Youth Sports: If I Knew What I Know Now

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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.

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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?

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?

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

 

Does IQ Determine a Child’s Success?

kat underHow our children handle adversity is more important to their success than their intelligence. I heard this during a webinar for youth sports parents, but it also applies to every day life. David Benzel, sports parenting expert, from Growing Champions for Life, discussed this and gave other gems of advice in “Overcoming Adversity in Sports and Life.” 

Benzel said, “Opportunities for personal growth usually come disguised as setbacks, disappointments and problems.” An interesting statistic he shared was that only 25 percent of success can be predicted by IQ, while 75% is because of the level of optimism, social support and the ability to see adversity as an opportunity and not a threat. So the answer to my headline question is a resounding “NO.” Our IQ isn’t as valuable as our AQ (Adversity Quotient.)

He gave examples of adversity in sports that included an injury, time off from practice due to COVID-19, not connecting with a coach, losing to an inferior opponent or being in a slump. Think of what so many kids are going through today with schools not opening, sports being cancelled. They are facing adversity like never before in their young lives.

According to Benzel, there are three types of reactions to adversity that he described as the Prisoner, the Settler and the Pioneer. The goal is to get to a pioneer mindset. That’s because the other two aren’t great. The prisoner gives up, is controlled by circumstances and feels fear and anger. The settler settles. That mindset seeks to be comfortable and feels they are doing as well as possible considering the circumstances.

The pioneer learns continuously, challenges assumptions and adjusts their strategies to succeed. They believe that they can accomplish anything if they bring light to the situation. Bringing in light makes the darkness go away. 

Here’re four tips Benzel gave to have a pioneer outlook to adversity:

  1. Listen to your adversity response. Is it fight, flight or freeze? Do your internal thoughts help you with the situation? 
  2. How can I bring light to this?
  3. Take charge of what you can control.
  4. Create a state of wonder to create a solution. Ask the question, “I wonder how I can…” Suddenly the pity party ends and your brain goes to work to find a solution.

One of the more helpful things I learned from the webinar is that optimism can be learned. So, if we’re feeling down or defeated, or our kids are, remember to ask the “I wonder how I can” question.

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When you are faced with adversity how do you see your mindset? Do you see yourself as a pioneer in spirit?

“Love Him Where’s He’s At”

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My daughter in royal blue.

I ran across an interesting email that talked about motivating a student-athlete. It reminded me that motivation is internal and no matter how much a parent or coach may want to light a fire under someone — it doesn’t work that way. This is an excerpt from the email from sports parenting coach David Benzel of Growing Champions for Life:

The following situation came from a coach, but it could have easily been a parent. I was asked if there’s anything that could be done about a 14-year-old athlete who is loaded with natural talent but has lost his motivation.

The desire to work and improve seems to be missing.” said this coach.  

While this is frustrating for a coach or a parent who takes a personal interest in an athlete, the short answer is “love him where he’s at.”

Despite the urge to become a protector of this athlete’s career, you cannot give someone a “want to” if they don’t have one of their own. You can create opportunities, provide an inspiring environment, and tell uplifting stories, but a “want to” comes from the inside, not the outside. 

There’s usually a story behind the story when dealing with an athlete who has lost his motivation. It may stem from a relationship issue at home, strife with a coach, or other pressing priorities.

As parents, we need to let out kids live their lives and be cheerleaders on the side. We cannot make them do anything like a sport or piano lessons because we want it. We can manipulate and bribe, but that’s not an ideal way to build a healthy relationship. I like the advice to “love him where’s he’s at.”

I wanted my daughter to love ballet because I did. She hated it and big tears would run down her cheeks when I made her go. That was true of piano lessons, too. I really wanted her to stick it out. My son loved piano. I was already driving him, so she could have her lessons, too. She loved swimming instead. My son like swimming, too, but with severe asthma it was a battle staying well during the winter months. He’d make progress only to get sick and miss weeks and weeks of practice. His interest moved to music in high school and he formed a band and performed with his non-swim friends.

I love my kids for who they are — not for what they did. I hope they know that now.

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My son and swim team friends.

In what ways have you tried to motivate your kids?

 

 

 

 

It’s never too late….

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View of the moon over the mountain during my morning walk.

I began my fourth book by Julia Cameron. I started with “The Artists Way” trilogy six years ago and a few weeks ago I picked up “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again.” It’s targeted to retired people to help them fill the void from being in a busy career to finding yourself suddenly home with countless hours stretching ahead. Although I’m not retired, I view COVID-19 and staying home as what retirement must feel like. I’ve been home for 139 days — but who’s counting? During this time, I have suffered from too much time on my hands, social isolation and a lack of motivation. I have a couple productive days and then I don’t want to do anything.

The book is divided into a few pages of reading per day, plus an exercise in thinking, writing or doing something physical like decluttering your space. Each week, Cameron leads you though work on a memoir from a certain age in time from you life, beginning with your first memory. Each week you move up an age group. This week, I’m thinking about the years 16 to 20 and who was important in my life, along with sounds, smells and tastes. I’m enjoying it the process. The book has me reflecting about my life, what I’d like to change, and what legacy I’d like to leave behind. It’s also helping me spark my creative spirit and think about what other creative things I’d like to try.

My best friend from college gave me my first Cameron book, “The Artists Way.” She said she had given it to other friends, too and everyone found it life-changing in some way. For me, I began the routine of morning walks and morning pages. Writing three pages when I first wake up is like a brain dump and I get rid my worries, to do lists and clear my head for more creative thoughts. After a few months of following the book’s instructions, I began this blog and began writing parenting advice for SwimSwam.com. It prompted me to return to other writing projects like a mid-grade fiction book that I had set aside for years. Also, I began a non-fiction book on sports parenting. I’ve also taken on other writing assignments from magazines. All because I read a book and did what it said.

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Sunrise during my morning walk.

How are you spending your time while staying home? Have you found any surprising inspirations?