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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Swim Mom
5 years ago

I have always respected the coaches. I do like the three leg approach where parents, kids and coaches are equal. I have been a college swimmer and now have one as well. She is much better than I could have been and I have loved every step. I haven’t liked the feeling that parents can’t coach or even talk to coaches. We coach in reading, math and everything else but there is a taboo on coaching swimming. I love the fact that my kid would ask me a question and value my input. I would match her coaches to the tee. I always told my child that if we didn’t match is because they are current with technique and they… Read more »

5 years ago

While I generally agree, it’s not so cut and dry.

My daughter has been on pre-comp for almost 3 years with no end in sight. I see her (and other kids) having major problems with their stroke and the coaches don’t correct them. Half the time they’re not even watching. I don’t want to register a complaint because I’ve seen other kids get penalized when their parents complain about the coach.
So now I’m doing what I know is a cardinal sin: coaching my own kid. I’m bringing her in during Rec swim and telling her what her coach should be telling her. I’m fortunate in that, as a former swimmer, swim teacher, coach and current masters swimmer,… Read more »

Reply to  SwammerMom
5 years ago

1) if your starting point was “complaining,” maybe you took the wrong tact
2) In my experience, pre-competitive coaches are not paid very well. While many are fine coaches or go on to be fine coaches, in many other cases, you get what you pay for: coaches who are young, inexperienced, undertrained, and undermotivated.

Reply to  SwammerMom
5 years ago

I also hear/see alot of private instructors working one on one. However, if the swimmer/parent asked for time after practice, I believe that many coaches would be glad to do that and appreciate the interest. I just don’t think anyone ever asks.

HB Swim Dad
5 years ago

I know your post is well intended, but how many hard driving parents would change their ambitions because of a blog post telling them that they need to stop imposing their ambitions on their child? And forget “helicopter” parents, this is a whole new breed, they’re called “lawnmower” parents, and it means they “clear out all obstacles from their child’s pathway to success”. Helicopter just means you’re constantly hovering, driving your kids everywhere, asking lots of questions, maybe a bit too much of a busybody when it comes to your child – that’s so 90’s. Today’s new age parenting is all about fast tracking their child to Stanford, starting at age 5. Lawnmower Parents – learn to fear them, because… Read more »

5 years ago

From someone who has been a swimmer, parent and coach. If you are a parent – ask the coach how your kid is doing in practice and if they are a good team member – they will be honest and this will tell you all you need to know. Make sure your are volunteering because that’s how coaches really know you care. If you are a coach – are you thinking of creative ways to keep workouts interesting and targeted? Do you write several workouts for your team based on skill level and stroke specialty? That will tell you all you need to know. As an athlete – are you working hard enough that a coach will take the time… Read more »

5 years ago

Have we found a replacement for the USRPT threads of a few years ago? Am looking forward to many more coach-parent articles at slow times of the season. 🙂

Reply to  Chas
5 years ago

I would love to see an evaluation of clubs who adopted USRPT. How’d their kids swim? Rate of improvement vs the national average, etc. Anyone getting a MS/PhD in Exercise Physiology?

5 years ago

In the future there will be computers not coaches so no worries! Then the parents can run everything!

Coach John
5 years ago

some ghosts of swimswam comment past in this thread. I miss Hulk Swim and LiquidAssets

Jane smith
7 years ago

There are two way streets. There are coaches who look at their phones instead of watching kids, never acknowledge kids by the right names, never answer parents email, never
Showed any tip over a whole season…there are coaches that show up to fill their schedule rather than have a goal to train kids seriously.