What lessons do sports parents learn?

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The fight song at the end of one of my daughter’s college dual meets. Go UTES!

“Lessons learned from 27 years of youth sports parenting” by Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone hit a spot in my soul. He shared many of the highlights of his years of sports parenting with his children. Like he said in his column, they had no idea how youth sports would take over their families lives when they first began the ride. We too tried a variety of sports and then settled on swimming for both our children. Before we knew it, we were all hooked, and swimming filled up our lives.

A few days before the first swim meet ever, we received a call from the president of our team’s board. He said we needed to sign up to help during the meet. They needed timers or help in the snack bar. What? We were shocked. Then, he said that afterward, the entire team stayed to tear down the meet.

I said, “We have family visiting from Seattle.”

He said, “They’re welcome to help, too.”

The phone calls persisted and finally, my husband said, “I’m sorry but we have a life!”

Roll forward a few years and I was serving on the board, writing press releases, creating fliers to promote the team and writing the team newsletter. My husband became meet manager and had to call parents to help at meets, before he took on the role of president of the board. Add our volunteering to the fact that we were taking our kids to the pool six days a week, plus meets, 50 weeks a year–and yes sports parenting took over our lives for a few years.

Here’s part of the great column by Larry Stone that got me a little teary eyed. Especially since my last official year as a swim mom ended this year:

Take it from Larry Stone, who has learned a few lessons over 27 years of youth sports parenting: There are a few tricky or annoying aspects of your offspring’s sports participation, but mostly, you’re going to want to savor it before it goes by in an instant.

It was way back in 1991 when my oldest daughter, Jessica, signed up for a 6-and-under Bobby Sox softball team in Oakland, Calif., where we were living at the time.

It was a delightful season of fun, growth and bonding, though it soon became apparent that Jess was not destined to be a slugger like Dave Henderson of her beloved A’s. To be fair, she did hit a grand slam (of the Little League variety) in her final at-bat, as Jessica, now 32 and married, reminded me on Tuesday.

I didn’t realize at the time that our family was stepping timidly into a world that would at times dominate our lives, and certainly became a focal point of family logistics for more than a quarter century.

Naturally, I’ve been reflecting about the good times and the bad as a youth-sports parent (and fortunately, we had far more of the former). I thought I’d present some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years – some of them the hard way.

• A few of the coaches you’ll encounter will be ego-driven tyrants who think they’re the next Belichick or Auriemma as they micro-manage pre-teens. Far more will be kind, supportive and motivated by the simple desire to make your child a better player without bruising his or her psyche in the process.

• Throw the words “select,” “premier” or “elite” in front of a sports program, and there’s no end to the amount of effort (and money) we parents will put forth to get our kid into it.

• There’s a dire need to make youth athletics less about select, premier and elite, and more about fun, participation and recreation.

• If your overriding goal for youth sports is a Division I scholarship, you need to rethink your priorities. First of all, it’s probably not going to happen – that’s just the stark reality. Second of all, you’re likely to spend so much money in that pursuit that it negates the value of what in most cases would be a partial scholarship anyway. And third of all, if your kid has the talent, it will emerge clearly and emphatically on its own. In other words, pay for the camps, clinics, showcases and recruiting videos if you’d like, but be aware that the payoff is not likely to be what you think.

• Burnout is the scourge of youth sports, and specialization is the single biggest source of burnout. Particularly at the younger levels, diversify, don’t specialize!

• Overwrought and demanding parents are now, were then, and will continue to be the bane of youth sports, perpetually pushing the line between concerned involvement and crazed entitlement.

• Some of the best friends and people I’ve ever met are youth-sports parents who set the finest examples of how to positively support, encourage and nurture your child’s athletic career. And some of the best parenting advice, perspective and support I ever got came from people I sat with in the bleachers — the ones with older kids who had been here and done this, and the ones struggling through the same developmental hiccups that were keeping me up at night.

There’s more to the article and I suggest you read every bit of it. I agree with Stone that some of my best friends I met on our team and from other teams throughout Southern California. Our friendships have lasted through the years. I got great advice from parents of older kids, and commiserated with the ones with kids the same ages as mine. Of course, there were those crazy parents who caused so much stress—but they were few and far between. And we had our own crazy moments ourselves but learned from our mistakes.

I learned more about parenting on deck that went far beyond the pool—like which teachers were the best, about SAT testing, college recruiting and more. In return, I’ve talked with parents with younger kids and hope I can be as helpful as those who helped me.

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The team cheer during the age group years.

If your sports parenting days are over, what do you miss about it? What are your favorite things about being involved in youth sports?

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Memories of some fun at swim meets

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My daughter and Piranha friends.

I asked a couple of my fellow swim moms about why we like swim meets — or what makes a swim great. Of course, the number one reason is when our kids are happy and do well. Then we started reminiscing about meets and what great memories we have from them. I’ve written about my favorite swim meet moments before—but here are a couple more:

ONE
When we drove all over Los Angeles looking for a vuvuzela for our son. He wanted to cheer on all his teammates at Junior Olympics. We drove from Santa Clarita where we were at a meet to Orange County where we had another meet. We finally found the vuvuzela in between in Los Angeles. It was the year the vuvuzela was making a big splash during World Cup Soccer. Within a few hours of my son cheering on his teammates with the blasting horn, other teams started complaining. And then the vuvuzela was “accidentally” broken. We blamed a parent on another team, but my daughter told me today that it was a parent on our own team!

TWO
I’ll never forget seeing Dianne Keaton, fellow swim mom and actress extraordinaire, in the bathroom at the same Junior Olympics meet in Mission Viejo. She was dressed in her comfortable Annie Hall style complete with the hat. I returned to our team’s pop-up tent and a swim dad was asking “who’s that actress, you know the one….” Finally, someone said “Dianne Keaton.” The dad went on to say, “Well I saw this lady here that looks just like Dianne Keaton. I told her she looked like a famous actress, and she said, ‘I’m Dianne Keaton’.” The dad argued with her about it, “No you’re not.” She asked if he wanted a selfie with her, and he refused! Wow. Was he embarrassed when we all said at once, “It IS Dianne Keaton!”

THREE
One of my kids’ teammates brought a little electrical hand-held disc game called Catchphrase to a June Age Group Championship meet at La Mirada. The kids sat under the pop-up tent, playing the game for hours on end while waiting for their events. Then, back at the hotel where most families were staying, we kept on playing into the night—parents included. I’ll always remember that meet as one of the most fun.

FOUR
We were in Moreno Valley at a meet Mother’s Day weekend, and it began hailing! My daughter and her friends were swimming the 200 back and during their heat, the officials cleared the pool because of thunder and lightning. It took forever to get the swimmers attention and get them to exit the pool. My daughter and a few friends sat in the back of our Sequoia drinking chocolate milk and singing loudly with the radio for an hour—waiting for the storm to pass.

Looking back on the age group swimming days, there are no bad memories. When things looked awful or stressful at the time, I can laugh about now.

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My kids with their teammates.

What are some of your favorite youth sports memories with your kids?

Does Hard Work Trump Talent?

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My son and swim team friends.

I was questioning whether swimmers with good work ethics and some talent can ever be as great as swimmers with extraordinary talent. I “Googled” hard work vs. talent and I discovered “Hard Work Beats Talent (but Only If Talent Doesn’t Work Hard)”–by Piers Steel Ph.D. –The Procrastination Equation on Psychology Today from Oct. 8, 2011.

Complete with a chart the author discusses intelligence, rather than physical talent, but they are both inherited traits, so I believe they’re interchangeable. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Hard work vs Talent: Who Wins?
In a world where we are ridiculously overcommitted to making sure everyone is equal in every way, a new study just published in Psychological Science contains some sobering news you might not like. In their paper “Limits on the Predictive Power of Domain-Specific Experience and Knowledge in Skilled Performance,” David Hambrick and Elizabeth Meinz kill the myth that talent doesn’t matter. We would love to believe, of course, that all we need to do to be the best is to try hard enough. You can be anything you want as long as you really want it: rocket scientist, pop icon, sport hero. There is no shortage of popular pundits promoting this myth. As Hambrick and Meinz point out:

Malcolm Gladwell (2008) commented that “The relationship between success and IQ works only up to a point. Once someone has reached an IQ of somewhere around 120, having additional IQ points doesn’t seem to translate into any measurable real world advantage” (pp. 78-79). In his own bestselling book, The Social Animal, David Brooks (2011) expressed the same idea: “A person with a 150 IQ is in theory much smarter than a person with a 120 1Q, but those additional 30 points produce little measurable benefit when it comes to lifetime success” (p. 165). Malcolm Gladwell and David Brooks are simply wrong. At least in science, a high level of intellectual ability puts a person at a measurable advantage-and the higher the better.

The people peddling this notion that talent is irrelevant often cite a 1993 paper by Ericsson, Krampe, and Tech-Romer regarding deliberate practice in which the researchers argue that success is usually built upon purposeful, thoughtful and intense efforts to improve performance over about 10,000 hours. This is true; hard work does pay off. The Beatles got to be so good because they had to perform their music four hours a day (eight days a week) during their two year stint in Hamburg. Bobby Fischer became a grandmaster at chess after years of honing his skills at the Brooklyn Chess Club.  But that wasn’t the question. What we want to know is whether hard work makes talent irrelevant. Will every group that jams together for 10,000 hours become the Fab Four and every chess obsessed child become a world champion?

Hambrick and Meinz showed the basic relationship between hard work and talent in this chart. The vertical axis measures your level of performance. Higher up means spectacular. The horizontal axis charts your innate talent, in this case cognitive ability, what the rest of the world refers to as “intelligence.” Further to the right means super smart. The two lines refer to different levels of deliberate practice. The red line refers to those who have put in the hours while the blue refers to those who haven’t made the effort.

There are two things to take away from this. The first is that being smart is a useful thing to inherit, right up there with a large trust fund. The more smarts you have, the higher your performance. And despite what Gladwell and Brooks say, intelligence’s benefits don’t disappear; the more innate talent of any sort you have, the better off you are going be.

If you take a careful look, however, you will notice that those of us with more modest abilities do have a chance. Even if you weren’t born with genius in your genes, you can outperform the smartest of individuals as long as you work hard and the latter doesn’t. Also, the differences between the smart and the not-so-smart shrink quite a bit if they both work hard. That means that talent still counts, but hard work puts you right up there.Screen Shot 2018-06-25 at 11.13.09 AM

So, to answer my question about whether hard-working swimmers will ever match super talented swimmers–it all depends. Being a swim mom in the LSC Southern California Swimming means we were surrounded with talent. Every team has standouts and at meets, my kids had to compete with drop-dead amazing Olympic swimmers like Vlad Morozov, Abbey Weitzeil and NCAA champ and American Record Holder Ella Eastin. Those three swimmers I mentioned were blessed with talent–plus they work hard, too. That’s not a common combination.

I observed that many of the most talented kids didn’t learn to work hard. It was easy for them to compete and win. So growing up, they didn’t experience failure and how to turn that into motivation. In the end, I saw many of these talented kids quit swimming when they either had to work hard to improve or were no longer the fastest on their team or at meets. I believe a missing key ingredient that determines success in any field is passion. Passion is what drives a person to keep trying, working hard and enjoying the process and small improvements along the way.

I have to say that in my Masters’ group I notice that hard work pays off, too. I’ve been out for more than five months with an injury. Now that I’m back, I’m surprised at how much my friends have improved in my absence. They are the ones who are showing up every day and putting in hard work. They are swimming faster, are stronger and swimming more. It’s motivating to me to keep going and gain back some of what I’ve lost.

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An age group meet at our Palm Springs pool.

What are your thoughts about talent versus hard work?

 

It’s Long Course Season Once Again

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Long Course at our pool.

I returned to swimming Masters and although I’m amazingly weak and slow, I’m thrilled to be back. I like the summer schedule and the fact that it’s Long Course. For non-swimmers that means the pool lanes run the length of the 50-meter pool, as opposed to across the pool, which is 25 yards for Short Course. I remember a few years ago when I began swimming Masters, I’d never go on Saturdays because it’s Long Course. Now there’s Long Course throughout the week–and I’m there.

I actually prefer it. Even though I’m recovering from knee surgery and I can barely swim 30 minutes without getting exhausted, there’s something about how good it feels. I find a nice rhythm and my mind has more time to think and wander before I hit the wall. I feel like I’m swimming more as opposed to pushing and bouncing off the walls back and forth like a ping-pong ball.

Last week was my first day back to the US Masters Swimming program with Piranha Swim Team since December. Of course, that’s because of the great ski vacation I had early January that ended with a toboggan ride escorted by the Ski Patrol at Alta, Utah. Anyway, last week I could only swim 500 meters without feeling winded, exhausted and my knee hurt. Today is Monday of week two, and I felt stronger and made it 900 meters.

It’s great to be back, and our coach was right. Returning to Masters and being with my swim buddies is motivating and will help me recover faster, as opposed to going on my own. I strongly recommend joining a Masters team to anyone, regardless of their swimming ability.

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Sunset at our pool during a meet.

Where did the year go?

I woke up thinking “it’s June first and where did my year go?” Mostly nowhere is where my year went thanks to falling on the slopes January 2nd. It’s been a long five months of being injured, having surgery and slowly recovering. I looked back at what I was going last year at this time and it was all about being together as a family. 

Here’s my story from one year ago today:

18920581_10213697294890444_4649514921325596156_nThis past weekend, I was in mom heaven. My daughter was at a swim meet an hour away from where my son now lives. We didn’t do anything that special, we got to hang out together. It was one of my favorite weekends in recent memory.

At first, I was worried about how my daughter was going to do at the meet. She had already told us that due to other things going on in her life, her last few weeks of practice were not consistent at all.

I told her, “You can still get a best time and swim well.” 

She thought I was delirious. She was very realistic about what she could do at that point in time. I have to admit that after her first race, I got it. I relaxed about the times and understood that this meet was about being together as a family. It was a small slice of time where we could hang out and enjoy each other’s company. If I had been focused on her times and upset that she wasn’t at her peak fitness, I’d have been so disappointed. Instead, I reflected on being the mom of two almost grown kids that I’m so proud of. And, the fact that they enjoy being with me and each other.

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My daughter getting instructions from her coach.

While we were driving around town, the kids were in the back seat pretending to be little kids elbowing each other. I turned around from the front passenger seat and said, “Children, there’s an imaginary line going down the middle of the car. You can’t cross that line!”

My daughter immediately yelled out, “Mom, Robert crossed the line!”

Later, after fits of laughter, we hung out together in a park, lying on the grass and staring at the green leaves and blue sky.

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The park by the Santa Clara pool.

We shared books, ideas and meals. My son’s vocabulary had us looking up new words and trying to memorize and pronounce them, like “primogeniture.” One of my kids favorite things to do was to copy our faces. My son does an imitation of me, while Kat has perfected her dad’s scowl. It always ended in a burst of laughter and fits of giggles.

The swim meet was exciting with a who’s who in the swimming world in the final heats. I witnessed amazing races and the international flavor was so hopeful and invigorating with countries in attendance including Argentina, Mexico, Japan and China.

It may be the last time we’ll be staying in a hotel with our daughter at a meet. Ever. Her final college season is ahead this fall and she’ll be with her team, not us. I was a little teary-eyed when the weekend flew by and it was time for me to return again to my empty nest.

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My super heroes at the Winchester Mystery House.

What were you doing one year ago today?

It’s the little things I miss about being a swim mom

My daughter diving in for the 1000 free during a dual meet. Utes vs. USC.

My daughter diving in for the 1000 free during a dual meet. Utes vs. USC.

When my kids started swimming in their Mommy and Me class in our city pool at age six months, I had no idea how swimming would evolve through the years for our family. Here’s an article I wrote a few years ago about the little things I’ve enjoyed as a swim mom. 

We went to my daughter’s first college dual meet of the season this weekend. I loved every minute of the meet, but even more, spending time with her. She invited several swim teammates out to dinner. It felt like the sprinkle of rain after a long drought—listening to them laugh and talk about their meet and practices.

I didn’t realize how much I miss the little daily things about being an age-group swim mom.

I miss the kids hanging out. So many personalities, so many different families, all bound together by one common goal. Swimming.

My son and swim team friends.

My son and swim team friends.

I have a fierce loyalty to our team and the couple times when factions of parents split off to form their own teams, I was shocked and hurt. It felt like losing members of my immediate family. I’d always wonder why? I never thought we had a bad experience—maybe at times less than perfect—but I guess that’s part of the reason I didn’t understand.

Good times were sitting together in the stands cheering for all our kids. Getting the new team t-shirts, sipping Starbucks on a chilly winter morning under the pop-up tents. Chatting and laughing with parents while we waited to see what the day’s meet would bring. I loved working with our parents and officials under the admin tent, in awards, or in the snack bar at our home meets.

The team cheer at an away meet.

The team cheer at an away meet.

I loved having kids over to the house to hang out between morning and afternoon practices during long hot summer days. I loved cooking eggs, bacon and sausage in bulk for a pack of hungry swimmers. I was amazed at how much they could eat as a group. I loved having the team over for painting t-shirts for a big meet.

Swim team girls painting t-shirts for a meet in our back yard with their coach.

Swim team girls painting t-shirts for a meet in our back yard with their coach.

I loved listening to the kids laughing about silly things that happened in practice and the goofy songs they played and sang to like “Funkytown  and the “Numa Numa Song.”

Most of all, l I loved seeing my kids smiling, laughing and enjoying their friendships. Throughout the years, my kids were surrounded by amazing kids, families and coaches. Just being in the background was a joy.

I miss those days.

Group photo on t-shirt painting day.

Group photo on t-shirt painting day.

My daughter receiving ribbons from her first coach.

My daughter receiving ribbons from her first coach.

No Parents Allowed!


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This week, while I am recovering from surgery, I am reposting some of my earliest blog posts. Enjoy! I’ll try to make it back to work next week.

I was sitting outside a roped off area with a sign posted “No Parents Allowed” at a three-day swim meet in LA with close to 1,400 swimmers.

“But, I HAVE to get my son this bottle of water,” a mom begged the volunteer parent wearing a neon orange vest, who was in charge of guarding the entrance to the “swimmer’s only” area.

“ARE YOU PROMISING TO GET MY SALLY TO HER EVENT ON TIME? I’M HOLDING YOU ACCOUNTABLE!” another mother yelled with her finger wagging in the face of the orange-vested volunteer. The mom was shaking in frustration and anger.

I sat calmly by — watching, observing, and remembering  —  that was me. Not the yeller, but the one pleading. My daughter is 18 and going off to college next fall. She’s been a swimmer since age five.

Helicopter after helicopter mom argued and pleaded with the volunteers, who are swim parents themselves, on how they’d just be a second to find their child, bring them water, lunch, or make sure they made it to their event.

I wanted to tell them “RELAX!” If their swimmers had made it this far, to the season’s championship meet, they’re going to be okay. Calm down, let them hang out with their friends and teammates. They’ll be fine and will survive. After all, I had just made it through watching my daughter swim the mile. I didn’t get up once and scream, “GO!” which I have done at every flip turn for the past 15 years. If I can calm down and let go — you other moms can too!

And — if they don’t drink enough water, or miss their event — they might actually learn from it.

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Here are 10 great things to remember as a parent of children in any sport. It’s from USA Swimming.

10 COMMANDMENTS FOR SWIM PARENTS

I. Thou shall not impose thy ambitions on thy child.

II. Thou shall be supportive no matter what.

III. Thou shall not coach thy child.

IV. Thou shall only have positive things to say at a competition.

V. Thou shall acknowledge thy child’s fears.

VI. Thou shall not criticize the officials.

VII. Thou shall honor thy child’s coach.

VIII. Thou shall be loyal and supportive of thy team.

IX. Thy child shall have goals besides winning.

X. Thou shall not expect thy child to become an Olympian.

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More handy tips can be found at USA Swimming’s page for parents.

FYI, the top photo of my daughter’s relay team was taken by a 12-year-old teammate, who obviously can make it to her events, stay hydrated, swim fast, and take great pics! The second photo is my daughter 12 years ago. The last photo was taken from the “parents only” section of the East LA College pool.

Video of my daughter’s 400 free relay from TAKEITLIVETV from Feb. 17.