Can parents make their kids swim faster?

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My daughter swimming in college.

“Dad! It Doesn’t Help!” is a sports parenting book to “Become the Ultimate Sports Parent” by Mark A. Maguire. Although the book is based in Australia with a dad figuring out how to be a better sports parent for his son with USA Major League Baseball dreams, I could relate as a swim mom.

Maguire explains in his book: “The title came about after my son used this phrase when I asked him how he feels when I holler out at his baseball games. His response stunned me. His response and my first blog must have stunned a lot of sports parents and coaches, because it was read and shared during 2017 (through the COACH UP website in the USA) over a million times.”

So what did his son say that stunned him? Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter:

During the baseball season a few years ago I asked my eleven-year-old son what do all the kids in the dugout think when their parents urge them on with instructions and encouragement as they are playing the game?

He said bluntly: “they don’t like it.”

I further pressed him. What about when I call out some last second reminders just before you bat, you know, the things we’ve talked about during the week and to help you remember what to do.

Again, he didn’t mince his words and said, “Dad, it doesn’t help.”

He went on to say: “When I’m in the batter’s box I follow the instructions from my coach. I put myself in the zone to block out every other noise. It doesn’t help me, or any other kid when our parents are yelling things out.”

Okay. That one struck home. As a swim mom who used to search frantically for my kids before each one of their races to impart some last minute instructions, I am frankly a bit embarrassed. I honestly thought that whatever wisdom I was going to tell them right before they got on the blocks was helpful. Not only helpful but would be the determining factor on whether or not they won their heat, got their coveted cut to the big meet, and would earn a college scholarship. Well, I’m exaggerating a bit with the outcomes, but I thought they wouldn’t do as well without my input.

In truth, I was probably a distraction. An annoyance. A royal pain in the behind. My stress level was running high, I was climbing over parents, pushing through crowds to grab my kids and do our little last minute good luck ritual. Ugh. Yes, that was me. Eventually I calmed down. Or at least I wasn’t so obvious about my nerves—and let the coaches coach while I sat in the stands or at the end of their lanes and cheered.

I asked my daughter what she thought when we yelled and screamed for her. We’d yell at the top of our lungs “Kick!” “Keep your head down!” or my husband’s favorite “Go now!” — like she wasn’t doing all those things without us screaming. It’s funny today looking back at it. I wonder if she heard us when she was under water. She said, “Yes, dad is really loud. But it didn’t help.”

I do think cheering has some small affect on our kids’ sports. It shows our enthusiasm for the sport. Cheering helps us release tension. And it shows we care.

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Teammates cheering at PAC-12 Women’s Championships.

What things have you done as a sports parent that you’d never dream of doing today?

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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?

It’s the little things I miss about being a swim mom

My daughter diving in for the 1000 free during a dual meet. Utes vs. USC.

My daughter diving in for the 1000 free during a dual meet. Utes vs. USC.

When my kids started swimming in their Mommy and Me class in our city pool at age six months, I had no idea how swimming would evolve through the years for our family. Here’s an article I wrote a few years ago about the little things I’ve enjoyed as a swim mom. 

We went to my daughter’s first college dual meet of the season this weekend. I loved every minute of the meet, but even more, spending time with her. She invited several swim teammates out to dinner. It felt like the sprinkle of rain after a long drought—listening to them laugh and talk about their meet and practices.

I didn’t realize how much I miss the little daily things about being an age-group swim mom.

I miss the kids hanging out. So many personalities, so many different families, all bound together by one common goal. Swimming.

My son and swim team friends.

My son and swim team friends.

I have a fierce loyalty to our team and the couple times when factions of parents split off to form their own teams, I was shocked and hurt. It felt like losing members of my immediate family. I’d always wonder why? I never thought we had a bad experience—maybe at times less than perfect—but I guess that’s part of the reason I didn’t understand.

Good times were sitting together in the stands cheering for all our kids. Getting the new team t-shirts, sipping Starbucks on a chilly winter morning under the pop-up tents. Chatting and laughing with parents while we waited to see what the day’s meet would bring. I loved working with our parents and officials under the admin tent, in awards, or in the snack bar at our home meets.

The team cheer at an away meet.

The team cheer at an away meet.

I loved having kids over to the house to hang out between morning and afternoon practices during long hot summer days. I loved cooking eggs, bacon and sausage in bulk for a pack of hungry swimmers. I was amazed at how much they could eat as a group. I loved having the team over for painting t-shirts for a big meet.

Swim team girls painting t-shirts for a meet in our back yard with their coach.

Swim team girls painting t-shirts for a meet in our back yard with their coach.

I loved listening to the kids laughing about silly things that happened in practice and the goofy songs they played and sang to like “Funkytown  and the “Numa Numa Song.”

Most of all, l I loved seeing my kids smiling, laughing and enjoying their friendships. Throughout the years, my kids were surrounded by amazing kids, families and coaches. Just being in the background was a joy.

I miss those days.

Group photo on t-shirt painting day.

Group photo on t-shirt painting day.

My daughter receiving ribbons from her first coach.

My daughter receiving ribbons from her first coach.

No Parents Allowed!


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This week, while I am recovering from surgery, I am reposting some of my earliest blog posts. Enjoy! I’ll try to make it back to work next week.

I was sitting outside a roped off area with a sign posted “No Parents Allowed” at a three-day swim meet in LA with close to 1,400 swimmers.

“But, I HAVE to get my son this bottle of water,” a mom begged the volunteer parent wearing a neon orange vest, who was in charge of guarding the entrance to the “swimmer’s only” area.

“ARE YOU PROMISING TO GET MY SALLY TO HER EVENT ON TIME? I’M HOLDING YOU ACCOUNTABLE!” another mother yelled with her finger wagging in the face of the orange-vested volunteer. The mom was shaking in frustration and anger.

I sat calmly by — watching, observing, and remembering  —  that was me. Not the yeller, but the one pleading. My daughter is 18 and going off to college next fall. She’s been a swimmer since age five.

Helicopter after helicopter mom argued and pleaded with the volunteers, who are swim parents themselves, on how they’d just be a second to find their child, bring them water, lunch, or make sure they made it to their event.

I wanted to tell them “RELAX!” If their swimmers had made it this far, to the season’s championship meet, they’re going to be okay. Calm down, let them hang out with their friends and teammates. They’ll be fine and will survive. After all, I had just made it through watching my daughter swim the mile. I didn’t get up once and scream, “GO!” which I have done at every flip turn for the past 15 years. If I can calm down and let go — you other moms can too!

And — if they don’t drink enough water, or miss their event — they might actually learn from it.

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Here are 10 great things to remember as a parent of children in any sport. It’s from USA Swimming.

10 COMMANDMENTS FOR SWIM PARENTS

I. Thou shall not impose thy ambitions on thy child.

II. Thou shall be supportive no matter what.

III. Thou shall not coach thy child.

IV. Thou shall only have positive things to say at a competition.

V. Thou shall acknowledge thy child’s fears.

VI. Thou shall not criticize the officials.

VII. Thou shall honor thy child’s coach.

VIII. Thou shall be loyal and supportive of thy team.

IX. Thy child shall have goals besides winning.

X. Thou shall not expect thy child to become an Olympian.

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More handy tips can be found at USA Swimming’s page for parents.

FYI, the top photo of my daughter’s relay team was taken by a 12-year-old teammate, who obviously can make it to her events, stay hydrated, swim fast, and take great pics! The second photo is my daughter 12 years ago. The last photo was taken from the “parents only” section of the East LA College pool.

Video of my daughter’s 400 free relay from TAKEITLIVETV from Feb. 17.

Emotions Running Amok During the Final Swim

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My two kids having fun at the PAC 12 Champs.

This past week, I experienced so many emotions, from numb to raw. It was the end of an era for us as our daughter experienced another milestone. I reflected on how much swimming has been a part of our lives. Since she was five and our son eight years old, swimming has been a common thread.

One of the biggest emotions I felt was pride. It’s amazing that through some tough times and disappointments, she stuck with it. Through illness and injury, she doesn’t feel she ever reached her full potential in terms of speed and success. In all honesty, she didn’t swim as fast as she potentially could have. But as far as success, she gained it in leadership, grit, friendships, and hard work. She learned that life doesn’t happen in a straight line upwards from one success to success, or joyous occasion to the next. There are tough times in between to make the good ones count.

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Swim moms at the PAC 12 Champs.

Our son was with us and he also felt so much pride in his little sister. He said watching the meet made him realize how much swimming meant to him and how much he’d like to be a part of a team once again. He decided to focus on music and academics and gave up on swimming before college. We were blown away by the races which included the greatest athletes in the world. We watched in awe as American and PAC 12 records dropped right and left at my daughter’s last meet. My son kept saying, “This is amazing that my little sister swims in the PAC 12.” He hadn’t been to a conference championship meet before to watch Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel or Abbey Weitzeil, to name a few of the amazing athletes competing. Having him stay with us in a hotel room for a few days brought back memories of the many meets we traveled to as a family. I’m proud of him and the kind and considerate person he’s become and felt comforted having him by my side.

 

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Getting ready for the final swim.

I steeled myself against getting too teary-eyed—that’s where the numbness feeling crept in. The only time I had to wipe my wet cheeks was during the last 50 of her 1,650. The final race. I was touched beyond belief at the extent the other team parents went to honor the seniors and the parents—especially the moms. One created the most original, personalized necklaces just for us senior moms which lit up with red hearts pulsing with our daughter’s names and photos included. The rawness came in when I’d have moments of being overwhelmed by trying to keep it all bottled in.

A truly special week, which I’ll never forget. Thank you swimming–for giving our family so many memories together as well as giving us amazing friends.

IMG_0279What recent milestones have you experienced with your family?

Stirring the pot without trying

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An article I wrote yesterday, which I viewed as non-controversial, got some people stirred up. I wonder if people actually read my words, or if my writing was so far off that I failed to get my intended message to readers.

In any case, I guess it’s good to get comments, although several took me by surprise. I tried to express that we as parents are all different. In my early years as a swim parent and board member, I had expected everyone to be as enthusiastic as I was about being a swim parent and our team. Obviously, there are all sorts of parents and flavors and degrees of interest kids and families have. A few comments I heard from other swim parents years ago took me by surprise. I hadn’t realized how these friends viewed swimming much differently than me.

Throughout the years, we’ve had several head coaches. Some relied heavily on parents involvement and others liked to handle things without parents chipping in. Neither approach is right or wrong. And as parents, we had to figure out what level of our involvement was desired. As the kids got older, we helped out less and less. Yes, we fulfilled our obligations but being a board member or running swim meets no longer was required or desired. We weren’t on deck for every practice anymore but went for long walks during the kids’ practices. Talking to my son, he said he liked it when we were involved. That made me feel appreciated and good about the years we volunteered.

In any case, it was a pleasure and joy to be a swim parent, through the ups and downs. I don’t regret any days of it. I developed so many great friendships that will continue long after our swim parenting days are over.

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My daughter, best swim buddy and early coach.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to the article that stirred up so many comments: The Swim Parents I Couldn’t Understand. I’d like to get your feedback on it. too.

A Word of Advice for Sports Parents: “Chill”

 

 

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Our gorgeous Palm Springs pool.

I volunteered a couple hours at my swim team’s big November meet. It’s been three years since I’ve had a swimmer at that meet and the distance of time allows me to look at parents and swimmers through a different lens.

Wow. Do parents ever get worked up watching their kids swim! I observed some parents running around the pool deck, yelling and visibly shaking. I was worried a few would have heart attacks. I acted exactly the same way years ago and I still get nervous and worked up. But I don’t show it as much, anymore. I believe it’s newer parents who are the most anxious because it’s all new to them and confusing. Give them a few years, and they’ll probably relax a bit.

One woman frantically came to the admin tent and said in a panicked voice—bordering on hysteria—“I can’t find my son! I don’t know where he is! Help me find my son!”

My friend, who was running things for the parent volunteers under the tent, asked in a very calm voice, “Please, tell me how old is your son?”

“Twelve.”

“Twelve,” my friend repeated. We managed to keep straight faces. If it was a child of say five or six, there might be a reason for a mom to panic. Well, not a real reason to panic, but the anxiety would be more understandable.

“Do you know where he is supposed to be?” my friend, who is also a psychologist, asked. Her calm approach led me to believe she faces many hyped-up parents in her practice. The frantic mom said he was swimming the 200 fly and she couldn’t find him with her coach or warming up. She asked us to have him paged to report to the admin tent.

“Do you want to give him a little time? If we announce for him to come to the admin tent to meet his mother, he’s going to be embarrassed,” she told her.

“Really? Why would he be embarrassed?” the mom asked.

We didn’t have an answer to that. We had a deck marshal assist the mom walking around the pool deck and into the men’s bathroom to help find her son. I never heard a word after that, so I’m assuming her son made it to his event and back to her side.

Another thing I noticed this past weekend was that the space behind the blocks can get really hectic. That sign that says “Swimmers Only” means just that. It doesn’t mean “Swimmers Only and Me the Swimmer’s Parent Because I’m an Exception to the Rule.” It’s amazing how many parents ignore the sign, have to be told to leave the “Swimmers Only” area and a few want to argue about it. Once again, it’s interesting to look at this from a distance, when a few years ago, I was the one trying to stand behind the blocks with a water bottle and towel for my kids.

I’m reminded of advice I received from Ref Paul on more than one occasion, “Relax, have fun. It’s just a swim meet.”

 

 

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The pool deck during a meet with the “Swimmers Only” area behind the blocks.

 

Why do you think we get so worked up over our children’s athletic performances?