Feeling blue

women's swimming meet poster
My daughter on a Utah Utes swim meet poster

Saturday marks the first birthday that my daughter’s college teammate isn’t alive to celebrate. He committed suicide in December 2021. His birthday was July 2. He would have turned 25.

My heart hurts for all those who lost this amazing young man, including my daughter. I cannot imagine how his mom is able to get through this “holiday weekend.” He was especially close to his sister and she posted a loving story with photos on Instagram that I read and burst into tears.

We became close to the family at swim meets while our kids were in high school. We often sat with them at college dual meets and the PAC 12 championships.

I think many people left behind carry guilt. “If only I would have called.” “If only I could have let him know how much he meant to me.”

From the UCLA Health website:

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people age 15 to 24 in the U.S. Nearly 20% of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide and 9% have made an attempt to take their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Recent weeks have brought heartbreaking examples of this trend, including the March 1 death of Stanford soccer captain Katie Meyer, 22; and Ohio State football player Harry Miller’s revelations that he attempted suicide, shared his struggles with his coach and got help. Miller announced his medical retirement from football on March 10 in a Twitter post that’s been shared more than 10,000 times.

“This is not an issue reserved for the far and away,” wrote Miller. “It is in our homes. It is in our conversations. It is in the people we love.”

https://connect.uclahealth.org/2022/03/15/suicide-rate-highest-among-teens-and-young-adults/

I know a lot of people have lost their love ones recently due to illness and then my daughter’s college friend. My heart and prayers go out to them all.

It’s time to kick

Two mornings in a row it’s been too hot to walk. I convinced my husband to kick with me in the pool. He set his timer for 30 minutes and off we went. I didn’t want to swim freestyle because I had just washed my hair. I know that sounds prissy, but I can’t stand washing my hair every day. So I put my hair up and kicked until my lower back hurt and my legs got sore.

A really cool coincidence is friends from Palm Springs moved one mile from us in Arizona three months after we moved. This was without knowledge of each other moving. The friend and I were school moms at the Catholic school our kids attended. They lived only a few blocks from us in Palm Springs and I golfed weekly with this friend.

We lost touch with each other when we both got hyper involved with our kids’ sports. My kids were swimmers — their kids were hockey players.

Hockey led them out of town to Anaheim where there was a competitive team. We lacked hockey in Palm Springs.

This past weekend they invited us over for a birthday party. We spent a couple hours sitting and standing in the pool while wasps swarmed around us. My friend’s husband stood in the pool with a can of Raid trying to keep the wasps at bay. It was a fun afternoon, but today I have sunburned hands.

My husband said everyone but me kept their hands in the water. I apparently talk with my hands. We were laughing and talking and I was gesturing all over the place. I’ve never had sunburned hands before.

The weekend before we had them over and I cooked sea bass, grilled corn on the cob, asparagus and a brown and wild rice dish. It was another fun night of friendship and laughter.

I feel a connection to this couple unlike the new friends I’ve made in our neighborhood through book club, the newsletter and coffee. It’s because we go back for decades, raised our kids together and have shared memories. It’s also amazing that we ended up in homes so close together because we are out in the sticks a good 30-minute drive north of Scottsdale.

What friends do you feel the most connection with and why?

What to do about obnoxious sports parents

diving off the blocks
My daughter diving during at a swim meet where the swimmers were selected from So Cal teams.

As a swim parent, I saw my share of obnoxious swim parents. And I had my own moments of not being able to contain myself — although not to the point of punching a ref out — or yelling at a coach.

I saw so many parents taking over their kids’ sports, coaching from the stands, and yelling at their children when they had a less than awesome swim, that I wrote weekly articles with sports parenting tips. You can read them on SwimSwam Parent Tips on my blog or on SwimSwam HERE.

We hear about “those” parents in the news. Their videos of violence on the field or gym go viral.

I saw an article today that had the perfect solution. Duct tape.

Here’s an excerpt from the NY Post’s “The solution to obnoxious sports parents? Duct tape” by  Kyle Smith:

Last July, a woman on a flight from Dallas to Charlotte bit a flight attendant, then tried to open a door to the plane while screaming. Crisis was averted when she was duct-taped to her seat

An excellent start! Now let’s get out the duct tape for sports parents, who need to sit down, shut up and remember that Pee Wee football is not the Super Bowl. In Mississippi this month, an umpire presiding over a ballgame played by 12-year-olds was punched in the face and given a black eye by a woman wearing a Mother of the Year shirt who had been thrown out of the stands for cursing. “It gets harder and harder to staff these tournaments because no one wants to listen to the verbal abuse and run the risk of what happened to me happening to them,” the umpire, Kristie More, told WLBT

Like other forms of bad behavior (deaths in car crashes are way up), hyper-reactive-sports-parenting seems to have spiked during the pandemic, when tempers have been running as hot as Bidenflation. Even before that, anyone who was thinking about helping out the kids by signing up to be an umpire or a referee would have been smart to buy a Kevlar jacket and make sure his insurance was paid up. “There has been a huge drop off in the number of available referees and officials in youth sports due to the obnoxious behavior of parents,” Rick Wolff host of WFAN radio’s “The Sports Edge” told The Washington Post in 2020

https://nypost.com/2022/04/23/the-solution-to-obnoxious-sports-parents-duct-tape/

I highly suggest you read the article. It’s funny, but highlights what’s wrong with public discourse in today’s world.

What’s the most obnoxious thing you’ve seen parents do? What solutions do you have? Do you think things have gotten worse since the COVID shutdowns?

How to not quite ruin your child

racing dive into pool

A swim meet where my daughter met with college coaches, including the one who would be her college coach.

I read an interesting book about how to parent without really trying. Called Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child,  it was written by James Breakwell. He is a popular author and humorist who can be found on Twitter. His theory is the opposite of helicopter parenting. He believes that all children will turn about the same — mediocre — regardless of parenting techniques. So why knock yourself out with trying to be a perfect parent, raising perfectionist children? He believes in a hands off, bare minimum approach.

As a relentless, overachieving swim mom, I especially enjoyed Chapter 11 “The Path to Athletic Glory” which he crossed out and renamed “Benched.” Breakwell’s advice on sports parenting is to sign your kids up for sports and let it go at that. At some point, they’ll tire of it and you can all move onto something else.

Here are a few excerpts from his sports parenting chapter that gave me a chuckle or belly laugh:

“The real danger sports pose is to you, the parent on the sideline. Kids will damage their bodies and minds. You could lose your immortal soul.”

“The competitive pull of youth sports is hard to resist. Deep down, we all have a primal urge to see our child do better than other people’s kids. It’s the ultimate secondhand validation. If your kid wins, that means you’re better than those other parents, or at least that you passed on better genes. Whatever it was, your kid triumphed because of you. Brag about it to everyone you know. That never gets old.” 

“But while sports parents know everything there is to know about succeeding as an athlete, none of them agree on how to pull it off. There’s more than one way to ruin a childhood. To sports parents, steamrolling their child’s youth will be worth it when their kid hoists whatever arbitrary medal or trophy now defines that kid’s entire existence. Ultimately, sports parents just want their kid to have fun — as long as they win or die trying.”

On Breakwell’s section about parents’ dreams of Olympic glory, he writes that the dream is out of reach. 

“Parents of top gymnasts and swimmers enroll their kids in Soviet-style sports gulags the second they leave the womb….The bottom line is kids don’t just roll out of bed and pull off world-record swimming times or gymnastics scores. Instead they give up their entire childhoods to achieve greatness at those arbitrary scoring metrics.”

If you’re a bare minimum parent, you shouldn’t touch Olympic training with a ten-foot pole. Unless you use that pole to pull your kid out of the training pool. If they swim like me, they could use the help.

So what should you do if your child says they want to be an Olympic athlete? Here’s a sample conversation:

Kid: I want to be an Olympic swimmer.

Parent: No.

Then buy them ice cream. Ice cream fixes everything. Note: This also works on adults.

young kids in the pool

My kids playing in the pool.

Our own family pursued swimming for years — literally from the time my kids were six months old in “Mommy and Me” swim lessons to my daughter’s senior year of college. It took up an enormous amount of our family life, but I believe it was worth it. All children want to be Olympians when they’re young. It’s a great dream and worth encouraging. At some point, they understand that only a few, and I mean two people in the United States, per event, every four years, actually make the Olympic team. With 400,000 swimmers registered in USA Swimming, two per event really is out of reach. But the kids do figure it out on their own.

Not being an Olympian doesn’t mean that swimming isn’t a valuable experience and worth every minute. I guess the point is we didn’t go into the deal — as parents — with any illusion of our kids being Olympians. Funny thing though, one of of their teammates from their age group club team made it to the Beijing and London Olympics, and a college teammate of our daughter has two Olympic medalists for sisters. It can happen, but it’s not the point of enrolling and being in a sport.

Later in the chapter, Breakwell talks about how college scholarships is making your kids work for their college educations. He doesn’t think it’s such a good deal after all. “The problem with college scholarships is that otherwise intelligent people forget that nothing is really free.” I’ll save my thoughts on college scholarships for another day.

college swimmers cheering at swim meet

My daughter and fellow swimmers cheering for a teammate at PAC 12’s.

What are your thoughts about bare minimum parenting as an approach to parenting? 

What’s the main role of parents?

swim coach with young swimmer

My daughter with her coach, who also was a mentor.

In my SwimSwam parenting articles I often stress that parents and coaches have different roles. There’s a saying that I learned from USA Swimming back when I wrote a monthly newsletter for our swim team: Swimmers swim, parents parent and coaches coach.

As a long-time swim parent, my role seemed to be filled with endless loads of washing towels and feeding super hungry kids.

Yesterday I listened to a webinar that took this topic head on. It was by David Benzel of Growing Champions for Life called How to discuss performance issues with your child — and remain friends. Benzel said that the word coach was first used in the days of the stagecoach. You know, that vehicle that helped people get from point A to point B. A teacher referred to himself as a “coach” back then and today we all use the word to describe the person who helps our athletes on their journey.

Another point he made was that parents main role is to be a mentor in life lessons, while a coach helps on the field of pool with improving their skills. All mentors are coaches, Benzel said, but not all coaches are mentors.

coach with young swimmers

Coach Dwight was an amazing mentor to our young swimmers.

Here are the words Benzel used to describe coaches: instructional, inspirational, analytical, authoritarian, organized and encouraging.

The mentor or parent is supportive, exemplary, compassionate, authoritative, empathetic and loving.

If you get your roles mixed up and tell your kids how to improve or what they did wrong they can get really confused and upset. They don’t know if you’re coaching or criticizing. If you’re inspiring or disciplining. So often our kids fear they are disappointing us. Coaching them will make them defensive and feel like they’re never good enough in our eyes.

Isn’t that amazing? We are only trying to help our kids be better and want them to succeed.

In order to help our kids Benzel said we need to tell them “I love to watch you play.” And then be silent. Don’t say anything more until you’re asked. He said if we as parents ask thought provoking questions like “why do you enjoy swimming?” or “What are you doing when you feel the best?” — then we aren’t being judgmental but may open up a conversation.

Here are the life lessons Benzel listed that we can help our kids learn in our role as a parent and mentor:

self-esteem, self-confidence, self-discipline, self-control, empathy, generosity, sacrifice, patience, personal responsibility, grit, optimism, handling emotions, humility, gratefulness, fairness and loyalty. 

Boy, that’s quite a list. Yes, I hope my kids learned these things through their years in the pool. I hope I helped them along the way. Because as Benzel said, If not you — WHO? If not now –WHEN?

college daughter and coach at the side of the pool

My daughter with her college coach at a big meet in Santa Clara. Another coach who was also a mentor.

If your kids are in sports, what do you see as your most critical role?

Youth Sports: If I Knew What I Know Now

swimming pool in Palm Springs

Our beautiful city pool where our team practices.

I made a major mistake as a swim mom. This is a true confession of how I blew it and how I wish I knew years ago what I know today. I’m talking about understanding the role of a swim parent. I listened to a webinar yesterday by Growing Champions for Life’s founder David Benzel. He said he started his not-for-profit because he made so many mistakes as a sports parents and wanted to help others from making the same mistakes.

That’s how I feel, too. That’s why I began writing parenting advice for SwimSwam, the world’s most read swimming site. What I heard yesterday from Benzel made me remember a lot of the mistakes we made — yes, I’m dragging my husband into this, too.

Picture a triangle. In the center of it all is the youth sports team, whether it’s club or school. Your child, the student-athlete, is at the top of the triangle. The left bottom corner is the coach and the remaining corner is the parent. We each have a different role to play. It’s crucial we understand what our role is and not get in the other person’s lane.

For athletes, their role is to have fun, learn new skills and develop character through sports.

For parents, we need to teach character lessons, build family unity and reinforce sports messages.

For coaches, their job is to teach sports skills, build team unity and to reinforce character lessons.

That simple equation of Swimmers swim, Coaches coach and Parents parent hit home. I realized that one big mistake in swim parenting started when the kids were very young. There was a much more experienced swim dad who worked at the same firm with my husband. He told us how great a sport swimming was. He suggested reading up on technique because of the fine details like how a swimmer holds their hand and enters the water could make a difference in how fast they swam. That sounded so fascinating to me and my husband.

That little bit of advice and information opened up a can or worms. We thought it meant IT WAS OKAY TO COACH OUR KIDS. It’s not. It’s very confusing for kids when we are yelling from the sidelines, or telling them to do something a certain way after practice, on the drive home. Their coach may be focusing on something altogether different.

Now that I became a swimmer with my own coach. I understand that he often gives me one or two things to work on. He doesn’t overwhelm me with everything that’s wrong with my stroke. He tries to correct head position, or rotation. Something basic and integral, before moving on to the next “fix.’

As parents, we often have no clue what the coach’s objective is. We don’t know what they are focused on. By inserting ourselves into the wrong lane — the coach’s lane — we can cause confusion for our kids, frustration for us and the coach. I talked to my daughter about how we tried to coach and how wrong that was. She said, “You did forever. You guys never stopped.”

Another reason why it’s bad to put on the coaching hat, when we aren’t the coach, is this: kids want to please their parents. Continual coaching and correcting can make our children believe they have failed us.

Best to focus on telling our kids, “I love to watch you swim.” Tell them how proud you are of their hard work and let them have fun.

my kids and me at PAC 12 swimming champs

At the PAC 12 swimming championships with my son and daughter.

What experiences did you have as a sports parent and did you ever catch yourself coaching when you shouldn’t?

What are the worst sports-parenting mistakes?

kat medals

I was listening to a webinar from “Growing Champions for Life” sports parenting expert David Benzel and he went through a list of nine of the worst sports parenting mistakes. It was during a talk about whether to push our kids in sports–or not.

Who is David Benzel? He’s a former sports parent himself, whose kids were athletic, loved their sports and made it to the pros—as he says—in spite of him. He felt like kids were coached in sports, but felt he was sorely lacking in knowledge about being a sports parent. He said that he and his wife changed throughout the years and now he coaches sports parents in many different sports including gymnasts, tennis, baseball and swimming.

I discovered Benzel on USA Swimming and have read his book from Chump to Champ, plus I have several copies of his little booklet “5 Powerful Strategies for Sport Parent Success” lying around the house in case I need a refresher.

I too changed through the years as I learned from my swim mom mistakes. I continued to grow as a parent, and looking back there are many things I’d never dream of doing today that I thought were perfectly normal years ago.

The list of 9 awful things sports parents do that Benzel presented was from the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University. 

Here’s the list:

ONE
Exhibit an outcome orientation.

TWO
Are critical, negative and overbearing.

THREE
Apply pressure to win or perform.

FOUR
Make sports too serious.

FIVE
Are over-involved and controlling.

SIX
Compare child to other athletes.

SEVEN
Distract child during competitions.

EIGHT
Restrict player’s social life.

NINE
Too much sports talk.

Between me and my hubby, I think we’ve got this list covered. We’ve been guilty of every single one on the list.

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Junior Olympics for my daughter.

How many on this list have you done? What are things you’ve done in the past as a parent that you wouldn’t do now?