I had a great conversation yesterday with Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead, a phenomenal swimmer who began breaking world records at the age of 14 and still holds a number of records for Southern California Swimming. She’s the mother of twins and enjoys being on deck in her role as a swim parent.
She has great advice for swim parents and works to ensure her kids enjoy the same carefree experience she enjoyed before the days of hovering and helicoptering parents. Sippy grew up a block from a pool and her summers were spent “waiting outside the gates for the pool to open at 10 a.m. and playing sharks and minnows and chasing lizards until it closed at 6 p.m.”
When she was a swimmer, she said meets were like “playdates” and she knew her parents were on deck, but she never saw them. To read more about Sippy and her accomplishments as a swimmer and her ideas on parenting click here.
As a swim family, we have great memories from meets at the Sippy Woodhead Pool. I’ll never forget that it was one of my daughter’s first long course meets and her age group coach wasn’t at the meet. It was the head coach instead and my daughter was a little nervous. When she swam her 50 free as she passed him, she lifted her head up high, paused mid-stroke and gave him a huge smile!
What a neat thing to get to talk to Sippy and understand the person behind the pool bearing her name. Her former swim team, Riverside Aquatics Association has a great story called “Who is Sippy?” on their website. Click here to read it.
After reading an article in the New York Post, June 19, 2017, called “The Epidemic That’s Ruining Youth Sports” by Kirsten Fleming, I realized there’s something going on that’s hurting our kids—including my own.
The whole point of youth sports is to teach our kids life lessons like perseverance, time management, good sportsmanship, confidence, etc. Also, an active kid learns healthy habits and doesn’t have time to get in trouble. Our kids are gaining so much from sports, but they are getting hurt, many from overuse injuries.
Excerpts from the NY Post:
“The injuries are a byproduct of many factors, including hypercompetitive athletes, a growing number of travel teams and tournaments, and overzealous parents pushing their children too much because they believe they have the next LeBron James on their hands.
“There is a huge amount of delusion, I think,” says Kelly of the latter.
“But the largest cause is young athletes specializing in one sport at an earlier age. Instead of playing lacrosse, basketball and football, they are opting to stick with just one, and it’s taking a toll on their bodies.”
“A 2015 survey in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that 60 percent of all Tommy John surgeries in the US are for patients ages 15 to 19 — startling considering that professional baseball player Tommy John himself was 31 when the surgical-graft procedure was invented to repair his damaged elbow ligament in 1974. In 2010, AOSSM launched the STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention) Sports Injuries campaign to combat the worrisome trend.”
Kids work so hard in their sports and give 100 percent—sometimes more than 110 percent. My own daughter has suffered overuse injury of her shoulder and I’ll admit she specialized in swimming since she was five years old—and she’s a distance swimmer. She has one season left to swim in college and hopefully, she’s going to make it. There have been some scary times and tears when she’s said her “shoulder quit shouldering.” I wonder if shoulder surgery will be in her future?
Looking back on all of her years’ swimming, I honestly don’t know what we would have done differently. She was healthy all through her swimming career until the past couple years. Maybe all the repetitive motion has finally caught up with her body. In any case, she was the one who wanted to swim. She loved every minute of it and wouldn’t have dreamed of not swimming year round. We tried early on to expose our kids to many other activities but they both loved the pool. And yes, mom and dad were really into it, too.
Do you know any kids who have overuse injuries? Did they need surgery? Also, were they specializing in their sport for many years? Please share your stories.
I sat with my Piranha Swim Team fellow swim moms and Masters swimmers at a fundraiser where Michael Phelps was the keynote speaker.
He had some really good stuff to say and seems incredibly happy with his life. As he said about his comeback from retirement and Rio Olympics, “I got to show the world who I am.”
He said he wouldn’t trade anything in his life because even the struggles have made him who he is today. What an amazing person he is and has become. Not only was he speaking at the Barbara Sinatra Center for Abused Children, he spent time with our local Piranha swimmers and other high school swimmers before the event. How special will that memory be for those kids? It will definitely be a day they’ll remember forever.
Sitting for an interview with NBC’s Alex Flanagan, Michael was relaxed and comfortable. Accompanying him were his wife and baby Boomer, who could be heard crying occasionally in the background.
Phelps said all his many accomplishments and discipline were “all in my heart.” He said, “I started with a goal and a dream. I wanted to do something. I wanted to become the first Michael Phelps, not the second Mark Spitz.”
When he talked about his darker days and struggles with depression, Phelps explained that he “said affirmations every time he walked through a doorway.” He said, “If you keep track of how many times you walk through doors in a day, it’s a lot.”
He said it’s important to “not be afraid to ask for help and talk about things. You can’t do everything yourself.”
A lot of his strength, he attributes to his mom Debbie Phelps, who he called “the most powerful mom. She single-handedly raised us. Growing up, I learned about hard work and dedication from her.”
Abut his coach Bob Bowman, “He has been there all the steps of the way. He taught me how to drive. The two of us get along so well. We’ve been together for 20 years.”
On his return to swimming for Olympic Trials and Rio, Phelps recalled that he called Bowman to tell him he wanted to come back. Bowman was skeptical and said it wasn’t going to happen. Phelps waited and called him back the next day, and Bowman agreed so long as he bought into his program and did it completely his way. It worked out well.
With his parents separating when he was young, Phelps found the pool to be an escape. His coach told him to “leave everything at the door and focus on swimming for the time he was there,” whether it was one and half hours or two. “That stuck with me. If you look at anyone great, they find the time to do their best under any circumstance.”
Phelps is enjoying his time as a husband and father and looks forward to a growing family. He’s focused on his brand MP and his foundation that is saving children’s lives through water safety.
Although Phelps Olympic career is over, as the most decorated Olympian in history with 28 medals and 39 world records, he said “The pool is very relaxing for me. It’s very Zen.”
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.
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?
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.
Photos courtesy of Piranha Swim Team.
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to try morning swim practices instead of my usual noon masters. The past couple years, I haven’t had to get out of bed before dawn to get my kids to the pool. When they got their driver’s licenses, they sure didn’t want or need me to go with them–and who am I to argue about leaving the house at 4:50 a.m.? Next, came college and no driving to practice for me! I don’t sleep in past 6 or 7 am, but I have to say it’s really comfortable in my cozy bed.
Why did I want to give up a few extra hours of sleep? That’s been my struggle all these months since New Year’s. Sleep has won out to swimming for exactly nine months. But, I know deep in my heart that we need to be continually trying new things, pushing ourselves, and trying to be better, otherwise we’ll get bored and stagnant. Morning practice, I thought, would shake things up and get me out of my comfort zone some more and change the structure of my days.
My adventure with swimming (not my kids swimming, but me swimming) began two years ago, when my New Year’s Resolution was to get out of my comfort zone and swim masters with my kids’ club team. It took me until April 2015, that I finally jumped in and swam a few days a week at noon. I was a weak swimmer, not having mastered the art of breathing during freestyle. I soon discovered there’s only so far you can swim with breath holding. But, throughout the months I’ve gotten better. My yardage has increased from 500 to 2,500 per practice and I swam in my first meet.
Finally, three weeks ago–a few months later than the New Year I admit–I showed up to morning practice. Who knew it would be a good feeling to get up in the dark and drive to the pool again. It’s strangely nostalgic, but instead of taking a trip to Starbucks and reading news on my phone, like when I used to take my kids, I’m diving in. There’s a sense of righteousness and virtue in getting your workout done by 7 a.m. It’s amazing to start practice in the pitch dark and slowly watch the sky glow and the sun rise.
Now, I’m struggling with how to stay awake after practice. I think I may have it licked with a trip to Starbucks—after practice! I think my body will get used to it, and I won’t be so tired. But, as one of my fellow swim parents/swimmers said, “Not going to happen. Coach will add yards and shorten intervals. You’ll always be tired!”
In the 16 years I’ve been involved in swimming, several new teams have cropped up. I wonder, did a child say, “Dad, I’m really unhappy with my coach, I don’t believe I’m getting the training I deserve, so why don’t you start a new team?”
No. I highly doubt it.
When a group of parents fracture off and start a new team, many unexpected things happen. First, they learn that it’s not as easy as they thought—most of the teams I’ve seen crumble in under five years (not all, but most). Second, friendships and relationships are divided, loyalties are developed—you’re either on one side or the other—and there’s a lot of unhappiness all around.
If a situation is bad, or you see fault with it, why not address it? If you have an issue with a coach, why not talk about it with the coach? If you’re unable to do that, or don’t feel comfortable, then why not talk to the board, or at least send an email?
Is there something you can do to help the situation? Can you volunteer your expertise or time to make your team better? That’s what I’d do and what I’ve practiced through the years. New teams usually start, because of a private agenda or ego issue with an adult—and it’s not always with the best interest of the kids in mind.
When new teams begin, the resources of the community are spread too thin. Without a large population of families, communities cannot support a number of teams. There are only so many families willing to make the commitment to swimming. A well-known club, college and Olympic coach told me that you need a million families to have a national championship level team. You need a large pool of families for kids to come in and out of the program as they move onto college.
Plus, coaches are highly trained and there aren’t a lot of them around who have gotten kids to national levels. If you want the best for your kids, then it would seem you’d want a chance for your child to improve, learn new skills, build friendships and have the opportunity to swim in college and beyond. It makes sense that you’d want your child on a team with a proven track record of getting kids to those levels.
Speaking of friendships, how does it help your child to be put on a new team away from the kids he or she has bonded with on a daily basis? Do you want to ensnare your child in the drama that’s sure to come when the kids come face to face at a meet? Do you want to be the parents dragging in their own food in coolers to a meet hosted by your former team—because you refuse to support their snack bar?
When I talked about this years ago with my son, he felt that teams splitting up and new teams starting were a good thing. His viewpoint was that competition is always good and will make the existing team even better and more committed to excellence. I agree with that concept, but sometimes the process is painful.
I think it all comes down to one thing, the swim team should be for the kids. How does creating turmoil and drama help your child? Maybe you can take a look at where you are and realize, hey, it’s not that bad! Or better yet, jump in and make it better.