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.

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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?

It’s never too late….

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View of the moon over the mountain during my morning walk.

I began my fourth book by Julia Cameron. I started with “The Artists Way” trilogy six years ago and a few weeks ago I picked up “It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again.” It’s targeted to retired people to help them fill the void from being in a busy career to finding yourself suddenly home with countless hours stretching ahead. Although I’m not retired, I view COVID-19 and staying home as what retirement must feel like. I’ve been home for 139 days — but who’s counting? During this time, I have suffered from too much time on my hands, social isolation and a lack of motivation. I have a couple productive days and then I don’t want to do anything.

The book is divided into a few pages of reading per day, plus an exercise in thinking, writing or doing something physical like decluttering your space. Each week, Cameron leads you though work on a memoir from a certain age in time from you life, beginning with your first memory. Each week you move up an age group. This week, I’m thinking about the years 16 to 20 and who was important in my life, along with sounds, smells and tastes. I’m enjoying it the process. The book has me reflecting about my life, what I’d like to change, and what legacy I’d like to leave behind. It’s also helping me spark my creative spirit and think about what other creative things I’d like to try.

My best friend from college gave me my first Cameron book, “The Artists Way.” She said she had given it to other friends, too and everyone found it life-changing in some way. For me, I began the routine of morning walks and morning pages. Writing three pages when I first wake up is like a brain dump and I get rid my worries, to do lists and clear my head for more creative thoughts. After a few months of following the book’s instructions, I began this blog and began writing parenting advice for SwimSwam.com. It prompted me to return to other writing projects like a mid-grade fiction book that I had set aside for years. Also, I began a non-fiction book on sports parenting. I’ve also taken on other writing assignments from magazines. All because I read a book and did what it said.

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Sunrise during my morning walk.

How are you spending your time while staying home? Have you found any surprising inspirations?

 

 

Who Is to Blame for Performance Pressure at the Big Meet?

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The view of Mt. San Jacinto during my morning walk.

Every morning, I walk around the neighborhood and park. On a good morning I talk to my kids as they are driving through the Bay Area traffic to work. Today, I chatted with my daughter about the PAC 12 Swimming Championships. She told me a few eye-opening things about her experiences in the years’ past.

First, she told me during her freshman year she was absolutely terrified before she swam. She felt the PAC 12s was the biggest meet of her life. I remember watching her from the balcony, having fun with her teammates. I had no clue she was terrified.

That made me ask an all important question. “Was it because your dad and I put too much pressure on you?”

“No, I put the pressure on myself,” she said.

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Me and my kids at PAC 12 Swimming Champs, 2018.

Whew. Big sigh of relief from me. I wrote about championship meets for SwimSwam and here on my blog last week. I thought I’d blown it with too much performance pressure on both my kids. What a nice bit of knowledge to know my daughter didn’t view it that way at all. Also, my son told me he also put pressure on himself. Of course, some of our actions may not have helped, but we weren’t the sole cause of their pressure.

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PAC 12 2015, goofing off with teammates.

She told me, “I remember during my first PAC  12s my coach was talking to me about Open Water Camp coming up. I thought to myself. Wow. There’s more swimming after this. This isn’t the end of the world after all.”  (USA Swimming Open Water Select Camp is an annual instructive camp where 12 men and 12 women, ages 13 to 18, are selected based on their 1500 times or Open Water Nationals results. Here’s a link to the year my daughter went.)

Another thing my daughter told me was about the mid-season meet. This is where the team goes to a big meet in the middle of the season with a bunch of other college teams. We never went to one because she didn’t want us there and we respected her wishes. She said “I hope you and dad know that I didn’t want you there because I put so much pressure on myself. It wasn’t you guys.” She asked, “Do you think Dad knows that?” She explained that she wasn’t tapered for that meet and she only swims fast with a taper. She didn’t expect to swim well and always felt she could have done more to prepare for that mid-season meet.

It’s so rewarding to have conversations with my adult children and know that they appreciate what we’ve done for them — and not be blamed for their own insecurities or pressures. They are separate human beings with their own goals and dreams. I’m glad to be of help along the way and I enjoyed it all beyond measure.

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US Open Water Nationals in Florida.

Have you had enlightening conversations with your kids about when and why they feel pressure?

 

 

This simple exercise can be better than medication to fight depression

“Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. The odds are that you will be less depressed, happier, and addicted to this exercise six months from now.”

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What other exercises do you find effective to fight anxiety and depression?

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?

Reflections from the first meet

Three years ago, I swam in my first swim meet. Actually, my second one if I count the one at the Everett Golf and Country Club when I was five years old. That meet was really a sort of fun day to end the summer lessons. We raced each other, dove for pennies, and had to pass the Red Cross beginning swimmer exam. I remember being scared at both meets. But, the more recent one was much worse on my nerves. Despite being way outside my comfort zone, I had an experience to cherish. Here are my reflections on my first US Masters meet:

 

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Yes, that’s me–diving off the blocks! Two teammates are in yellow caps.

I wrote about it for Swimswam here. I wrote about how nervous I was in my prior blog–which was before the meet. So, what else do I have to say about the meet? Here’re a few more details and photos.

I loved the people. I especially enjoyed talking with an 18-year-old from Mission Viejo Nadadores who said it was her first Masters meet, too. I asked her if she had been an age group swimmer.

Her answer, “What’s that?”

I asked if she had swam for Nadadores as a child. “No, I started swimming as a sophomore in high school.”

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The home town pool the morning of the meet.

She was a new swimmer, like I was—although we were definitely in different age groups! She did very well and won her events. I won a blue ribbon for my relay—in the mixed 45 and older medley.

I loved cheering for and watching my teammates compete. I have a great group of friends and coach on the team. We’re all supportive of each other. The officials are great, too! Honestly, is there a better community than the swim world?

I had fun cheering for two swim moms in particular—our kids swam and went to school together for years. It was a first swim meet experience for all three of us–as swimmers. Both of these swim moms want to continue to compete and get faster. Honestly, I’m content that I survived the experience.

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Me and one of my swim mom now US Masters friends.

Sadly, I look nothing like my daughter, who is in the video below, lane one. I can’t believe how slow I look watching the video of my 50 free. Or how my stroke doesn’t look anything like I thought. While swimming, I visualize my daughter’s stroke in my mind.

I was definitely out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing. If you’re interested in swimming, I strongly suggest you find a US Masters group and dive in. You don’t have to compete, and I guarantee you’ll get in shape, get tired, sleep well–and make great friends.

What have you done lately to get out of your comfort zone?

There is a college for everyone

I wrote this article a few years ago and I think it still resonates today. If you’re a swim parent, your kids can swim in college and it will add to their experience most definitely.

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

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

I read an interesting article today on my favorite website, SwimSwam.  It was written by a college swimmer encouraging high school swimmers to swim in college. It’s very inspirational you can read it here. His story reminded me of my own kids. I wish he was a few years older and could have talked to my son, who also thought he wasn’t fast enough to swim in college.

My son, who is now in is fourth year at college, refused to talk to any swim coaches while we were looking at schools with him. We tried to encourage him, but he didn’t think he was good enough. Or, that he liked swimming enough.

In our opinion, as parents (what do we know anyway, right?) he had a beautiful stroke and he had always loved swimming. It seemed natural to us that he’d want to continue with his favorite sport. We also knew swimming could open doors for him. It couldn’t hurt for him to communicate with swim coaches at some of his dream colleges, right? We had looked at swim times and he would have fit in nicely at a lot of them. No, I’m not talking about Cal or Stanford, which he applied to, but are in the higher echelons of D1 swim teams. His other top schools that are very selective academically had men’s D2 or D3 teams.

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But, no. He did not listen to us. His senior year, he received rejection letters from all of his top schools. It’s really a numbers game and there are millions of talented, smart kids competing for those college spots from not only the USA, but from all over the world. 

He is enjoying the school he landed at. But, it was an adjustment at first. He wasn’t happy being there. He was all alone. Now, in his fourth year, he loves it. He’s swimming again, on his own at the student rec center. He missed swimming.

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In contrast, my daughter who’s a freshman, was recruited for swimming. What a difference her entire college decision process was. She loves her college team. The entire team knocked on her door with goodies for her, while we were moving her in. They had team activities during the first few weeks, like barbecues, and volunteering to hand out balloons at a football scrimmage. The team made sure that the freshman felt the love.

My son told me recently that he sat alone in his room watching Netflix, too shy to join in the freshman welcome activities.

Last July, he came with us to watch his little sister swim at a big meet. His eyes opened when he saw coaches from all across the country there recruiting. He saw some of his top school choices. It was like a light bulb went off.

He did what he wanted to do at the time, though. One thing about swimming or any sport — it has to come from your child. We may think we know best, but in reality it has to come from them.

Robert and Kat a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

My kids a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.