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.

my kids and me at PAC 12 swimming champs

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?

Does IQ Determine a Child’s Success?

kat underHow our children handle adversity is more important to their success than their intelligence. I heard this during a webinar for youth sports parents, but it also applies to every day life. David Benzel, sports parenting expert, from Growing Champions for Life, discussed this and gave other gems of advice in “Overcoming Adversity in Sports and Life.” 

Benzel said, “Opportunities for personal growth usually come disguised as setbacks, disappointments and problems.” An interesting statistic he shared was that only 25 percent of success can be predicted by IQ, while 75% is because of the level of optimism, social support and the ability to see adversity as an opportunity and not a threat. So the answer to my headline question is a resounding “NO.” Our IQ isn’t as valuable as our AQ (Adversity Quotient.)

He gave examples of adversity in sports that included an injury, time off from practice due to COVID-19, not connecting with a coach, losing to an inferior opponent or being in a slump. Think of what so many kids are going through today with schools not opening, sports being cancelled. They are facing adversity like never before in their young lives.

According to Benzel, there are three types of reactions to adversity that he described as the Prisoner, the Settler and the Pioneer. The goal is to get to a pioneer mindset. That’s because the other two aren’t great. The prisoner gives up, is controlled by circumstances and feels fear and anger. The settler settles. That mindset seeks to be comfortable and feels they are doing as well as possible considering the circumstances.

The pioneer learns continuously, challenges assumptions and adjusts their strategies to succeed. They believe that they can accomplish anything if they bring light to the situation. Bringing in light makes the darkness go away. 

Here’re four tips Benzel gave to have a pioneer outlook to adversity:

  1. Listen to your adversity response. Is it fight, flight or freeze? Do your internal thoughts help you with the situation? 
  2. How can I bring light to this?
  3. Take charge of what you can control.
  4. Create a state of wonder to create a solution. Ask the question, “I wonder how I can…” Suddenly the pity party ends and your brain goes to work to find a solution.

One of the more helpful things I learned from the webinar is that optimism can be learned. So, if we’re feeling down or defeated, or our kids are, remember to ask the “I wonder how I can” question.

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When you are faced with adversity how do you see your mindset? Do you see yourself as a pioneer in spirit?

“Love Him Where’s He’s At”

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My daughter in royal blue.

I ran across an interesting email that talked about motivating a student-athlete. It reminded me that motivation is internal and no matter how much a parent or coach may want to light a fire under someone — it doesn’t work that way. This is an excerpt from the email from sports parenting coach David Benzel of Growing Champions for Life:

The following situation came from a coach, but it could have easily been a parent. I was asked if there’s anything that could be done about a 14-year-old athlete who is loaded with natural talent but has lost his motivation.

The desire to work and improve seems to be missing.” said this coach.  

While this is frustrating for a coach or a parent who takes a personal interest in an athlete, the short answer is “love him where he’s at.”

Despite the urge to become a protector of this athlete’s career, you cannot give someone a “want to” if they don’t have one of their own. You can create opportunities, provide an inspiring environment, and tell uplifting stories, but a “want to” comes from the inside, not the outside. 

There’s usually a story behind the story when dealing with an athlete who has lost his motivation. It may stem from a relationship issue at home, strife with a coach, or other pressing priorities.

As parents, we need to let out kids live their lives and be cheerleaders on the side. We cannot make them do anything like a sport or piano lessons because we want it. We can manipulate and bribe, but that’s not an ideal way to build a healthy relationship. I like the advice to “love him where’s he’s at.”

I wanted my daughter to love ballet because I did. She hated it and big tears would run down her cheeks when I made her go. That was true of piano lessons, too. I really wanted her to stick it out. My son loved piano. I was already driving him, so she could have her lessons, too. She loved swimming instead. My son like swimming, too, but with severe asthma it was a battle staying well during the winter months. He’d make progress only to get sick and miss weeks and weeks of practice. His interest moved to music in high school and he formed a band and performed with his non-swim friends.

I love my kids for who they are — not for what they did. I hope they know that now.

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My son and swim team friends.

In what ways have you tried to motivate your kids?

 

 

 

 

4 Ways to Make Your Dreams Come True

IMG_8956Do you have a secret dream that you’ve been working towards for years? Or, maybe a dream you once had, but never reached? What’s holding you back? Why aren’t you moving forward? Do you feel stuck in your daily grind, with no time to finish that project, or follow your dream?

I’m reading a book that provides a strategy to make dreams come true.

It’s called “From Chump to Champ: How Individuals Go From Good to Great” by David Benzel. He’s an author, athlete and sports family coach. I discovered him on the USA Swimming website. He offers monthly webinars and has written books that are inspirational and helpful.

The Belmont Pool, where many dreams came true.

The Belmont Pool, where many dreams came true.

What I’ve discovered and learned so far from reading this book are the following four tips:

  1. Dream—Be specific about your dream. Like going to Olympic Trials. Please take note as a new Masters swimmer in my 50s, this is not my dream. It’s someone else’s dream, but a good one to use as an example.
  2. Goals—Set steps that you need to take to reach your goal. Say, if you’re a swimmer, and your dream is Olympic Trials, then you have a specific time goal. If you need to drop a second to get your cut, what daily things are you going to do to get there? Cut out junk food? Work on underwaters? Those would be specific goals to reach your dreams.
  3. Visualize—Use the theater of your mind to picture what it will be like getting your Olympic Trials cut. Make a movie in your head and replay it over and over all the way through.
  4. Belief—This is the hardest one for me. Get rid of that pesky voice in your head that tells you you’re not good enough, or your dream is just a dream. “I’m not talented enough to make it to Olympic Trials. Other swimmers are stronger and taller than me.” Change the self-talk to positive. “I’ve worked hard my entire life for this. Nobody works harder than I do.” Reflect on all your accomplishments and the hard work you’ve put in. How you’re setting yourself up for success.

Step #4 is the one that 80 percent of us need to work on. It’s the last stumbling block we need to overcome before realizing our dreams.

Sunset at the beach.

Sunset at the beach.

Can you imagine what it would be like to face life fearlessly every day? Excited to reach your dreams? Carpe Diem! Let’s go for it!

Carpe diem.

Carpe diem. Photo by Debbie Gardiner

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?

 

Is Low Self Esteem Caused by Helicopter Parents?

kiddos

Practicing to be superheroes.

Helicopter parents are all around the world these days. I thought of it as a United States phenomenon, but after reading this article from the Times of Oman (which is between Yemen and Saudia Arabia—I looked it up) I realized helicopter parents are everywhere.

Written by Farzeen Ashik, author of the prize-winning novel ‘Rainbow Dorm Diaries-The Yellow Dorm’ “The Hard Truth About Helicopter Parenting” spells it out simply and effectively:

The hard truth about helicopter parenting

Have you heard about helicopter parenting? As parents, we want the best for our kids. It almost seems like we keep wanting to raise the bar, so we turn into Supermoms and Superdads. But in the process, do we end up becoming a bit over-protective, aggressive, pushy, or overconcerned? Don’t think so? Let’s take a quick, hard look then. Are you the one finishing your child’s homework and school projects? Is it ultimately your responsibility to ensure that your child’s deadlines are met and work is submitted on time or even that the school bag has the right books for the lessons the next day? Do you take it as a personal affront if your child gets a low grade and get an immediate itch to send an email to the teacher about it? Do you pack your teen’s lunch box and iron his/her uniform? Does your child look at you when someone asks him/her about what he/she wants to do when he/she is older? A whole lot of parents will nod reluctantly. Let’s face the fact that we are a generation of helicopter parents. So, what is helicopter parenting? The term “helicopter parent” was first used in Dr Haim Ginott’s 1969 book Between Parent and Teenager, by teens, who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. The term became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011. There might be a whole section of readers who strongly believe that they are doing nothing but their duty as good parents to be so involved in the lives of their children. The fact that there could be such a thing as over-involvement does not even occur to them. But as parents, don’t we also have a responsibility to make sure our kids grow up making their own little mistakes and facing their challenges and fears? Here are some reasons why you should stop hovering over your children.

Low self-esteem

If you are constantly around then your children will get used to turning to mommy or daddy for all the answers. Not only that, they will start losing confidence in themselves and their instincts. Every time they make a decision, they will feel the need to run to you and check whether they are right. That’s because your constant presence sends out the signal that you don’t trust their judgement.

Lower adaptability

Kids today will be adults tomorrow and before you know it, they will be out there battling it on their own. They have to graduate, get jobs, find partners, and finally raise their own children. Looking at your gawky teenagers now and imagining them doing all that will certainly seem remote to you but you have to start envisioning them doing things by themselves. Give them opportunities to adapt to different scenarios and challenges. Else, they will be misfits in the real world.

I know I did too much for my kids. I was trying my best, but I wanted to make sure they didn’t fail. I was constantly in their classrooms talking to teachers about assignments and tests. I emailed coaches or met to let them know if my child wasn’t being treated fairly. I helped with homework. I found new teaching methods when I didn’t think their teacher was up to snuff. Today, when I hear my son give himself horrible self-talk, I wonder if I am the cause of it? Was it because I pampered him? I reread the part of the article about low self-esteem, and I did trust my kids’ judgment. I wonder if they knew that? Did I make it clear? I have enough self-doubt on my own that maybe it can be spread like a cold and they caught it from me. 

In any case, my daughter made the comment that negative self-talk is very common. I listened to a webinar by David Benzel, a sports parenting expert, focus on self-talk. He said we can stop our kids when we hear negative self-talk and help them rewire what they say to themselves. I think it’s worth getting out his parenting book “From Chump to Champ” and rereading the chapter on self-talk.

robkatwaterWhat do you think the pitfalls of helicopter parenting are?

What do you think of the Four Agreements?

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

I was listening to a webinar on my morning walk and when I got home, I had to jot down a few notes. The talk was from one of my favorite sports parenting experts, David Benzel, from Growing Champions for Life. The topic was “Teaching Kids to Manage Their Thoughts.” It had great information to help your kids manage negative self talk and to get them on the right path when they beat themselves up. Benzel said he got most of the information for this webinar from a book called Managing Thought by Mary Lore.

It also had a lot of great stuff for adults, too. Adults and children alike can get bogged down with negative thoughts about themselves. How often have you told yourself, “I’m not good enough,” or something else similar? If we can recognize that our brain is creating 55,000 thoughts per day and we can separate ourselves from them, they will lose their power. When a negative thought pops up, we can say “Where did that come from?” or “Is that useful for me to accomplish my goal?”

Benzel also said that negative thoughts spread like a disease and once you have one, more and more will pop up. Also, our thoughts are a choice. We can choose instead to rephrase a negative thought into a a positive one. If our child says “I don’t want to fail the math test,” instead they can say, “I will finish my homework and ask for help.”  Benzel made the point when we focus on what we don’t want, the more we focus on it, the more likely it will happen.

Now to the part where I was so impressed that I had to write it down: “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. If you do these four things, you’ll be happier, more positive and your relationships with others will improve.

ONE

Be impeccable with your word.

TWO

Don’t take anything personally.

THREE

Make no assumptions.

FOUR

Always do your best.

Those seem so simple, but aren’t they valuable? For example, if someone says something you feel is hurtful, don’t take it personally. It’s not you. It’s more of a reflection of what that person is going through. We shouldn’t make assumptions about people’s motives or intent. Instead we should investigate and ask questions. Try to learn where the person is coming from. As far as always doing your best, your best may change from day to day. Do the best you can on that particular day.

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Views from my morning walk.

What do you think of the “Four Agreements?”