5 Traps Swim Parents Should Avoid

by SwimSwam Contributors 7

September 05th, 2019 Lifestyle, Swim Mom

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

Has your child ever ignored or withdrawn when you talked to them after a race? We think our kids understand that our advice comes from a good place. In reality, they may be interpreting our words and body language entirely differently than how we intended.

In a webinar by David Benzel called “5 Powerful Strategies for Sports Parents Success,” he describes five traps we fall into, their consequences and then gives a prescription for better results. Benzel founded “Growing Champions for Life” and offers monthly webinars and works with organizations like USA Swimming to help parents and athletes.

I fell into some of the traps Benzel mentioned — like focusing on performance and riding the emotional rollercoaster at meets. I wish I had recognized these pitfalls earlier in my swim mom career.

Here are five traps Benzel described along with consequences and what we can do to turn the situation around:


Trap: Making our children’s sport the center of our universe.

Consequence: Pressure to win replaces the joy of the journey.

Rx: Focus on family core values and the large character issues that lead to a life well lived. Core values may include integrity, honesty, hard work, etc.


Trap: Strong urge to “tell” rather than “ask.”

Consequence: Children clam up, shut down and stop sharing information.

Rx: Be curious, listen first and wait to be invited into the conversation. Be ready to say, “Tell me more.”


Trap: Trying to light a fire under your child.

Consequence: Child fails to take responsibility for finding their own motivation.

Rx: Demonstrate an inspiring example with your own life and create an inspiring environment that rewards effort at home.


Trap: Over analyzing technique and critiquing performance outcomes.

Consequence: Resentment and defensiveness as your child fears disappointing you.

Rx: Allow performance to belong to your child. Provide unconditional love regardless of performance levels.


Trap: Showing disappointment with your body language during competitions.

Consequence: Interpretation by children is “I’m not good enough” and reduced confidence.

Rx: Restrain our emotional responses from being too high or too low. In other words, try to get off the emotional roller coaster.

Which of these traps have you fallen into as a swim parent? What strategies have you used when you realize the conversation isn’t going well with your child?

Elizabeth 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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3 years ago

The worst part is that many times parent’s expectations rub off on their kids, which leads to young swimmers who get stressed and burnt out. Many of my best age group swimmers came from supportive, but mostly hands off parents who trusted the program/coach.

Reply to  MKW
3 years ago

MKW…you must be a coach. Getting your kid to the top involves every box being ticked. Genetics is the first one. this day and age your daughter has to be 178cm or taller. Son has to be over 185cm. Coach…..you cannot afford to have a dud coach or else you fall off the ladder and never get back on. if the coach is not producing the goods, change coaches or clubs. Pathway times / Benchmarks……you have to stick with the record times or top contenders in your age group to stay on that ladder. its easier to maintain and stay on top. Don’t get injured……once you had a bad injury it is near impossible to come back. the harsh reality… Read more »

Reply to  BronzedAussie
3 years ago

What you said is true of an elite athlete. However, many kids swim to get in shape, be with friends, and compete at a lower level. When parents start to micro-manage every aspect of their kid’s sport, especially at a young age, I’ve seen this push kids away or they become stressed out.

Parents have every right to change coaches and decide where their child swims or who coaches them. I’ve just seen too many parents jump in and expect their child to be the next Phelps. As a parent maybe think what the kid wants from the experience not what you want.

Reply to  MKW
3 years ago


I laughed out loud at this “I’ve just seen too many parents jump in and expect their child to be the next Phelps.”

2 different sets of parents in 2 months:
“My kid’s going to the Olympics. She was the best at ABC Swim Center!”
“Are you going to be Junior’s Bob Bowman?? If not, we’re going to find someone who is.”

And, I laughed out loud after hearing these statements from parents. Their kids were 8 and already mom & dad were making hotel reservations in Omaha. They still don’t know how preposterous they sound.

Reply to  BronzedAussie
3 years ago

Wrong wrong wrong about kid height. There are plenty of examples of successful kids who are not tall. Provide limits for the kids and they will fit them. Read some John Wooden – he rarely had the tallest team, but won 10 March madness championships in a sport where size does matter.

Also, a couple of injuries were a gift to my eldest.

Reply to  BronzedAussie
3 years ago

No you don’t need to be in touch with the records or top times if your going to make it in the long run. Plenty of examples of age group champions who never made open national teams and plenty of examples of adult national swimmers who middled around in age group swimming.

3 years ago

My parents did all of these and yeah can confirm you shouldn’t do those