Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham
If you’ve watched I, Tonya, you’ve witnessed one of the worst sports parents in history. Tonya Harding’s mom started her with a skating coach way too young, was pushy, plus verbally and physically abusive. Thankfully, that type of sports parent is not the norm. Still, we need to remember that we can’t want it more than our kids. When parents are passionate about swimming they can cross the line between being supportive to overbearing. We know how beneficial swimming—or any youth sports—can be for our kids. We don’t want our kids sitting in their rooms on their computers or phones. We want them to be active, healthy and having fun. The pool is a perfect place to let them build friendships and life skills. We need to be supportive and get them to practice without taking over.
Here are six hints parents might like swimming more than their children:
Your swimmer often has too much homework to attend practice or feels sick when a meet comes up. Not wanting to be at the pool may be a sign that a child isn’t enjoying swimming as much as they used to. Take the opportunity to talk and find out why. Remember that the number one reason why kids quit sports is that “it’s no longer fun.”
Does your swimmer set goals alone or with their coach? Or, is a parent dictating goals for their child? I believe parents can point out what big meets are out there and what times are needed, but we can’t make the goals for our children. They have to want it themselves.
Children need to have ownership in their sport, but if a parent is more passionate than they are, they may take away the feeling that it’s the child’s sport. Have you noticed a parent talk about how “we” won a race, or how “we” are taking private lessons? That’s a warning bell that a parent is living vicariously through their child and has taken over ownership.
The pressure to perform shouldn’t be more important than the joy of swimming. By putting too much emphasis on times and comparing our child to other swimmers, we can unknowingly add pressure. We need to look at the big picture that regardless of our child’s time or place, they are learning good sportsmanship, growing as a person and learning other life lessons from the experience.
Parents can be involved and supportive of their swimmer and team, but their level of interest should be equal to their child’s. I read where we should be following our children’s lead, just a few steps behind. It’s so important to let our kids know we enjoy their sport and watching them swim. Without our enthusiasm, they may lose interest, but it can’t be our sole focus, either.
Many parents have their kids commit to a swimming for a specific amount of time, like a season or a full year. At the end of the commitment, parents and kids can talk about if it’s something they want to continue. If a parent feels like it would be the end of the world if their swimmer wants to try another activity, it’s another sign that the parent is more passionate than their child.
What are other signs that parents are more passionate about swimming than their children?
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: http://bleuwater.me/.