Swim Parents: Facing the Final Meet

I wrote this two years ago, a few days before what would be my daughter’s final swim meet. I have friends who are experiencing this bittersweet feeling today. I feel for them. It was such an emotional rollercoaster ride sitting at our daughter’s last college meet. The good news is I’m transitioning from swim mom to Masters swimmer and I’m now officially a “rowing mom” with our son now competing in regattas.

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PAC 12 2015

There I’ve said it. My daughter’s last meet is days away. It’s her senior year and her final meet will be the PAC 12 conference meet in Federal Way, WA. I’m kind of jumbled up on how I feel about it. I love being a swim mom and I find myself looking back on little moments with nostalgia and sadness. I will miss going to her meets.

My husband and I were browsing through the App called Meet Mobile this morning looking at different conference results from local schools where our children’s friends are swimming like UCSB and UCSD. I realized that I know a couple of the seniors’ names, but other than that there aren’t a whole lot of swimmers I recognize.

The past few years haven’t been all rosy. After a great freshman year, she got a high ankle sprain chasing after Trax, the public transportation train in Salt Lake City. That meant she couldn’t push off the walls for weeks during long course season and didn’t get her Olympic Trial cut. I think that was a devastating blow to her at the time, although it doesn’t seem like such a big deal now.

Then at last year’s PAC 12s, she got the flu. A really bad flu where the coaches didn’t let her swim or even out of her room until the final day of the meet. It was decidedly weird sitting in the stands for PAC 12s and not having a participant in the meet. Her last and only event she gave it everything she had. I was so nervous I thought I’d faint. I wasn’t sure if she was going to survive that mile-long race, but she did. Her coach said it was a “heroic swim” and he was so proud of her. It was close to a best time.

This year she’s been fighting through a bad shoulder injury. I worry if it was because she started swimming so young, so intensely or for so many years? What should I have done differently as a swim parent? Make her stop? Let her take time off?

She will take time off this year. But what I’m hoping for is next year, after my surgery and I’ve healed, that she will swim with me at a Masters meet–so I can be a swimmer and a swim mom all in one day.

 

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My daughter’s coaches and teammates cheering for her during the 1650 at last year’s PAC 12s.

Any bets on if I’ll cry at my daughter’s final college meet?

 

 

Looking Back on My First PAC-12 Meet

 

Olympic swimmers competing at the PAC 12s.

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 crowd at the PAC 12s.

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.

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.photo 2 (1)

What’s the Big Difference Between College and Age Group Champs?

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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.

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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?”

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Cheering for teammates.

What differences do you see between college and age group meets?

 

 

What my kids learned in the water

From time to time, I receive emails from swim parents asking me for advice. I am always surprised  and flattered when that happens — they obviously care about being a helpful parent — and they think I might have something useful to say. One parent wanted to know how to help their child handle disappointment after missing a cut for a big meet. This is something I know all too well. I talked to my daughter and son about it and they definitely remembered those days, too. My son said, “That was my life!” Here’s a link to the SwimSwam.com article “Ask Swim Mom” I wrote about it. It also reminded me of this post I wrote six years ago!


Palm Springs Pool

One of the most important things they learned is perseverance. That stick-with-it never give up attitude that is ingrained in their brains after years of trying for swim goals and just missing them. Then trying and trying again and again until they make them. The very nature of swimming 50 weeks a year, six days a week, makes kids tough.

I’ll never forget my daughter’s frustration of missing her junior national cut by fractions of a second for two years. She didn’t give up. She worked hard. She would still miss.

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“Are you kidding me!” She said looking at the scoreboard to see her missing the coveted junior national cut by mere tenths of a second after dropping three full seconds on an 800 meter freestyle race.

The next race, she said, “I’m so done with this!”  She dove in with more determination than ever, and yes, she made her cut, dropping seconds on her 200 meter free and coming in second place to one of the fastest girls in the country.

So, what does all this have to do with life?  Take her hardest class, AP Stats.  She knows that she can do it. She just has to put in the work and time. That may mean getting up and into the classroom at 6 a.m. for extra help, rather than staying warm tucked into her bed. But, she does it — all on her own — without me suggesting it. Her teacher told me, “I know that she will do whatever it takes to be successful, so I am not worried about where her grade is today.”

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My son also swam. He worked so hard for every goal, trying to qualify for meets through ten years of year-round swimming. I’ll never forget his determination as an 8th grader. I was a chaperone for his Washington DC trip with his class. He knew he’d be missing too much swimming, so he would run up and down through the Mall, up and down the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, while everyone else strolled. At night in the hotel, he ran the gray cement staircases, up and down the five flights.

When he returned to the pool, he did it! He made his first Junior Olympic time.

Now he’s in college and he knows how to persevere. He wanted to work at the campus radio station. He put in his application as a freshman and was declined. As a junior he has been assigned a time slot on the FM station, moving up from his prior show on the AM.

He wanted to be in the College of Creative Studies, “a graduate school for undergraduates.” He applied and was devastated when he was declined. I told him to move on, it was okay, get a ‘normal’ degree. But, he didn’t give up. The next year he applied again and was accepted. Learn more about the UCSB CCS program here. Just click.

I’ve had friends ask why my kids spend so much time in the pool, aren’t they missing out?

I beg to differ.  Spending most of their lives in the water has served them well. Being mostly wet has given them skills for life.

Find a local swim club here on the USA Swimming website.

 

Photo credits: The Palm Springs, CA Pool — one of the most beautiful views while swimming ever. My daughter diving wearing the yellow cap. Yellow-capped swimmers sometime at some club meet. And a great meme for a distance swimmer.

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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?

If I Could Have a “Do-Over”

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My young Piranhas.

If I could go back in time, say 15 or so years, I’d do things differently as a parent and a swim mom. I’ve loved every minute of being a swim parent and truly believe that signing my kids up for our local club, the Piranha Swim Team, was the single best thing we’ve done for them. Sticking with the team through ups and downs was a plus, too. Not only did my kids become crazily physically fit and skilled swimmers, they learned to never give up through tough times—whether it was an illness, a plateau or learning what a new coach expects.

So what would I do differently? Here’s my list:

One
Not focus on performance.

Sometimes, I get way too caught up in big meets and best times. I wish I could kick back, relax and enjoy the little moments more.

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Medals at a meet.

Two
Not get involved in parent drama.

Like most sports today, where you find a bunch of enthusiastic and involved parents, there’s bound to be some drama. If I could do it over, I’d never take sides or get involved. At times, I didn’t have a choice because of being on the board. But, the drama and problems we lived through don’t amount to beans, anymore.

Three
Realize everybody is different.

Not every swimmer has the same drive or goals. Not every family is going to focus their lives around the pool. It’s okay for some kids to skip practice and have other interests besides school and swimming. I’d be less judgmental if I got a do over!

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Signing day.

Four
Not compare my kids to others.

When my kids were young and new to swimming, it was common for us to compare their progress to other swimmers. That led to upset feelings all around. Looking back on it, things that seemed so big at the moment, were only a fleeting moment in time.

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My son learning to dive with the swim team.

Five
Enjoy every moment of the process.

The years go by so quickly. The friends made with other parents, coaches and officials are ones to treasure. Enjoy it all.

What would you do differently as a swim parent?

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Back when my daughter liked her green fuzzy robe better than the team parka.

In the blink of an eye!

robertbabyIt’s my son’s 26th birthday. I look back on how quickly a quarter century plus one year has slipped by, literally in the blink of an eye. This year, I’ll be visiting my son in the Bay area in a couple days. I’m also speaking to a team in Nor Cal about all things swim parenting! My son is going with me to my talk, as my chauffeur and support team. It’s kind of a role change where I’ll be counting on him to help me.

I’ll never forget when I first held him in my arms. It was an amazing feeling looking at the little knit-capped baby with the upturned nose and bright blue eyes. I knew him. It was like we were already connected and I knew him through my dreams or from another day and age. I remember overhearing the doctor and nurses saying that we were “bonding very well.” No kidding!

The trip home from the hospital, which is all of four or five blocks, was one of the scariest rides of all time. It started with a nurse wheeling me out to the car, where my husband stood by to help us in. We struggled with the car seat, not having ever worked one before. Then the nurse told me she was usually stationed in cardiology and unfamiliar with the new women’s and infant center that had opened a few days before I was there. She held my swaddled son and tripped over the curb, while I watched helplessly from the wheelchair as the little being flew into the air. Fortunately, my husband was a football player and leaped and caught Robert firmly.

After that, we drove home going five miles per hour. It was the scariest realization that we were responsible for another human life. What on earth were we thinking? Who was giving us this responsibility? What did we know about raising a human being? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

He was and is a loving and kind person. I used to take him to “Mommy and Me” classes at the City’s Pavilion and at the Francis Stevens Park close to our house. I relearned “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “I’m a Little Teapot” during those days. We’d socialize with other moms and toddlers, who became lifelong friends. At the end of each class, my son would walk up to the teacher and plant a kiss on her cheek. He was a total love bug.

Happy birthday, son!robertdoor 1

What are your first memories of parenthood?