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.

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When passion turns into a career

kat underI remember when we became a full on “swim family,” I was criticized by well-meaning friends. They’d say things like, “Your kids have such a narrow life.” “You’re limiting their world,” or “Don’t your kids need friends?” As if being in a pool full of kids, my children didn’t have friends!

Roll forward 10 years and my daughter’s heard “you can’t be focused on swimming forever,” or “why are you still tweeting about swimming?” Funny thing about that—my daughter was delighted to accept a job today that will pay her to tweet and write Instagram captions about swimming! I’m so excited for her that she found a job connected to what she loves and she’ll be able to make a living at it.

It’s okay to have a passion at an early age. As parents, when you see your kids are really into something, it’s our job to support them. Ignore the naysayers and go with your heart. How amazing is it to swim from kindergarten through college and then work at a job in the industry you’re passionate about? It may make the day-to-day grind not seem like a grind at all.

When my kids were young, we exposed them to lots of activities and they found their own paths to their interests. We never forced them to go to practice or forced them to specialize. Swimming was part of their day and they looked forward to it. My son liked to have a lot of things going on — being in school plays, forming a band, taking piano lessons, going to science fairs. His swimming passion has now transformed into rowing and he gets up before dawn to work it into his schedule. One of the many great things swimming taught my kids was a love to be physically fit for life.33944149_10156550450214612_1114497597600432128_o

What passions do your kids have and how do you support them on their journey?

How much is too much for youth sports?

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My daughter with her Piranha crew.

Youth sports is a multi-billion dollar industry and as a sports mom myself, I know we were big contributors to it. In an article on CNBC.com, Lorie Konish writes that 27 percent of parents spend $500 or more a month on their children’s sports. That seems crazy high, right? But, especially if you have more than one child, it’s not hard at all to spend that much on sports. Trust me, I know.

As parents of two swimmers we easily did that, especially as the kids got older. We traveled to meets, stayed in hotels and ate out. Then we had the plan to buy an RV to eliminate the hotel stays. There’s some rocket science for you. Do you have any idea what it costs to own an RV? Yep. Pretty much a lot more than a few nights in a hotel per month.

Besides the travel, there were monthly dues for the club team which go up as your children get faster. Private lessons at $50 to $80 an hour to ensure your kids DO get faster. Then, the $485 “fast suit” to super make sure your kids are fast.

Here’s an excerpt from the article and some ideas to ensure you don’t go broke before your kids become super stars making beaucoup bucks–and you can afford your own retirement in case that plan doesn’t pan out–or you don’t win the lottery:

“Your child’s sports could be sabotaging your financial health” 

Parents are spending more than ever on their children’s sports with the hopes that they will make it to the big leagues.

And dads are often the ones likely to shell out the most cash on their children’s activities, according to a new survey from TD Ameritrade.

Yet spending more with the hope that your child will make it big could have consequences for your finances, particularly your own retirement.

The survey, which was conducted online between February and March, included 1,001 adults ages 30 through 60. Of those respondents, those who were considered “sports parents” had one or more children in elite or club competitive sports and had more than $25,000 in investable assets.

The result: 27% of parents spend $500 or more per month on youth sports.

This was especially true for fathers, 20% of whom spend $500 to $999 each month per child on youth sports. Meanwhile, 7% of dads admitted they spend $1,000 or more.

That money is going towards everything from equipment to private coaching to tournaments out of town, according to Dara Luber, senior manager of retirement at TD Ameritrade.

Those dads may be reliving their youth or reviving their own professional sports aspirations, Luber said.

But the one thing those fathers — and all parents — need to be wary of is whether those costs will force them to make sacrifices in other important areas.

For the parents surveyed, that could mean cutting back on spending on entertainment or vacations. It could also mean taking on a second job or delaying retirement.

One in 5 dads surveyed said they worry about how their spending on their children’s sports will impact their retirement savings.

TD Ameritrade also found that sports parents are less likely to save for retirement through a 401(k) plan or individual retirement account than they were three years ago.

“There is nothing wrong with helping your son or daughter realize their sports dreams, but it definitely shouldn’t come at the expense of your own retirement or understate your family’s needs,” Luber said.

 

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My son in front with his Piranha buddies.

My favorite things about swim meets

I wrote this five years ago when my daughter was still swimming with the Piranha Swim Team in Palm Springs. What an amazing time we’ve had as part of Piranhas since 2001. Swimming has been a vital part of our family life, and now with the kids gone, my husband and I have joined as masters. It’s fun to look back at my memories from the team. So many great coaches, kids and parents throughout the swimming community.
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One of my favorite parts of being a year-round swim parent for the past 14 years has been swim meets. Not home meets, but traveling to meets. Don’t get me wrong, the home meets have their unique qualities that I’m sure I’ll miss — but, travel meets — I’ll definitely miss more.

kat at a meetThis past weekend, we were at a meet in So Cal Thursday through Sunday. Other swim parents posted photos and wrote on Facebook about how much they enjoyed the weekend and meet. My age group swim parenting days are numbered — 40 days and nights to be exact — but who’s counting? With my daughter leaving soon for college, I’m nostalgic about why I and other swim parents love meets. kat meet

My top six reasons why I love swim meets include:

  1. Spending time together.  When you are away for two to five days with your swimmer, you have a captive audience. There’s no distraction of 8 hours at school, followed by 3 hours of swim practice, and hanging out with their non-swim friends. Spending lots of time together, unfettered with household, work, and daily school responsibilities is refreshing. Enjoy your little bubble of time, treat it like a mini-vacation. Play cards, sing songs, go to the beach, have fun! You’ll look back on these days as precious memories.kat girls
  2. Nap time. When your swimmer is older, and in age groups that have prelims and finals, you’ll find yourself in your hotel — with your swimmer — for three to four hours in the middle of the day. Your swimmer needs to be off their feet and resting, so going to the beach isn’t a good choice. Nor is shopping. Bring in lunch, relax, and enjoy some of the best naps you’ll ever have!50Free
  3. Walking. Being at a meet for days on end, without cooking, cleaning, working, etc. allows plenty of time to walk. I walk during warm-ups and warm-downs. I walk with my husband, with friends, and by myself. I look forward to checking out the areas by the pools on foot. Walking gets rid of my nervous energy and walking for hours and miles has to be good for me!kat shelby
  4. Friendships. You’ll spend lots of hours with team parents under the pop-up tent. Mostly, swim parents are generous, encouraging and have the common interest of your team and kids’ successes at heart. I’ve made great friends with parents from other teams and I look forward to seeing them at the away meets. I had a great conversation this past weekend with a parent of another graduating senior. Our daughters are in separate towns, on separate teams, yet they are both swimming in college next year — and going through the same excitements and anxieties. I’ll look forward to seeing these parents in the future, during our college phase of swim meets.kat medals
  5. Watching your swimmer race. What is it about watching your child race that is so rewarding and exciting? I’m not sure, but if you have the answer, please let me know. It’s so exciting when they do well. I love that feeling when I see their hard work pay off and watch their growth as a person and an athlete.kat relays
  6. Sushi. We eat lots of sushi at swim meets. I consider myself a sushi connoisseur and I’ve scouted for the best sushi restaurants near pools throughout Southern California.  My daughter likes to eat sushi at meets, too. It’s healthy, light, provides her with the right fuel to race. My top three favorite Sushi restaurants include: bake-lobster-roll_resize

O Fine Japanese Cuisine, Laguna Beach and Irvine, CAojc_00100_resize

Zen Sushi, Lake Forest, CA, and Orange Roll and Sushi, Fullerton, CA.sunset-laguna-roll_resizeAre you a swim parent, or a sports parent? What are your favorite things about going to away meets?

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Reflections on the big meet–or when life doesn’t go as planned

Two years ago, my husband and I flew to Washington state to watch our daughter swim in the PAC 12 Swimming and Diving Championships. We were so excited because she felt so good about her swimming. As swim parents we were pumped up with the anticipation of watching our child shine in her element. But, life doesn’t always go as planned. Here are my reflections from two years ago:

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The Utes cheering for a teammate.

It has been an exciting, disappointing, amazing and depressing meet. With one more day to go with PAC 12, NCAA and American records falling all around, I’m enjoying the show. But with my daughter’s mile this afternoon, I’m holding my breath.

I got a call last week from my daughter who said she had a tickle in her throat. I begged her to see a doctor and get on it, after all PAC 12s, her season’s championship meet, was less than a week away. She replied, “Mom, it’s just a tickle!”

So, if it was “just a tickle” why did she bother to tell me?

A few days later, she was sick. My husband and I told her to go to urgent care. She fought about it because she was so miserable she didn’t want to leave the warmth and comfort of her bed. A few hours later, she called to tell us she had the flu. They packed her full of meds and told her to return to her house for total bed rest. This was Saturday. She was leaving for the big meet on Tuesday.

She’s been scratched out of a few events, swam a single event, but mostly is lying in bed, waiting for today to be better and swim the 1650 free.

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My daughter and coach on the sidelines.

 

What I’m really impressed with is her attitude. She’s not showing us that she’s upset. She doesn’t appear to be down. She’s enjoying the time with her team. She’s proud of her teammates and shares in their successes and feels hurt when they’re upset and fail to meet their goals. About her own situation, she’s realistic. She said, “Isn’t this the craziest sport ever? What other sport do you train for eight months for one single meet and then you could be hurt or sick?” She also said that she’s tried her best and is content with that. “This isn’t in my control.”

Good luck today is all I can say. I may have my eyes closed, or peek through my fingers while she swims. I also wonder why am I the parent of distance swimmers? It would be so much easier to be the parent of a sprinter!

As for the exciting, fun wonderful stuff, we hung out with our fellow Ute parents. It’s once a year, we’re together for this long four-day meet. We send the kids off every evening during our pre-function with cheers and pompoms, which makes us laugh out loud together. We have fun watching other team parents, whether it’s trees on their heads for Stanford, blue wigs and a giant flag for UCLA or our own red mohawks. Rarely do we parents get to act so silly. It’s refeshing and fun, and gives us memories we’ll hold dear.

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UCLA Parents.

 

As for the meet itself, it’s indescribable. Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Abbey Weitzel, Kathleen Baker, Ella Easton, Lia Neal, Katie McLaughlin, etc. The world’s greats all gathered together for a college meet. Records falling left and right. Shaking my head with disbelief at what amazing swims I witnessed.

It’s a special meet, and although things in life don’t always go as planned, I’m proud to be a small part of it.

The following to videos are exciting races I was privileged to see, the 50 and 200 free.

 

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Last year, my daughter and teammates cheering during the 200 fly.

P.S. She did great! The 1650 was ok!

How do varsity swimmers in Covina make a difference?

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Northview High School Swimmers at morning practice.

I was so inspired when I heard about a program at a Southern California high school in Covina where the varsity swim team reaches out to the elementary schools to teach swimming. With drowning the number two cause of accidental death in the United States, these kids are literally saving lives.

The school, Northview High School, is not a wealthy one. In fact, 74 percent of the students are “economically disadvantaged” and 92 percent are non-white. They’ve been fundraising for parkas for their swim team and quite frankly, they aren’t able to raise $100 per parka for the 60 swimmers on the team. Yet, they should be commended for being part of a program that teaches kids in nine elementary schools to swim at no cost to the parents.

Swim Parkas are worn before and after the swimmers are in the water to keep them warm. They are a standard part of any swimmers gear.

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Varsity swimmer teaching elementary kids to swim.

According to Co-Head Coach Christine Maki, the student athletes teach swimming three days a week, plus maintain high GPAs to stay on the high school swim team.

“Each school gets approximately 12 free swimming lessons per student in a four-week period. Parents are notified when their school is up for lessons and they can register at the Northview pool.” Maki said. “When they bring their little swimmers on the start date, the children are matched up with a varsity swimmer that will teach them for those 12 lessons.”

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Northview Viking student athlete with elementary student.

“We are looking to purchase high quality and long-lasting parkas,” Maki said. “Each parka’s price ranges between $100 and $125. Please help me to help the team receive a legacy team uniform for this year’s team and future team members. We need to raise between $6,000 to $7,500 to purchase these parkas, this year.”

They have a “Reaching Our Goal” crowdsourcing campaign to raise funds for parkas for their 60 swimmers. If you’d like to contribute, please follow their link here.

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Coach Mike Gatreau coaching weight training with the varsity team.

The Northview Vikings Swim Team is coached by Mike Gatreau, who developed the learn to swim program for the Covina-Valley Unified School District. Gatreau is also head coach of the Covina Aquatics Association. Maki is an age group coach for CAA and is head coach of the Competitive Tri-Swim Masters. Assistant Coach for Northview Vikings is Brianna Merritt. Northview Vikings swim in the D3, Valley Vista League.

 

Helicopter Parents: Hover a Few Feet Higher

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My kiddos jumping in the waves in Laguna Bach, CA.

I received a question from a swim mom the other day about families that team hop. “Why do they often want to destroy the team they left behind?” she wondered. This mom said that if her own family were to make a decision about leaving, they’d do it and not look back. Their decision would be their own and they wouldn’t need to tear down the team or coach. I wrote about that question in an “Ask Swim Mom” story. You can read it here.

I received a text from a swim and dance mom friend who read the story and whose daughter went to college with mine. She said it’s easier for us to see a better way to handle things because our girls are no longer involved. “For these people it’s still very personal and real.”

That’s it. It’s all so personal when your kids are young and you’re involved. I regret many things I did–not only as a swim mom–but as a school parent, too. Every day I didn’t need to put on armor and fight each battle. Some things could have been left alone. I really felt the need to solve each issue, from a parent not fulfilling volunteer commitments on the swim team, to a teacher who wasn’t great at teaching. I wish I would have known that “this too shall pass.” I barely remember what caused me such inner turmoil in younger years with my kids.

Relax, stand back, and enjoy each memory you’re creating with your family. If we could convince newer parents to take a step back and not hover quite so closely, they might be able to enjoy parenting even more. I think it’s okay to helicopter parent, just do it from a higher altitude so you can see the big picture.

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What regrets do you have as a parent or in life? What would you do over if you had a second chance?