Should kids compete for club versus high school sports?

27750385_10216008558030578_2414009673401613488_nThere’s a conflict many high school students face regarding their sports. With club and travel teams more common than years ago, how do students balance their high school season with their year-round team? Our experience is with swimming and I saw many of my kids’ classmates and friends struggle with this dilemma.

In a perfect world, club and high school coaches work together in the best interest of their swimmers, so training stays consistent and meets won’t conflict. But often, coaches on either side of the fence, are not able to work together and believe their program is the most important.

My son had a high school coach who wouldn’t allow him to miss practice, even though the club team was swimming at the same pool right after high school practice ended. He had to swim high school practice, get out and swim club — making him swim extra junk yards that he didn’t need and weren’t helpful to his growing body. Of course he didn’t HAVE to swim club, but he wanted to. That’s where he found improvement and success.

Our daughter’s coach took the opposite approach and said the girls needed to check in with him daily and then swim with club. He wanted to keep track of their attendance and make sure they were working out, but he knew his workouts weren’t going to help them.

I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal from 2015, when California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) introduced the first statewide meet. It pitted the north versus the south after the championships regional meets were over. It posed another challenge for club swimmers who were representing their high schools by extending the season. Here’s an excerpt:

Does High-School Swimming Matter?

As California finally holds a statewide high-school swim meet, elite swimmers face a dilemma: whether to compete for their school or focus on bigger things

By Frederick Dreier

California is to high-school swimming as Texas is to high-school football. The Golden State is the sport’s scholastic epicenter.

Northern California produced Mark Spitz, Summer Sanders and Matt Biondi, Olympic champions all. Southern California gave us Janet Evans, Amanda Beard and Aaron Peirsol, among others.

But until now, the two sides of the state never battled it out. There was no such thing as a California statewide swim meet.

“In my day you never knew how you stacked up against a lot of those guys from Southern California,” said Spitz, a nine-time Olympic champion and 1968 graduate of Santa Clara High School. “There was no way to know who was really great.”

This weekend, the California Interscholastic Federation will hold its inaugural boys and girls swimming and diving state championships in Fresno. “I can’t imagine another state meet having the caliber and quality of swimmers as California,” said CIF executive director Roger Blake. California previously held 10 regional contests because of its tangle of incongruent school calendars.

But while the state is beating its chest about the powerhouse new event, the swimmers themselves aren’t all thrilled.

The state championship meet has created a dilemma for California’s high-school swimmers who are also aspiring Olympians. The meet falls during a crucial training period for summertime club swimming meets, such as the junior national championships in San Antonio in July, as well as international events in Russia, Australia and Canada. All are steppingstone meets for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“If I want to really train for [Olympic] trials seriously, I’m going to have miss it,” said Aidan Burns, a senior at Bellarmine Preparatory High School and a member of the U.S. Junior National team.

It’s a hobby; it’s not serious.

—Coley Stickels of the Canyons Aquatic Club on high-school swimming

The situation highlights a long-standing rift in the swimming world between club and high-school teams. Club swimming spans the entire year, while high-school swimming is relegated to just a part of it. Club swim meets are often held in Olympic-size 50-meter pools. High-school meets are held in shorter 25-yard pools, which means that finishing times can’t qualify a swimmer for Olympic trials or other high-level meets.

And while high-school teams often allow casual swimmers to join, club teams generally attract more serious athletes.

“I’m not a huge fan of high-school swimming, and I get tons of backlash because of it,” said Coley Stickels, who oversees the Canyons Aquatic Club in the Los Angeles area. “It’s a hobby; it’s not serious.”

Top-level swimmers plan their annual training schedules around a handful of peak competitions. A swimmer may spend several months preparing for a single meet with weeks of endurance-building volume, followed by subsequent periods of strength workouts and lung-bursting sprint intervals.

Like marathon runners, swimmers then taper their workload in the weeks before a peak meet. The goal is to arrive with rested, strong muscles. After the competition, the monthslong training process starts anew.

IMG_9490

Some of my best memories are from high-school swimming.

—Olympic champion Janet Evans

“I never rested for [high-school sectional championships] but I still took it very seriously,” said Beard, a two-time Olympic champion who attended Irvine High School. “It was the only chance my friends got to see me race.”

Beard and Evans said they were glad that they competed in high school and attended the regional championship meets. High-school swimming exposed them to greater social opportunities, they said, and provided a break from the pressures of competing at national and international events. An Olympian at just 14 years old, Beard said she fondly remembers high-school swimming parties, where she socialized with “regular kids” who weren’t training for the Olympics.

“You need to have a balance so these kids don’t get burned out by the pressure to make the Olympics,” Evans said. “Some of my best memories are from high-school swimming.”

There are benefits to swimming club — and high school. Some club swimmers, like Michael Phelps never swam in high school. But, for many swimmers, it’s a chance for their high school friends and peers to see them race for the first time. All those hours of hard work, year-round allow them to shine during high school season.

High school meets can help college bound swimmers because the meets are similar in a dual meet format and schedule. It’s all about the team and individual times are the most important thing. It’s scoring points for the team that counts. The team spirit at high school meets and college are contagious, while many club teams focus more on the individual accomplishments. However, without a club foundation, it’s rare for swimmers to get into college.

Like I said, both are great experiences, and hopefully coaches put their student-athletes ahead of their egos to help them succeed on their journey.

33944149_10156550450214612_1114497597600432128_o

The home pool during warmup at a meet.

What are your thoughts about club versus high school sports?

How to Keep Your Kids in the Game

34614_1556248309940_4797539_nIt’s a hard lesson for sports parents to learn, because we do get all excited watching our kids, but we can put too much performance pressure on them. When we do this, they may lose some of their passion for their sport, play half-heartedly, or quit.

When my son was young, I learned that he listened to his own drummer. Tee ball practices were spent building dirt castles. When I put him on a summer league swim team, I was surprised to see him and a friend out of the pool, sword fighting with sticks. As he got older and focused on swimming, he was hard enough on himself. I didn’t need to add any pressure. He said he still has nightmares about me forcing him to go to a meet that he wasn’t prepared for. I thought meets were fun–at least they were for me. I didn’t see an issue with signing him up for a meet after he had spent the last two months in a school play with little or no practice.

I believe we have to keep in mind our children’s competitive natures and their passion. They have to like their sport. It can’t be done to please us. It’s their sport, not ours. According to a recent poll, 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.”

Here’s an interesting article in PopsugarUK.com from a mom who wants her kids to enjoy their sports, but is afraid of the culture. Written by Angela Anagnost-Repke, she points out some of the great things about youth sports, as well as the problems. Unfortunately, a few overzealous parents can ruin the sports experience for everyone.

Here’s an excerpt of “I Want My Kids to Play Sports, but Worry How the Culture Will Affect Them:”

I signed my kids up for team sports because playing sports teaches kids more lessons than I can count: how to set a goal and work to achieve it, how to function as part of a team, and how to find that grit we all have deep within us. It also demonstrates that when you’re working with others, on anything, those same people will depend on you. So, it’s on you to bring it every single day — to training, to practice, and to games. I personally have many fond memories of playing football with my teammates, and I want that for my kids, too. But the culture has shifted dramatically since my days on the field, so I’m a little nervous about the whole thing.

I find the pressure to be “the best” in their specialised sport — which I also think kids are forced into choosing far too young — is too intense for kids today. It feels like kids are expected to be a standout athlete before they reach 10 years old. They’re expected to get outside and practice instead of running through the sprinklers with the neighbours, give up going to birthday parties to play in weekend-long tournaments. And the older these children get, the more burned out they become. I’ve seen kids get so worn down from trying to be “the best” that they stop playing sports all together. While they loved it once, that love has diminished, or died altogether, and they can’t bear to play any longer. And, this societal pressure is not the only kind of pressure I see young athletes facing, either.

Today, I also think kids involved in sports receive too much pressure from their parents. As I stand on the sidelines to watch my son play on his travel football team, I hear parents yell at their 6- and 7-year-old boys constantly. “Get up!” “Get your head in the game!” and “You better start trying!” The little boys stiffen up as their parents scream at them and then try just a little bit harder. I can’t help but think that these parents should be yelling praise and encouragement. This pressure carries through to when these kids become young adults. It wears them down. As a high school teacher, I’ve seen it far too many times. These young adults are so burnt out from trying to please everyone around them. They’re crumbling, and it’s a damn shame.

We can cheer and love the life lessons our kids get from their sports. But, we need to keep the pressure to perform in check. If they are having fun, they will stick with their sports.

robkatwaterHow do you help your kids in sports without taking over or adding too much pressure?

Helicopter Parents: Hover a Few Feet Higher

katrob 1

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.

katrob 2

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

I want to be a “Scilly” swimmer too!

41788410_10212530986976171_8472671694077558784_n

The swimmers gather with their groups. Photo courtesy of Linda Burns.

I feel like I am standing still in cement while I watch my swimming friends fly off without me. I barely make it to the pool more than twice a week lately–and I’ve had to start completely over this year due to knee surgery.

Meanwhile, my Piranha Swim Team Masters’ friends are getting faster, stronger and swimming longer workouts. Not only that, they are taking on challenging open water swims like the Tiki Swim in Oceanside and the Scilly Swim Challenge in the United Kingdom, 35 miles off the coast of Cornwall.

My friends Linda and Karl, who were former Piranha and St. Theresa parents with me, swam the Scilly Swim Challenge for their second straight year. This swim challenge is a 15k swim combined with a 10k walk.

Event organizer Dewi Winkle said, “We are on year five now and 10th Challenge just completed. Nick Lishman and I came up with the idea in 2013 and we thought the islands are so beautiful and the attraction of swimming between them would be well received. We started in 2014 and have now built to three events a year with up to 150 people per event.”

Dewi said their plans include a race around St Mary’s as a relay event and a test event in Croatia in October. Currently, they have a two-day and one-day swim in September and a Spring Swim in May.

8157119-1

A map of the Isles of Scilly and route courtesy of the Scilly Swim Challenge.

From the Scilly Swim Challenge website

Swim and Walk the Islands over one or two days

6 swims averaging 2.5 km (total 15km) and 6 walks averaging 1.7 km (total 10km) completed as a group with full safety and logistical support.

Whether you choose to complete in one or two days you will experience  the amazing swimming and beautiful scenery Scilly has to offer.

Route

The event will start and finish on St. Mary’s, the main island, visiting St. Martins, Tresco, Bryher, Samson and St. Agnes.

It’s not a race and the emphasis is on everyone getting round safely.

While you’re swimming we will transport a bag for you which will be available at the next island. You will then carry it to the start of the next swim.

Full safety support is included.

There are food stops at the end of each swim.

Wetsuits optional.

42059133_10156057234014527_8060985218896494592_n

The Kestrel, Linda and Karl’s ride for two days, at Hugh Town. Photo courtesy of Karl Siffleet.

According to Linda, her second year was easier than the first. “Coming out early to get used to the water was helpful,” she said. The water temperature was 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit). In contrast, we swim in a pool with a temperature of around 80 degrees! Yes, she wore a wetsuit the entire time.

Linda and Karl signed up for the one-day swim but arrived several days early and volunteered to help out or “crew” for the two-day swim. The two-day swim allows a more leisurely pace than the one-day challenge. Linda and Karl checked swimmers in and out of the water and helped with the baggage boat. Linda said the support staff is incredible and includes “30 kayakers—they were awesome! Five safety boats (power cats) and a baggage boat.”

Swimmers can swim as much or little as they want. If they need a break they can hang onto a kayak or climb aboard a boat and go to the next island. In between, they are fed snacks and drinks.

41876597_10212536274388353_8070588843079761920_n

Photo courtesy of Linda Burns.

“There was tea, coffee, other hot drinks. Cakes, soup, salads, rolls, candy bars. Diet Coke, homemade pastry and Cornish pasty,” she said.

41830024_10212536275188373_6688716302804058112_n

Hot tea after a cold swim! Photo from Linda Burns.

The swimmers pick which one of three groups they want to swim with according to their speed. “We swam in different groups and nobody keeps time. You can swim as much or as little as you want.”  She said the groups are “Red, amber, green. Swimmers self-select which pod to swim with. Red is fastest. Karl swam amber and I swam green. I was much happier swimming in the front of the green than the middle of the amber.”

I’m sure a lot of the appeal on taking on a challenge like this is the camaraderie. The swimmers must feel so much accomplishment and bond together after their swims. I know it motivates Linda and Karl to keep swimming year round and a goal to work towards in their practices.

Like I said, my friends have been getting stronger and faster. Linda said she felt great swimming. “I felt good. I got into a good rhythm for sighting and really enjoyed it—except the several times a wave broke over me as I inhaled and I thought I was going to cough up my lungs.”

41862053_10212536275708386_2693770163399950336_n

Photo from Linda Burns.

Someday, I’d like to take this challenge, too. I don’t think I’ll be strong enough yet in May, but perhaps in a year or two. In the very least I’d like to travel to the Isles of Scilly and see this quaint, quiet and beautiful area for myself.

What motivates you to get out of your comfort zone and try something incredibly challenging?

 

5196750_orig

Photo courtesy of the Scilly Swim Challenge.

How much is too much for young kids?

 

ballet

Ballet recital for my daughter in royal blue before swimming took over their lives.

I read a question from a mom wondering what to do because her eight-year-old doesn’t love swim practice as much as the other activities she’s doing. She wondered if anyone else had experienced this and what she should do. She also mentioned that her daughter is really good at swimming, wins ribbons, and also has tons of other activities.

 

How many activities are too much for a child? From CNN several years ago I read “Overscheduled kids, anxious parents” by Josh Levs:

“Parents need to teach their kids to balance human doing with human being,” said clinical psychologist Paula Bloom.
Kids need to know they’re not defined by what they do, she said. They need time to play, experiment, rest and figure out who they are.
“As parents, we’ve got to get over our anxiety that we’re not doing enough. Creating a sense of safety, helping kids have confidence to try certain things, those are the things that matter.”
As kids get older, they’ll show you more and more what they’re interested in, Bloom notes.
And, yes, we all make mistakes.
“As adults, your kids are going to tell their therapists, ‘Oh my parents never let me play piano,’ or some other activity. It’s going to happen. Being able to tolerate that is really important.”

When my kids were little, I kept them really busy. We didn’t have a neighborhood where they could go out the door and play. We had to schedule playdates. Then we got into signing them up with their friends for countless activities like tennis, golf, ballet and swimming lessons. One mom would say she heard about an activity and wanted to sign her child up if mine did, too. Pretty soon, my kids didn’t have a night after school without a scheduled activity.

When I was a kid, I’d go home after school and after 30 minutes to an hour of homework, I didn’t have too much to do. I think a lot of downtime allowed me to be creative, reflective and of course, hit that list of chores that Mom always left us to do.

What did we do without structured activities? Sometimes, my brother and I would fight. But mostly we made forts in the woods, whacked out trails with machetes through blackberry brambles, and rode bikes around a three-mile loop. We were pretty active and unsupervised with our imaginations running wild.

Advice for the mom of the eight-year-old? I think eight years old is pretty young to be committed to one sport—especially if she’s not wildly passionate about it and wants to do something else. Let her experience a variety of activities. Maybe swim seasonally or take a break and go back to it. We can’t want it more than our kids.

There’s plenty of time at eight-years-old for a child to be a child. There’s plenty of time for a year-round commitment in the years ahead. And maybe it won’t be in swimming.

Here’s a list from Kidspot from Bron Maxabella from an article called “How many extra-curricular activities should kids do?”

Signs the kids have too much on:

However, there are signs that are madly flashing to say we’ve overstretched ourselves. They may even be saying that we’re heading for a giant crash. Here are some of them:

  • The kids have started digging in about not going to the classes I want them to go to (still happy to go to their choices though!).
  • Each week feels like I’m on the rat wheel, driving from one place to another and arranging one child to go in that direction and another to go over there. The logistics are making my head spin.
  • The kids are doing a lot of things, but not many of them at their full potential.
  • There is only one school night a week (Friday) when no one has anything on.
  • There is hardly any time to just hang out together or have a mate over after school – this is probably the worst thing of all.
  • We don’t have enough time in the week to get homework done satisfactorily.
  • The kids are getting emotional and naughty because they’re tired, so everyone is crying and yelling far more than they should be.
  • It is getting harder and harder for the kids to unwind at night and even harder for them to get up in the morning.

Basically, by mid-term everyone is exhausted and by end-of-term we’re in a bit of a mess! The kids are tired, I’m tired, the whole routine is tired. We need a proper time out!

 

kiddos

My kids did have time to play super heroes.

How many days a week should kids have activities and how do you determine what is too much?

 

How to Teach Your Kids Good Sportsmanship

 

IMG_7710

Open Water Nats–being good sports after a close 5k race.

 

Nobody likes a sore loser and I think it’s even worse to have a gloating winner. In an article on CNN called “If I Were a Parent: Teaching kids to be good sports” by Kelly Wallace, the number one way to teach good sportsmanship is through role modeling.

“Losing is not easy for many kids, and being a graceful winner can in some ways be even harder, so the question becomes: what can parents do to teach their children good sportsmanship?

“Rule No. 1 seems simple enough but is too often overlooked by helicopter parents who are living vicariously through their children. Parents should model the behavior they want to see in their kids, said John O’Sullivan, author of “Changing the Game: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes, and Giving Youth Sports Back to our Kids.”

“Kids are not very good at listening, but they are fantastic at imitating,” said O’Sullivan, founder of the Changing the Game Project, which says it seeks to “put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’ “

“And so if you want your kids to display good sportsmanship, you should. If you don’t want your kids to yell at referees, you shouldn’t yell at referees.”

The article goes on to talk about the flip side, lousy winners:

“And as for teaching your child how to win and win gracefully, remind them how it felt when they were on the losing side. “The biggest thing that I always say to my team when you’re winning by a lot is, ‘you know what, you’ve been on the other side of it where you’ve lost by a lot. Do you remember how that felt? So don’t do anything that’s going to make your opponent feel any worse right now,’ ” O’Sullivan said.

12768251_10209127311323711_1087820356060339429_o

Cheering on a teammate.

What do we mean when we talk about being a good sport? It’s easy to point out kids and parents who aren’t. They are mean, rude, usually loud and they do not care about how they affect those around them. Parents who are bad sports are causing fights these days with coaches and landing in jail! With social media catching every incident of bad parent behavior, it seems like it’s happening more frequently, but I haven’t seen any stats to know if that true or not.

 

Being a good sport is simple. It’s treating others with respect. It’s not talking badly about others behind their backs or throwing your equipment down. I remember when my brother was on the golf team in high school, there was a player that broke their golf clubs more than once when they lost. Staying composed and not getting too caught up in the moment helps us be better role models. In our kids’ sports, the process is just as important–or more so–than winning.

I think another important element in teaching good sportsmanship, besides being good role models, is to compliment our kids when you see them being a good sport. In swimming after races, you often see swimmers reaching over lane lines to hug the winner or you see the winner reaching out to competitors to shake hands. When you see your child being a good sport, point it out and say you’re proud of them. If you see other kids showing good sportsmanship, be sure to tell your child how much you admire them for their actions.

How do you teach your children good sportsmanship?

IMG_9963

My daughter showing good sportsmanship.

 

Is October too late to start your New Year’s Resolutions?

14633016_10211193238250593_6451350421780156119_n

When I arrived on deck for my first am practice. This is the “before” pic.

One of  my New Year’s resolutions was to try morning swim practices instead of my usual noon masters. The past couple years, I haven’t had to get out of bed before dawn to get my kids to the pool. When they got their driver’s licenses, they sure didn’t want or need me to go with them–and who am I to argue about leaving the house at 4:50 a.m.? Next, came college and no driving to practice for me! I don’t sleep in past 6 or 7 am, but I have to say it’s really comfortable in my cozy bed.

Why did I want to give up a few extra hours of sleep? That’s been my struggle all these months since New Year’s. Sleep has won out to swimming for exactly nine months. But, I know deep in my heart that we need to be continually trying new things, pushing ourselves, and trying to be better, otherwise we’ll get bored and stagnant. Morning practice, I thought, would shake things up and get me out of my comfort zone some more and change the structure of my days.

14517630_10211193237130565_2312839369892777680_n

The sky changes during practice.

My adventure with swimming (not my kids swimming, but me swimming) began two years ago, when my New Year’s Resolution was to get out of my comfort zone and swim masters with my kids’ club team. It took me until April 2015, that I finally jumped in and swam a few days a week at noon. I was a weak swimmer, not having mastered the art of breathing during freestyle. I soon discovered there’s only so far you can swim with breath holding. But, throughout the months I’ve gotten better. My yardage has increased from 500 to 2,500 per practice and I swam in my first meet.

Finally, three weeks ago–a few months later than the New Year I admit–I showed up to morning practice. Who knew it would be a good feeling to get up in the dark and drive to the pool again. It’s strangely nostalgic, but instead of taking a trip to Starbucks and reading news on my phone, like when I used to take my kids, I’m diving in. There’s a sense of righteousness and virtue in getting your workout done by 7 a.m. It’s amazing to start practice in the pitch dark and slowly watch the sky glow and the sun rise.

14494706_10211193238530600_3970758554554360617_n

Good morning, my workout is done and it feels good!

 

Now, I’m struggling with how to stay awake after practice. I think I may have it licked with a trip to Starbucks—after practice! I think my body will get used to it, and I won’t be so tired. But, as one of my fellow swim parents/swimmers said, “Not going to happen. Coach will add yards and shorten intervals. You’ll always be tired!”

14568151_10211193238170591_6375516118114852000_n

This photo is taken from the same spot as the first pic. This is the “after” photo.