Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin competing at the PAC 12s.
Five years ago in February, my daughter swam in her first of four PAC-12 Championship meets. It’s fun to look at my thoughts and remember the excitement of the experience.
1. I couldn’t believe the conference meet was here already. What happened to my daughter’s first year of college swimming?
2. I was surprised by how easy it was to find a seat. Coming from age group meets that are crawling with kids and parents and you have to squeeze to get a seat, it was a pleasant change. However, it did get more packed as the days passed and always at finals.
The stands at the PAC 12s.
3. I still get nervous before Kat swims. Maybe it’s even worse than before. Especially at prelims. I thought I’d get over that queasy feeling, hand-shaking, palm-sweating attack. But, no I did not.
4. I wanted to spend a little time with Kat. But, she’s on the deck with her team, and we’re up in the stands with the parents.
That’s me up in the stands looking down on my daughter.
5. I have met some great swim parents on our new team. Don’t get me wrong, there are great families on our club team that I’m life long friends with. I’m thrilled to meet parents on the college team that are friendly and fun, too. I guess that’s what swimming parents are like.
6. It’s fun to cheer at the PAC-12 conference, hold up signs, and wave pom poms. Kat would have killed me if I behaved that way at an age group meet!
7. Now that it’s the last day of PAC-12s, I’m shocked at how fast the days went by. Do I really have to wait an entire year to experience this again?
8. Looking down from the bleachers at my daughter, I’m amazed at how much she’s matured this year. She’s happy and comfortable with her new family, her college team. She has grown independent from us and she’s doing really, really well. I’m happy and proud, but I’m wiping a few tears from eyes, too.
Teammates and coaches cheering my daughter on during the mile.
I enjoyed talking with one of my children’s former coaches this morning about championship meets. My question was what can parents do — or not do — to help their kids at the big meets. Coach Tim Hill, now of the SHARKS Swim Club in the Houston area, asked me what it was like at the PAC 12 championship meets sitting in the stands, compared to the big meets during our club years. He’s clever that way to get me to think about it myself rather than telling me the answers.
The big difference was rooting as a team with the other parents at the college championships. The scoreboard has our teams listed in order of points and you can’t avoid it. We were competitive not with the top teams on the scoreboard, but the ones right above and below us. The parents of each college dress up in school colors, have props like light-up necklaces and pompoms and create team cheers. We’d have a pre-finals function with drinks and snacks in the hotel lobby. When our kids walked through the lobby to get on their buses or vans, we’d perform our team cheer and make a tunnel for them to go through. It was fun and filled with laughter embarrassing the heck out of our kids.
We cheered for each other’s kids, felt disappointment when someone didn’t have a good swim together as a team. Up in the stands, we watched our kids cheer for each other, on their feet on deck or at the blocks, rooting and caring sincerely how their teammates swam. Yes, we wanted our kids to get best times and make it to A finals, but there was less focus on that than being part of a team.
With my fellow swim moms at the PAC 12 Championships.
At USA Swimming meets, the focus was on individual swims and the team score wasn’t as important or often didn’t exist. We definitely cheered for each other’s kids, but it wasn’t as intensely a team experience as the college meets. The focus was on our own children. We wanted them to get personal bests, improve and get that cut.
At age group meets, Tim explained that parents have a lot of expectations because they’ve got “blood and money” invested. “It’s your baby and your money.” Often meets are away and you’re paying for hotels, plus the suits and entry fees. It adds up, not to mention the family’s time commitment, and if our children aren’t improving, we want to know why.
Tim also explained that swimming is a lot like real life and there are a lot of variables. The stock market doesn’t go straight up, for example. We aren’t 100% every day in our jobs or relationships — and our children aren’t going to get best times at every meet. Our children may be tired from homework, not feeling well or not on their game. He discovered that Tuesday afternoon duel meets for high school, kids may swim better than at USA meets on a weekend. They’re fresher for one thing. By the weekend, the kids may be tired after a week of school, practices and homework. Also, it’s a race with winners and losers. There’s immediate feedback. They may go to a USA meet and be seeded 80th and wonder if they even want to swim because they know they don’t have a shot at finals.
Parents need to be supportive and not start questioning in the stands if the taper was right, if another kid is getting more attention from the coach or why their child isn’t improving. If we are questioning the coach in front of our kids, they will start to lose confidence. So much of swimming is feeling confident, Tim said. If we focus too much on performance and don’t realize it’s a process with ups and downs, we may put too much pressure on our kids. When the meet is over and we still have questions about “why” then go directly to the source. Ask the coach questions at the right time.
Tim mentioned that there’s a lot more opportunity for kids to improve during daily practice than at a monthly meet. When asked by a swimmer if Tim thought he could break 50 seconds in the 100 free, Tim asked him, “What have you been doing in practice to get there?”
Cheering for teammates.
What differences do you see between college and age group meets?
I wrote this two years ago in January after my second swim meet. It’s interesting to look back on where I was with my swimming, as a relatively new swimmer, and how far I’ve fallen. Literally fallen. A year after I wrote this, I was struggling with a torn ACL and meniscus from a ski accident. Talk about getting out of shape and lacking consistency! Then this fall I went through cataract surgeries over a two-month period where I didn’t get a chance to swim. Then the holidays came and I convinced myself — “why bother?”
Today, it’s pouring down rain but my daughter is home and she said she’d go to practice with me. I wish I could turn back the clock to where I was in 2017 when I was better at swimming and showing up for practice. There’s only one thing to do and that is dive in once again!
Our beautiful Palm Springs pool.
From January 30, 2017:
This past weekend, I was at my second swim meet where I was the swimmer. I made the plunge once before—a year ago at the Palm Springs Piranhas hosted meet. I worried all week as the date of the meet approached. What had I done to myself? Why did I sign up for the meet?
Here is a partial list of things I worried and stressed about:
Standing on the blocks. It’s scary up there.
Diving off the blocks. I was afraid my goggles would fall off and I’d lose my contacts.
Doing a flip turn. In practice, I stick with slow open turns. While practicing flip turns the day before the meet, I got water up my nose and hit my head on the bottom of the pool.
Breathing. I worried that halfway through my 50 free I’d start to panic and revert to breath-holding.
Then, I realized that last year I couldn’t get out of the pool and I had to swim to the ladder. This year, I didn’t have to worry about that. I can now get out of the deep end. That thought made me realize all the things that I had done to prepare for the meet and what was under my control:
I had gone to practice consistently for an entire year.
I had improved my diet to make sure I was properly fueled.
I stayed hydrated.
I worked on dives and flip turns with Coach Jeff and felt more confident.
I started a stretching regime that included warming up my shoulders.
I was one year stronger and better at swimming than at my first meet.
Here I am with a few of my Piranha Masters friends.
I was mentally prepared. I was physically ready. I know I’ve made huge progress. Maybe at the next meet, I won’t get so worked up.
My only regret is that I didn’t start swimming when my kids were young. I’ve learned so much from swimming masters about how hard they work, how great their technique is and how hard it is to swim fast. I took it all for granted. I would have had a different perspective on swim meets and practice if only I had begun swimming years ago. I would have shared this bit of wisdom my favorite ref, Paul, told me at the meet, “Relax and have fun. It’s only a swim meet!”
Why do you think swim parents should compete? What makes you nervous before swim meets?
Me and Linda. Two swim moms and swimmers.
P.S. One of my most favorite things this weekend was to see and talk with three “kids” who swam with my children on Piranhas at my Masters meet. They are all grown-up and continuing with the sport they love.
Three years ago, I swam in my first swim meet. Actually, my second one if I count the one at the Everett Golf and Country Club when I was five years old. That meet was really a sort of fun day to end the summer lessons. We raced each other, dove for pennies, and had to pass the Red Cross beginning swimmer exam. I remember being scared at both meets. But, the more recent one was much worse on my nerves. Despite being way outside my comfort zone, I had an experience to cherish. Here are my reflections on my first US Masters meet:
Yes, that’s me–diving off the blocks! Two teammates are in yellow caps.
I wrote about it for Swimswam here. I wrote about how nervous I was in my prior blog–which was before the meet. So, what else do I have to say about the meet? Here’re a few more details and photos.
I loved the people. I especially enjoyed talking with an 18-year-old from Mission Viejo Nadadores who said it was her first Masters meet, too. I asked her if she had been an age group swimmer.
Her answer, “What’s that?”
I asked if she had swam for Nadadores as a child. “No, I started swimming as a sophomore in high school.”
The home town pool the morning of the meet.
She was a new swimmer, like I was—although we were definitely in different age groups! She did very well and won her events. I won a blue ribbon for my relay—in the mixed 45 and older medley.
I loved cheering for and watching my teammates compete. I have a great group of friends and coach on the team. We’re all supportive of each other. The officials are great, too! Honestly, is there a better community than the swim world?
I had fun cheering for two swim moms in particular—our kids swam and went to school together for years. It was a first swim meet experience for all three of us–as swimmers. Both of these swim moms want to continue to compete and get faster. Honestly, I’m content that I survived the experience.
Me and one of my swim mom now US Masters friends.
Sadly, I look nothing like my daughter, who is in the video below, lane one. I can’t believe how slow I look watching the video of my 50 free. Or how my stroke doesn’t look anything like I thought. While swimming, I visualize my daughter’s stroke in my mind.
I was definitely out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing. If you’re interested in swimming, I strongly suggest you find a US Masters group and dive in. You don’t have to compete, and I guarantee you’ll get in shape, get tired, sleep well–and make great friends.
What have you done lately to get out of your comfort zone?
I can’t believe my daughter’s first PAC-12 Conference swim meet was in February 2015. All four meets were great experiences for the most part–exciting times spent with great families. It wasn’t as much fun the year she got the flu, or her senior year, when her “shoulder wouldn’t shoulder.” This year, my daughter and I are going together as spectators. She wants to cheer on her friends who will be swimming in their last conference meet, plus a distance swimmer friend, who she thinks will qualify for NCAAs. We’ll be able to visit Mom, too, who lives near the meet. I’m looking forward to a mother-daughter-grandmother visit!
Here are my thoughts after my first PAC 12 championship meet:
Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin competing at the PAC 12s.
I couldn’t believe the conference meet was here already. What happened to my daughter’s first year of college swimming?
I was surprised by how easy it was to find a seat. Coming from age group meets that are crawling with kids and parents and you have to squeeze to get a seat, it was a pleasant change. However, it did get more packed as the days passed and always at finals.
The stands at the PAC 12s.
I still get nervous before Kat swims. Maybe it’s even worse than before. Especially at prelims. I thought I’d get over that queasy feeling, hand-shaking, palm-sweating attack. But, no I did not.
I wanted to spend a little time with Kat. But, she’s on the deck with her team, and we’re up in the stands with the parents.
That’s me up in the stands looking down on my daughter.
I have met some great swim parents on our new team. Don’t get me wrong, there are great families on our club team that I’m life long friends with. I’m thrilled to meet parents on the college team that are friendly and fun, too. I guess that’s what swimming parents are like.
It’s fun to cheer at the PAC-12 conference, hold up signs, and wave pom poms. Kat would have killed me if I behaved that way at an age group meet!
Now that it’s the last day of PAC-12s, I’m shocked at how fast the days went by. Do I really have to wait an entire year to experience this again?
Looking down from the bleachers at my daughter, I’m amazed at how much she’s matured this year. She’s happy and comfortable with her new family, her college team. She has grown independent from us and she’s doing really, really well. I’m happy and proud, but I’m wiping a few tears from eyes, too.
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.
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?
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:
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!
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!”
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.
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.
My kids with their teammates.
What are some of your favorite youth sports memories with your kids?