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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Life Long Swimmer
6 years ago

Our summer board has no knowledge of competitive swimming. They run it to benefit their children and their friends. I realize they do put in a lot of time, but the time is all directed towards how they can improve things for their children and their friends. The team as a whole is never considered. They have destroyed what once was a good team. I attempted to speak to one of the board members once about an issue and I was told he didn’t want to deal with me. (I’m really not that hard to deal with!) Back when we had good coaches, the board did not allow them to do anything to benefit the swimmers. They thought they knew… Read more »

7 years ago

It’s nice to know that other swim parents are just as disgruntled as we are. Our board is nothing more than a clique of parents who make decisions without holding meetings and other parents are left in the dark. Our swim team posted this article on their Facebook page without realizing that the parents would take the time to scoll down to the comments. I hope they also read the comments and understand that they need to be more communicative and transparent. By the way, this is intended for a Lehigh Valley swim team!

Past Board Member / Swim Parent
7 years ago

Having been on both sides and certainly did more than most for volunteering, I can definitely say that communication is the most important aspect of any club. I have only once been part of a club where communication was considered important, where board meetings were set at a time and place where parents could easily attend, where important decisions were communicated to all members, and where everyone felt they were truly part of the organization. Sadly the norm is a secretive board such as I’m experiencing now. Posted minutes have been “sanitized”, large portions of the meetings are held with no one except board members allowed to attend, meeting times/dates changed with no notice and on and on.

So… Read more »

Board Member/Swim Dad
7 years ago

We definitely aren’t getting a full picture here. Better communication and better understanding is needed on BOTH sides.

My board tries very hard to do the best job possible for ALL the kids. The job takes a ton of time, more time than I ever thought possible. And what takes the longest? Swim parents who complain about how things are but never want to lend a hand to help.

It’s funny – I don’t think any of our volunteer parents ever complain about anything (and I don’t just mean the board members – I mean even our timers don’t complain). The worst offenders are the people who think they have joined a country club where everyone must do… Read more »

Reply to  Board Member/Swim Dad
7 years ago

On every team we’ve been on, timing and volunteering is required, or the parents will be fined.

BASIC communication is missing at so many clubs: a complete website, email blasts, a process for coach/athlete and coach/parent and parent/board member communication, etc. At so many teams, only the parents of the fast swimmers are in the know.

7 years ago

As a board member, I’d like to ammend #6 – don’t talk to a board member. Put it in writing to the whole board. Anything you tell a board member about while sitting in the bleachers at a meet might not get properly represented on down the line. Better yet, attend a board meeting and get involved. You will get a much better understanding of why things are the way they are. Believe me, it’s probably more complicated than you think.

Reply to  SwimMom
7 years ago

Parent run boards ruin everything. You would do the world a great deal of good by stopping this disservice to humanity. Just look at what happened to the Newberg sea creatures coach. The parents were all those of younger swimmers and complained about the head coach doing his job and coaching the highest level of the club. Parents on the board are usually a bunch of idiots.

7 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 »

7 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 »

Swim parent
7 years ago

Nope! We were with a different team.

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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