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?

“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?

 

 

 

 

My first two tips for swim parents

This is one of my first posts about being a swim parent. It’s fun to look back on an article that prompted a slew of other articles with tips about swim parenting. I’ve definitely learned a lot about mistakes I made with my kids as well as relished the friendships we made along the journey. At the time, these two tips were so important to me that I believed they were the “top two tips.” Today, I would put them somewhere lower down the list! 

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My daughter has almost completed her age-group swim experience that began at age 5. She has a few weeks left with the team she’s been with for 13 years — and then she leaves for college.

If swim parents of USA Swimming age groupers were to ask me for advice I have two top tips.

ontheblocksNUMBER ONE.

Never lie to your coach. Reinforce to your child to never lie to their coach.

NUMBER TWO.
Respect the planning that goes into a year-long swim calendar and schedule your vacations accordingly.

diveThe lying sounds ridiculous and obvious, right? Your child never lies. You never lie. But, you’d be surprised. Even if you truly fall in the category of the family that never lies, others do lie. What happens if your child is asked by another swimmer to not tell why they missed practice? Or, what if your child knows that a teammate is at Disneyland and not sick in bed and the coach asks her point blank? It all comes out in the end — so avoid this embarrassment — and never, ever lie. When a coach finds out the truth, which inevitably will happen, your swimmer will lose credibility. How does he or she get that trust back?

blurryswimThe second tip is also a matter of respect. If your swimmer is a serious year-round swimmer, there will be a certain point in their career when you just can’t take off whenever you want. Time-wise, it’s usually around the age of 12 or 13 for girls. Perhaps a little older for boys. I bet you didn’t know that the coach has training cycles and plans out an entire year’s practice in advance — sometimes plans 2 to 3 years out or longer? I bet you didn’t realize that when you go visit Aunt Sally for a week at Christmas you may be missing a huge workout week that is setting up your swimmer for success for the rest of the season? Respect your coaches and their training cycles. They actually put in vacation weeks during their year’s plan. It’s so much better for your swimmer to have your family’s calendar and the team’s on the same track.

katdiveMy two cents worth. What advice do you have for successful swim parenting? If you have a tip, please post it below!swimblog5

Great Tips for Kids in Sports–and Parents

IMG_3931I read some great tips for sports parents on a website called Chicago Health. In an article called Healthy Sports Parenting Starts with These Tips, author Jeanette Hurt offered helpful information that I wish I had known when my kids were young–especially the tips about overuse injuries and health. As a parent, I thought swimming and exercise is healthy and I didn’t anticipate there could be a downside to athletics.

From the article:

Coach and author Sharkie Zartman remembers coaching at a youth volleyball tournament and observing a match between two very good teams of 10-year-olds when the parents started behaving badly.

“It was just a battle, going back and forth,” she says. “After it was over, the parents were still yelling at the coaches, officials and other parents. Meanwhile, the kids from both teams went outside to play some kind of circle game, and they were all laughing and having fun. I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, who are the grownups, and who are the kids?’”

As numerous memes on social media suggest, badly behaving sports parents are not uncommon. In an effort to foster healthier sports parenting, Zartman teamed up with Robert Weil, DPM, a sports podiatrist based in Aurora, to write #HeySportsParents: An Essential Guide for any Parent with a Child in Sports.

It’s important for parents to stay calm and be supportive while helping their kids navigate the perks and pitfalls of youth sports, the authors say.

Zartman says many parents look at sports with a competitive mindset, while their kids just want to enjoy themselves. “Kids play sports because they’re fun, and they want to be with their friends,” she says. “But what do most parents focus on? Winning, getting the trophies or dreaming of scholarships.”

I have the Zartman and Weil book on my shelf and it’s definitely worth a read. They each write a section from their perspectives and then have sports parents share their stories as well.

kat groupThere is a lot more to learn in the article including what happens when parents bribe their kids for performance and abusive coaches. Following is the list of tips I found so helpful. You can read the rest of the article here.

Tips for sports parents

Follow these tips for a healthier approach to sports for parents and their children.

  • Check safe sport guidelines. Guidelines should be available through the individual sport’s governing body or through the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Parents can also look to uscenterforsafesport.org to report concerns and to find more information.

  • Avoid overuse injuries. Too much pressure from year-round training can lead to physical harm, such as overuse injuries. Plus, sports carry the risk of concussions. Practice safely.

  • Keep an eye out for burnout. Many kids drop out of sports by age 13, Conviser says. “They leave if there’s injury or too much stress and strain on their bodies, their families, their well-being or finances. The more hours per week a sport requires usually means that there’s a greater likelihood of early burnout.”

  • Watch for signs of disordered eating. Some sports, especially gymnastics and wrestling, put children at risk for eating disorders. “Parents need to be aware of the pressures facing their kids, whether it’s peer pressure or pressure from their coaches,” Breslow says.

  • If injured, see a doctor. If the injury doesn’t respond to rest, ice and over-the-counter medicine, it should be checked out, especially if there is continued pain, excessive swelling or other persistent symptoms, Breslow says. “If you miss an injury early on, sometimes a simple situation becomes very complex,” he warns.

  • Consider going to an orthopedic clinic. If parents suspect that their child has an orthopedic injury to the bones or joints, Breslow recommends taking them to a walk-in orthopedic clinic, where they can be immediately evaluated by a specialist and get the right type of imaging, bracing or other therapy.

  • Be prepared. Parents should make sure their children wear the right footwear, get enough sleep and consume a balanced diet.

  • Stay hydrated. “A lot of times, kids aren’t drinking enough, especially in [cool] weather, because they don’t know they’re sweating as much,” Breslow says.

  • Learn to stretch well. Many athletes emphasize strength instead of flexibility, Breslow says. But stretching warm-ups are important. “A significant number of injuries occur because of a lack of flexibility,” he says.

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What other tips do you have for sports parents and student-athletes?

What my kids learned in the water

From time to time, I receive emails from swim parents asking me for advice. I am always surprised  and flattered when that happens — they obviously care about being a helpful parent — and they think I might have something useful to say. One parent wanted to know how to help their child handle disappointment after missing a cut for a big meet. This is something I know all too well. I talked to my daughter and son about it and they definitely remembered those days, too. My son said, “That was my life!” Here’s a link to the SwimSwam.com article “Ask Swim Mom” I wrote about it. It also reminded me of this post I wrote six years ago!


Palm Springs Pool

One of the most important things they learned is perseverance. That stick-with-it never give up attitude that is ingrained in their brains after years of trying for swim goals and just missing them. Then trying and trying again and again until they make them. The very nature of swimming 50 weeks a year, six days a week, makes kids tough.

I’ll never forget my daughter’s frustration of missing her junior national cut by fractions of a second for two years. She didn’t give up. She worked hard. She would still miss.

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“Are you kidding me!” She said looking at the scoreboard to see her missing the coveted junior national cut by mere tenths of a second after dropping three full seconds on an 800 meter freestyle race.

The next race, she said, “I’m so done with this!”  She dove in with more determination than ever, and yes, she made her cut, dropping seconds on her 200 meter free and coming in second place to one of the fastest girls in the country.

So, what does all this have to do with life?  Take her hardest class, AP Stats.  She knows that she can do it. She just has to put in the work and time. That may mean getting up and into the classroom at 6 a.m. for extra help, rather than staying warm tucked into her bed. But, she does it — all on her own — without me suggesting it. Her teacher told me, “I know that she will do whatever it takes to be successful, so I am not worried about where her grade is today.”

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My son also swam. He worked so hard for every goal, trying to qualify for meets through ten years of year-round swimming. I’ll never forget his determination as an 8th grader. I was a chaperone for his Washington DC trip with his class. He knew he’d be missing too much swimming, so he would run up and down through the Mall, up and down the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, while everyone else strolled. At night in the hotel, he ran the gray cement staircases, up and down the five flights.

When he returned to the pool, he did it! He made his first Junior Olympic time.

Now he’s in college and he knows how to persevere. He wanted to work at the campus radio station. He put in his application as a freshman and was declined. As a junior he has been assigned a time slot on the FM station, moving up from his prior show on the AM.

He wanted to be in the College of Creative Studies, “a graduate school for undergraduates.” He applied and was devastated when he was declined. I told him to move on, it was okay, get a ‘normal’ degree. But, he didn’t give up. The next year he applied again and was accepted. Learn more about the UCSB CCS program here. Just click.

I’ve had friends ask why my kids spend so much time in the pool, aren’t they missing out?

I beg to differ.  Spending most of their lives in the water has served them well. Being mostly wet has given them skills for life.

Find a local swim club here on the USA Swimming website.

 

Photo credits: The Palm Springs, CA Pool — one of the most beautiful views while swimming ever. My daughter diving wearing the yellow cap. Yellow-capped swimmers sometime at some club meet. And a great meme for a distance swimmer.

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Sports Parents: Support, Don’t Criticize

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Age Group swim meet.

In a post on Popsugar called “One Sports Mom’s Reminder About the Importance of Supporting Kids Rather Than Criticizing Them Is Gold” by Murphy Maroney, she talks about a Facebook post that went viral:

 

Valli Gideons, a mom and blogger, is giving sports parents some food for thought, but hers is a reminder that we could all use. In a poignant Facebook post, Valli explains that parents should consider dialing back the need to go over every detail of a game, or worse yet, criticize their child’s performance. And as a life-long sports-obsessed tomboy and former Division I athlete, I couldn’t agree more.

“Parents. Stop the madness. The lectures. The play-by-plays. The analysis. The should’ve, could’ve,” she wrote. “Look around and you will see it on every court, field, ball park. All the talk. Think about it. As an adult, how would you feel if you came out of a huge presentation at work and had someone immediately going over every sentence? How would it feel for someone to criticize your every word or move, in your ear, going on and on?”

I used to ask about every detail with my kids on the drive home from a swim meet. My daughter said I would “hash and rehash.” And she was right. I wanted to know what was going on inside their brains when they dove off the blocks, made a slow flip turn or came from behind to touch out their competitors. No detail was too fine for me to hash and rehash and hash again some more. I drove them nuts.

I can tell you one sure-fire way to shut them up is to ask a host of questions about their swims. They’d tune me out, put on headphones or get out Gameboys and focus on Pokemon. Better yet, try criticizing their technique, their dive, their drive or any other detail of their performance.

And Valli makes an important point. When did it become OK for parents to obsess over every last detail or play of a game that’s meant to simply be fun? And at the end of the day, is it really helping? The short answer is no. Now, she’s suggesting that parents go about their post-competition conversations a little more casually.

“What would happen, instead, if after a game we gave kids room to breath[e]?” she asked. “If we let them marinate in knowing we simply enjoyed watching them play, rather than giving them a lecture? What would happen if we instead gave them permission to take it all in and have fun? What if we simply praised them for their effort? Even when they didn’t score. Even when they didn’t win. Even if they turned over the ball, flubbed up, or missed the catch. What if we just listened quietly?”

Best advice I’ve learned as a “recovering sports parent” is this: Tell your kids six little words — “I love to watch you play.” Then say nothing. It’s amazing what may happen.

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PAC-12 Championships

What advice do you have for parents on the car ride home?

 

 

What NOT to do as a sports parent

kat underIn a website called sheknows writer Marshall Bright has some tips for sports parents in Is Your Kid Starting a Sport? Here’s What NOT to Do:

Back-to-school season is also back-to-sports season. While there are summer leagues, many sports time their season to the school calendar. By entering a new grade, many kids may also qualify for a local league or sports team. But before you sign on the dotted line for another season of soccer or basketball, there’s one thing you should do first: Make sure your kid actually wants to participate.

This may seem obvious, but many parents want their children to (or assume their children will) participate in the same sports they loved as kids themselves. And parents of older kids may also just assume their child will stick with whatever sport they’ve already been playing — especially if they’ve been successful in it for a few years. Hopes of seeing your child play varsity, or at the college level, or even just sharing in a sport they love, can cloud what parents should really be focusing on: where your child will have the most fun.

Matt Thompson, the Branch Executive Director of the Gateway Region YMCA, has worked extensively with youth sports during his career with the organization. He has seen firsthand the benefits of sports, which include statistics that show active kids can score up to 40% higher on tests and are 15% more likely to go to college. He also sees statistics on how likely kids are to drop out of sports: most will quit by age 11.

“What’s most important to the kids is having fun,” he says. That means finding sports your kids will actually enjoy.

“One of the things parents tend to lean towards is looking at traditional sports like basketball, baseball, football, and soccer. A lot of our kids these days are very interested in other activities,” Thompson continues. He includes individual sports like swimming, martial arts, and gymnastics, as well as other physical activities like dance that might interest kids. If you allow your children to find activities that they enjoy, they’ll be less likely to drop out later.

If your child isn’t sure what they’ll like, see if there are ways you can explore different options together. Martial arts studios may offer a drop-in class before commitment, for example. That also may mean trying out a few sports for one season until you find the fit. If a child has been an enthusiastic soccer player for several seasons, it also may mean having an ongoing conversation if they’re feeling lukewarm about it suddenly. By making it an ongoing conversation, rather than letting them quit (or insisting they keep playing), you can hopefully support them in finding a better fit, rediscovering their original passion, or even deciding together that it’s time for a break.

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Early days at the pool.

I think this is good advice to make sure your kids are interested in the activity first — before making a huge commitment. I put my daughter in activities she despised — ballet and piano — and it of course didn’t work out! One day, the ballet teacher pulled me aside after several months and said, “I know she can do it, but she won’t. She just stands there and doesn’t move.”

I loved ballet and I was so surprised that my daughter didn’t love it too! In fact, as an adult, I took up ballet again taking four classes a week and even did a few shows. Our children are different human beings than us and will have their own interests. Give them a chance to try different things and perhaps a passion will take hold.

Our kids ended up in swimming after trying different activities. It was nice they both settled on swimming and we went full bore as a swim family. My son also liked his piano lessons and formed a band plus took lessons until he graduated from high school. He liked music more than swimming the last year or two and we didn’t see it. Or, he didn’t want to disappoint us because we were so invested in the aquatic life. I’d sign him up for swim meets and he’d be a no show because he had other activities going on. It should have been an obvious tell to me when he continually missed practice. We probably could have saved a lot of aggravation and money — if only we’d be honest with each other — or open to a talk that his interests had changed from second grade to a senior in high school!

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She didn’t want to be a ballerina. She wanted to swim!

What advice do you have for new sports parents?