10 Years As A Swimmer Parent: Is It Worth It?

by SwimSwam Contributors 13

April 24th, 2021 Lifestyle

Courtesy: Alan Atkinson

It’s 5:00 a.m. The alarm clock sets off, the one on the phone rang and another alarm buzzed on the other phone. Race day again. It would be the final time that my wife Jeannie and I would have to get up this early and get ready to go to a swimming pool (at least for a long time to come) for our daughter Laura Atkinson’s race championship at Bukit Jalil National Aquatic Stadium, Kuala Lumpur. It was the Malaysian International Open Swimming Championship, 2019.

This was the last day of the championship. It was to be Laura’s last swim races in Malaysia before she embarked on a new chapter in her life. She was going abroad to the U.S. for her tertiary education and University/college swimming. As I watched her load her swim gear in the car; I could not help but glance back over the years from when all this first began.

In 2007, when Laura was about six years old; we signed her up for swimming lessons at a small community club near our home. All was well with Laura at the kiddie pool – she played with all the other kids. This was fine and went on for a few weeks. When the serious lessons started, she wanted to quit as she didn’t like water splashing on her face. I made a deal with her that she could stop lessons as soon as she could swim better than me (not that I was anywhere close to the likes of Michael Phelps or Adam Peaty).

That day came not too long after when she could outswim me in distance and in speed. It was that time when she decided that she wanted to be a World Champion swimmer.

Laura’s first big-time championship competition (and a first for Jeannie and me as parents) was at the 2011 Selangor Age Group meet in Malaysia. We thought it was a weekend race, i.e. Friday thru Sunday. We did not realize that this championship started on Thursday which meant that Laura missed out on two events. It was a big event with over 1,000 swimmers participating that weekend. As new kids on the block; we hadn’t the faintest idea how these championships worked. In her first race, she won. We thought she was going to get a medal or something. We were just as excited as she was or more. But then, it was the second heat of 40 plus heats for that event. Haha. We learnt.

Laura kept on improving and getting better at each championship she participated in. Before long, she earned her way to being selected as a state swimmer representing Selangor. She was also amongst the top 3 in Malaysia for the 50m and 100m Breaststroke girls age group swimmers.

As parents, Jeannie and I were her anchor support. We were at most of her training sessions. Our willingness to see to it that she got to training, every day and on weekends, double sessions. Laura always pushed us to get her to training early, not on time because reaching on time meant being late. Being “on time” to her means getting off the block when the whistle blows; not getting ready to start her sets.

Jeannie and I were also at all her championship competitions, even when they were held in other parts of the country. On race day events which were sometimes four days per competition championship; we would be up at 4: 30 a.m. and off to the pool and only finish when the races for the day were over. That included the days when Laura travelled with the team. Many non-swimmer parents thought of us as stark-raving mad – sometimes Laura had only one event which lasted for 30 seconds, but we would be with her and the team the whole day until the end, to support them.

It has been two years since we last physically attended any of Laura’s races. But we are still with her at all her race championships right up until today, whenever Millikin University Swimming live streams its events; “Go Laura Go” cheering on top of our voices can still be heard, halfway round the world even though the time-zone difference is 13/14 hours. This translates to between 2-6 a.m. in Malaysia. We have become Millikin University Swimming fans.

These days, Jeannie & I spend our time talking with parents, encouraging them to dedicate some of their time towards their children’s interest in an extracurricular activity. We are more passionate when they talk about the idea of swimming and wanting their child to be a competitive swimmer. That’s right up our alley. It may prove challenging, but then, the rewards of them excelling in their field of interest would be all the worthwhile.

We have been asked many times whether if we had a chance to do this all over again, would we? The answer is a resounding, yes.


Alan is a writer, blogger and a motivational coaching for teenagers. His wife, Jeannie, is in business development and their child, Laura, is majoring in Entrepreneurship at Millikin University (class of 2023).

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1 month ago

Being a supportive parent of a swimmer is the easiest part of being a parent. Everything is clear here. But have you ever asked yourself if you are doing right things in the process of formation of a new person. You are sacrificing your time and some convenience of your life to support your child as a swimmer and think that that is what it means to be a parent. But using your influence you are actually pushing your child into the simplest type of competition teaching her that that is where real values of the life are. It can be that you are simply driven by the satisfaction of being a proud parent of a child who wins in… Read more »

Reply to  Yozhik
1 month ago

It is our obligation as parents to recognize needs and talents of our children and help them achieve their goals. The problem with that mother was she was expecting a “return on investment. ” Wrong approach. Try to do everything to make them good persons, good family members, good students, and then, if possible, good swimmers. I believe in old saying that you only take with you when you die only good things you do for others, and who is most deserving of your time and attention than your family. So, the question “Was it worth it” is a wrong one. It is always worth it. The right question is “Have I done it right? Have a helped them to… Read more »

Reply to  Yozhik
1 month ago

I doubt this article was intended to be a treatise on parenting and broader values Instead, the piece was likely meant to be about the family’s evolution within the sport, Laura’s commitment how they supported her and how they would do it again. The beauty of our sport is that the goal for most athletes is to better oneself. I wonder why Yozhik chose to offer a different spin ? For me it comes across as backhanded. If I’m wrong I apologize in advance Yozhik.
Congratulations to Laura and her parents on a wonderful journey. I’m willing to bet Laura has learned from her parents commitment (along with many other lessons they offered along the way). I wish the… Read more »

VA Steve
1 month ago

Nice story. Many of us root on our kids, talk them through adversity, support them when they are injured, and put our arms around them when they win or lose. The lessons learned in swimming are important and the discipline required to go to practice every day and learning a life-long sport are priceless. Sounds like the parents have helped develop the Millikin swimmer into a successful young woman. Congratulations.

Reply to  VA Steve
1 month ago

Thank you.

So confused
1 month ago

I appreciate many things that swimming has taught my kids. I like that they can always get better, when they age up they are usually at the bottom again, practice almost always makes progress, the ability to improve is something that they possess regardless of their circumstances, winning a specific event isn’t the goal usually (a time to get into a bigger faster meet is the goal 95% of the time), the importance of sleep and nutrition is essential to achieve and most importantly adversity is essential to build character and resilience. A swim family has given up many things throughout the years but gained so much in return. Swim has opened up many doors in my kids lives and… Read more »