was time to leave.

Parents don’t miss opportunities to provide natural consequences for your teens. Forget something? Feel the pain of that. Kids also get to see, that you can make it through the day without a mistake consuming you.

We also have a rule that Mom and Dad are not to get pleading texts from school asking for forgotten items. It still happens, but we have the right to just shoot back “that’s a bummer.”

What happens when we do too much for our kids? In my opinion, they aren’t allowed to grow up. They have no consequences for their actions or lack of action. They don’t know how to plan, be responsible or own up to their mistakes. If you’re a parent who is continually jumping in to save your child, stop. You can’t move into the college dorm with them and by then it’s too late.

 

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When they were young and at the beach. 

Both of my kids swam from elementary school through high school and one continued in college. I liked having my kids in year-round swimming because it taught them there was a direct correlation between their actions (how hard they tried) and outcomes (getting faster.) Also, practice every day, six days a week with a few doubles thrown in, taught them time management. They were responsible for their own equipment, too. There are tons of life lessons in the pool. But, because of how busy and dedicated they were, I overcompensated in other areas of their lives.

 

Here are a couple of SwimSwam articles I wrote on the subject:

In 11 Tips for Parents on What Our Kids Need to Know Before College, I have created a list of life skills that we should check off before the kids move out.
In 12 Hints You Might Be a Hovering Helicopter Swim Parent, I write about the little things we do for our kids without a second thought, that will put them at a disadvantage when they move away.
What are your thoughts about getting kids ready for the real world? Are we helping or hurting our kids by doing too much for them?

Food for Thought, Fuel and Recovery

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Nutella stuffed 1/2 cronuts. Food for thought?

 

I called one of my mentor swim moms, who has advised me all along the way from my son’s first swim meet in 2001 to navigating college recruiting years later. She worked as a dietitian years ago, and I wanted her input for a SwimSwam article about what kids should eat at meets. I asked a half dozen more moms what their kids ate at meets because we happened to be at UCLA and USC swim meets watching our Utah kids compete.

After I wrote that story, that you can read here, I thought, “Yikes! I do not practice what I preach!” I’m finding it harder to recover after a workout and perhaps if I looked at my own diet, I would feel stronger.

I’m swimming consistently three days a week, and after I swim I get so hungry. I have a tendency to believe that because I made it through a tiring swim practice, that I can eat whatever I want. Most often, I make terrible choices including a #1 meal at Taco Bell (taco and burrito supreme) or fried chicken! Seriously, what am I doing to myself?

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At USC for a swim meet.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s okay to eat unhealthy now and then. But this has turned into a habit to reward myself after a healthy workout with fattening food that lacks much in nutritional value! It’s totally unproductive.

I discussed this with another mom via text. This mom is crazily fit and works out for hours every day. She had some great tips that I’m incorporating into my daily life that she promised would improve my muscle recovery.

AVOID SUGAR AND CARB LOADING

“I’ve actually been learning to fuel my body with fat. However, I’m not a swimmer so I would not begin to offer advice. But, after doing research I started limiting my carbs to less than 50g/day and saving them until dinner. During the day, I fuel my body with healthy fats. I’ve noticed a huge difference! Swimmers need a lot of energy but they won’t get any energy from sugar.”

PLAN AHEAD

“Have a plan. Know what you’re going to snack on after practice. Prepare eggs and a meat before you leave for practice so that it’s ready when you get home and you won’t eat the ‘worst stuff.’ Plus, the protein in the eggs will assist in muscle recovery. Or have peanut butter on a rice cake. But the important thing is to have it prepared so you can grab it right away.”

HOW ARE YOU FUELING YOUR BODY?

“Also, when eating your snacks, look at it and determine how you are fueling your body for recovery and the next day’s workout. That’s what keeps me honest with myself.”

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At my first meet a year ago with my good friend and fellow swim mom, Linda.

Yesterday, after practice I had a half banana and a hard boiled egg when I walked through the kitchen door. I was able to make it through until dinner without fast or fried food and I feel less sluggish and tired today. I’m curious to see how this plan works for me and if I’ll feel stronger after a few days. After all, I have my own swim meet coming up this month!  I’ll let you know how it goes.

What do you eat after working out?

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At UCLA last Friday.

 

Why Start a New Team When You Already Have One?

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In the 16 years I’ve been involved in swimming, several new teams have cropped up. I wonder, did a child say, “Dad, I’m really unhappy with my coach, I don’t believe I’m getting the training I deserve, so why don’t you start a new team?”

No. I highly doubt it.

When a group of parents fracture off and start a new team, many unexpected things happen. First, they learn that it’s not as easy as they thought—most of the teams I’ve seen crumble in under five years (not all, but most). Second, friendships and relationships are divided, loyalties are developed—you’re either on one side or the other—and there’s a lot of unhappiness all around.

If a situation is bad, or you see fault with it, why not address it? If you have an issue with a coach, why not talk about it with the coach? If you’re unable to do that, or don’t feel comfortable, then why not talk to the board, or at least send an email?

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Is there something you can do to help the situation? Can you volunteer your expertise or time to make your team better? That’s what I’d do and what I’ve practiced through the years. New teams usually start, because of a private agenda or ego issue with an adult—and it’s not always with the best interest of the kids in mind.

When new teams begin, the resources of the community are spread too thin. Without a large population of families, communities cannot support a number of teams. There are only so many families willing to make the commitment to swimming. A well-known club, college and Olympic coach told me that you need a million families to have a national championship level team. You need a large pool of families for kids to come in and out of the program as they move onto college.

Plus, coaches are highly trained and there aren’t a lot of them around who have gotten kids to national levels. If you want the best for your kids, then it would seem you’d want a chance for your child to improve, learn new skills, build friendships and have the opportunity to swim in college and beyond. It makes sense that you’d want your child on a team with a proven track record of getting kids to those levels.

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My son learning to dive with the swim team.

Speaking of friendships, how does it help your child to be put on a new team away from the kids he or she has bonded with on a daily basis? Do you want to ensnare your child in the drama that’s sure to come when the kids come face to face at a meet? Do you want to be the parents dragging in their own food in coolers to a meet hosted by your former team—because you refuse to support their snack bar?

When I talked about this years ago with my son, he felt that teams splitting up and new teams starting were a good thing. His viewpoint was that competition is always good and will make the existing team even better and more committed to excellence. I agree with that concept, but sometimes the process is painful.

I think it all comes down to one thing, the swim team should be for the kids. How does creating turmoil and drama help your child? Maybe you can take a look at where you are and realize, hey, it’s not that bad! Or better yet, jump in and make it better.

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My daughter with her first swim instructor.

What I Would Do Differently

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My young Piranhas.

If I could go back in time, say 15 or so years, I’d do things differently as a parent and a swim mom. I’ve loved every minute of being a swim parent and truly believe that signing my kids up for our local club, the Piranha Swim Team, was the single best thing we’ve done for them. Sticking with the team through ups and downs was a plus, too. Not only did my kids become crazily physically fit and skilled swimmers, they learned to never give up through tough times—whether it was an illness, a plateau or learning what a new coach expects.

So what would I do differently? Here’s my list:

One
Not focus on performance.

Sometimes, I get way too caught up in big meets and best times. I wish I could kick back, relax and enjoy the little moments more.

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Medals at a meet.

Two
Not get involved in parent drama.

Like most sports today, where you find a bunch of enthusiastic and involved parents, there’s bound to be some drama. If I could do it over, I’d never take sides or get involved. At times, I didn’t have a choice because of being on the board. But, the drama and problems we lived through don’t amount to beans, anymore.

Three
Realize everybody is different.

Not every swimmer has the same drive or goals. Not every family is going to focus their lives around the pool. It’s okay for some kids to skip practice and have other interests besides school and swimming. I’d be less judgmental if I got a do over!

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Signing day.

Four
Not compare my kids to others.

When my kids were young and new to swimming, it was common for us to compare their progress to other swimmers. That led to upset feelings all around. Looking back on it, things that seemed so big at the moment, were only a fleeting moment in time.

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My son learning to dive with the swim team.

Five
Enjoy every moment of the process.

The years go by so quickly. The friends made with other parents, coaches and officials are ones to treasure. Enjoy it all.

What would you do differently as a swim parent?

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Back when my daughter liked her green fuzzy robe better than the team parka.

Reflections on My First Swim Meet

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Yes, that’s me–diving off the blocks! Two teammates are in yellow caps.

I wrote about it for Swimswam here. I wrote about how nervous I was in my prior blog–which was before the meet. So, what else do I have to say about the meet? Here’re a few more details and photos.

I loved the people. I especially enjoyed talking with an 18-year-old from Mission Viejo Nadadores who said it was her first Masters meet, too. I asked her if she had been an age group swimmer.

Her answer, “What’s that?”

I asked if she had swam for Nadadores as a child. “No, I started swimming as a sophomore in high school.”

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The home town pool the morning of the meet.

She was a new swimmer, like I was—although we were definitely in different age groups! She did very well and won her events. I won a blue ribbon for my relay—in the mixed 45 and older medley.

I loved cheering for and watching my teammates compete. I have a great group of friends and coach on the team. We’re all supportive of each other. The officials are great, too! Honestly, is there a better community than the swim world?

I had fun cheering for two swim moms in particular—our kids swam and went to school together for years. It was a first swim meet experience for all three of us–as swimmers. Both of these swim moms want to continue to compete and get faster. Honestly, I’m content that I survived the experience.

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Me and one of my swim mom now US Masters friends.

Sadly, I look nothing like my daughter, who is in the video below, lane one. I can’t believe how slow I look watching the video of my 50 free. Or how my stroke doesn’t look anything like I thought. While swimming, I visualize my daughter’s stroke in my mind.

I was definitely out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing. If you’re interested in swimming, I strongly suggest you find a US Masters group and dive in. You don’t have to compete, and I guarantee you’ll get in shape, get tired, sleep well–and make great friends.

Now That They’ve Gone….

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View on my walk, after they’ve gone.

It’s Sunday after Thanksgiving and I was so thankful to have my family together. My two college kids came home to be with us! I cleaned and shopped all week, preparing for the big event.

Now, they’re gone.

Some of my favorite parts of the weekend:

The four of us walked down Palm Canyon Drive on Thanksgiving afternoon, before we ate my home-cooked meal. I loved that. The kids were happy, we window shopped, laughed and talked. There were the traditional piggy back rides and racing around.

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Piggyback rides downtown.

Then came dinner and my dad joined us. He’s close to 84 and I’m thankful he’s close by and can share time with us.

I was getting tired after being on my feet for the past few days. I couldn’t help but look with jealousy at the weekenders coming in and picking up their mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing off a fully stocked shelf at a local grocery store, Jensen’s. Too easy, but seriously? Would anyone care?

Some good moments we had were swimming at our team’s Friday morning practice–kind of together. Although the masters were separated from the kids, it was a shared experience. I had a first! I managed to push myself out of the pool without swimming to the stairs. Having to swim past my daughter and her friends’ lane, who were also home from college, would have been too embarrassing. So I did it!

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Feeling slightly short with my daughter.

My son and I shared music. He’d play a song and then I’d give him a name of one to play. We went back forth while we drove to Palm Desert and back. He loves folk from the 60s and 70s. He listens to Joni Mitchell and some artists I’ve never heard of, but I enjoyed. I suggested “A Song for Juli,” by Jesse Colin Young and Nicolette Larson’s “Lotta Love,” plus a few more. We appreciate each other’s taste in music. He also shared a novella by Edan Lupucki that was a gem.

We went healthy food shopping and he taught my husband and I how to make chia pudding. Hmm.

My daughter and I had a delicious breakfast out together followed by a pedicure. Wonderful time together to talk and be mother and daughter like we used to be.

The four of us took the neighbor’s dog to the park and tossed the ball while my son jogged around us. It felt so good to play in the park where we spent so much of their younger days.

But, now they’re gone and here I am once again–alone at my computer. I do enjoy the freedom to write and finish some projects. I love my kids and I’m  blessed that they want to come home and we spend time being together.

I said I wasn’t going to cry this time when they left. In fact, I was surprised at how strong I was. Until the door closed behind them.

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When they were young at the beach.