An Open Thank You to Coaches

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My daughter with one of her coaches.

I wholeheartedly agree with “An Open Letter to All the Coaches Who Get Yelled At: I Want to Say Thank You” in Popsugar by Angela Anagnost-Repke. My kids have had all sorts of coaches throughout the years. I counted 14 in their age group swimming years alone. Mostly because they started really young and got new coaches as they grew older. Also the assistant coach job is one that turns over frequently. It’s low pay and and not many hours. Then when a long-time head coach switched careers and it took our team a few tries to get a coach who stayed.

From all the coaches my kids had, not one of them was perfect. But my children looked up to them and learned from each and every one. Some were better with parents than others. Some were better at technique or training. Some were better at team spirit and team administration. But all had something valuable to offer my kids. And like the open letter says, they played an important part of my children’s development.

Here’s an excerpt of the open thank you to coaches:

Dear Coaches,

Sometimes you get a bad rap. Parents will say you didn’t play the right kid at the right time. Or that you let little Johnny sit the bench for too long. Maybe you don’t push them hard enough . . . or you push them too hard. On and on. The complaints about coaches seem endless. But I want you to know that there are plenty of parents out there who are truly thankful for the dedication and time that you put into our children — because it not only affects them on the field, but is carried off of the field, too.

As a parent, I’ve sat on the sidelines and watched my children play football, basketball, swimming, and gymnastics. Sometimes they excel naturally at a particular sport, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they have a great game, and sometimes they play downright bad. I know that’s part of the cycle. And while I provide constant encouragement, it doesn’t mean as much as the encouragement that comes from you, their coach. I truly believe that you coaches ignite a true love of the game (whatever that game may be) within our children.

And I’ve seen it firsthand. My son recently started playing travel football, and thanks to his coaches, he’s improved tremendously. He went from being a kid who haphazardly toe-kicked the ball, to one who willingly goes out in the backyard to practice his new moves. He sets up his little orange cones and encourages his friends to join along in a spontaneous pickup game. And that’s all because of you. His coaches have not only helped him improve, but instilled in him the intrinsic motivation to succeed. And most importantly, they’ve done it at an age-appropriate level, allowing him to fall in love with the game of football — instead feeling pressure to succeed.

I don’t think many parents realise how difficult coaching a sport can be. As a former coach myself, of both high school players and little kids, I know that it is one of the toughest jobs out there. And many of the coaches of little kids are unpaid. They volunteer their Saturday mornings, weekday evenings, and more — all for our children. I think it’s time we gave you the credit you’re due. Because its coaches like you who are doing their best for our kids. You organise the practices, the very important snack schedule, and drills. You encourage our kids, teach them the rules, and help them learn to love exercise.

You also do something very important for our young children — you get them excited about sports. Athletics have come a long way, and it feels like today’s kids can face a lot of pressure about excelling at a sport. But it’s you who takes the time to show them how much fun being on a team can be. You teach them that the real joy from sports comes intrinsically, from the love of the game, not through reward or punishment.

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My daughter with her college distance coach watching a teammate’s race.

I think the role and influence a coach has on our children is immeasurable. I will admit that we weren’t always the best parents to have on a team, but we did learn as the years progressed. We wanted our children to be successful and happy. We wanted them to love their sport. With the exception of one or two coaches, our children’s coaches wanted the same things. They were invested in our kids and truly cared.

What are some of the traits you admire most about your children’s coaches?

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How to Keep Your Kids in the Game

34614_1556248309940_4797539_nIt’s a hard lesson for sports parents to learn, because we do get all excited watching our kids, but we can put too much performance pressure on them. When we do this, they may lose some of their passion for their sport, play half-heartedly, or quit.

When my son was young, I learned that he listened to his own drummer. Tee ball practices were spent building dirt castles. When I put him on a summer league swim team, I was surprised to see him and a friend out of the pool, sword fighting with sticks. As he got older and focused on swimming, he was hard enough on himself. I didn’t need to add any pressure. He said he still has nightmares about me forcing him to go to a meet that he wasn’t prepared for. I thought meets were fun–at least they were for me. I didn’t see an issue with signing him up for a meet after he had spent the last two months in a school play with little or no practice.

I believe we have to keep in mind our children’s competitive natures and their passion. They have to like their sport. It can’t be done to please us. It’s their sport, not ours. According to a recent poll, 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.”

Here’s an interesting article in PopsugarUK.com from a mom who wants her kids to enjoy their sports, but is afraid of the culture. Written by Angela Anagnost-Repke, she points out some of the great things about youth sports, as well as the problems. Unfortunately, a few overzealous parents can ruin the sports experience for everyone.

Here’s an excerpt of “I Want My Kids to Play Sports, but Worry How the Culture Will Affect Them:”

I signed my kids up for team sports because playing sports teaches kids more lessons than I can count: how to set a goal and work to achieve it, how to function as part of a team, and how to find that grit we all have deep within us. It also demonstrates that when you’re working with others, on anything, those same people will depend on you. So, it’s on you to bring it every single day — to training, to practice, and to games. I personally have many fond memories of playing football with my teammates, and I want that for my kids, too. But the culture has shifted dramatically since my days on the field, so I’m a little nervous about the whole thing.

I find the pressure to be “the best” in their specialised sport — which I also think kids are forced into choosing far too young — is too intense for kids today. It feels like kids are expected to be a standout athlete before they reach 10 years old. They’re expected to get outside and practice instead of running through the sprinklers with the neighbours, give up going to birthday parties to play in weekend-long tournaments. And the older these children get, the more burned out they become. I’ve seen kids get so worn down from trying to be “the best” that they stop playing sports all together. While they loved it once, that love has diminished, or died altogether, and they can’t bear to play any longer. And, this societal pressure is not the only kind of pressure I see young athletes facing, either.

Today, I also think kids involved in sports receive too much pressure from their parents. As I stand on the sidelines to watch my son play on his travel football team, I hear parents yell at their 6- and 7-year-old boys constantly. “Get up!” “Get your head in the game!” and “You better start trying!” The little boys stiffen up as their parents scream at them and then try just a little bit harder. I can’t help but think that these parents should be yelling praise and encouragement. This pressure carries through to when these kids become young adults. It wears them down. As a high school teacher, I’ve seen it far too many times. These young adults are so burnt out from trying to please everyone around them. They’re crumbling, and it’s a damn shame.

We can cheer and love the life lessons our kids get from their sports. But, we need to keep the pressure to perform in check. If they are having fun, they will stick with their sports.

robkatwaterHow do you help your kids in sports without taking over or adding too much pressure?

How much is too much for youth sports?

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My daughter with her Piranha crew.

Youth sports is a multi-billion dollar industry and as a sports mom myself, I know we were big contributors to it. In an article on CNBC.com, Lorie Konish writes that 27 percent of parents spend $500 or more a month on their children’s sports. That seems crazy high, right? But, especially if you have more than one child, it’s not hard at all to spend that much on sports. Trust me, I know.

As parents of two swimmers we easily did that, especially as the kids got older. We traveled to meets, stayed in hotels and ate out. Then we had the plan to buy an RV to eliminate the hotel stays. There’s some rocket science for you. Do you have any idea what it costs to own an RV? Yep. Pretty much a lot more than a few nights in a hotel per month.

Besides the travel, there were monthly dues for the club team which go up as your children get faster. Private lessons at $50 to $80 an hour to ensure your kids DO get faster. Then, the $485 “fast suit” to super make sure your kids are fast.

Here’s an excerpt from the article and some ideas to ensure you don’t go broke before your kids become super stars making beaucoup bucks–and you can afford your own retirement in case that plan doesn’t pan out–or you don’t win the lottery:

“Your child’s sports could be sabotaging your financial health” 

Parents are spending more than ever on their children’s sports with the hopes that they will make it to the big leagues.

And dads are often the ones likely to shell out the most cash on their children’s activities, according to a new survey from TD Ameritrade.

Yet spending more with the hope that your child will make it big could have consequences for your finances, particularly your own retirement.

The survey, which was conducted online between February and March, included 1,001 adults ages 30 through 60. Of those respondents, those who were considered “sports parents” had one or more children in elite or club competitive sports and had more than $25,000 in investable assets.

The result: 27% of parents spend $500 or more per month on youth sports.

This was especially true for fathers, 20% of whom spend $500 to $999 each month per child on youth sports. Meanwhile, 7% of dads admitted they spend $1,000 or more.

That money is going towards everything from equipment to private coaching to tournaments out of town, according to Dara Luber, senior manager of retirement at TD Ameritrade.

Those dads may be reliving their youth or reviving their own professional sports aspirations, Luber said.

But the one thing those fathers — and all parents — need to be wary of is whether those costs will force them to make sacrifices in other important areas.

For the parents surveyed, that could mean cutting back on spending on entertainment or vacations. It could also mean taking on a second job or delaying retirement.

One in 5 dads surveyed said they worry about how their spending on their children’s sports will impact their retirement savings.

TD Ameritrade also found that sports parents are less likely to save for retirement through a 401(k) plan or individual retirement account than they were three years ago.

“There is nothing wrong with helping your son or daughter realize their sports dreams, but it definitely shouldn’t come at the expense of your own retirement or understate your family’s needs,” Luber said.

 

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My son in front with his Piranha buddies.

Reflections from a new sports parent

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My son during the age of tee-ball.

Reading an article in the Wall Street Journal called “A Rookie Sports Parent’s Guide to Sports Parenting” by Jason Gay, brought back fond and crazy memories from years ago. When we were first sports parents, our son tried tee-ball. We had some hilarious moments of funny things the kids did, but also not so funny ways that parents acted–including ourselves.

My son never seemed to get into the game. But he loved sitting in the dirt building castles and daydreaming, without noticing or caring that a ball flew or rolled past him. Once, an athletic youngster hit the ball and charged straight out to the field getting to his ball before anyone else could to bring it back. All the parents laughed at that.

It was all going okay, since we didn’t mind our son’s fascination with anything in the field except the ball, until the day one of the coach dads asked my husband to help out. I knew it wasn’t a good idea. My husband is the type of overly enthusiastic guy who can go overboard easily. So when my son was laying in the dirt as short stop, crafting a castle from the red clay and a ball was headed his way, my husband grabbed our son by the back of the shirt, pick him up, and the two raced after the ball together! That was one of the not so good memories. After that day, my husband at least had enough sense to be embarrassed and refused to help out as a tee-ball coach ever again.

We made it through the first season of tee-ball and the season ended with a pool party at our house, complete with the required trophies for everyone–including our son the dirt castle builder. One good thing we did for him–we never signed him up for a season of tee-ball again. We recognized it wasn’t his thing.

Here’s an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal:

“A columnist enters the magical world of practices, game days, and cheese sticks. So far, so good—but it’s early…”

I’ve recently become a bona fide sports parent. I think it’s going fine. I’ve yet to get arrested for sumo-wrestling another parent in the parking lot. Of course, there’s plenty of season left, so who knows.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

• The college scholarship offers…I don’t know what your experience was, but I’ll be honest: They haven’t exactly come rushing in. My son is two games into his spring season, and we haven’t had a single nibble from a college coach.

• I should mention my son is 6 years old, and he just started playing Pee Wee baseball. But still, college coaches: Make us an offer! Even a half scholarship will do. Wisconsin: Where are you?

• I’m giving my son two more weeks to get a scholarship offer before I start photoshopping his head atop the bodies of high-school rowers. Is this illegal? Please let me know.

• Ah that’s right: Wisconsin hasn’t had a baseball team for ages. This seems bizarre. The Badgers have a varsity bratwurst team.

• The parents around my son’s team are kind, encouraging and seem uninterested in being bad sports parents—you know, the sports parents that end up on the 11 p.m. local news, swinging folding chairs at each other. To be sure, it’s easier being a good sports parent when it’s just 6-year-olds. I’m sure the sports parenting gets a lot more intense when the games mean something, and the kids are older, like 7.

• So far, we’re staying local. This keeps it sane. Every sports parent I know with older sports children says the happiest days of their lives are when their children are born—and the saddest days are when their children make travel teams.

• It’s kids—not adults—who have the correct perspective on sports. My son likes playing baseball, but if, on the way to the game, I told him we were going to skip baseball and go look for hermit crabs, he’d be perfectly fine with that, too.

• Last week my son asked me: “Do we have that thing on Saturday…What’s that thing I play?” It was adorable, and yet I also thought: Here’s a golden opportunity to prank him into thinking he’s on a badminton team.

There is a lot more good stuff in Jason Gay’s article. I suggest you click on the link above and read it. Having been through the years of sports parenting and being a sports parenting writer — I’m kind of jealous. He’s got all these years ahead of him to enjoy.

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The best of times were letting the kids play for hours on end at the beach.

What are some of the funny or crazy moments you remember as a sports parent — or that your parents did?

My favorite things about swim meets

I wrote this five years ago when my daughter was still swimming with the Piranha Swim Team in Palm Springs. What an amazing time we’ve had as part of Piranhas since 2001. Swimming has been a vital part of our family life, and now with the kids gone, my husband and I have joined as masters. It’s fun to look back at my memories from the team. So many great coaches, kids and parents throughout the swimming community.
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One of my favorite parts of being a year-round swim parent for the past 14 years has been swim meets. Not home meets, but traveling to meets. Don’t get me wrong, the home meets have their unique qualities that I’m sure I’ll miss — but, travel meets — I’ll definitely miss more.

kat at a meetThis past weekend, we were at a meet in So Cal Thursday through Sunday. Other swim parents posted photos and wrote on Facebook about how much they enjoyed the weekend and meet. My age group swim parenting days are numbered — 40 days and nights to be exact — but who’s counting? With my daughter leaving soon for college, I’m nostalgic about why I and other swim parents love meets. kat meet

My top six reasons why I love swim meets include:

  1. Spending time together.  When you are away for two to five days with your swimmer, you have a captive audience. There’s no distraction of 8 hours at school, followed by 3 hours of swim practice, and hanging out with their non-swim friends. Spending lots of time together, unfettered with household, work, and daily school responsibilities is refreshing. Enjoy your little bubble of time, treat it like a mini-vacation. Play cards, sing songs, go to the beach, have fun! You’ll look back on these days as precious memories.kat girls
  2. Nap time. When your swimmer is older, and in age groups that have prelims and finals, you’ll find yourself in your hotel — with your swimmer — for three to four hours in the middle of the day. Your swimmer needs to be off their feet and resting, so going to the beach isn’t a good choice. Nor is shopping. Bring in lunch, relax, and enjoy some of the best naps you’ll ever have!50Free
  3. Walking. Being at a meet for days on end, without cooking, cleaning, working, etc. allows plenty of time to walk. I walk during warm-ups and warm-downs. I walk with my husband, with friends, and by myself. I look forward to checking out the areas by the pools on foot. Walking gets rid of my nervous energy and walking for hours and miles has to be good for me!kat shelby
  4. Friendships. You’ll spend lots of hours with team parents under the pop-up tent. Mostly, swim parents are generous, encouraging and have the common interest of your team and kids’ successes at heart. I’ve made great friends with parents from other teams and I look forward to seeing them at the away meets. I had a great conversation this past weekend with a parent of another graduating senior. Our daughters are in separate towns, on separate teams, yet they are both swimming in college next year — and going through the same excitements and anxieties. I’ll look forward to seeing these parents in the future, during our college phase of swim meets.kat medals
  5. Watching your swimmer race. What is it about watching your child race that is so rewarding and exciting? I’m not sure, but if you have the answer, please let me know. It’s so exciting when they do well. I love that feeling when I see their hard work pay off and watch their growth as a person and an athlete.kat relays
  6. Sushi. We eat lots of sushi at swim meets. I consider myself a sushi connoisseur and I’ve scouted for the best sushi restaurants near pools throughout Southern California.  My daughter likes to eat sushi at meets, too. It’s healthy, light, provides her with the right fuel to race. My top three favorite Sushi restaurants include: bake-lobster-roll_resize

O Fine Japanese Cuisine, Laguna Beach and Irvine, CAojc_00100_resize

Zen Sushi, Lake Forest, CA, and Orange Roll and Sushi, Fullerton, CA.sunset-laguna-roll_resizeAre you a swim parent, or a sports parent? What are your favorite things about going to away meets?

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Helicopter Parents: Hover a Few Feet Higher

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My kiddos jumping in the waves in Laguna Bach, CA.

I received a question from a swim mom the other day about families that team hop. “Why do they often want to destroy the team they left behind?” she wondered. This mom said that if her own family were to make a decision about leaving, they’d do it and not look back. Their decision would be their own and they wouldn’t need to tear down the team or coach. I wrote about that question in an “Ask Swim Mom” story. You can read it here.

I received a text from a swim and dance mom friend who read the story and whose daughter went to college with mine. She said it’s easier for us to see a better way to handle things because our girls are no longer involved. “For these people it’s still very personal and real.”

That’s it. It’s all so personal when your kids are young and you’re involved. I regret many things I did–not only as a swim mom–but as a school parent, too. Every day I didn’t need to put on armor and fight each battle. Some things could have been left alone. I really felt the need to solve each issue, from a parent not fulfilling volunteer commitments on the swim team, to a teacher who wasn’t great at teaching. I wish I would have known that “this too shall pass.” I barely remember what caused me such inner turmoil in younger years with my kids.

Relax, stand back, and enjoy each memory you’re creating with your family. If we could convince newer parents to take a step back and not hover quite so closely, they might be able to enjoy parenting even more. I think it’s okay to helicopter parent, just do it from a higher altitude so you can see the big picture.

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What regrets do you have as a parent or in life? What would you do over if you had a second chance?

There is a college for everyone

I wrote this article a few years ago and I think it still resonates today. If you’re a swim parent, your kids can swim in college and it will add to their experience most definitely.

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

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

I read an interesting article today on my favorite website, SwimSwam.  It was written by a college swimmer encouraging high school swimmers to swim in college. It’s very inspirational you can read it here. His story reminded me of my own kids. I wish he was a few years older and could have talked to my son, who also thought he wasn’t fast enough to swim in college.

My son, who is now in is fourth year at college, refused to talk to any swim coaches while we were looking at schools with him. We tried to encourage him, but he didn’t think he was good enough. Or, that he liked swimming enough.

In our opinion, as parents (what do we know anyway, right?) he had a beautiful stroke and he had always loved swimming. It seemed natural to us that he’d want to continue with his favorite sport. We also knew swimming could open doors for him. It couldn’t hurt for him to communicate with swim coaches at some of his dream colleges, right? We had looked at swim times and he would have fit in nicely at a lot of them. No, I’m not talking about Cal or Stanford, which he applied to, but are in the higher echelons of D1 swim teams. His other top schools that are very selective academically had men’s D2 or D3 teams.

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But, no. He did not listen to us. His senior year, he received rejection letters from all of his top schools. It’s really a numbers game and there are millions of talented, smart kids competing for those college spots from not only the USA, but from all over the world. 

He is enjoying the school he landed at. But, it was an adjustment at first. He wasn’t happy being there. He was all alone. Now, in his fourth year, he loves it. He’s swimming again, on his own at the student rec center. He missed swimming.

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In contrast, my daughter who’s a freshman, was recruited for swimming. What a difference her entire college decision process was. She loves her college team. The entire team knocked on her door with goodies for her, while we were moving her in. They had team activities during the first few weeks, like barbecues, and volunteering to hand out balloons at a football scrimmage. The team made sure that the freshman felt the love.

My son told me recently that he sat alone in his room watching Netflix, too shy to join in the freshman welcome activities.

Last July, he came with us to watch his little sister swim at a big meet. His eyes opened when he saw coaches from all across the country there recruiting. He saw some of his top school choices. It was like a light bulb went off.

He did what he wanted to do at the time, though. One thing about swimming or any sport — it has to come from your child. We may think we know best, but in reality it has to come from them.

Robert and Kat a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

My kids a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.