10 Tips to Improve Parent-Coach Relationships

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

“Parents today are out of control,” say a number of swim coaches. Don’t get me wrong; club coaches do appreciate us. They say, “We wouldn’t be able to exist without parents. Most parents are great.” Followed by, “But…”

“Parents push, push, push,” a club coach with 45 years of experience told me. Their swimmer has to get a college scholarship, get certain times, get straight As and be the best violinist. Parents don’t have team loyalty and jump teams when they get upset.

A younger coach, whose father also coached, agrees that swim parents have gotten worse in the last few years. He said he enjoys working with kids and keeping them motivated. His biggest headache is with parents.

What are we doing to cause this? I don’t like to see the coach-parent relationship become adversarial. Better communication on both sides might help—and parents need more education about swimming.

Of course, there are legitimate issues and concerns a parent may have with a coach. It’s how we, as parents, handle these situations that differs from years’ past. Try a Google search: “Why parents drive coaches crazy.” It’s not a swim thing. It’s a millennial generation, helicopter-parent thing. Yes, only 5% of applicants get accepted into Harvard or Stanford, and more than 86,000 kids applied to UCLA last year. It’s a competitive world and we want our kids to succeed.

I remember a parent meeting for our team. A brand new parent complained because there weren’t enough meets for his swimmer. More experienced swim parents patiently explained that there was a meet per month for every level of swimmer, sometimes more. How old was his child? Five. As in five years old and the father insisted on more competitions. I know of another incident where a family switched teams because his daughter didn’t make a relay team at a BRW meet. The selection was based on times. I’m sure you know similar stories.

My parenting tips: Take a deep breath. Relax. Review the “10 Commandments for Swim Parents” from USA Swimming:



Thou shall not impose thy ambitions on thy child.


Thou shall be supportive no matter what.


Thou shall not coach thy child.


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


Thou shall acknowledge thy child’s fears.


Thou shall not criticize the officials.


Thou shall honor thy child’s coach.


Thou shall be loyal and supportive of thy team.


Thy child shall have goals besides winning.


Thou shall not expect thy child to become an Olympian.

Be a role model for newer swim parents and don’t be that parent, the one who drives coaches crazy. Most of us are dedicated, hard-working parent volunteers who live, breathe and love swimming. We love our kids. We love our team. We want a great experience for our kids, our coaches and ourselves.

Elizabeth WickhamElizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog: http://bleuwater.me/.

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And on the flip side, here’s my 10 commandments for coaches:

1. Thou shall respect the customer (paying parents).
2. Thou shall provide coaching to swimmers not just circle swimming sets.
3. Thou shall not be on social media while swimmers are practicing.
4. Thou shall respond to parent’s questions.
5. Thou shall not remove your child from an upcoming swim meet without explaining why.
6. Thou shall not stack the board with all your groupie friends to isolate other members.
7. Thou shall provide timely coherent communications regarding upcoming events.
8. Thou shall coach all swimmers not just your favorites.
9. Thou shall work to improve technique problems not ignore them.
10. Thou shall not assume all parents are ignorant to the sport.


Right on!


exhibit a


By saying “exhibit a” I assume you are saying this is a problem parent. Why should insisting on accountability be a problem? I’m tired of coaches who insist on respect, but then cower in fear when faced with actual accountability. Grow up guys, if you want to be treated as a professional, you need to learn to accept criticism. EVERYONE else who draws a salary is subject to the approval and evaluation of those who pay their salaries.

And parent-run boards who do not insist on rigorous performance evaluations are a huge part of the problem.


Love it. I also like the top list for parents EXCEPT when the coaches break your #9. My son is a tennis player, and they ENCOURAGE him, and us, to watch videos on technique. My daughter’s swim coaches (notice I didn’t say all coaches) do not spend nearly enough time on technique, as we watch our swimmers with bad starts/flip-turns/head-position etc., and my daughter has become one of the top two swimmers on the team because she studies those things on her own. I’ll show her videos and she watches and practices those on her own. So…I want her to be as good as she wants to be..meet her potential, and she enjoys doing those things with me, so why… Read more »

Elizabeth Wickham

Thank you for comment. You are spot on for the other side of the story!


This is a slippery slope.. I do agree with all of these commandments but I want to discuss your number one further: On a team, please don’t think of yourself as a customer. Yes, some coaches are jerks (I was when I started) and I totally understand how much money, time and sanity goes into being a swim parent. I commend all parents of athletes for all the extra effort that they put in for their children and for the whole team. But the attitude of, “Look kid, I’m the customer and therefore you must please me” absolutely tears teams apart. On great teams, it’s all about “we before me” and that is undermined by claiming customer privilege – even… Read more »


I really question how some people can actually vote this down. Many of these happened at the club my son joined.

Coach JB

Disappointing to see the adversarial relationship starting here. I think the “three legs of the stool” approach is something you may want to think about. The parent/coach/athlete relationship is something that should be equal and considered by all. In my opinion it’s not about a tit-for-tat response to a philosophy promoted by the NGB for this sport – it’s about respect from all parties for the roles they need to fill to create success for their situation and the people who are in the endeavour with them. Best of luck to you and your athletes and coaches.

Elizabeth Wickham

Nicely stated.


Coach JB – But look at who’s running the NGB. As far as USA Swimming is concerned, they would prefer silence and obedience.


I wholeheartedly agree in honoring all roles on a team – but customer is not one of them. Just sayin’!


#8 Thou shall coach all swimmers not just your favorite.
Did you ever stop to think that the so called “favorites” of the coaches, are the one who are always paying attention ,not whining , are positive, hard working, and doing what the coach is asking . We all like working with people who are willing to work with us.

(G)olden Bear



Thank you, as a part time coach I appreciate it.

Coach D

Agreed. Accountability on both ends is extremely important. I believe in transparency between coaches and parents. Coaches need to be prepared, come with a plan, have hindsight and foresight to counteract possible problems. Parents conversely need to eliminate pressure to their kids and promote fun!


Coaches need to realize that swimmers (parents) pay their salaries. Why make ALL of the high school age swimmers get up at 5am for 10 days of the 14 day Christmas break, have a 6:30 am to 9:00 am practice then ask them to come back from 2:30 till 4:30 in the afternoon. I have a swimmer who has been a state champion ( in two states) multiple times and is ready to call it quits. The coaches of the high school age swimmers do nothing to encourage swimmers, only “put them down” if they don’t want to give up their entire life for swimming. Grinding dryland sessions, 9000 yards a day? For what ? Unless the coaching staff is… Read more »


I would gladly trade places. Our coaches are volunteer only and leave for two weeks. As such, it’s their prerogative to take time off since they answer to no one paying their salary. However, when all the other high performance teams are taking advantage of the vacation time and getting in some heavy lifting, we’re basically on vacation and expected to ramp back up for all our national level meets in less than three months. Coaches, swimmers, and families have so many different expectations and goals. It must be nice for those who find themselves all on the same page.


Do you want some cheese with that whine? Save you money and go buy your kid a trophy at the trophy store.


If the commenter is truthful, they don’t need to bc their swimmer is kicking butt. But that’s the run…not every kid wants a trophy. Not every baseball player wants a MLB contract. It’s cool…it’s healthy, fun activities. I LOVE the dialogue but not the judgment. Lol


That’s an interesting dilemma. I didn’t down vote you, but I think you got so many down votes because of your comments about parents paying the salaries and the money; clearly, if you or your child prefer to spend the money elsewhere, that’s your prerogative, its not required. But it’s unclear from the info you give whether your child has had so much success because of all the hard work and demanding coaching, or in spite of it. There is no way around it, swimming is a tough sport that requires more time and energy than almost any other sport, for success. On bad days I would threaten to quit, only to change my mind the next day. In retrospect,… Read more »


I would suggest taking a portion of that $$ and putting towards parent education.


I question why parents should not coach their kids? There are many parents who successfully coached their kids in all sports.

If you want to be your child’s ONLY coach I say go for it and good luck. But there are many more instances where that setup hasn’t worked out… and it can ONLY work if you are the sole coach.

If you try coaching IN ADDITION to… you are only going to confuse your athlete and have them make choices they shouldn’t have to make. This situation NEVER works out and ends up in a breakup- either between the family and the club, the coach and the club, or the kid and the sport. None are appealing results.

So if you have the time and pool space to take over then absolutely do it.

Coach Josh

Two Issues regarding why parents should not coach their kids: 1) Parents typically do not have the training/experience of a professional coach, but often think they do, and this could cause confusion if the athlete is getting conflicting opinions. 2) In my opinion, a parent’s role should involve being unconditionally supportive to their child. The role of a coach is to help athletes become better, and yes, this may involve being the “bad guy” at times when a swimmer is doing something inconsistent with their stated goals. As parents, you will have many instances where you will need to be the “bad guy” in life disciplining your child….the pool…their chosen sport and sanctuary, should not be one of those instances.

Swim DAD

Yes there are many successful stories on parent-coaching /child, the catch is how to balance it. Golden B said it best, provide the tools, provide some insight (specially to those parents that where ex-high level swimmers) but let the coach coach. You can watch all the tapes and review all the races with your child as long as the initiative is coming from “YOUR SWIMMER” not you (the parent). In other words it has to be fun for your swimmer.Always emphasize the idea that as long as he/she gave 100% effort during the race is what counts. What place he/she got is irrelevant, is about enjoying the race and the moment. The beauty of this sport is that the challenge… Read more »

HB Swim Dad

Interesting. In America we treat an activity that has potential to be life changing (because it could lead to a college scholarship) as “fun”, whereas in other parts of the world (India, China, Vietnam, etc.), any opportunity to get into college is treated as WORK ‘TIL YOU DROP. Paying for school is not fun – flipping burgers, digging ditches, begging in the street. Americans have an opportunity to do something “fun” like swimming to get into college, where in other countries the ONLY option is to study STUDY sacrifice sacrifice and study some more just so you can discover you cannot afford college without being number one in your class. Definitely, Americans have “rich people problems.” It’s nice to live… Read more »

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