10 Ways to Be the Worst Swim Parent Ever

by SwimSwam 112

January 03rd, 2019 Lifestyle

by Elizabeth Wickham

I have experience at making mistakes as a swim parent. Fifteen years of it. I put together this list of things parents do that drive our kids and coaches crazy—with help from my daughter. Mind you, I have not done everything on the list, but I have seen all of these examples.

Most swim parents are the best people you’ll meet. They are encouraging, excited, willing to help and fun. These traits make long hours around the pool enjoyable and worthwhile.

Here are 10 behaviors guaranteed to drive swimmers and coaches crazy:


Insist your child be moved up into a higher group when the coach doesn’t think they’re the right age or developmentally ready.


Coach your swimmer before and after their swims and at practice.


Pace up and down the deck as your child races, yelling the entire time.


Talk badly about other swimmers, families and coaches—in front of your child.


Never volunteer and be the parent who has to be chased down to fill a timing chair. Don’t you love the excuse—“I have kids to watch, I can’t time.”


Hover under the coaches’ tents during meets, blocking coaches views and getting in the way—which is an outdoor pool problem.


Film every race and practice and insist your child sits with you to review them.


Carry a clipboard and stop watch. Write down all your child’s times—and the times of their teammates and competitors.


Argue with the refs when your child DQs.


Never be happy and always complain about everything. All the time.

What other things do swim parents do that drive our kids and coaches crazy?

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.

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I am proud to do items 2 and 7. I will not bow to the coaching cartel that is USA Swimming.

Sorry but if you need a top 10 list because SwimSwam needs one then you should 100% find a replacement for 7. It is one of the best ways to help a child even if you know nothing about swimming.

Swim mom

Seriously? You are proud? You shouldn’t be. Best way to make your kid hate swimming.


So is it OK to help your child with math homework but not swimming?


It’s different. With math, teachers encourage and often require parental involvement to help students succeed. I am sure all coaches would encourage parental involvement to show you care: mental support, nutrition, volunteering & etc. As for swimming-specific issues, unless you work with your kid’s coach collaboratively, doing #2 & #7 almost certainly would create confusion for your swimmer.


Wrong. Coming up with different ways to solve math problems than a school teacher is perfectly analogous to a parent giving stroke tips to their child. One is an accepted behavior while the other is frowned upon by SwimSwam readers.


It’s frowned upon by almost everyone in the swimming community

Anon #2

should the coach come and tell you how to do your job?

Coaches Coach
Parents Parent
Swimmers Swim


Except, are you a swimming coach? For, if not, they are almost more certainly capable of teaching your child.

Ruben Arevalo Galindo

I think you are the kind of person who always have the reason over Everyone.


You probably know how to do algebra or arithmetic, which gives you a better chance to help your child solve a homework problem. You probably haven’t studied biomechanics, exercise physiology, hydrodynamics and sports psychology like a coach would. So to assume your stroke tips are helping is at best well intentioned; and at worst, ignorant, arrogant and harmful to your swimmer.

Bob Sommers

I’m a teaching professional in a sport other than swimming. After years in my field I’ve come to the conclusion amateurs who iinterfer with instruction will only hinder and often confuse students. Students deserves instruction from a knowledgable professional devoted to that job. Allow those you pay to coach to do their job or find a new team.


Haha!! As a teacher, I implore you, DON’T HELP WITH THE HOMEWORK! Short answer, no, that’s not ok either!


I’ll wager you know a great deal more about math than you do about swimming. Get an expert coach and then let them teach what they know.

Swim Coach

A coach will point out 2 negatives and 1 positive to tell the swimmer after the race. By you “coaching” and pointing out 10 other things that are negative you are “breaking the spirit” in your swimmer and will cause your swimmer to prematurely burn out. Your kid will hate swimming.

James Guy

You’re proud to do 2 and 7? Lol ????


I’m sure your child’s coaches know what they’re doing


If you feel they don’t know what they are doing, then fire them or pick a different team to swim for. How would this person like the Coach telling them how to parent? I bet that would be a lively conversation…

Jim Fisherman

Not really.. Being a parent of an age grouper and former D1 college swimmer myself, a lot of what I overhear coaches telling swimmers I completely disagree with. Lot’s of coaches are no more qualified to teach your kids how to swim than their swimmer parents are.

trish w

I hope you realize that techniques have changed over the years. I am a coach of a different sport and also former collegiate D1 athlete. What I was taught has changed as it has in swimming as well. Your children want you to be there for them, encourage them to give their best and mostly to please you. Most kids are not going to get scholarships or make the Olympic team. Encourage hard work and to be good teammates and a good sport. Then let the coaches do their jobs. If you don’t trust them with your swimmer, then find a new club where you do. (or start your own). You are crushing your children’s spirit and it’s the quickest… Read more »

Liana McStravick

Then find a better coach. Don’t undermine the one you’ve got. Your swimmer will eventually see your “expertise” for what it is: your unwillingness to allow him or her to figure things out.

Joel Lin

#2 & #7 are the best ways to basically put a GPS chip on yourself that beeps ‘helicopter parent’ on the mental tracking devices all around you. Even if you mean well, even if you have a swimming background and can contribute DON’T. It is toxic for everyone and bad for your kid. If you are unhappy with coaching, change clubs. Or train your kid alone like Michael Andrews’ dad does. But something tells me that isn’t what you have the time for or have in mind. The behavior of #2 & #7 will help a lot in one regard: no college coach will want I breathe near you or your kid. Nothing worse than an opinionated parent at that… Read more »


Are you serious? Filming each practice?? You must have zero confidence in your coaches. Let it go and your child will thank you later. The only exception in #7 (for me) is that sometimes my child wants me to tape a certain race because he is working on something new and his coach wants to review it with him. Our club is big and our coaches never film any races during a meet.


I ask my parents to film my races…especially when suited up and tapered. I like watching them they are pretty helpful. However input from prents is one of the worst things to receive imo. Also dont be that parent who watches every swim practice, every kid on the team hates. Trust me..


Why don’t you become a coach then since you know so much about the sport.


He couldn’t because he needs 100 percent attention on his own kid.


“The coaching cartel”

Anon #2

It is one of the best ways to help a child even if you know nothing about swimming.

Seriously?? How are you helping if, as you say, you know nothing about the sport…wow

Run a practice, take over for the coach..he/she are coaches because chances are they have knowledge and experience


You’re putting too much pressure on the child. Won’t work long term. You have a. 12U right? They say this works til they turn 13 , then watch out because your swimmer will start hating your over involvement.


#2 and #7 are ok in moderation, and ONLY when you perceive your child is in the mood to listen. Otherwise you are accelerating his retirement without realizing it!


Here is why this is nonsense: Almost every, and I mean EVERY elite swimmer had a private coach. Not all parents can afford private coaches on top of club dues, travel, etc.Every single major technical stride my daughter has made is because she watches video (usual from Race Club), I record her, she watches and adjusts until it’s correct. She asks to do this because she knows she doesn’t have a private coach, and she knows to get to college she has to be technically elite. So, boo, and fuss and pout, but she is a top swimmer on her club, and barring injury or burnout (which we try our best to address) she will swim at a D1 college.… Read more »


Every elite swimmer has a private coach???? NOPE. I didn’t. None of my top D1 college teammates did either.

Just Another Opinion

Wow! Making a top D1 team without ever once having private lessons in your entire life is impressive. Having an entire team achieve the same feat, however, is simply not believable.

Or, you don’t recognize privilege when you grew up in it. Those private lessons are an awfully big advantage that just about every top swimmer has enjoyed at one point or another in his or her career. And yes, that constitutes private coaching (pretty sure it’s actually the main component!).


I don’t really think private coaching is necessary if you have good coaches in the first place >.> of course 1 on 1 sessions can help but I don’t think it makes much of a difference in the long run…

Coach Peter

But, your swimmer knows what to look for based upon what she is receiving from her coach. And you are working with the coaches guidance right? This is very different than a parent taking it upon themselves to coach their swimmer on their own outside of their coaches plan…oftentimes, without that continuity framed by the coach, the swimmer is torn between what the parent wants and what their coach is providing for them. That is the big issue, when coach, swimmer and parent are not working in unison.

Swim Parent

Bet you’re a joy to have on the team! If you aren’t happy with the coaching, find another team. You are there to support your swimmer…if they want your advice, they will ask for it!


You are everything wrong with youth athletics. I award you one thumbs down and may god have mercy on your soul.

Liana McStravick


Also Anonymous

Hi Dan!


Nope. I’m outspoken in my dislike for recruiting services. I see those as an unnecessary expense that prey upon parents fears. They also probably have lots of customers that sound just like this guy.
I’m very pro coach and think this list is pretty solid
I would also say that any parent that is filming every practice is pushing the limits of privacy when it comes to the other kids on the team. Not sure if it’s a Safe Sport issue, but it’s definitley worrisome.


This explains so much about your previous comments. This is Dan who always whines about Rick Paine’s articles, right?

You must be one of those coaches that likes to take advantage of naive 17-year olds and their naive parents, who gets annoyed when a professional comes in and forces you to be accountable.


I literally said that I was outspoken about recruiting services, so nice detective work! Even more so when the benefits of said service are coming from the salesman. I actually don’t think the recruiting services are the absolute worst things, just many of the talking points presented are wrong and play on a “famine mentality” when it comes to swimming in college. These things fall into the realm of throwing money at the situation and contribute to an overall unhealthy situation with youth sports. Private lessons, strength coaches, tech suits for young kids, etc. Of course all of these things can be used in a healthy way, just depends on each case. The reality is a lot of “problem” parents… Read more »


Your child is destined to give up swimming thanks to your behavior. Congratulations

BBQ Billy

I am a level 5 ASCA Coach Sr and AG. I coached 42 years swam 12 years into college. If your kid was on my team and you would not change your behavior you would be invited to swim elsewhere. Nice article Elizabeth.


Coaches coach. Parents parent. I am both but I am confident enough in the coaches ability to not undermine what he tells my son. That is a trusted relationship that can be ruined when a parent consistently interferes by trying to coach their kids. It’s confusing to the swimmer as the parents are not coaches and their “well meaning” tips are usually not helpful. According to a poll of swimmers, the number one thing they want to hear from their parent is; “I love watching you swim!” Back off parents! Your kids will be much happier!

Joel Lin

Good list. Another one for you moms and dads. DO NOT CALL COLLEGE COACHES ON YOUR CHILD’S BEHALF. Let your child’s coach have some input in the process to both you and your son/daughter. At the appropriate time have your son/daughter write the coaches to make a reverse inquiry to show interest. AND LET THEM WRITE IT. There is nothing more obvious or pathetic than a communication from a mid-teen kid that was obviously styled by a 40 something year old. Mentor and advise, but your kids own that process. If they can’t they are not ready yet. Eventually the kid will be ready at some point in high school, and that is the appropriate time. And there is always… Read more »


I will partially disagree. When you are 15, 16, 17 etc. and don’t have really any real world experience i don’t see a problem with a parent calling colleges. Especially for the kid who isn’t a 45 or 1:47. I think it is ok for a parent to hear what a coach has to say about the school, academics and swimming. I also think it is a parents job to work with their child to decide the best choice.


Add: Don’t pay your bills, read Club emails, or pay attention to meet entry deadlines. Suck up valuable time & energy from the staff by arguing over every fee, and requesting exceptions to every policy.

another swim mom

This times 10! I’ve seen this happen SO many times and it’s very frustrating.