Youth Sports: If I Knew What I Know Now

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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.

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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?

How do kids learn good sportsmanship?

Hopefully your kids are back competing and going to practice, but for many that time hasn’t arrived yet. I was fortunate to observe a lot of kids who were really good sports during my years as a swim mom. I wondered, how did those kids get so happy, humble and blessed at such a young age? Usually the answer was having parents who showed good sportsmanship, too. Is it something that can be learned?

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Open Water Nats–being good sports after a close 5k race.

Nobody likes a sore loser and I think it’s even worse to have a gloating winner. Several years ago, I found an article on CNN called “If I Were a Parent: Teaching kids to be good sports” by Kelly Wallace, the number one way to teach good sportsmanship is through role modeling.

“Losing is not easy for many kids, and being a graceful winner can in some ways be even harder, so the question becomes: what can parents do to teach their children good sportsmanship?

“Rule No. 1 seems simple enough but is too often overlooked by helicopter parents who are living vicariously through their children. Parents should model the behavior they want to see in their kids, said John O’Sullivan, author of “Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids.”

“Kids are not very good at listening, but they are fantastic at imitating,” said O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing the Game Project, which says it seeks to “put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’ “

“And so if you want your kids to display good sportsmanship, you should. If you don’t want your kids to yell at referees, you shouldn’t yell at referees.”

The article goes on to talk about the flip side, lousy winners:

“And as for teaching your child how to win and win gracefully, remind them how it felt when they were on the losing side. “The biggest thing that I always say to my team when you’re winning by a lot is, ‘you know what, you’ve been on the other side of it where you’ve lost by a lot. Do you remember how that felt? So don’t do anything that’s going to make your opponent feel any worse right now,’ ” O’Sullivan said.

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Cheering on a teammate at PAC 12 swimming championships.

What do we mean when we talk about being a good sport? It’s easy to point out kids and parents who aren’t. They are mean, rude, usually loud and they do not care about how they affect those around them. Parents who are bad sports are causing fights these days with coaches and landing in jail! With social media catching every incident of bad parent behavior, it seems like it’s happening more frequently, but I haven’t seen any stats to know if that true or not.

Being a good sport is simple. It’s treating others with respect. It’s not talking badly about others behind their backs or throwing your equipment down. I remember when my brother was on the golf team in high school, there was a player that broke their golf clubs more than once when they lost — and he was the best golfer on the team. Staying composed and not getting too caught up in the moment helps us be better role models. In our kids’ sports, the process is just as important–or more so–than winning.

I think another important element in teaching good sportsmanship, besides being good role models, is to compliment our kids when you see them being a good sport. In swimming after races, you often see swimmers reaching over lane lines to hug the winner or you see the winner reaching out to competitors to shake hands. When you see your child being a good sport, point it out and say you’re proud of them. If you see other kids showing good sportsmanship, be sure to tell your child how much you admire them for their actions.

How do you teach your children good sportsmanship?

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My daughter showing good sportsmanship at a college dual meet.

 

Why Our Kids Need to Play Sports

Two years ago I wrote about the importance of having our kids play sports. Today, so many of our kids’ opportunities have been taken away thanks to COVID-19. With the Big 10 deciding to allow sports to resume this fall, I’m hoping the PAC 12 will join them. My daughter was a swimmer in the PAC 12 for the Utes and I’m a third generation UW Dawg. I think so many activities for our kids, regardless of their ages, will sorely be missed this year. Here are many of the reasons why our kids need to play sports:

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My kids at the last PAC 12 Championship Meet.

I’ve written extensively that one of the best things we did for our kids was sign them up with the Piranha Swim Team, our local USA Swimming club team. There are too many benefits to list, but here are a few: physical fitness, self confidence, friendships, teamwork, good sportsmanship, and time management.

I found a parenting column written by syndicated columnist Armin Brott in the Courier from Waterloo, Iowa where he’s asked “You’ve talked a lot about kids and sports. Why are sports so important?”

His answers touch on several different areas including how healthy sports are for kids. I agree that the health aspects are great. My kids have always been physically fit and never battled with being a couch potato or being overweight. My son who left swimming after high school works out like a mad man. He wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to row in the Bay area’s Estuary with a rowing club and he works out at a gym. My daughter swam through college and likes to try other activities like spin classes, kick boxing and yoga. Their high level of fitness began when they were young kids and it’s an integral part of their life to feel good physically.

Here’s what Brott said in his article:

One in three children is now overweight or obese — triple the rate it was for us — and school shootings and other violence committed by children, which was largely unheard of in our day, is startlingly common.

The question of what we can do to, quite literally, save our children (or at least improve their lives) is a popular one. Despite all the debate, one of the most effective solutions to so many of the problems that affect young people these days rarely comes up: sports.

Kids who get involved in sports during middle and especially high school are better off in a variety of important ways. Compared to non-athletes, sports-involved kids are less likely to be obese, smoke tobacco or take drugs, and have better cardiovascular fitness, coordination and balance. Student athletes also get better grades and are more likely to graduate high school and go on to college; they handle stress better, have better self-esteem and are less likely to report feeling lonely or anxious or to become teen parents.

Sports also teaches kids valuable skills in communication, cooperation, teamwork, goal setting, problem solving, learning to lose, resilience, respect for authority, controlling their emotions, patience, self-sacrifice and more, says Graham Clark, a retired high-school football coach in Kingsport, Tenn.

Another topic the author touches on in his column is Title IX. Although the purpose of Title IX is admirable–allowing more opportunities for women in sports at the college level–like most things a bunch of politicians come up with — there are unintended consequences. The unintended consequences are less opportunities for men. Because of the large rosters of football teams, and Title IX require a proportional number of female and male athletes, lots of smaller men’s teams get the axe. In the PAC 12, the conference my daughter swam in, there are nine women’s swim teams while only six for men. In Division 1 Swimming, there are 136 teams for men while there are 196 women’s team. As for scholarships, men have 1,346.4 and women 2,716.

Here’s what the column says about Title IX:

We also need to develop policies and procedures to ensure that children and young adults have access to sports at every level. Right now, colleges around the country, and a small but growing number of high schools, are using Title IX — which is ostensibly designed to promote equality — to cut sports programs, especially those for men and boys. They’re using the concept of “proportionality,” which states that percentages of male and female student athletes must be the same as the percentages of male and female students in the institution as a whole.

Nationwide, the on-campus female-to-male ratio is 57:43. However, since those percentages are roughly reversed for student athletes, institutions are resorting to cutting men’s teams to produce “equity.”

“With all the known positive benefits that boys gain from participating in sports, it makes absolutely no sense to cut male athletes from high school teams just to comply with Title IX’s gender quota,” says Eric Pearson, chairman, American Sports Council.

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My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine years ago.

How are your kids’ activities impacted because of the Coronavirus?

I almost felt “normal” again

Waffles with my daughter

We got away for two weeks and life felt like it did before the pandemic. It gave me hope that yes, we will return to life before COVID-19 at some point in time. These past six months (or 165 days) of sheltering in place will come to an end.

With my husband required to work remotely, and my writing that can be done wherever, we returned to a tiny beach bungalow for the third summer in a row. We had planned this vacation way before the pandemic, but with the onset of working remotely, we extended our stay and had more time to escape the desert heat and relish in a change of scenery.

There’s something about the ocean that is spiritual and calming. I didn’t realize how much anxiety had been building inside me until I got to the Pacific, walked along the shoreline with waves lapping at my ankles. I could breathe. My back straightened up. I no longer felt trapped and scared.

A beach walk near Santa Barbara

The most freeing feeling was diving under a wave. I’ve always worn hard contact lenses — well since 7th grade anyway. I could never freely dive into a pool or ocean without goggles and worrying about losing contacts, which I’ve done more than once. Last fall I had cataract surgery and no longer wear contacts. It took me a couple dips into the ocean to realize that I could swim and dive under waves without fear.

Our kids joined us for a few days, along with my son’s girlfriend and one of her sisters. We shared meals outside, beach walks, and excursions into the city of Santa Barbara. That felt normal like prior summer trips. We’ve been visiting good friends in the area since before the kids were born. We caught up with other couples and had fun laughing and talking over meals, always outside and socially distanced. But what a nice change from all those months of no social activity.

Santa Barbara Harbor

Yes, I’m back in my house, it’s 109 degrees outside. But, I still have a little bit of that feeling of hope that things will get better. And life is good.

What experiences have you had that give you hope that the pandemic life will end?

Taking a well-deserved break from crisis

IMG_6079We escaped the heat and the change of surroundings had a healing effect. I was getting riddled with anxiety sitting at home in 120 degrees with just my husband and zero outside socialization. Every day seemed the same and I didn’t know what month we were in, let alone if it was a weekend or a weekday. Way before COVID-19 hit the world, we planned a trip and booked an Airbnb in Park City, UT. We stayed there last summer, too, and I loved the fresh air, outdoor activities like hiking and how good I felt. It’s a great escape from the desert summer.

A week before our trip, the homeowner of the Airbnb cancelled our trip! He was taking this summer to remodel due to few rentals. At first I was devastated and then thought it might be for the best. Maybe it wasn’t the time to leave our home in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. But, in the end I looked for another place and found something that would fit our needs. I needed a quiet private place for my husband to work, space for me to write and an extra bedroom for my daughter and any other family members who might join us.

As a person who literally hates to drive, strangely this time I was looking forward to a road trip. It’s a 10 1/2 hour drive, but easy with very little traffic and great views. The only rough spot is driving through Las Vegas, but this year there wasn’t the usual bumper to bumper traffic. I packed a cooler with sandwiches for the drive and off we went.

I love Park City. It was exactly the break I needed. At an altitude of 7,000 feet, it took us a few days to acclimatize. Everyday we hiked the trails on the ski slopes and walked to Main Street along the stream and forested path. I had a pool a few steps away where I swam laps. And we adventured up the chair lifts in Deer Valley. Of course, it wasn’t until the second to last day that we ventured in the hot tub in our courtyard. Wow! That would have been something to try out after the mountain hikes!

I can’t wait to go back next summer and do more exploring. I’m so thankful for the mental and physical break this vacation gave me. It was needed more than ever this year.

 

Chair lift ride in Deer Valley, UT

 

Tips for Parenting and Stress During the Pandemic

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Morning walks help keep me grounded.

I found my self getting anxious a few weeks ago. It’s a weird fluttery feeling in my chest with my heart beating wildly, my breath getting short and my palms sweating. Why does it come on like that out of the blue? I think it’s all the uncertainty around us. Will my husband ever go back to his office to work? Will we ever get to go to the movies again? Will I have swim practice with my friends? When will this end? Right when we think it’s getting better, it gets worse. The number of cases are going up. We don’t know what will happen with the economy. I have three of my closest friends diagnosed with breast cancer during COVID-19. Yes, there’s lots to be anxious about.

We were fortunate to have our daughter come home to work remotely. She had just moved into a new apartment and didn’t really know her two new roommates. They had a 24-hour notice to shelter in place, so she headed home. I remember her deciding to go to the hardware store to purchase lumber for a bed frame she was making. The very first day she was with us, she was intent on getting supplies. “We could shut down here tomorrow,” she said. She was correct. The next day we were told to shelter in place.

I work in my son’s room and my husband works in our master bedroom. Our daughter took over the guest room. We were a busy bunch until she got laid off due to COVID-19. That was stressful in itself. Also, having a grown up adult in the house took time for us to get used to. We managed to get along most of the time and it’s a three-month period I’ll treasure. Without the pandemic, she wouldn’t have come home and spent time as a young adult. She’s back to building her life away from us, interviewing for jobs.

I read an interesting article called Parenting, stress and COVID-19 by Annie Keeling in The Union, a website with news for Nevada County, Calif.

Here’s an excerpt:

THE EFFECTS OF STRESS

Despite feeling close to their children during the COVID-19 pandemic, 61% of parents say they have shouted, yelled, or screamed at them at least once over the past two weeks, according to a new report from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. (https://www.psychcongress.com/article/covid-19-stress-taking-toll-parent-child-relationships)

“For a large number of parents, financial concerns, other worries, social isolation, loneliness, and sadness are getting in the way of parenting,” said lead author Shawna J. Lee, PhD, an associate professor of social work, who compiled the report with coauthor Kaitlin Ward, a doctoral student.

This uncertain experience is asking a lot of parents: full-time playmate, teacher and caregiver can take its toll. What can you do to help yourself? The first step is recognizing that this is a challenging time and that there are ways to ease the effects of uncertainty and stress.

CALMING TECHNIQUES FOR THE PARENT

Take care of yourself. Parents know that they must do this so they can be a good parent, but it’s often easier said than done. The Power of Three is essential: eat well, exercise, get sleep. Put a post-it reminder on your mirror, by the stove, by the screens in your home. Check in with yourself each evening. How did you do with your Power of Three today?

Take a breath. Or five. Research shows that it takes more than one deep breath to really affect the parasympathetic nervous system. Five deep breaths can change your state.

Reach out to others. Phone calls, Zoom, and yard dates with other adults- physically distanced on lawn chairs — are a few ways.

Take (even a tiny) break. Try splashing cold water on your face, stepping outside or planning a parenting partner hand-off. Identify what you might do to take a break before the day starts. This helps our psyche to anticipate the relief that is coming.

List healthy coping skills for yourself and your family. Avoid behaviors such as excessive alcohol drinking, online gambling or taking drugs. Negative coping mechanisms further compound your stress levels and can make your situation worse in the long run.

The article goes on to describe tips to calm the entire family with lots of fun things to do. Keeling also discusses talking about the pandemic and how that can lead to less stress as well.

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My daughter bungee swimming in our backyard. It’s hard but it does help with stress.

Have you had stress or anxiety during the pandemic and what are you doing to fight it?

 

If I could go back in time, I’d do this instead…

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My young Piranhas.

If I could go back in time, say 15 or 20 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.