6 Tips for Swim Parents About Board Members

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

In response to a comment on a recent story—here are my thoughts about serving on the swim team’s board.

Here’s the comment:

“Could you please write an article about what it is like to be a board member/fundraiser/publicist/recruiter to a summer age group program…..All the behind the scenes stuff & how we work for FREE! That small things such as reading your email before you ask questions or remembering that we have to be at work in the morning and maybe your question can wait until the sun comes up…. We are also swim parents who really want to see our kid swim as well.”

Personally, I never wanted or intended to be a board member. But, when I was asked—for some unknown reason—I agreed. I served several terms on our parent-owned, year-round team.

One of our requirements was to attend a class by USA Swimming, the Club Leadership and Business Management School. We learned how to create a mission statement and what our roles should be. We broke things into “wet issues” for the coaches and “dry issues” for the board. Keeping the team afloat financially was our first responsibility.

Prior to joining the board, I had absolutely no idea what the swim team’s board did. Or, that our team had an annual budget of more than $150K. After I became a board member, I learned that members were often unhappy with us. Like when we voted to combine Saturday practices for our team, versus holding practice at two separate pools. Our objective was not to treat the families from the satellite pool like “a red-headed step-child,” of which we were accused. We wanted to get the kids together one day a week for team bonding—and save $1,500 monthly in pool fees. Better communication might have helped get our side of the story out.

Here’s a few tips to understand the roles of your board members:

  1. Board members are swim parents, too. They want the best for their swimmers and the team. They’d like some time to enjoy a swim meet and to watch their swimmers race.
  2. Being a board member can be time consuming. Many unscheduled issues arise that have to be dealt with right away. Plus, we still have our families, our kids, and very often—full time jobs.
  3. We take our service seriously. Often we have hours of debate and do tons of research before we vote. If you question a decision, talk to board members and ask what led to their decision.
  4. Board members need help. I remember feeling overwhelmed with writing the newsletter, press releases, going to schools with fliers, signing people up to help with team banquets, etc. I was thrilled when I could get other parents to volunteer.
  5. We work for free. Although serving on the board sometimes felt like a full-time job—it wasn’t. It was a volunteer position that didn’t give me or my kids any perks. Swimming is the best activity my kids have ever been involved in. I was happy to give back and I wanted our team to be successful. 
  6. If you have an issue that you’re concerned about, please talk to a board member or your kid’s coach. Don’t talk about it with other parents on deck. After 14 years, I have never seen a problem resolved with parents discussing it among themselves.

What tips do you have to better understand what it’s like to be a board member?

Elizabeth Wickham

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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6 years ago

Parent boards are the main problem with club swimming today. Personal agendas, not seeing big picture, feeling of being in a position of control (usually of coaches), not having a specific role or duty on the board, and overstepping their role in dispute resolution are a few of the problems with parent boards.

Coaches are now ridding themselves of parent boards by owning their team, rewriting bylaws to allow non club-member professionals or other coaches on the board, and creating booster clubs vs board.

It’s been proven for years that ‘the system’ is inherently flawed. Many good coaches out of the sport or continually seeking employment bc a few parents didn’t like a comment by a coach.

Colonel Trautman
Reply to  Rambo
6 years ago

Rambo’s comments are spot on. Taking his ‘inherently flawed’ statement even further, parent run BOD’s are a failed system for club teams that more often than not result in actions towards the team and swimmers that are not progressive. New models of swim team operation, that do not include amateur parents dictating policy and direction, are needed. Time to revamp the existing system to create a highway for the athletes instead of a parking lot filled with speed bumps.

Reply to  Rambo
6 years ago

you know when this article first came out I had a comment that basically said I have had nothing but bad experiences with board because they have all been parent boards. I was shooed out of one club because I took A relay spots, but the board told the coach they felt I was too old to be swimming with their elite group. I was 23. the club I last swam for was coach owned, coach run, with a board but not parents, well one was but it was a former swimmers parent. that club ran smooth with no problems.

6 years ago

Anyone find the problem with #6 is that all Board members say that, but when you actually try to talk to them they dismiss you without even listening? I find many parents disconnect themselves from other parents when they become members of the board and their concerns become different from the other parents on the team. Maybe this is because with more information they see and are concerned with the bigger picture or because they know of a larger concern looming on the horizon that will take priority to the one the non-board parents are concerned about. But if everyone is talking about it on the deck it’s a problem the board needs to be addressing whether they find it… Read more »

6 years ago

I’m wondering if as a member of the team are we suppose to know our board members? I only know one board member from our team but I don’t know the rest. I have no problem with it because I can always talk to our coach for concerns and questions. We have swim boosters who we can easily access too. I never knew we had one until one day we had a parent who questioned our team and that’s how I found out we do have a board. We are fairly new to the team (4 years) and we are happy and content of our kids swim team.
Thank you for another article Elizabeth!

6 years ago

Elizabeth, what recommendations do you have for board that is not reachable? We don’t have emails for board members, and board meeting is not communicated to the team. Things have gotten so bad at our team that the police were called because of a fist fight between our coaches at JOs. I don’t think the board knows.

Elizabeth Wickham
Reply to  SCSC Mom
6 years ago

Oh my! That sounds crazy. Do you have a parent-owned or coach-owned team? Ours, fortunately converted to a coach-owned team and everything seems to run much better. I guess in your case you might want to ask a coach for board member information? Good luck!

Reply to  Elizabeth Wickham
6 years ago

We have a board. Nothing is on team website. The board is all parents of older kids who do not go to JOs, but we need them to help make our team safe and happy for kids.

Reply to  SCSC Mom
6 years ago

We used to be on SCSC. It is not the same club that it was when it produced Olympians. The head coach is floating on early retirement, he will not let Caleb do his job, and the board members do not change. No one answers questions. They just blame each other. Move your kid to a team that cares.

swim parent
6 years ago

Handling communications is a big issue. Our kids used to swim for a pretty big & very reputable team that has a long track record of producing nationally & internationally ranked athletes. BUT communications were a problem. Communication issues such as:

1. head coach wouldn’t tell any of the parents who was on the board or how to contact them
2. head coach wouldn’t inform any of the parents of when board meetings were held
3. board meeting minutes were never published & distributed to families
4. parents were not given a means to communicate their concerns to the board after talking with the coaches fell on deaf ears.

We now swim with a different team that… Read more »

Reply to  swim parent
6 years ago

Were you on SCSC to? What group were your kids in?

Swim parent
6 years ago

Nope! We were with a different team.

6 years ago

So much of this is in the communication. I’ve been part of several teams over the years and none were perfect… But the best one had the best communication. We’ve been part of another team that has no website and communication happens all word of mouth and very infrequent emails. We don’t even know when a. Meet changed…. And good luck knowing practice time changed for next week because your 11yo didn’t remember to tell you when he was tired after practice. Lastly, I totally agree on the comment re #6. When the board members are friendly to everyone we can reconsider. I have yet to see that, and they are often on a power trip and doing the job… Read more »

6 years ago

Boards need to be more transparent and one of their main priorities needs to be effective communication that reaches all members. I’ve experienced, and heard of, many boards where the “special” parents (aka board members) set up a clique around them, and ensure only they are “in the know”. This leaves other parents and often their swimmers, with a lack of information or understanding.

Sometimes, there are good reasons for decisions. However, if only the Board members and their best friends know about them, then other parents — who are simply trying to be supportive team members, will have questions, and will talk to each other.

Board members need to be leaders that are democratic, welcoming, and inclusive. Swim… Read more »

About Tony Carroll

Tony Carroll

The writer formerly known as "Troy Gennaro", better known as Tony Carroll, has been working with SwimSwam since April of 2013. Tony grew up in northern Indiana and started swimming in 2003 when his dad forced him to join the local swim team. Reluctantly, he joined on the condition that …

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