4 Tips for Swim Parents on Why We Shouldn’t Coach Our Kids

by SwimSwam 20

September 17th, 2017 Club, Lifestyle, Opinion

Courtesy of  Elizabeth Wickham

If you are a coach and your son or daughter is on your team, then this article is not for you. This is for us on the sidelines, the parents who give their swimmers tips, thinking we’ll help our kids improve. This is where the old adage, “coaches coach, swimmers swim and parents parent” comes into play.

We’ve all seen parents who coach their kids. They watch carefully at practice and meets. On the ride home, they give their two cents worth on their kids’ kick and they talk about walls. I’m guilty of this myself. There are parents who bring their children to the pool so they can work on their strokes—outside of team practice. Then, there are parents who coach their kids before and after each race. I’ve watched parents at the edge of the pool, during practice, shout corrections to their swimmers and videotape practices, too. We have our kids’ best interests at heart, so what could possibly be wrong with this?

Here are four reasons why you shouldn’t coach your child:



Who should your child listen to? You or their coach? Since we don’t know exactly what the coach is working on, or why they are working on something, we might give contrary advice. Your child will be torn and question their coach’s authority—or worse yet—resent your interfering. In the end, they will be confused.



When we offer a critique of our kids’ swimming, they don’t know that our intentions are pure. They don’t realize that we might have a suggestion that is spot on. Instead, they internalize the comment and often believe they are letting us down. I know we don’t want to make our kids feel like they’ve disappointed us. Instead, we want them to know how proud we are of their efforts.



I’m sure there are swim parents out there who know a ton about swimming, including Janet Evans and Dara Torres. However, for most of us swim parents, we should leave the coaching to the experts. I will not pretend as a swim parent and new Masters swimmer to know one one-hundredth as much about technique, strategy, or strength and conditioning as our swim coach.



By supporting and cheering on the sidelines, and not giving advice, we can help our kids have fun. Our kids probably don’t find it fun to listen to us telling them to work on turns or to keep their heads down. Let your swimmer swim and your coaches coach. We have the most rewarding job of all. We are the parent—the driver, the cheerleader, the one with nourishment, and the provider of unconditional love.

What have you seen when parents coach their kids?

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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5 years ago

Good list. Spot on. Never gonna happen.

A coach and a parent
5 years ago

One of the greatest things swimming can provide to your child is being able to rehearse setting goals, maintaining a schedule, and learning about themselves in a safe environment. If you are controlling that situation as a parent you are missing the opportunity to let them try it on their own while you are still there for support. When you give them the opportunity to prove how capable they are, it will save you a lot of anxiety when they leave the nest and are forced to do it.

Jodi A. Mejia
5 years ago

Any suggestions on how to handle this with the athlete when he/she tells the coach…. “My mom/dad said I should do it this way” or “My mom/dad said I need to work on insert subject here”?

5 years ago

I’m the type who thinks my kids always do great and has the best form. And I have kids who always says: I could’ve done better. I’m not a swimmer so I put all the job to their coaches. I’m just on the sideline who cheer but hides every time they swim the hard ones.
But I’ve seen parents who thinks they’re better than the coaches ?

5 years ago

I agree with letting coaches do their job. Parents need to just let kids listen to the authority of their coach. This is the best opportunity for your child to be responsible for themselves. This is a great sport which shows how to manage time and schedules. Have you ever noticed that most swimmers are also the best students? Time management And independence are crucial life skills that are the so important for these kids to have. It will follow them forever. Let your kids go !!! We will not always be there for them as they grow up.

5 years ago

There are exceptions, I believe. A lot depends on context. If your child actively solicits your opinion; if you actually know something; and you couch everything in a tone that acknowledges the absolute authority of the coach. I think this topic is radioactive. We are encouraged to participate with and talk to our kids in almost every endeavor? Why should swim be so incredibly different? If you already have a rapport with your kid, but then suddenly tell her “I have nothing to say about that” it’s just awkward. As long as you are only a sounding board, and always defer to the coach, I can’t understand the harm. And, given that there is a 0.0% chance parents will every… Read more »

Reply to  Dean
5 years ago

How do you respond when you don’t know about an issue your child is soliciting your opinion on? Instead of looking up self help internet sites or answering based on what you know, develop a rapport between your child, coach and yourself by setting up a meeting to discuss the issue, even if you know the answer! This will teach your child that you respect the coach’s authority and you will have his respect AND, most coaches, coaches love to teach, which will show your child (swimmer) the coach cares… Competitive swimming for age group is a LONGGGG Process. You must learn to crawl before you walk, walk before you run… Baby Steps is the best way to develop your… Read more »

5 years ago

I am more than happy to pay the coach to coach my kid and its one less thing I have to worry about. I stick to the standard clichés when evaluating my daughters swimming at meets and then I let her tell me whether or not she dropped time even though I usually already know.

5 years ago

What if your child’s coach sucks? I mean the whole entire coaches team sucks. And after two weeks in the pool, he loses his beautiful butterfly and breast strokes that he learnt from his previous team. We have no other team choice to choose from.

Reply to  Monica
5 years ago

As a parent you should talk to the other parents about possibly hiring a new coach. Or go on youtube and have him watch videos to improve technique. Dont make you child think your trying to pressure him or lecturing him, it gets old fast. Recommend doing cross training, lift weights and start running.

Reply to  Monica
5 years ago

Just another perspective…Is it possible too, Monica, that his strokes were maybe inefficient, or being swum in a way that might cause injury to an age group swimmer (head or hand position issues putting strain on shoulders, etc) and the coach has to correct this? Fixing issues like that can mean a step back.

In any case, have you and your athlete met with the coach to discuss your concerns and get some perspective as to what the coach’s plan may be?

Coach and Parent
Reply to  Monica
3 years ago

Monica, you just made the assumption that you know what the perfect technique is. What if what you think is a beautiful stroke is actually an incorrect one (as Jennifer noted)? This is exactly where the problem starts….parents assuming they know about swimming than the coaches. I am sure there are some that do but I would expect that the majority do not (and nor should they, it’s not their job). By saying a parent doesn’t know everything about swimming is often times taken as an insult, but I don’t believe that it is. This doesn’t make you a bad parent. Perhaps encouraging the board to send the coaches to some clinics and professional development would help if the coaches… Read more »