Great Tips for Kids in Sports–and Parents

IMG_3931I read some great tips for sports parents on a website called Chicago Health. In an article called Healthy Sports Parenting Starts with These Tips, author Jeanette Hurt offered helpful information that I wish I had known when my kids were young–especially the tips about overuse injuries and health. As a parent, I thought swimming and exercise is healthy and I didn’t anticipate there could be a downside to athletics.

From the article:

Coach and author Sharkie Zartman remembers coaching at a youth volleyball tournament and observing a match between two very good teams of 10-year-olds when the parents started behaving badly.

“It was just a battle, going back and forth,” she says. “After it was over, the parents were still yelling at the coaches, officials and other parents. Meanwhile, the kids from both teams went outside to play some kind of circle game, and they were all laughing and having fun. I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, who are the grownups, and who are the kids?’”

As numerous memes on social media suggest, badly behaving sports parents are not uncommon. In an effort to foster healthier sports parenting, Zartman teamed up with Robert Weil, DPM, a sports podiatrist based in Aurora, to write #HeySportsParents: An Essential Guide for any Parent with a Child in Sports.

It’s important for parents to stay calm and be supportive while helping their kids navigate the perks and pitfalls of youth sports, the authors say.

Zartman says many parents look at sports with a competitive mindset, while their kids just want to enjoy themselves. “Kids play sports because they’re fun, and they want to be with their friends,” she says. “But what do most parents focus on? Winning, getting the trophies or dreaming of scholarships.”

I have the Zartman and Weil book on my shelf and it’s definitely worth a read. They each write a section from their perspectives and then have sports parents share their stories as well.

kat groupThere is a lot more to learn in the article including what happens when parents bribe their kids for performance and abusive coaches. Following is the list of tips I found so helpful. You can read the rest of the article here.

Tips for sports parents

Follow these tips for a healthier approach to sports for parents and their children.

  • Check safe sport guidelines. Guidelines should be available through the individual sport’s governing body or through the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Parents can also look to uscenterforsafesport.org to report concerns and to find more information.

  • Avoid overuse injuries. Too much pressure from year-round training can lead to physical harm, such as overuse injuries. Plus, sports carry the risk of concussions. Practice safely.

  • Keep an eye out for burnout. Many kids drop out of sports by age 13, Conviser says. “They leave if there’s injury or too much stress and strain on their bodies, their families, their well-being or finances. The more hours per week a sport requires usually means that there’s a greater likelihood of early burnout.”

  • Watch for signs of disordered eating. Some sports, especially gymnastics and wrestling, put children at risk for eating disorders. “Parents need to be aware of the pressures facing their kids, whether it’s peer pressure or pressure from their coaches,” Breslow says.

  • If injured, see a doctor. If the injury doesn’t respond to rest, ice and over-the-counter medicine, it should be checked out, especially if there is continued pain, excessive swelling or other persistent symptoms, Breslow says. “If you miss an injury early on, sometimes a simple situation becomes very complex,” he warns.

  • Consider going to an orthopedic clinic. If parents suspect that their child has an orthopedic injury to the bones or joints, Breslow recommends taking them to a walk-in orthopedic clinic, where they can be immediately evaluated by a specialist and get the right type of imaging, bracing or other therapy.

  • Be prepared. Parents should make sure their children wear the right footwear, get enough sleep and consume a balanced diet.

  • Stay hydrated. “A lot of times, kids aren’t drinking enough, especially in [cool] weather, because they don’t know they’re sweating as much,” Breslow says.

  • Learn to stretch well. Many athletes emphasize strength instead of flexibility, Breslow says. But stretching warm-ups are important. “A significant number of injuries occur because of a lack of flexibility,” he says.

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What other tips do you have for sports parents and student-athletes?

6 ways to annoy your kid’s coach without really trying

IMG_5008My kids had 14 coaches throughout their age group swimming years! Yes, 14 at last count. There may be a few more who we don’t remember, but the reason we had so many is that kids grow and move up in groups—and naturally get new coaches. Also, it was tough for us to keep assistant age group coaches. They weren’t paid enough and the hours were too short for them to make a living. You have to love kids and swimming to interrupt your day and stand on the pool deck for a couple hours for $8 an hour (which was what we were paying way back when.)

Then we lost our longtime head coach, who left the swimming world forever to become a pilot. It did take us a few head coaches to get one that would become permanent. Hence, the 14 or so coaches my kids had.

We learned a lot about being helpful swim parents from our longtime head coach. He was patient beyond belief and worked with parents to help educate them about swimming and swim parenting.

Here are some of the things we did and what we’ve seen other parents do to annoy the heck out of coaches:

ONE

Showing up late to practice.

I’m not talking about being stuck in traffic or having an orthodontist appointment. I’m talking about parents who bring their kids to practice late all the time.

TWO

Talking smack on the pool deck.

Having spent an enormous part of my child-rearing years watching swim practice and going to swim meets, I heard a lot of negative talk. Parents talked badly about coaches, other parents, swimmers, teams and just about everything else. Negatively spreads like wildfire and it ALWAYS gets back to the coach. If you hear someone talking bad stuff behind other people’s backs, tell them to stop or walk away. 

THREE

Coaching your kids.

This is so confusing to kids and annoys coaches immensely. Coaches are working with our children and may be focusing on a specific skill or technique to get our kids to the next level. Since we can’t read our coach’s mind, we may not know what they’re trying to do. I watched one dad constantly coach his daughter during meets and giving contradictory instructions to what the coach wanted.

FOUR

Ask to have your child moved up.

Generally, coaches know when a child should be moved up into the next group. However, there are a few parents who think their kids need to be moved up before they are ready. They email the coach or ask in person several times. Often, coaches will acquiesce to appease the parent. I watched this over and over and the next thing that happened was the swimmer quits. They would end up in a group that was too fast. They couldn’t keep up with the intervals. Instead of being at the top of the their group, they were last, slowest and never got a chance to rest.

FIVE

Interrupting the coach during practice.

For lots of teams, this is something that couldn’t happen because only swimmers are allowed on deck. But on our team, which is outside in sunny southern California, parents are allowed to sit on the pool deck. Often, parents, including me and my husband, would ask a quick question of the coach. We weren’t trying to interrupt, but when you get a half dozen parents doing the same thing, we were taking our coach’s eyes off the kids and not allowing the coach to work.

SIX

Taking vacations at the wrong times.

When kids are little, in my opinion, it’s okay to take family vacations whenever your want. But, when kids are older and they are serious about swimming, you have to take vacations at the right times. You can’t have your child out of the water for a week before their upcoming target meet. Christmas break was a big week for our kids with doubles and lots of work. The coach would be annoyed if kids left during that week and didn’t get the workouts he wanted.

img_4129There are a ton of other things that parents can do to annoy their kids coaches. What have you seen parents do in your children’s sports?

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?

 

 

You won’t believe these two sports parents….

171176_1867727056714_561695_o-1One thing popped out at me after reading two articles about sports parents. The first article was a Q&A from a disgruntled softball dad, the other from a sports psychology expert and golf dad who realized he was being THAT parent. What struck me was the ages of their kids. The softball player was 10 years old and the golfer was seven! Yes, 10 and seven!

Isn’t that a bit young for parents to go completely nuts at their kids games and tournaments? I was surprised that neither parent realized that if their kids stick with sports, they’ve got close to 10 years ahead of them and they might want to pace their emotions. The amount of anxiety and angst these parents go through remind me of myself when my kids were around 10 years old. I saw a spark of talent in their sports abilities and we went hog wild with private lessons, swim camps and frantic cheering at meets. 10400458_1163243325061_5149557_n

Here’s a bit of the letter from the baseball dad in “Coaches Keep Putting My Talented 10-Year-Old Catcher in Center Field! A softball dad seeks advice on playing time and sportsmanship,” by Nicole Cliffe in Care and Feeding. You can read the entire outrageous letter here and the pointed, strong response here.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 10-year-old daughter, Victoria, has been playing softball for five years and competitive travel ball for four. When she first started and was placed in the outfield, I told her that, even if she would rather be an infielder (who wouldn’t, in youth ball?), she would be the best outfielder she could be. We went to the park on off days for me to hit her fly balls and work on her throwing arm, and she became really good at both skills. It worked, and even coaches from other teams gushed about her ability.

First thought — competitive travel ball for four years — and she’s 10? Is putting your six-year-old child on a travel team considered child abuse? Also, the dad is coaching her during her downtime and working on her throwing arm? Okay, there’s more:

At the end of the 2019 season, another local organization invited Victoria to come play for a team they were putting together just for a major tournament being hosted in their city. They specifically invited her because they heard she was a catcher and they did not have any experienced catchers, and her star pitcher friend recommended her. We paid the (rather substantial) registration fees and went to the somewhat inconvenient practices because it was an opportunity to get catching time, and she was very enthusiastic about it. Apparently, after we agreed to participate, so did another, somewhat less experienced catcher.

The tournament started yesterday, and, of course, she was in center field. I bit my tongue and figured I would make the best of it. She made a running catch of a fly ball and walked, stole a base, and scored in her first (and only) time at-bat. Then, as the game became a bit lopsided, she was benched to get a sub some playing time. Victoria was never reentered as the game became a blowout—the sub got three at-bats and dropped an easy fly ball (although she recovered to throw out the runner at second). I was pissed off and angry—this is a tournament that gives prestigious individual awards for offensive and defensive players, and you can’t win those from the bench—and Victoria knew it. I didn’t say anything to the coach, because I don’t want to be that parent.

I had a beer at lunch and calmed down before we had to reconvene for an evening tournament event where each coach chose four players to represent the team on the field with professional ballplayers. However, when I saw the list of players from our team, I melted down. There were three legitimate choices, and the girl who was subbed in for Victoria. I didn’t think Victoria should be out there—she didn’t have the chance to contribute more, after all—but the kid who struck out twice and botched a play was being recognized?! I basically threw my kid in the car and headed for home. She convinced me to turn around and bring her back because she was worried that her nonpresence would negatively affect the coach’s decisions and she didn’t want to let down her teammates. (So, my kid is a better human being than I ever will be.

Yes, sir. Your kid is a better human being than you are. In fact, it seems she’s the parent and you’re the child. I don’t blame you for being over-the-top, because I was once in your shoes. But now that I’m a “recovering sports parent,” I know that when your daughter is in college you may get a good laugh at your letter. Hopefully, you can step back — sooner rather than later — and let your child take over softball. Cheer for her, support her and tell her you love to watch her play. The writer who answered this question had quite a lot to say.

The other article I read had a parent with expertise in advising other people and he did realize and understand that he was putting too much pressure on his seven-year-old golfer. Rob Bell gives some good tips in the story “How to Stop Being a Terrible Sports Parent. Hint: Quit trying to relive your glory days through your kids.”  

My 7-year-old son loves golf. He watches it. He plays it. He wants to be on the course every chance he gets. And while he’s a good golfer, like most, he has his bad days. It is golf after all the toughest sport out there. One day during a recent tournament, though, he was having a rough go at it. I was caddying for him and felt bad.

Now, I care about my kids more than anything else in the world, and I want them to succeed and do well. But there is something I value more important than results: It’s effort! He can control his effort and when I could see he wasn’t making it that day, I struggled to watch. He was off. He would be over the ball to hit and would stop and look at me and ask, “Is it my turn?” My frustration built as the round went on. On the eighth hole of our 9-hole round, he did it again. I didn’t yell, but I was stern with him and he started to tear up and said: “Quit yelling at me, daddy.”

Frankly, it didn’t matter if I was or wasn’t yelling, he thought I was yelling and that’s all that matters. During these instances, it’s much easier to destroy our kids’ confidence than it is to build it up. I immediately felt horrible. I broke my own rules. I thought, “Oh, no, I’m a terrible sports parent!” I’m the exact parent I’m usually trying to help. See, I’m a Sports Psychology coach. I work with kids and parents all the time to improve athletic performance. I’ve even written a book on Mental Toughness for sports parents entitled, Don’t “Should” On Your Kids: Build Their Mental Toughness. And even though I know and preach the utter importance of staying positive, not riding the emotional roller coaster, and focusing on the shot in front of you, here I was yelling at my own flesh and blood.

And I realized that no matter how hard we try, just as our kids make mistakes playing sports, we also make errors as parents watching them.

You can read his valuable tips here.

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They are doing okay — in spite of me!

What advice do you have for parents who get overly involved in their children’s sports or activities?

Should kids compete for club versus high school sports?

27750385_10216008558030578_2414009673401613488_nThere’s a conflict many high school students face regarding their sports. With club and travel teams more common than years ago, how do students balance their high school season with their year-round team? Our experience is with swimming and I saw many of my kids’ classmates and friends struggle with this dilemma.

In a perfect world, club and high school coaches work together in the best interest of their swimmers, so training stays consistent and meets won’t conflict. But often, coaches on either side of the fence, are not able to work together and believe their program is the most important.

My son had a high school coach who wouldn’t allow him to miss practice, even though the club team was swimming at the same pool right after high school practice ended. He had to swim high school practice, get out and swim club — making him swim extra junk yards that he didn’t need and weren’t helpful to his growing body. Of course he didn’t HAVE to swim club, but he wanted to. That’s where he found improvement and success.

Our daughter’s coach took the opposite approach and said the girls needed to check in with him daily and then swim with club. He wanted to keep track of their attendance and make sure they were working out, but he knew his workouts weren’t going to help them.

I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal from 2015, when California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) introduced the first statewide meet. It pitted the north versus the south after the championships regional meets were over. It posed another challenge for club swimmers who were representing their high schools by extending the season. Here’s an excerpt:

Does High-School Swimming Matter?

As California finally holds a statewide high-school swim meet, elite swimmers face a dilemma: whether to compete for their school or focus on bigger things

By Frederick Dreier

California is to high-school swimming as Texas is to high-school football. The Golden State is the sport’s scholastic epicenter.

Northern California produced Mark Spitz, Summer Sanders and Matt Biondi, Olympic champions all. Southern California gave us Janet Evans, Amanda Beard and Aaron Peirsol, among others.

But until now, the two sides of the state never battled it out. There was no such thing as a California statewide swim meet.

“In my day you never knew how you stacked up against a lot of those guys from Southern California,” said Spitz, a nine-time Olympic champion and 1968 graduate of Santa Clara High School. “There was no way to know who was really great.”

This weekend, the California Interscholastic Federation will hold its inaugural boys and girls swimming and diving state championships in Fresno. “I can’t imagine another state meet having the caliber and quality of swimmers as California,” said CIF executive director Roger Blake. California previously held 10 regional contests because of its tangle of incongruent school calendars.

But while the state is beating its chest about the powerhouse new event, the swimmers themselves aren’t all thrilled.

The state championship meet has created a dilemma for California’s high-school swimmers who are also aspiring Olympians. The meet falls during a crucial training period for summertime club swimming meets, such as the junior national championships in San Antonio in July, as well as international events in Russia, Australia and Canada. All are steppingstone meets for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“If I want to really train for [Olympic] trials seriously, I’m going to have miss it,” said Aidan Burns, a senior at Bellarmine Preparatory High School and a member of the U.S. Junior National team.

It’s a hobby; it’s not serious.

—Coley Stickels of the Canyons Aquatic Club on high-school swimming

The situation highlights a long-standing rift in the swimming world between club and high-school teams. Club swimming spans the entire year, while high-school swimming is relegated to just a part of it. Club swim meets are often held in Olympic-size 50-meter pools. High-school meets are held in shorter 25-yard pools, which means that finishing times can’t qualify a swimmer for Olympic trials or other high-level meets.

And while high-school teams often allow casual swimmers to join, club teams generally attract more serious athletes.

“I’m not a huge fan of high-school swimming, and I get tons of backlash because of it,” said Coley Stickels, who oversees the Canyons Aquatic Club in the Los Angeles area. “It’s a hobby; it’s not serious.”

Top-level swimmers plan their annual training schedules around a handful of peak competitions. A swimmer may spend several months preparing for a single meet with weeks of endurance-building volume, followed by subsequent periods of strength workouts and lung-bursting sprint intervals.

Like marathon runners, swimmers then taper their workload in the weeks before a peak meet. The goal is to arrive with rested, strong muscles. After the competition, the monthslong training process starts anew.

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Some of my best memories are from high-school swimming.

—Olympic champion Janet Evans

“I never rested for [high-school sectional championships] but I still took it very seriously,” said Beard, a two-time Olympic champion who attended Irvine High School. “It was the only chance my friends got to see me race.”

Beard and Evans said they were glad that they competed in high school and attended the regional championship meets. High-school swimming exposed them to greater social opportunities, they said, and provided a break from the pressures of competing at national and international events. An Olympian at just 14 years old, Beard said she fondly remembers high-school swimming parties, where she socialized with “regular kids” who weren’t training for the Olympics.

“You need to have a balance so these kids don’t get burned out by the pressure to make the Olympics,” Evans said. “Some of my best memories are from high-school swimming.”

There are benefits to swimming club — and high school. Some club swimmers, like Michael Phelps never swam in high school. But, for many swimmers, it’s a chance for their high school friends and peers to see them race for the first time. All those hours of hard work, year-round allow them to shine during high school season.

High school meets can help college bound swimmers because the meets are similar in a dual meet format and schedule. It’s all about the team and individual times are the most important thing. It’s scoring points for the team that counts. The team spirit at high school meets and college are contagious, while many club teams focus more on the individual accomplishments. However, without a club foundation, it’s rare for swimmers to get into college.

Like I said, both are great experiences, and hopefully coaches put their student-athletes ahead of their egos to help them succeed on their journey.

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The home pool during warmup at a meet.

What are your thoughts about club versus high school sports?

The New Trend: Sportsplow Parents

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Team cheer on my daughter’s college swim team.

Our kids had one swim coach who laid out the law to us (me and a fellow swim mom.) We weren’t allowed to follow our kids to the starting blocks, nor stand at the end of their warm-up lanes with water bottles and towels. We weren’t even allowed to sit on the same side of the pool with them at meets. They had their own space with their coach and no parents allowed! Can you guess how old our kids were at the time? I’m embarrassed to tell you they were in high school — and yes, I was still chasing my kids around with their towels!

It seemed really harsh and crazy to me at the time. Looking back, the coaches my daughter had during her teen years were trying to help our kids gain skills and independence they’d need in college. Yes, my daughter missed an event during this period of time. Something she’d never done before. Of course, how could she not miss an event with me standing by reminding her and her brother when to warm up, go to their lanes and get on the blocks?

When kids get involved at an elite level in sports, most likely their parents are by their sides ensuring they make it. It gets a lot crazier than my simple stories when you’re talking about the major sports and the possibility of millions of dollars. Instead of acting like a Ball, be more of a Darnold parent. I wrote about those parents here and here.

In Sports Illustrated, I read The Rise of the Snowplow Sports Parents By Kalyn Kahler. There are a lot of great examples in the story about parents overly involved in their kids’ sports careers and how many are turning their children’s athletics into full time jobs. Read the entire article here. I’ve included a few excerpts below:

In football as in other sports, they’re drawing up business plans, starting marketing agencies, turning up at practice and even monitoring phone use. But by clearing out every obstacle on their kids’ road to stardom, hyperinvolved moms and dads threaten to deprive young athletes of critical life experiences. And they’re driving coaches and agents nuts.

Arriving at his draft-night party, Dwayne Haskins Jr. steps out of a gray van with a large logo affixed to its side: a black circle with two white H’s that connect in the middle. The Ohio State quarterback makes his way past fans and media down a red carpet, printed with the same logo, and walks under a banner displaying the two H’s. The symbol is everywhere and—to the uninitiated—could be more than a bit confusing: There is, after all, only one Dwayne Haskins about to be drafted. So why two H’s?

As Haskins Jr. wades through 300 of his closest friends and paying customers inside the Bowlmor Lanes in Gaithersburg, Md.—$40 covered bowling, food and drinks—the person responsible for that second h stays attached to his hip. It is his dad.

Dwayne Haskins Sr. has meticulously planned the draft-night event not just to launch his son’s career but also to launch their new family endeavor: Haskins & Haskins Group, LLC, an entertainment, branding and event agency that he registered shortly after Junior declared for the NFL draft in January. He has the two-H logo tattooed on the inside of his wrist, as do Dwayne Jr.’s mom, Tamara, and 18-year-old sister, Tamia, an aspiring actor. (The QB plans on getting it later.) The second h technically refers to Tamia, according to Dwayne Sr., but there’s little doubt who the driving force behind the company is.

Haskins Sr., it turns out, is not unique. One NBA agent said two out of his eight clients have their own LLCs to handle marketing and branding opportunities, set up by parents soon after their college careers ended.

The article describes how parents now show up for basketball camp and stay the entire time watching in the stands. When we sent our kids to USC Swim Camp, they were gone for an entire week. We kidded them that we’d hang out and watch, but we did manage to rip ourselves from their sides and head home. They loved that week so much! I wonder why?

Here’s more from the Sports Illustrated article:

The overactive parent is as old a concept as sports itself, but coaches and agents across football, basketball, baseball and hockey say that over the last few years, parents have become more involved in their children’s athletic careers than ever before—and it is reshaping sports. After all, this is a burgeoning age of player empowerment. Salaries are higher, athletes can force trades and recruit teammates. Business opportunities are everywhere, from the phones in players’ hands to the shoes on their feet. But that also means there are more complex decisions to make. So parents are stepping in to ensure that not an ounce of potential is wasted.

The phenomenon also reflects what’s happening in the rest of society, says psychologist Madeline Levine, an expert on the topic. “It used to be helicopter parenting,” she says. “And now it is snowplow parenting, which is much more active: It means you are doing something to smooth the way for the child. It’s not just that you’re hypervigilant—it’s that you are actually getting rid of those bumps, which robs kids of the necessary experience of learning and failing.”

Not surprisingly, the trend is driving many coaches nuts. “When I think about my next coaching job, I think it should be in an orphanage,” says Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey. “I use that [line] at coaching clinics, and high school coaches give me a standing ovation.”

Call it the age of the sportsplow parent.

I’m thankful for learning how not to be a sportsplow parent. It certainly helped my daughter when she went off to college and swam. The coaches she had in high school taught us well — even if we didn’t understand it at the time. We needed to be trained to let our kids make it on their own. My mom liked to say that her job as a parent was to allow us to fly from the nest. She was right.

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My daughter’s pug Waffles on deck and ready to go.

What are your thoughts about sportsplow parents? Do you know any — or are you one yourself?

How to raise kids who don’t quit

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Piano duet at a yearly recital.

In an article called “My mom’s one sports rule? No quitting,” by Samantha K. Smith on espnW.com, I remembered the t-shirts one of my all-time favorite swim dads came up with for the Piranha Swim Team, “Winners never quit, Quitters never win.” We wore those shirts with pride for years.

From the article:

“When it came to giving her children unsolicited sports advice, our mother got a lot of flack from her five kids who knew her experience was limited. The one and only story she told of her high school cheerleading days was about how the front of her skirt was longer than the back because the girl who’d previously worn it was pregnant. So we often went to Dad for help with our free throw or pitching form; we went to Mom for rides to practice, trips to the mall for new sneakers, and to locate the water bottle stash. Our mother worked late nights at the YMCA for our discounted memberships and paid our uniform and league fees without question each season. But she had one strict, abiding rule when it came to signing up for a new sport: There was no quitting.

“This was why I had new, never-worn softball gear hanging in my closet for the duration of high school. I’d ordered the uniform but remembered Mom’s tenet: If I was unsure whether I could make the full commitment, I shouldn’t officially sign on to the team.

“Now I walk into the basketball gymnasiums of my childhood and see parents storming off with their children after a bad referee call, or children quitting teams midseason because of playing time. In an age of helicopter parenting and participation trophies, my mother set out to teach us one of her most valuable lessons about commitment. If you make one, you see it through even if, and especially when, it’s not playing out favorably for you.”

I did let my son quit a few sports, but only because we had him overbooked with “if this is Tuesday it must be tennis” running from one end of the valley and back to get from piano lessons to the court. During a stressful rushing afternoon, I hit a curb, got a flat tire and realized that enough was enough. Eventually, we settled on a single sport and music. Our routine and life went swimmingly well from then on.

I interviewed the Anderson family for an article in SwimSwam magazine. The Andersons have three daughters, two are Olympic medalists and the youngest currently swims for a D1 university. The mom also had the same rule as the writer above. She said that each year she’d sign the girls up for swimming with the understanding that they were committing for the year. When the weather was no longer perfect sunny and warm and one of them asked to quit, she’d remind them that they had agreed for the year. When the new season started, it was once again warm and beautiful outside and her daughters would commit again.

There’s something to be said for sticking through it all—so long as the situation isn’t abusive or dangerous. A lot of life lessons can be learned when things aren’t perfect.

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Once we settled on one sport, things began to go swimmingly.

What is your rule for your kids and activities? Do you make them stick with it through the season? Did your parents have a “never quit” rule?