I discovered the sport of swimming completely by chance. My swim lesson instructor encouraged me to try a meet, and I thought, why not? But when it turned out that I had a future in the sport, and more importantly, that I loved it, I think I threw my parents through a major loop.
It wasn’t until I progressed deep into the competitive swimming world that I realized what an anomaly I was. Nearly all of my teammates swam alongside their siblings, and many were even second, third, or fourth generation swimmers. Being the only swimmer child from non-swimming parents is a rarity, and it’s a different angle to the athletic life.
1) Your parents sometimes say the wrong thing.
I’ll never forget excitedly running up to my mom after a great race. “Mom!” I exclaimed. “I did it! I negative split my 500!”
My mom looked at me and replied, “Oh, honey. I’m so sorry.”
I had to stop and re-think. “Mom, a negative split is when you swim the second half your race faster than the first half. It’s exactly what you want. It’s the goal.”
2) Sometimes, your parents say the exact perfect thing.
My mom, somewhat jokingly, referred to herself as “the worst swim parent” because she never knew any of my best times. Her philosophy was “I’ll know how you did when I check your seed time and then look at the reaction on your face.” My biggest pet peeve was when my teammates tried to congratulate me on a bad race. We’ve all experienced that bummed out feeling that comes from blowing a race, and hearing “Great swim!” afterwards just made it so much worse. It wasn’t until I sided up to my parents post-race and they smirked and me and stated, “Well, that sucked,” that I finally felt okay. I know it, they knew it, and we accepted it and moved on.
3) Your teammates become like knowledgeable older siblings to you by default.
Seasoned swim parents know all the best meets and how they work. For me, my meet schedule was up to my coach and I…with a little help from my teammates. I met my now best friend on my first day on a USA Swimming club team. “So what meets are you going to this summer?” I stared at her blankly while she rattled off the names of meets that sounded like code. A? A/B? A/B/C Summer League? “Okay,” she finally stated. “Here are all the best meets that you should you register for. Some because you’ll get good racing experience, and some because you’ll get a sick goody bag.”
Buying my first real racing suit struck a fear in me akin to buying my first bra. There are so many sizes and fabrics and the straps are weird and I don’t know if this fits properly and HELP!!! I meekly approached my teammate in the locker room post-practice:
“I…uh…I need to buy a fast suit for Trials.”
“But…how do I know which one to buy? I don’t know what I need and I don’t want to get the wrong one.”
Bless her, she sat down with me and we went over all the styles, sizes, and brands until I knew exactly what I needed.
That didn’t stop the sticker shock once I went with my parents to buy it. The suit costs how much and lasts for how few meets?! Welcome to the crazy world of swimming!
4) The day your parents are accepted by the other swim moms and dads is a proud day for you both.
Mom! She let you borrow her highlighter! You’re in. Even better is when they assimilate. When my college team traveled to my hometown, my teammate pointed to the stands and asked, “Which one is your dad?”
I answered, “The guy to the far left!”
She replied, “You mean the guy wearing all the team gear? They make baseball caps with our team logo? I didn’t know that!”
…and I didn’t know my dad owned one.
5) Swimmers themselves or not, they were the best swim parents for you.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my swimming career was a leap of faith. And I will always be grateful to my parents for letting me have something in my life that was wholly and uniquely my own, and for trusting me enough to let me go into a world they knew nothing of, only knowing that I knew it was the right place for me. When my mom admitted to tearing up when I went behind the blocks for my last race, I got emotional too. Somewhere along the years of confusion and fun and six A.M. practices, I became a swimmer, and she became a swim mom.
Worst swim parent ever? More like anything but.