10 Tips to Improve Parent-Coach Relationships

by SwimSwam 67

January 25th, 2017 Club, International, Lifestyle, Opinion

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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67 Comments on "10 Tips to Improve Parent-Coach Relationships"

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Read “Exellent Sheep” William Derescwicz. If you dare!


Is it normal protocol for swim teams to prohibit parents from the pool during swim practice? (Not the pool deck but any access to viewing practice)

swimswamfollower – I wouldn’t say it’s normal, but I don’t think it’s uncommon. I understand when coaches don’t want parents on deck, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to keep parents from being able to see what’s happening, especially if the team practices in a pool where there aren’t others around (lifeguards, other pool members, etc.)


No, this is not normal, though some teams do prohibit parents from watching practice. USA Swimming actually requires that practices be open as per their “Safe Sport” policy. You may want to look into that, as USASwimming was required to open practices due to problems with abuse of athletes.

Most teams have a policy where parents can be present at practice, but must be only in a designated area, and must not interact with coaches or swimmers during the practice. From a safety perspective, this is the right thing to do.


Yep, and add:
Thou shalt not favor certain swimmers because they’re the best; or certain parents because they brown nose. We could all bring Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts to the coaches; but the rest of us are diplomatic and trying to be fair, not seeking other ways to win your approval so our children will be favored. Find fair ways to do things that don’t involve favoring certain swimmers and parents.

So find a program that gives you what you want. You don’t have to stay there.

Kathy Kortes

I would love to hear comments regarding when a coach crosses the line between motivation and bullying .

Leave the team and find a program with a coach who doesn’t bully kids.