Can We Make Our 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?

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?