What lessons do sports parents learn?

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The fight song at the end of one of my daughter’s college dual meets. Go UTES!

“Lessons learned from 27 years of youth sports parenting” by Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone hit a spot in my soul. He shared many of the highlights of his years of sports parenting with his children. Like he said in his column, they had no idea how youth sports would take over their families lives when they first began the ride. We too tried a variety of sports and then settled on swimming for both our children. Before we knew it, we were all hooked, and swimming filled up our lives.

A few days before the first swim meet ever, we received a call from the president of our team’s board. He said we needed to sign up to help during the meet. They needed timers or help in the snack bar. What? We were shocked. Then, he said that afterward, the entire team stayed to tear down the meet.

I said, “We have family visiting from Seattle.”

He said, “They’re welcome to help, too.”

The phone calls persisted and finally, my husband said, “I’m sorry but we have a life!”

Roll forward a few years and I was serving on the board, writing press releases, creating fliers to promote the team and writing the team newsletter. My husband became meet manager and had to call parents to help at meets, before he took on the role of president of the board. Add our volunteering to the fact that we were taking our kids to the pool six days a week, plus meets, 50 weeks a year–and yes sports parenting took over our lives for a few years.

Here’s part of the great column by Larry Stone that got me a little teary eyed. Especially since my last official year as a swim mom ended this year:

Take it from Larry Stone, who has learned a few lessons over 27 years of youth sports parenting: There are a few tricky or annoying aspects of your offspring’s sports participation, but mostly, you’re going to want to savor it before it goes by in an instant.

It was way back in 1991 when my oldest daughter, Jessica, signed up for a 6-and-under Bobby Sox softball team in Oakland, Calif., where we were living at the time.

It was a delightful season of fun, growth and bonding, though it soon became apparent that Jess was not destined to be a slugger like Dave Henderson of her beloved A’s. To be fair, she did hit a grand slam (of the Little League variety) in her final at-bat, as Jessica, now 32 and married, reminded me on Tuesday.

I didn’t realize at the time that our family was stepping timidly into a world that would at times dominate our lives, and certainly became a focal point of family logistics for more than a quarter century.

Naturally, I’ve been reflecting about the good times and the bad as a youth-sports parent (and fortunately, we had far more of the former). I thought I’d present some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years – some of them the hard way.

• A few of the coaches you’ll encounter will be ego-driven tyrants who think they’re the next Belichick or Auriemma as they micro-manage pre-teens. Far more will be kind, supportive and motivated by the simple desire to make your child a better player without bruising his or her psyche in the process.

• Throw the words “select,” “premier” or “elite” in front of a sports program, and there’s no end to the amount of effort (and money) we parents will put forth to get our kid into it.

• There’s a dire need to make youth athletics less about select, premier and elite, and more about fun, participation and recreation.

• If your overriding goal for youth sports is a Division I scholarship, you need to rethink your priorities. First of all, it’s probably not going to happen – that’s just the stark reality. Second of all, you’re likely to spend so much money in that pursuit that it negates the value of what in most cases would be a partial scholarship anyway. And third of all, if your kid has the talent, it will emerge clearly and emphatically on its own. In other words, pay for the camps, clinics, showcases and recruiting videos if you’d like, but be aware that the payoff is not likely to be what you think.

• Burnout is the scourge of youth sports, and specialization is the single biggest source of burnout. Particularly at the younger levels, diversify, don’t specialize!

• Overwrought and demanding parents are now, were then, and will continue to be the bane of youth sports, perpetually pushing the line between concerned involvement and crazed entitlement.

• Some of the best friends and people I’ve ever met are youth-sports parents who set the finest examples of how to positively support, encourage and nurture your child’s athletic career. And some of the best parenting advice, perspective and support I ever got came from people I sat with in the bleachers — the ones with older kids who had been here and done this, and the ones struggling through the same developmental hiccups that were keeping me up at night.

There’s more to the article and I suggest you read every bit of it. I agree with Stone that some of my best friends I met on our team and from other teams throughout Southern California. Our friendships have lasted through the years. I got great advice from parents of older kids, and commiserated with the ones with kids the same ages as mine. Of course, there were those crazy parents who caused so much stress—but they were few and far between. And we had our own crazy moments ourselves but learned from our mistakes.

I learned more about parenting on deck that went far beyond the pool—like which teachers were the best, about SAT testing, college recruiting and more. In return, I’ve talked with parents with younger kids and hope I can be as helpful as those who helped me.

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The team cheer during the age group years.

If your sports parenting days are over, what do you miss about it? What are your favorite things about being involved in youth sports?

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Where did the year go?

I woke up thinking “it’s June first and where did my year go?” Mostly nowhere is where my year went thanks to falling on the slopes January 2nd. It’s been a long five months of being injured, having surgery and slowly recovering. I looked back at what I was going last year at this time and it was all about being together as a family. 

Here’s my story from one year ago today:

18920581_10213697294890444_4649514921325596156_nThis past weekend, I was in mom heaven. My daughter was at a swim meet an hour away from where my son now lives. We didn’t do anything that special, we got to hang out together. It was one of my favorite weekends in recent memory.

At first, I was worried about how my daughter was going to do at the meet. She had already told us that due to other things going on in her life, her last few weeks of practice were not consistent at all.

I told her, “You can still get a best time and swim well.” 

She thought I was delirious. She was very realistic about what she could do at that point in time. I have to admit that after her first race, I got it. I relaxed about the times and understood that this meet was about being together as a family. It was a small slice of time where we could hang out and enjoy each other’s company. If I had been focused on her times and upset that she wasn’t at her peak fitness, I’d have been so disappointed. Instead, I reflected on being the mom of two almost grown kids that I’m so proud of. And, the fact that they enjoy being with me and each other.

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My daughter getting instructions from her coach.

While we were driving around town, the kids were in the back seat pretending to be little kids elbowing each other. I turned around from the front passenger seat and said, “Children, there’s an imaginary line going down the middle of the car. You can’t cross that line!”

My daughter immediately yelled out, “Mom, Robert crossed the line!”

Later, after fits of laughter, we hung out together in a park, lying on the grass and staring at the green leaves and blue sky.

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The park by the Santa Clara pool.

We shared books, ideas and meals. My son’s vocabulary had us looking up new words and trying to memorize and pronounce them, like “primogeniture.” One of my kids favorite things to do was to copy our faces. My son does an imitation of me, while Kat has perfected her dad’s scowl. It always ended in a burst of laughter and fits of giggles.

The swim meet was exciting with a who’s who in the swimming world in the final heats. I witnessed amazing races and the international flavor was so hopeful and invigorating with countries in attendance including Argentina, Mexico, Japan and China.

It may be the last time we’ll be staying in a hotel with our daughter at a meet. Ever. Her final college season is ahead this fall and she’ll be with her team, not us. I was a little teary-eyed when the weekend flew by and it was time for me to return again to my empty nest.

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My super heroes at the Winchester Mystery House.

What were you doing one year ago today?

Get out of Your Comfort Zone and off the Blocks

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Do you ever look back at what you were doing a year ago? Or a few years ago? This blog allows me to review a snapshot of what I was feeling and doing during any month since 2015. Two years ago this week, I made a huge commitment that was totally out of my comfort zone. If I wasn’t injured today, I’d be swimming in my third meet next weekend. Here’s what I wrote in late January 2016:

I started swimming in April last year with US Masters, with my kids’ team Piranhas. It was my New Year’s Resolution to take the big plunge in 2015. I am embarrassed to admit that it took me until April to start on my New Year’s Resolution.

Eventually, I jumped in and I think it’s one of the best things I did for myself in 2015. You can read about my first days of Masters, here.

I equate joining US Masters to how I believe swimming was one of the single best things my kids did growing up. To a non-swimming family, this may sound crazy. But, there are so many benefits to swimming that changed my kids’ lives. Read more, here.

Biggest example—swimming changed my son’s health. He was, as his favorite coach termed, “A Secret Garden Child.” He suffered from asthma and chronic illness and swimming doubled his lung capacity. His asthma doctor became a big advocate for him to swim.

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My daughter diving in her senior year of high school at Super JOs, East LA.

I can go on and on about what a great thing swimming has been for my kids. I write about it regularly on SwimSwam and my blog. Here are links to a few of my stories.

So, what am I doing this year to push myself and what’s my New Year Resolution? One thing I’d like to do and I’m not 100 percent successful with is to get up an hour earlier each morning. I’m getting better, but it sure didn’t start off well. I have noticed, though, that I’m more productive with an hour earlier start.

The other big thing I’m doing to push myself out of my comfort zone is I signed up for my first swim meet. YIKES! I said it. I signed up for a Masters meet hosted by Piranhas. I’m scared to death. But, actually not as frightened as I was my first day in the pool last April.

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Piranhas on the blocks.

I practiced going off the blocks twice and it wasn’t pretty. When I was a kid, I learned to dive with a flat, almost belly flop “racing dive.” Old habits are hard to change. I’ve decided it might be best if I push off from the wall at the meet. But then my 83-year-old dad said, “I’m not going to come and watch you race if you push off the wall!” I’m not sure if he’s kidding or not!

In any case, I’ll let you know how it goes. If I show up or chicken out. If I dive off the blocks.

 

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My daughter with her first swim instructor.

 

What have you done to get yourself out of your comfort zone and get off the blocks?

 

My Favorite Moments As a Swim Mom

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Record-breaking relay.

Being a swim mom has been an integral part of my life. I think giving our kids the gift of swimming has benefitted them in so many ways that I can’t count them all. But number one is their love of working out and being physically fit. The gifts I received were countless, too, especially the memories.

Here are my top ten memories that make me love my years of being a swim mom:

ONE
When my daughter’s relay won the 200 medley at CIF and she was anchor.

TWO
At age eight she stopped mid 50 meters freestyle to smile at the head coach. Her regular coach wasn’t at the meet and she was nervous and wanted to impress the head coach.

THREE
When my son took over the annual banquet and emceed “special” awards for the senior group. We parents were rolling on the floor laughing.

FOUR
Watching the kids having fun playing “Catch Phrase” and cards under the pop-up tent at meets.

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My young swimmers.

FIVE
When one parent on our team told swim mom Dianne Keaton that she looked just like a famous actress. She said she was Dianne Keaton and he argued with her.

SIX
When my son made an individual cut for junior olympics after trying so hard for so long.

SEVEN
Signing day for my daughter with her two teammates and coaches.

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Missy Franklin with my daughter’s class at PAC 12’s.

EIGHT
My daughter’s first college meet where she won her first event, the 1,000 free—and it was against Stanford.

 

NINE
The first PAC 12 Championship meet where I learned it was cool again to be a crazy parent.

TEN
When both kids received the Coach’s Award not for their talent, but for their effort.

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My son with his swim buddies.

What are your favorite memories as a parent?