Who Is to Blame for Performance Pressure at the Big Meet?

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The view of Mt. San Jacinto during my morning walk.

Every morning, I walk around the neighborhood and park. On a good morning I talk to my kids as they are driving through the Bay Area traffic to work. Today, I chatted with my daughter about the PAC 12 Swimming Championships. She told me a few eye-opening things about her experiences in the years’ past.

First, she told me during her freshman year she was absolutely terrified before she swam. She felt the PAC 12s was the biggest meet of her life. I remember watching her from the balcony, having fun with her teammates. I had no clue she was terrified.

That made me ask an all important question. “Was it because your dad and I put too much pressure on you?”

“No, I put the pressure on myself,” she said.

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Me and my kids at PAC 12 Swimming Champs, 2018.

Whew. Big sigh of relief from me. I wrote about championship meets for SwimSwam and here on my blog last week. I thought I’d blown it with too much performance pressure on both my kids. What a nice bit of knowledge to know my daughter didn’t view it that way at all. Also, my son told me he also put pressure on himself. Of course, some of our actions may not have helped, but we weren’t the sole cause of their pressure.

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PAC 12 2015, goofing off with teammates.

She told me, “I remember during my first PAC  12s my coach was talking to me about Open Water Camp coming up. I thought to myself. Wow. There’s more swimming after this. This isn’t the end of the world after all.”  (USA Swimming Open Water Select Camp is an annual instructive camp where 12 men and 12 women, ages 13 to 18, are selected based on their 1500 times or Open Water Nationals results. Here’s a link to the year my daughter went.)

Another thing my daughter told me was about the mid-season meet. This is where the team goes to a big meet in the middle of the season with a bunch of other college teams. We never went to one because she didn’t want us there and we respected her wishes. She said “I hope you and dad know that I didn’t want you there because I put so much pressure on myself. It wasn’t you guys.” She asked, “Do you think Dad knows that?” She explained that she wasn’t tapered for that meet and she only swims fast with a taper. She didn’t expect to swim well and always felt she could have done more to prepare for that mid-season meet.

It’s so rewarding to have conversations with my adult children and know that they appreciate what we’ve done for them — and not be blamed for their own insecurities or pressures. They are separate human beings with their own goals and dreams. I’m glad to be of help along the way and I enjoyed it all beyond measure.

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US Open Water Nationals in Florida.

Have you had enlightening conversations with your kids about when and why they feel pressure?

 

 

Sports Parents: Support, Don’t Criticize

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Age Group swim meet.

In a post on Popsugar called “One Sports Mom’s Reminder About the Importance of Supporting Kids Rather Than Criticizing Them Is Gold” by Murphy Maroney, she talks about a Facebook post that went viral:

 

Valli Gideons, a mom and blogger, is giving sports parents some food for thought, but hers is a reminder that we could all use. In a poignant Facebook post, Valli explains that parents should consider dialing back the need to go over every detail of a game, or worse yet, criticize their child’s performance. And as a life-long sports-obsessed tomboy and former Division I athlete, I couldn’t agree more.

“Parents. Stop the madness. The lectures. The play-by-plays. The analysis. The should’ve, could’ve,” she wrote. “Look around and you will see it on every court, field, ball park. All the talk. Think about it. As an adult, how would you feel if you came out of a huge presentation at work and had someone immediately going over every sentence? How would it feel for someone to criticize your every word or move, in your ear, going on and on?”

I used to ask about every detail with my kids on the drive home from a swim meet. My daughter said I would “hash and rehash.” And she was right. I wanted to know what was going on inside their brains when they dove off the blocks, made a slow flip turn or came from behind to touch out their competitors. No detail was too fine for me to hash and rehash and hash again some more. I drove them nuts.

I can tell you one sure-fire way to shut them up is to ask a host of questions about their swims. They’d tune me out, put on headphones or get out Gameboys and focus on Pokemon. Better yet, try criticizing their technique, their dive, their drive or any other detail of their performance.

And Valli makes an important point. When did it become OK for parents to obsess over every last detail or play of a game that’s meant to simply be fun? And at the end of the day, is it really helping? The short answer is no. Now, she’s suggesting that parents go about their post-competition conversations a little more casually.

“What would happen, instead, if after a game we gave kids room to breath[e]?” she asked. “If we let them marinate in knowing we simply enjoyed watching them play, rather than giving them a lecture? What would happen if we instead gave them permission to take it all in and have fun? What if we simply praised them for their effort? Even when they didn’t score. Even when they didn’t win. Even if they turned over the ball, flubbed up, or missed the catch. What if we just listened quietly?”

Best advice I’ve learned as a “recovering sports parent” is this: Tell your kids six little words — “I love to watch you play.” Then say nothing. It’s amazing what may happen.

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PAC-12 Championships

What advice do you have for parents on the car ride home?

 

 

Another side of the new NCAA rule

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Me and fellow swim moms at PAC 12 Champs.

Yesterday, news broke that the NCAA is going to change their rules: student-athletes will be able to earn money from their name, image and likeness (NIL). This new ruling followed one month after California passed the “Fair Pay to Play Act,” which was the first state to allow student-athletes to earn money from outside sources for their NIL. Other states soon followed, despite the NCAA saying it violated their rules and they might ban California schools from competing in NCAA sanctioned events.

There’s a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of student-athletes being able to make money. Some think it will have unintended consequences of Olympic and minor sports being eliminated. Others say only big name football and basketball stars will make money. Most of the conversation centers on student-athletes getting endorsements from corporations or boosters outright paying students to go to their alma maters. There’s a lot of hoopla going on without anyone knowing exactly how it will change the college athletic experience.

I wasn’t aware of it, but the NCAA rules have affected student-athletes from using their own name or likeness on outside businesses like tutoring, teaching swim lessons or selling t-shirts! A friend of my son’s was an NCAA champion for rowing at Cal. She said while she was in school, she started her own business–but couldn’t use her picture, name or say she had any affiliation to rowing at Cal. Doesn’t that seem ridiculous? You’d think it would be a good thing to talk up your resume and accomplishments. Why should the athletes be treated differently than non-athletic students, who are free to print their name, picture and connection to a school?

Here’s a story in SwimSwam about two swimmers who tried to start up a t-shirt screening business:

Two University of Iowa swimmers found out the hard way just how seriously the NCAA takes its policy regarding college athletes using their own names, photos or athletic links to promote their own business.

Hawkeye seniors Chris Dawson and Tom Rathbun launched their own t-shirt screening business earlier this year entitled Trailheads Apparel, complete with a GoFundMe page that garnered $645 in contributions in just its first 2 days. However, the NCAA compliance alarm was almost immediately sounded as the fundraising page included the student-athletes’ names and bios, including a bit about how Dawson and Rathbun met each other while swimming at Iowa.

The connection to a collegiate sport was thereby established, leading to the Iowa AD contacting the athletes with ineligibility news. The swimmers were conscious about not intentionally violating any NCAA compliance rules, with Dawson saying, “We tried our best not to put anything about swimming in it.”

Nevertheless, changes had to be made at Iowa’s request, including the athletes’ names, photos and any Iowa-related reference being removed from the Trailheads Apparel website. The founders now only identify themselves as ‘Rocky and Slide’.

Here’s an excerpt from a SwimSwam article by Torrey Hart called NCAA Votes to Permit Student-Athletes to Profit from Name, Image, Likeness:

After California passed the Fair Pay to Play Act, which will allow NCAA athletes to profit of their name, image and likeness, the NCAA decided to act.

The NCAA Board of Governors voted unanimously Tuesday to allow student-athletes to profit off of their own name, image, and likenesses in “a manner consistent with the collegiate model,” the organization announced.

The Board is directing each of the NCAA‘s three divisions to “immediately consider updates to relevant bylaws and policies for the 21st century.” The divisions have been asked to create rules that take effect no later than January 2021.

“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” Michael Drake, chair of the board and president of The Ohio State University, said. “Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education. This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships.”

The move comes almost exactly a month after California passed bill SB 206, otherwise known as the “Fair Pay to Play Act,” which was set to grant California-based NCAA athletes the opportunity to profit off their name, image and likeness come 2023. After that bill was passed, other states quickly followed with their own versions, challenging the NCAA‘s long-standing stranglehold on keeping its athletes amateur in the financial sense.

The Pac-12 Conference – the major conference in which Division I teams in California participate – and its schools in the state publicly opposed the bill, voicing concerns regarding recruiting and the support of Olympic and women’s sports.

I think changes were needed. We’ll wait and see if it there are unintended consequences or if it’s a win win for everyone.

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My daughter and teammates cheering at the PAC 12s.

What are your thoughts about the new NCAA rules?

How to be a sports parent and “not quite ruin your child”

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A swim meet where college coaches were present for recruiting.

I read an interesting book a few weeks ago about how to parent without really trying. Called Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child,  it was written by James Breakwell. He is a popular author and humorist who can be found on Twitter. His theory is the opposite of helicopter parenting. He believes that all children will turn about the same — mediocre — regardless of parenting techniques. So why knock yourself out with trying to be a perfect parent, raising perfectionist children? He believes in a hands off, bare minimum approach.

As a relentless, overachieving swim mom, I especially enjoyed Chapter 11 “The Path to Athletic Glory” which he crossed out and renamed “Benched.” Breakwell’s advice on sports parenting is to sign your kids up for sports and let it go at that. At some point, they’ll tire of it and you can all move onto something else.

Here are a few excerpts from his sports parenting chapter that gave me a chuckle or belly laugh:

“The real danger sports pose is to you, the parent on the sideline. Kids will damage their bodies and minds. You could lose your immortal soul.”

“The competitive pull of youth sports is hard to resist. Deep down, we all have a primal urge to see our child do better than other people’s kids. It’s the ultimate secondhand validation. If your kid wins, that means you’re better than those other parents, or at least that you passed on better genes. Whatever it was, your kid triumphed because of you. Brag about it to everyone you know. That never gets old.” 

“But while sports parents know everything there is to know about succeeding as an athlete, none of them agree on how to pull it off. There’s more than one way to ruin a childhood. To sports parents, steamrolling their child’s youth will be worth it when their kid hoists whatever arbitrary medal or trophy now defines that kid’s entire existence. Ultimately, sports parents just want their kid to have fun — as long as they win or die trying.”

On Breakwell’s section about parents’ dreams of Olympic glory, he writes that the dream is out of reach. 

“Parents of top gymnasts and swimmers enroll their kids in Soviet-style sports gulags the second they leave the womb….The bottom line is kids don’t just roll out of bed and pull off world-record swimming times or gymnastics scores. Instead they give up their entire childhoods to achieve greatness at those arbitrary scoring metrics.”

If you’re a bare minimum parent, you shouldn’t touch Olympic training with a ten-foot pole. Unless you use that pole to pull your kid out of the training pool. If they swim like me, they could use the help.

So what should you do if your child says they want to be an Olympic athlete? Here’s a sample conversation:

Kid: I want to be an Olympic swimmer.

Parent: No.

Then buy them ice cream. Ice cream fixes everything. Note: This also works on adults.

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Having fun in the pool.

Our own family pursued swimming for years — literally from the time my kids were six months old in “Mommy and Me” swim lessons to my daughter’s senior year of college. It took up an enormous amount of our family life, but I believe it was worth it. All children want to be Olympians when they’re young. It’s a great dream and worth encouraging. At some point, they understand that only a few, and I mean two people in the United States, per event, every four years, actually make the Olympic team. With 400,000 swimmers registered in USA Swimming, two per event really is out of reach. But the kids do figure it out on their own.

Not being an Olympian doesn’t mean that swimming isn’t a valuable experience and worth every minute. I guess the point is we didn’t go into the deal — as parents — with any illusion of our kids being Olympians. Funny thing though, one of of their teammates from their age group club team made it to the Beijing and London Olympics, and a college teammate of our daughter has two Olympic medalists for sisters. It can happen, but it’s not the point of enrolling and being in a sport.

Later in the chapter, Breakwell talks about how college scholarships is making your kids work for their college educations. He doesn’t think it’s such a good deal after all. “The problem with college scholarships is that otherwise intelligent people forget that nothing is really free.” I’ll save my thoughts on college scholarships for another day.

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Cheering for a teammate at PAC 12’s.

What are your thoughts about bare minimum parenting as an approach to sports parenting? Can the two co-exist?

Can parents make their kids swim faster?

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My daughter swimming in college.

“Dad! It Doesn’t Help!” is a sports parenting book to “Become the Ultimate Sports Parent” by Mark A. Maguire. Although the book is based in Australia with a dad figuring out how to be a better sports parent for his son with USA Major League Baseball dreams, I could relate as a swim mom.

Maguire explains in his book: “The title came about after my son used this phrase when I asked him how he feels when I holler out at his baseball games. His response stunned me. His response and my first blog must have stunned a lot of sports parents and coaches, because it was read and shared during 2017 (through the COACH UP website in the USA) over a million times.”

So what did his son say that stunned him? Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

During the baseball season a few years ago I asked my eleven-year-old son what do all the kids in the dugout think when their parents urge them on with instructions and encouragement as they are playing the game?

He said bluntly: “they don’t like it.”

I further pressed him. What about when I call out some last second reminders just before you bat, you know, the things we’ve talked about during the week and to help you remember what to do.

Again, he didn’t mince his words and said, “Dad, it doesn’t help.”

He went on to say: “When I’m in the batter’s box I follow the instructions from my coach. I put myself in the zone to block out every other noise. It doesn’t help me, or any other kid when our parents are yelling things out.”

Okay. That one struck home. As a swim mom who used to search frantically for my kids before each one of their races to impart some last minute instructions, I am frankly a bit embarrassed. I honestly thought that whatever wisdom I was going to tell them right before they got on the blocks was helpful. Not only helpful but would be the determining factor on whether or not they won their heat, got their coveted cut to the big meet, and would earn a college scholarship. Well, I’m exaggerating a bit with the outcomes, but I thought they wouldn’t do as well without my input.

In truth, I was probably a distraction. An annoyance. A royal pain in the behind. My stress level was running high, I was climbing over parents, pushing through crowds to grab my kids and do our little last minute good luck ritual. Ugh. Yes, that was me. Eventually I calmed down. Or at least I wasn’t so obvious about my nerves—and let the coaches coach while I sat in the stands or at the end of their lanes and cheered.

I asked my daughter what she thought when we yelled and screamed for her. We’d yell at the top of our lungs “Kick!” “Keep your head down!” or my husband’s favorite “Go now!” — like she wasn’t doing all those things without us screaming. It’s funny today looking back at it. I wonder if she heard us when she was under water. She said, “Yes, dad is really loud. But it didn’t help.”

I do think cheering has some small affect on our kids’ sports. It shows our enthusiasm for the sport. Cheering helps us release tension. And it shows we care.

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Teammates cheering at PAC-12 Women’s Championships.

What things have you done as a sports parent that you’d never dream of doing today?

Why I’m a fan of Sam Darnold–and his parents

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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. Tonight I’m watching his debut as starting QB for the Jets. Yes, I’m still a fan.

I’m so impressed with the parents of Sam Darnold, who is rumored to be the first pick tonight in the NFL draft. They were parents who let their phenom athletically-gifted kid, be just that. A kid. Tonight we’ll find out if Sam is the first pick, or not. We can learn so much from Sam’s parents regardless of the level of talent our kids have, or what their passions are. I wrote this about USC’s quarterback eight months ago:

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

 

Week One After Surgery and I’m Feeling Good!

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The mountain where one bad turn and I’m down since January 2nd.

It’s officially one week since I had surgery after a ski accident. It’s been a long haul from the slopes of Utah early January to my home in Palm Springs with several trips in between including my daughter’s final dual meet in Salt Lake City and the PAC 12 championship swim meet in Federal Way, WA.

I was diligent about physical therapy and I can honestly say now how important that was. I’ve been told not to put weight on my left leg and I have to jump up from the sofa or chair on one foot and I have no problem with that. The toughest thing for me is getting around with a walker and one leg. I move the walker a few inches, hop on one leg and repeat. I’m going nowhere fast!

I asked my husband to get me crutches so I could whip around the house. He did and I hate to say it but the walker is easier for me to move around than the crutches. Both really, really hurt my upper arms. Yikes! I hurt more in my arm muscles than in my carved-upon-knee. But, I’m getting stronger and just think how strong my arms and stroke will be once I return to the pool.

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My view isn’t that bad!

So, what do I do all day? I sit on the sofa with the remote control, my laptop, and several books. I haven’t felt up to writing until today. So, I’ve been reading lots. I’ve read an Ann Patchett book, Taft, and recommend it whether you’re laid up or not. I haven’t felt bored despite being confined to a small space in the house. I guess that’s because I’ve never experienced boredom–at least not as an adult. Maybe I was bored as a child from time to time, but I don’t remember that feeling. There’s always so much to do that I haven’t gotten around to yet–and need to accomplish. I don’t have enough time to do everything. Whether it’s interviewing people, writing stories, rewriting a novel, reading books, hanging out with friends, doing the taxes, cleaning out closets–there’s a heck of a lot to get done.

One of the blessings of being hurt I’ve discovered is the support from family and friends. I can’t tell you how many calls and texts I’ve gotten with people offering to help out in any way they can. It’s really brightened my days and makes me appreciate the people in my life.

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Olive helping me recover by cuddling on my lap.

How have you passed your time when you’ve been injured or sick?