6 Tips for Swim Parents About Letting Our Kids Take Ownership

by SwimSwam 19

July 28th, 2015 Club, College, Lifestyle, Opinion

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

Here’s a comment from a swim mom on “5 Tips for Swim Parents to Encourage Their Swimmers:”

“It is really important that the children take ownership. My daughter began swimming at a young age, and I had a goal which was to make sure she was fit. Now, I realize, after she turned 13 years, that she has the fitness bug. Now it is time for her to decide if she wants to place her energy into swim or another sport. Of course I cried over the possibility that she would not pick swim, but I am happy to know that whatever she decides for the sport of her choice I need to support her 100 percent. I hope you will write an article to elaborate on #2.”

Here is Tip #2 from that article: Remember that the sport belongs to your child. Let them take ownership and responsibility for their success.

How do we ensure that our child is “owning” their sport? What do we mean when we talk about ownership? I remember my daughter talking to her club coach after a race where she added time. He asked her about the swim. She knew exactly why she added time. “I didn’t give myself enough time to warm up,” she told him. Although the coach wasn’t thrilled with the swim, he did compliment her for taking ownership. She didn’t make excuses. She knew she had done less than her best to prepare for the race.

If your children take responsibility and ownership, then they most likely have intrinsic motivation and love swimming. We can encourage our kids to make good decisions, but it’s essentially your child who has to get to bed early on a Friday night to have a good Saturday practice, or want to get out of bed before school for dawn practices.

It’s okay for us to share in the ups and downs and feel excitement and disappointment with our kids’ swimming. But, what can we do to promote ownership? Mostly, I think it’s what we should NOT do. If we constantly talk about swimming, focus on times, and compare our swimmers with teammates, we are going to crush the fun and their consequential ownership of the sport.

Here are five tips on what not to do if you want your child to take ownership. I’m sure we are all guilty of some of these. We need to watch out and check ourselves if we’re going overboard.

  1. We take over. It’s easy to get overly involved by attending every workout, competition, and start coaching our kids. We use “we” and “our” when discussing their swims.
  2. Our kids are perfect. We overestimate how much talent or desire our kids have. We have unrealistic expectations for them, which may lead them to feel like a failure.
  3. We burden our kids. If you’re putting the weight of your happiness on your kid, your child is going to feel too much pressure. It’s no longer going to be fun for them if they fear you’ll be sad and disappointed if they don’t perform well.
  4. We live vicariously through our kids. Do we measure our success and failure with how well our kids perform? Are we more elated after a good swim, than our child is?
  5. We put a price tag on swimming. We tell our kids how much it costs in terms of money or time commitment. Or, we expect a pay off in the form of a scholarship. Let’s be supportive and not make our kids feel guilty for their commitment and dedication.
  6. Don’t set goals. We can suggest or encourage goal setting. But, if we want that Junior National or Junior Olympic cut—that’s our goal. Not theirs. Let them set their own goals and tell you what they are. Then you can share in the joy when they reach them.

We want our kids to have fun, be motivated and take ownership of their actions and outcomes.

What do you do to encourage your swimmer to develop ownership?

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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5 years ago

I am guilty of all of these – very humbling thank you.

Reply to  Coco
5 years ago

Got you beat. Only guilty of 2 thru 6.

Joel Lin
5 years ago

The sobering thing is we are all as parents guilty on that list because we invest so much in our kids’s enjoyment and fulfillment in what they do. I think the hardest part for me is stepping back and letting the outcomes happen and realizing they will happen anyways with out without my help or opinions. What we are all guilty of trying to buy or bargain is happiness. I’ll admit it took me a while to see that happiness is sometimes just a Blizzard at Dairy Queen and laughs among friends on the way home from the game. And as adults we all know there are very successful people who are also some of the most unhappy and unfulfilled… Read more »

5 years ago

If you’re waking your swimmer up for early morning practice you’re taking ownership. No excuses. If they are swimming for themselves they set alarms. Sometimes the alarm is set where i was required to break speed laws and when she drove the same was true but late to practice was never an option she chose for herself. The conversation over how fast i wanted to drive to achieve her goal was our issue until she drove herself.

5 years ago

More than 50 percent of college swimmers do not swim for more than two years. Why? They finally don’t have someone forcing them to go to the pool. I have watched swimmers graduate from our club for years and only a very few swam for a full four year college career. Most quit after or during their second year. The “dawn practices” are mentioned in this article. Usa swimming should look at the sleep patterns and requirements of teenagers and eliminate the predawn practices. They aren’t good for anyone and not necessary. Make it a mandate. In our club the 15 to 18 year old group has about 40 kids and 30 of them are there because their parents think… Read more »

Coach John
Reply to  Realswimmom
5 years ago

5/4 of all statistics are pulled out of thin air or are based on a personal experience

Dr. Stats
Reply to  Coach John
5 years ago

The other 5/4 are pulled out of thick air or based on personal preferences. 8 out of 10 doctors surveyed for this comment agree.

I read a study that correlates an improvement in college scholarship opportunities from a club to a raise in salariy of that clubs coaches.

Reply to  Realswimmom
5 years ago

50% huh? I know that much more than 50% of my class swam all 4 years in college. Much more than 50% of the class below me swam all 4 years. And the ones that did quit, it wasn’t because they didn’t have mom or dad forcing them to go anymore. It was because they lost their love for the sport, got injured, or didn’t work hard and therefore didn’t swim well, and got discouraged. And for some it just got to the point where it was time to focus more on academics and other life ambitions, rather than focus on swimming. And for a few I know, it was because the college experience wasn’t as good for them as… Read more »

Reply to  Realswimmom
5 years ago

If USAS eliminated pre-dawn practices, many Clubs wouldn’t have enough water time to train their athletes. Unless you own your own pool (very few Clubs do), you take what you can get in terms of water time. Got another solution?

Reply to  Realswimmom
5 years ago

Oh, and if parents think there is a “scholarship bonanza” (especially parents of boys), they haven’t done their research very well.

5 years ago

This is a great article. I struggle as a coach with the idea of ownership with my swimmers. Something that I think is missing from this list is: don’t supply your child with a ready list of excuses when they don’t reach their goals. (e.g. “Coach didn’t have you practice enough turns.” “The starter was bad.” etc.)

I have a few parents that do that, and without fail it is their children that are the ones who lack focus and/or commitment in practice. If you give your child the opportunity to take ownership, and they fail to follow through, don’t supply them with the excuses that they need to blame someone else for their failures.

Related to that,… Read more »

Texas Flyer
5 years ago

Of course I am guilty of most all of these. But I’m sure we can all agree that most parents are responding directly to expressions/statements/energies/interest level from the child athletes themselves? What parent doesn’t pour their energy, time, money and such toward encouragement and guidance, especially in a sport that pays off in longevity (basically we’re going to be able to swim into old age).

YES, it’s “The How” encouragement, support, (and like it or not) “push” is exercised is what’s at issue here.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m big on “practical dreaming”, because when my daughter talks about wanting to go to J.O.s….sorry, I’m not going to stand by and let it be an empty proclamation. If… Read more »

5 years ago

I do all of these and regret it every time. The truth is that just like my swimmer is learning balance, boundaries and ownership of her goals, I also am learning…how to guide a child to HER goals in a realistic manner, how to be a supportive and loving parent without becoming one of “the crazies” and communicate effectively with someone who hasn’t fully developed that skill. It won’t go perfectly and I’m going to make these mistakes along the way. I will take ownership of that and hopefully she will help guide me in my goal of being the awesome mom that she deserves.

Reply to  TheDriver
5 years ago

It’s important to understand, in the overall umbrella of child development, that kids develop at different rates. This includes their physical and athletic development, as well as their emotional development. Some kids are more advanced than others in their independence and assertiveness; other kids need more guidance. Kids are all different.

5 years ago

im guilty to most of it ?. My son is 17, he’s on his last year of swimming and as much as I want to take over I back out just because of respect to him and giving him more responsibility. BUT my 12 year old? Oh my! I will have to read this article over and over again. Thank you for another great article!