How to raise kids who won’t quit

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Piano duet at a yearly recital.

One of the most important things about “sticking with it” is allowing our kids to find something they’re passionate about. It can’t be what we want them to do. It has to be what THEY want. By introducing our kids to several activities, hopefully, they’ll discover something they’re good at and want to pursue.

In an article called “My mom’s one sports rule? No quitting,” by Samantha K. Smith on espnW.com, I remembered the t-shirts one of my all-time favorite swim dads came up with for the Piranha Swim Team, “Winners never quit, Quitters never win.” We wore those shirts with pride for years.

From the article:

“When it came to giving her children unsolicited sports advice, our mother got a lot of flack from her five kids who knew her experience was limited. The one and only story she told of her high school cheerleading days was about how the front of her skirt was longer than the back because the girl who’d previously worn it was pregnant. So we often went to Dad for help with our free throw or pitching form; we went to Mom for rides to practice, trips to the mall for new sneakers, and to locate the water bottle stash. Our mother worked late nights at the YMCA for our discounted memberships and paid our uniform and league fees without question each season. But she had one strict, abiding rule when it came to signing up for a new sport: There was no quitting.

“This was why I had new, never-worn softball gear hanging in my closet for the duration of high school. I’d ordered the uniform but remembered Mom’s tenet: If I was unsure whether I could make the full commitment, I shouldn’t officially sign on to the team.

“Now I walk into the basketball gymnasiums of my childhood and see parents storming off with their children after a bad referee call, or children quitting teams midseason because of playing time. In an age of helicopter parenting and participation trophies, my mother set out to teach us one of her most valuable lessons about commitment. If you make one, you see it through even if, and especially when, it’s not playing out favorably for you.”

I did let my son quit a few sports, but only because we had him overbooked with “if this is Tuesday it must be tennis” running from one end of the valley and back to get from piano lessons to the court. During a stressful rushing afternoon, I hit a curb, got a flat tire and realized that enough was enough. Eventually, we settled on a single sport and music. Our routine and life went swimmingly well from then on.

My daughter blames me for not letting her quit piano for years–and she hated it. It wasn’t until the piano teacher told me that perhaps piano wasn’t her thing, that I realized I didn’t have to fight her to practice daily, or drag her to piano lessons anymore–and we’d both be happier!

I interviewed the Anderson family for an article in SwimSwam magazine. The Andersons have three daughters, two are Olympic medalists and the youngest currently swims for a D1 university. The mom also had the same rule as the writer above. She said that each year she’d sign the girls up for swimming with the understanding that they were committing for the year. When the weather was no longer perfect sunny and warm and one of them asked to quit, she’d remind them that they had agreed for the year. When the new season started, it was once again warm and beautiful outside and her daughters would commit again.

There’s something to be said for sticking through it all—so long as the situation isn’t abusive or dangerous. A lot of life lessons can be learned when things aren’t perfect.

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Once we settled on one sport, things began to go swimmingly.

What is your rule for your kids and activities? Do you make them stick with it through the season? Did your parents have a “never quit” rule?

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With Our Kids’ Activities, When Is Enough, Enough?

 

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My young swimmers.

 

One of the many struggles of raising kids has to do with their extracurricular activities. What should we sign them up for and how much should they do?

The first thing we signed our kids up for was swimming. In fact, we started with a “mommy and me” class at our city pool when they were six months old. From there we went on to private swim lessons. The reason for our focus on the pool was water safety. We live in an area where most homes and all apartments and condos have pools, including our home. Young children die every year where we live and I was doing all I could to make sure my kids would not be included in those numbers.

While at the pool, we noticed older kids swimming laps with the Piranha Swim Team. We were impressed with their technique and the exciting energy of the team when they were on deck. We asked our children’s instructor if she thought our kids could ever make the team. When our son was six or seven years old, our instructor said he was ready. By that time we were taking him to piano lessons once a week, Boy Scouts, Karate, Tennis and had already dropped Tee Ball. Doesn’t that sound like a ridiculous amount of activities for one wee kid?

I remember racing from school to one activity followed by another. Realizing I forgot something, I erratically made a U-turn and hit a curb. I was shaking as I called Triple A to change my flat tire. Something had to change. This was not a healthy way to live.

We let go of Boy Scouts and Karate. We stuck with piano lessons and swimming. My son continued with tennis for a few years and in middle school tried basketball at his school, plus school plays.

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My daughter in royal blue.

 

I enrolled my daughter in ballet because that was my passion. Piano too, because it is supposed to do so much for mathematics and the brain. She wanted to swim, not be a ballerina. And she hated piano with a passion. She throws it out from time to time, how I forced her to take piano years beyond what was reasonable. It took both her ballet and piano teacher to suggest that enough was enough!

I wrote a story this week for SwimSwam.com with five tips for when your child wants to miss practice. There are so many things I’ve learned through the years. I wish I could go back and let my son know that he didn’t have to go to swim meets or practice and his love of music was just as important. I’d ask him if he wanted to quit, but he’d always say, “No, I love swimming.” He did, but he had interests that he was more passionate about and he didn’t want to disappoint us, because we’d invested so much of our family time around the pool and team. He wanted to be in Junior Statesmen of America. Plus, he started a band was writing music and performing around the area. We tried to make room for everything, but it was a struggle. Also, if I could get a redo, I’d have let my daughter quit piano early on. Why go through daily battles of practice and dragging your kids to an activity they don’t enjoy?

My advice looking back is to expose them to a number of activities and let them find their passion. Then support them wholeheartedly in whatever they choose. Also, don’t overschedule them. Allow them downtime to dream, reflect, play and be kids.

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A duet at the annual piano recital.

 

What advice do you have when choosing activities for your kids?

 

When Should Children Specialize In Sports? Part II

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This is one of my earlier posts about sports specialization. I still agree with most of this, but I see one factor about earlier sports specialization that isn’t so great–repetitive use injuries. However, I don’t know if a swimmer’s shoulder would still be injured if they started at ages 9 to 11, versus age 5. That’s a tough question to answer.

 

“Do you ever get tired of trying and coming up short of your goal? You’re just not getting where you want to be and you’ve tried and tried again? For many people the capacity to push through obstacles to get where they want to go demonstrates a strength of character trait groomed and implanted in their early childhood. Changing one’s character later in life happens, but it’s usually difficult.” ***

Two common complaints against specializing in a sport at an early age are: it causes burnout, and there’s no clear advantage to it. (Last week I wrote about isolation and specialization.) 

I disagree with both based on my experience as a swim parent. What I find odd is how many athletes are going to burn out if they are achieving success? If they’re winning races and moving on to the next level, they will feel a sense of accomplishment.

I have a friend who was captain of his golf team at Harvard. He has a zero handicap. I asked him if he ever got bored playing golf.

He said, “I never get tired of hitting great shots.”

There appears to be a clear advantage of specialization in a single sport — at least sports like golf or swimming, where there are specific skills and techniques. If a child is jumping from sport to sport, rather than focusing one sport, that child probably won’t progress much — unless they are truly gifted athletes.

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When swimmers hit a plateau and don’t improve for more than a year — which is like multiple years to a person 11 or 12  years old — but they stick with it and eventually break through and improve — the life lessons learned are incredible! Talk about a reward!

Take my daughter who is turning 18 this week. She began swimming at age five. She had lots of improvement until about age 11 when she couldn’t break the one minute mark for the 100 free for more than a year and a half. I’ll never forget her frustration, but she also showed determination. She didn’t quit. She didn’t try another sport for a season here or there. She worked very hard and rarely missed swim practice.  At a Junior Olympic swim meet — she went 57 seconds in the 100 free.

Her coach asked her, “What happened to 59 and 58?”

She said with a smile, “They are highly over-rated!”

The lesson she learned was that with hard work, success will come eventually. In the meantime, perseverance was nothing to sneeze at. She’s still swimming, by the way, and earned a college scholarship.

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Regardless when a child starts a sport, they have to love it! They can’t be putting in the hours to please their parents or their coach. Also, when they are very young, it has to be fun. If they aren’t having fun, it’s tough to keep them in the sport.

Building character and strength in our children can be a part of their specialized sports experience!

***The quote is from SWIMSWAM: Jason Lezak & Seeds of Third Effort (worth reading!) by Chuck Warner, coach and author of And Then They Won Gold: Stepping Stones To Swimming Excellence: This article is about Jason Lezak’s difficulties in college swimming and how it prepared him for the most amazing Olympic relay. Ever. 

More valuable info for parents about swimming can be found at USA SWIMMING.

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When do you think children should specialize in a single sport? What advantages and disadvantages do you see?

What Do Kids Put On Their Resumes When They’ve Never Held a Job?

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Honestly, I’m not a helicopter parent anymore, but I am more than happy to jump in and offer my opinion and guidance to my two 20-something-year-old kids.

Our son went to his first career fair a year ago and it led to opportunities and eventually a full-time “real job” where he pays his rent and his bills. Our daughter is nearing the end of her college career and I suggested she attend a career fair—sooner rather than later. She wasn’t thrilled but after pushing a little, she agreed and picked a date from her school’s career fair calendar.

I suggested several times to go to a group hour-long prep meeting for the career fair that was scheduled last week. I think she finally agreed to get me to stop with the “suggesting” but she didn’t go. Instead, she set a one-on-one appointment with a career counselor. Unfortunately, the counselor double-booked her appointment and my daughter received zero prep from her school.

This is the part I’m really proud of. My son took over. He helped her write a resume, coached her on an elevator pitch and even went so far as to help her select professional clothes. Since he’s been through the process, we were all relieved. Also, reading resumes on a daily basis is part of his job working for a high-tech placement company that specializes in software engineers in Dev Ops for the Cloud.

Today is the career fair. I’m excited for my daughter and proud of my son. I want her to be relaxed and enjoy the experience. I reminded her that this is her first career fair and she has more opportunities ahead. She can look at this one as a learning experience to better prepare for the future.

Her main concern was the resume and what should she put down for experience when she’s been swimming her entire life and has only worked a few months as a lifeguard and swim instructor.

I googled what student-athletes can put on their resumes and found a lot of helpful information. Student-athletes cultivate many traits that employers love—like self-motivation, teamwork, coachability, time management, perseverance, a strong work ethic, etc. After my son worked on the resume with my daughter I learned a few things I never knew:

ONE
Her part-time job as a lifeguard was pretty impressive. She saved a toddler’s life.

TWO
Her favorite memory of college was not the year she dropped 20 seconds on the mile, but rather last year when she was throwing up in her hotel room, sick as a dog with the flu, and rallied to swim the mile—because her team needed her to score points. She didn’t include this fact on her resume, but it will be a good story to tell in an interview.

To read in more detail about what student-athletes can put on their resumes, here’s a story I wrote for SwimSwam called “6 Traits Swimmers Have That Employers Want.”

What do you think kids should include on resumes, if they’ve never held a “real job?”

 

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My kids a few years ago with Angus.

 

Remember It’s Their Sport–Not Yours

 

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My son and teammates in the pool.

We all know helicopter parents are out there. Some of us may have been former ones ourselves or we may know friends who are overly involved with their kids. We see them at practice, meets or games—whether it’s soccer, baseball, football or swimming. They hover in the classrooms, waiting to talk to the teacher every day before and after school to make sure their child is adequately challenged and grades reflect that.

Here are two excerpts from articles I found helpful, the first written by a youth football coach and the second from a sports coaching and parenting expert.

From GridIron Now, A youth football coach’s advice for ‘helicopter parents’ By Dan Hancock:

It’s not the first time in my many years as a coach that I’ve dealt with a “my kid only” parent. On this occasion, though, I was amazed at how truly focused this parent was on his child only and not the team. I’ll skip the gory details and say that I removed the family, and consequently, the player from my team.

My job is to do what’s best for the team. This may mean putting a player into a position that he may not like if it helps the team. It also may mean removing a player from the team if effort is not given or respect not shown to the coaching staff.

I’d like to offer parents with kids playing youth sports advice from a coach’s perspective: Be supportive. Period.

Of course you want to see little Johnny score every touchdown, but it takes a team to get in the end zone. If your son or daughter is not playing in the position they want, or receiving the amount of reps that either of you find sufficient, be supportive. Work harder.

Talent and ability never goes unnoticed. Talking about ability does little come game day. Playing time is earned in practice.

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My daughter racing.

Here is an excerpt from David Benzel’s article that explains the only thing parents need to ask of their child. He’s an author and founder of Growing Champions for Life. Go check out his website and blog. He has so much valuable information and books and workbooks to order for you and your kids. USA Swimming has partnered with him to help swim parents, and he works with many other sports, too.

There’s No Strings Attached Parenting in Youth Sports

To see it we’ll have to go back to the early days when our child was in T-Ball, Guppy swim class, Tiny Mites football, or half-court basketball. In those days, we gave our parental support with no strings attached. It was an unconditional gift given for the sake of an experience we wanted our child to have. They were not expected nor required to do anything but have an enjoyable time playing the sport they loved.

Then things changed…

As we invested more time and money we expected them to learn and improve. And when the dollar figure got high enough or the miles reached triple digits, we expected maximum effort and peak performance every time!

Unfortunately for our children, what starts out as a gift suddenly appears to have strings attached and comes with the message, “You must perform well for me to feel good about the money and time I’m spending.”

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My daughter with her first medals.

Finally, here’s an excerpt from a helicopter sports article I wrote for SwimSwam this week:

 

What could possibly go wrong with ensuring our children’s lives are smooth and saving them from costly mistakes? Studies show that kids of helicopter parents often suffer at school and in the workplace. By hovering over our children and never letting them learn from their mistakes or face consequences, we can stunt our kids’ growth. Here are traits children of helicopter parents may share: acting out in the classroom, anxiety, difficulty making decisions, lack of “adulting” skills, and struggling in college and at work.

I’ve never heard of a parent who wants their kids to fail in life. That’s obviously not our objective when we help finish homework and drive forgotten lunches and papers to school. We’re just trying to help with the best intentions.

We should take advantage of the pool and swim team as a unique world within itself where our kids can practice skills for “adulting.” There are many life lessons inherent through years of swimming—we just need to let our kids experience them.

Kids gain so much from sports—from time management, good sportsmanship to being physically fit. They also have fun with their friends. It’s wonderful to encourage sports, but we need to always remember it’s their sport, not ours.

Do you know any helicopter sports parents? What have they done that bothers you the most?

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8 and under girls holding the team’s trophy after breaking a team record.

You Have Two Choices: Quit or Keep Trying…

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My kids learned perseverance and to never give up from swimming.

I got an unfortunate email yesterday. It was from an agent, who was reviewing my mid-grade novel I’ve been working on for years. Long story short, it was a no.

This is a big goal of mine, to get this book published. Finding an agent is one step along the way, and I had glimmers of hope when a couple agents were truly interested and one in particular, wanted eight weeks to take a deep dive.

When my husband consoled me I said, “I have two choices. I can quit or keep going.”

Four times since that email, I ran into messages like someone was placing a big neon sign in front of me with specific directions.

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Dad shared that he spent almost three hours fishing yesterday. He was ready to give up, but decided to cast one more time in the last few minutes before he was due to return the boat. Yes, he caught a fish!13726609_10210408420550641_3524328241513157479_n

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I was looking at FB and a writer friend posted how lucky she was to find several four-leaf clovers yesterday after hours of looking. She said to never give up. Never!

Three

On Twitter, I saw from bestselling author Brad Thor a book recommendation for #Grit, a book about passion and perseverance. Yes, I’ll order it from Amazon today.

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Four

On SwimSwam.com, an article jumped before my eyes: “6 TIPS TO KEEP YOU CHASING YOUR SWIMMING GOALS WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE GIVING UP,” by Olivier Poirier-Leroy, who writes really good stuff for swimmers, that can be used in all aspects of life.

Here was part of his advice to get in touch with your feelings when you started on the journey:

“What are the reasons that I want to achieve this goal? List 2-3 reasons for why this goal is important to you. This is the simplest way to get in touch with your original set of motivations.

How will you feel when you push past the resistance you are feeling now? Think back to the last time you kicked down the wall of resistance that was in front of you. Yeah, that time. How did you feel afterwards? Proud? Like a certified O.G.?

Will you regret giving up a year from now? Imagine yourself a year from now. A year smarter, a year older, and hopefully a year further along. Is “Future You” going to be pumped about you having quit today?”

I got the message loud and clear. I’m not giving up on my goals or dreams. This is all part of the process, and yes there will be some ups and downs. It’s so cliched, but it’s also true.

In  masters swimming we have a new slogan and shirts. After a hard set that I was convinced I couldn’t finish, I blurted, “Hey, it’s not that bad!”

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Showing off new shirts at Piranha Swim Team’s Masters. “Hey, it’s not that bad.”

 

Yes, getting a rejection letter is not great, but how much better is it than quitting on a dream? Honestly, it’s not that bad.

How do you handle disappointment?

Tips on How to Catch Typos — And My Three Worst Typos of All Time

images-3Some of my most embarrassing moments have happened with typos. I’ve been writing professionally since college graduation. I won’t mention exactly how many years that is. But, it’s plenty. Plenty of time to make a few mistakes.

1. I had a typo yesterday on SwimSwam. I left out a number on my tips.

My process begins with a small idea. Then I write a rough sloppy draft. Then I begin to hone it down into something tight and simple.  Along the way I cut out one tip that didn’t seem to fit. But, the story didn’t automatically renumber itself. Making a mistake like that on a busy forum like SwimSwam is decidedly embarrassing.

You can read that story here. 12 Parent Tips on How to Behave at Practice.

On the bright side, I got a RT by Natalie Coughlin. I was super excited about that, so the story still worked even if it was not perfect.

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Natalie Coughlin

2. My second worst typo was in the 80s. I worked for a PR and advertising firm and I wrote eight newsletters a month, plus three or four press releases daily. It was a busy, intense job. I was in charge of a fundraiser for abused women which was held at a local country club. In my press release that ran just about everywhere — I mistakenly put in my own phone number instead of the club’s to RSVP! There was no taking that one back. I lived through it by hooking up an answering machine.

I felt humiliated though, when my co-workers relentlessly teased me.images-1

3. My all-time worst typo was when I had my own PR and advertising business. I had some super-duper clients including the hospital’s cancer center and a local branch of a major Wall Street firm. When the boss at the Wall Street branch was promoted to NYC to corporate headquarters, he still used me for all of his work. I was SO excited! Then I made a typo on a Power Point presentation. It was on the new logo he had me create for the Western Region of the United States of America. Ugh.

He was so angry with me, because I made him look bad. I’ll never forgive myself for that one.

imgres-2The thing with typos is your brain can trick you into seeing what you intended to be there.

My tips to catch typos are:

1. Read the piece from the bottom, sentence by sentence.

2. Read it out loud.

3. Put it away for a few days to get a fresh view.

4. Have other people proofread for you.

5. Don’t forget to proofread the title and headers. Numbers, too.