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?

How Michael Phelps Is Fighting Against the Stigma of Depression

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A few years ago, I got to hear Michael Phelps speak at a fundraiser for Barbara Sinatra Center for Abused Children. It was very enthralling and I couldn’t believe the darkness he had gone through on his quest to become the GOAT (Greatest Olympian of All Time). Also, It was special to me because I was present at the groundbreaking for the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center held on Frank’s 75th birthday (yes, that Frank!) during my tenure as a PR account executive for Cliff Brown Associates. Today, Phelps continues to work to help others who are battling depression and other mental illnesses. HBO is releasing “The Weight of Gold” documentary starring Michael Phelps and other Olympic athletes that details the mental health struggles they experience. Here’s my post about my experience hearing Michael Phelps open up about his battle with depression:

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.

 

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Alex Flanagan interviews Michael Phelps. Photo from Steven Erickson, Piranha Masters swimmer.

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.”

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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.”

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Our local USA Swimming and high school swimmers meeting Michel Phelps.                      photo from Piranha Swim Team 

 

 

 

Why We Fail at Motivating Our Kids

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My daughter was motivated to swim.

Do you know why we fail? Because motivation is an “inside job.” I heard that yesterday in a webinar by David Benzel, from Growing Champions for Life, called Solve the Mystery of Your Child’s Motivation and Distraction Issues. Benzel is a sports parenting expert who works with USA Swimming and other youth sports organizations. I’ve been following Benzel for years now. He pointed out the difference between inspiration and motivation in this talk. My takeaway is that inspiration is external while motivation is internal.

Here’s one thought I wrote down from the webinar: “It does little good to want something for someone more than they want it themselves.” That’s a good point for parents. If we want something more for our kids than they do, we are going to be disappointed and our kids will feel stress and pressure.

An analogy that Benzel used to talk about motivation was “What makes a mouse run a maze? Is it the cheese?” I thought so, but the answer is hunger. Without hunger, the mouse will not go through the maze for cheese. (Of course, if it is a pug or a Labrador retriever, the correct answer would be the cheese.) Motivation is the result of an unmet need. If there’s no need, you won’t see increased activity. A person can be inspired, but not take any action. They could read a book that inspired them about climbing Mt. Everest blind (example used in the webinar) but it doesn’t mean the reader is going to put down the book and work on climbing Mt. Everest. That’s the difference between motivation and inspiration.

Here are some things motivate people to work well:

Pride in their work

Sense of accomplishment

Enjoyment of the work itself

Recognition and praise

To make a difference

What motivates our kids in their athletics?

Because it’s fun

To be with friends

To learn new skills

To receive attention and recognition

The enjoyment of competition

All those reason are valid and it’s obvious that those are unmet needs that are internalized.

During shelter in place for what seems like an entire year (but it’s only been 68 days, but hey, who’s counting?) many parents want their kids to take advantage of the time and work on intellectual activities or stay in shape for their sports. It seems like with our pools and teams closed, we can encourage our kids to run, bicycle, stretch, do yoga, or any other useful activities to keep in shape.

The best way to get our kids off their video games and doing what we’d like is not by bribing or threatening them — but inspiring them.

According to Benzel, here are a few things we can do to inspire our kids:

We need to be good examples ourselves. Paint a picture of what you can see them accomplishing in the immediate future with hard work. Remind them of how much they’ve improved and how far they’ve come along their journey.

If we tell them they “should” go running or take an online class, we’ll most likely get push back.

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My son was motivated in academics and music. Here he is at graduation with a friend. The ivy wreaths were awarded for taking four years of Latin.

What are you doing to encourage and inspire your kids during COVID-19 shelter in place?

 

Humility: Is It Overlooked in Athletics?

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My daughter with teammates.

Yesterday I wrote an article about the amazing role models our children have in the world of swimming for SwimSwam.com. I was pointing out three greats as examples: Michael Phelps, Kaitlin Sandeno and Ryan Lochte. Yes, Ryan Lochte.

For non swimming fans, Lochte did something amazing this past week. His suspension ended a few days ago and he won a gold medal at the US Nationals in Stanford on Sunday. He turned 35 years old the day before. He was racing kids who were 17 and 19 years old! And he won decidedly. Talk about a role model. He didn’t give up despite really screwing up and blowing it at Rio and beyond. Instead he got his life back on track and trained. He got married, has two beautiful babies and entered rehab. He showed a sense of humility and gratitude after winning the gold medal that quite frankly was missing in his youth. Here’s the video of him winning the 200 IM.

As far as Michael Phelps, I was honored to hear him speak a few years ago. He told a story of his bouts with depression and substance abuse and said at one time he no longer wanted to live. He’s refocused his life and is making a difference in the charities he volunteers for as well as being a father and husband.

I am reading “Golden Glow: How Katilin Sandeno Achieved Gold in the Pool and in Life” and she is truly inspirational as well. She was a 17-year-old phenom who earned a spot on the Olympic Team in 2000 and 2004. Through her stellar career, she faced many hardships including undiagnosed asthma, a fractured back, shoulder issues and weight gain in college. Through it all she was humble, inspiring and a joy to be around. I highly recommend the book for parents and kids! For many years, she’s dedicated time as spokesperson for the Jessie Rees Foundation, named in honor of Jessie who died from inoperable brain tumors. Sandeno visits hospitals and connects with kids fighting cancer and brings them “Joy Jars.”

What incredible role models these three are, and they all show humility. Of course there are many more in the world of swimming, too.

I found an article called “Humility in Sports–Why Does It Matter?” by Malcom Shaw, a soccer player. He has some good stuff in his article. I feel like humility doesn’t get as much attention as other traits of successful athletes like talent or hard work. Yet, it’s just as important. Here’s an excerpt:

Humility is one of the most respectable and admirable traits that an athlete can possess. The prime essence of a humble athlete is the act of selflessness and modesty which transcends to the world. Oftentimes in the realm of sports we witness many accounts of prideful behavior, whether it be on or off the playing field. Being a competitive athlete myself, I’ve watched and observed professional athletes of the highest caliber. As much as I would gravitate to their individual skills and talents, I would even more so be observant of their character and demeanor.

When athletes talk about humility and comprehensively act on it (Principle 2), they set a precedent for fostering good character.

Below are a few ways humility is exemplified and embodied in an athlete. 

Modesty

A modest athlete is one who handles character gracefully on and off the field. An individual who doesn’t excessively floss their achievements goes far in character cultivation. When they are in the spotlight, they carry themselves in a way that draws limited attention (even when there is). Modesty in a successful athlete is a trait noticed and respected by many.

Leads by example

Leading by example can come in many forms. Whether on or off the field, leadership is noticed everywhere. Being the hardest and most consistent worker, or being the only one to help clean up equipment after practice are all ways leadership is exemplified . Leadership in the world of sports is not prideful, but it looks to inspire and better others.

Lifts those around them

Athletes who embody humility take responsibility for their actions, especially when things don’t go well. In a team sport setting, there are usually situations where blame shifting occurs. Examples of blame shifting can be things such as, “We lost because of you” or “Your mistake costed us the game.” In situations like these it takes someone with humility to diffuse the problem by sharing some of the responsibility. 

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Team cheer on the college swim team.

What are your thoughts about humility in today’s society?

Team loyalty versus splintering teams

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I wrote this article several years ago and I still wonder about this today. In our LSC, Southern California Swimming, we’ve always had new teams splintering off from older teams. It’s a phenomenon that I see as unhelpful because it takes so much support to keep a team afloat. Also, there seems to be little team loyalty and parents are always jumping from one team to another. I say parents, because I’m not convinced that kids are driving the issue.

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?

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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.

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My son learning to dive with the swim team.

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.

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My daughter with her first swim instructor.

What are your thoughts about creating new teams? Do you think it’s a good thing, or not?

What is the purpose of parenting?

robert 1Isn’t that an interesting question? I heard this asked and answered during the recent David Benzel seminar that I listened to last week on whether parents should push their kids. Benzel is a sports parenting coach and he’s written several books including From Chump to Champ and works with many youth sports organizations.

Benzel said this question has been answered by Madeline Levine PhD, who is the author of two books I ordered today from AmazonSmile. (FYI, AmazonSmile gives a small percentage of purchases to whatever nonprofit organization you choose. Mine goes to the Piranha Swim Team, which we’ve been affiliated with for more than 18 years.)

Here are the books by Levine:

Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success

The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids

After I read them I’ll report back to you on what I learned.

Back to the question, “What is the purpose of parenting?” Another way to phrase this is what do we want for our children? How does parenting serve our highest purpose? Here are the three objectives Levine expresses in her book The Price of Privilege that we should help our children achieve:

ONE
Lead independent lives.

TWO
Maintain loving relationships.

THREE
Enjoy a sense of competence.

Isn’t that impressive? In order to become functioning adults, we want our kids to be independent of us. We desire them to have loving relationships because that is the essence of happiness in our lives. Also, we want them to be good at something they enjoy. That’s another area where people lead productive happy lives. How do we go about helping our kids become independent, loving and competent people?

According to Benzel, our style of parenting makes a difference. There are four parenting types. The two worst are Tiger and Helicopter parents. Next is the Supplier and the best, which we need to aspire to be, is the Hero.

Here’s a breakdown of the four parenting types and the consequences:

The helicopter parent hovers and protects. We—yes I’m using the word “we”—aren’t allowing our kids to experience life without us making sure they never fail. They become too dependent upon the opinions of others and risk hurt feelings if people don’t think they’re the best. They also may develop a sense of superiority.

If you’re a tiger parent, you’re in command and have total control. Your children will grow up believing that they are how they perform and therefore a project. They will believe that if they aren’t performing, they are worthless in your eyes and aren’t loved.

Supplier parents are more concerned with their own lives than their kids. They pay the bills, sign kids up for sports and make sure they go to school, but they aren’t spending much time with them. They’re waiting for those 18 years to be over. The child may feel like an inconvenience, but actually, they’ll learn to be independent and self-reliant. However, how awful would it be to feel like a circumstance and a problem?

The best option is to be the hero parent. According to Benzel, the hero gives their child the message “you are a beautiful creation and therefore valuable and full of potential.” They give their children unconditional love with no strings attached. The children grow up accepting themselves and able to rise to challenges. These parents encourage their child’s interests. They don’t worry about performance and they let their kids learn from their mistakes.

It sounds simple, right? Knowing how we should parent is the first step in becoming the best parent we can be. Now, if only I had learned this years ago. I can still apply the hero parent approach today. Better late than never.

What is your goal as a parent?

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FYI: I discovered Benzel from USA Swimming, which is our national federation for swimming from first-time beginners to Olympians. His sports parenting website where you can join and get his newsletters, webinars and books is called “Growing Champions for Life.” Yes, I’m a big fan. I wish I discovered him about 15 years ago instead of after my kids were done age group swimming.

From their website “Growing Champions for Life Inc.® was created as a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the youth sports experience. We nurture the bond between sports parents and their children by providing parents with positive and practical strategies for playing their role as a sports parent effectively through the gift of unconditional love and the pursuit of personal excellence.”

 

 

Memories of some fun at swim meets

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My daughter and Piranha friends.

I asked a couple of my fellow swim moms about why we like swim meets — or what makes a swim great. Of course, the number one reason is when our kids are happy and do well. Then we started reminiscing about meets and what great memories we have from them. I’ve written about my favorite swim meet moments before—but here are a couple more:

ONE
When we drove all over Los Angeles looking for a vuvuzela for our son. He wanted to cheer on all his teammates at Junior Olympics. We drove from Santa Clarita where we were at a meet to Orange County where we had another meet. We finally found the vuvuzela in between in Los Angeles. It was the year the vuvuzela was making a big splash during World Cup Soccer. Within a few hours of my son cheering on his teammates with the blasting horn, other teams started complaining. And then the vuvuzela was “accidentally” broken. We blamed a parent on another team, but my daughter told me today that it was a parent on our own team!

TWO
I’ll never forget seeing Dianne Keaton, fellow swim mom and actress extraordinaire, in the bathroom at the same Junior Olympics meet in Mission Viejo. She was dressed in her comfortable Annie Hall style complete with the hat. I returned to our team’s pop-up tent and a swim dad was asking “who’s that actress, you know the one….” Finally, someone said “Dianne Keaton.” The dad went on to say, “Well I saw this lady here that looks just like Dianne Keaton. I told her she looked like a famous actress, and she said, ‘I’m Dianne Keaton’.” The dad argued with her about it, “No you’re not.” She asked if he wanted a selfie with her, and he refused! Wow. Was he embarrassed when we all said at once, “It IS Dianne Keaton!”

THREE
One of my kids’ teammates brought a little electrical hand-held disc game called Catchphrase to a June Age Group Championship meet at La Mirada. The kids sat under the pop-up tent, playing the game for hours on end while waiting for their events. Then, back at the hotel where most families were staying, we kept on playing into the night—parents included. I’ll always remember that meet as one of the most fun.

FOUR
We were in Moreno Valley at a meet Mother’s Day weekend, and it began hailing! My daughter and her friends were swimming the 200 back and during their heat, the officials cleared the pool because of thunder and lightning. It took forever to get the swimmers attention and get them to exit the pool. My daughter and a few friends sat in the back of our Sequoia drinking chocolate milk and singing loudly with the radio for an hour—waiting for the storm to pass.

Looking back on the age group swimming days, there are no bad memories. When things looked awful or stressful at the time, I can laugh about now.

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My kids with their teammates.

What are some of your favorite youth sports memories with your kids?