6 Tips for Swim Parents on Why Swimmers Quit

by SwimSwam 62

May 27th, 2017 Club, Lifestyle, Opinion

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

Every year, tens of millions of kids sign up for sports in the United States. Several studies say that 70 percent of these kids will quit playing sports by age 13—and never play again. I wonder what the numbers are for swimming? And worldwide? I doubt it’s much better. Take a look at your swim team. You may notice less swimmers in their last years of high school than in younger age groups.

Why do kids quit swimming? The number one reason: “It’s no longer fun.” Kids would rather do something else. A former coach told me he lost many high school swimmers once they started dating or got a car.

Here are six parent tips on why kids think swimming is no longer fun:


Kids want to be with their friends.

If they don’t have a few close friends on their team, it can be hard. Maybe their close friends moved or switched teams. Teammates can help make practice fun. Hopefully, team bonding is encouraged and there are fun activities that bring teammates together.


Too much parental pressure—or not enough!

Parenting is a balancing act. We cannot be overly, emotionally invested in our kids’ performance. Yet, we have to be interested enough to get our kids to practice and meets and watch once in awhile. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum and either one can take the fun out of swimming for your child.


The drive home.

I’ve read countless articles that say the ride home from a competition can be the reason why kids quit. Parents may rehash what their children did well and what they need to work on. They might criticize the coach or officials and blame them for less than stellar results. Experts recommend letting your kids have some time to let their own thoughts sink in. You may want to say something like, “I love watching you swim,” or “What did you like about today?” What worked for us was blasting our kids’ favorite music all the way home and inviting their friends for the drive, too.


Not getting any better.

If your swimmer is comparing themselves with teammates, he or she may feel they aren’t good enough. It’s only natural that kids will compare. They are in the lanes with their teammates and competing with them at meets. Kids are all different and they improve at different ages. But, it’s hard for your swimmers to stay passionate if they don’t believe in themselves.


Too much homework.

Not all kids can handle four to five hours of homework or more per night, practice every afternoon, plus a.m. practice. Some kids thrive with a demanding schedule, but it’s not for everyone. It all depends on the child. I enjoyed teachers who understood kids have busy lives and did all their work in class. Too bad there aren’t more teachers with that attitude.


The coach.

Your kids may lose a coach they connected with. Or, your swimmers may think their coach has favorites and they aren’t one of them. Coaches can lead the way to success and help your swimmer improve, but as one of my kids’ coaches explained, “You swim because you love it. You cannot let a coach determine how you feel about swimming.”

At some point, our kids will decide if swimming is their passion, and if it is, nothing will keep them out of the pool.

Why do you think swimmers quit at age 13 or older?

Elizabeth WickhamElizabeth 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.

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

The main reason why swimmers quit in high school is the early am practice. period.

USA swimming should “outlaw” morning practices until children are seniors in high school.

Our team has practice from 5:30 am till 7:00 am 2 x per week with saturday morning practices starting at 6:30 am. 20 hours total practice time per week with an expected attendance at 7 out of 8.

This is not healthy, safe or fun for anyone. This would be the main reason why swimmers quit in high school. This schedule is for military training not “fun”. I have a swimmer at a top 10 D1 college that doesn’t have a schedule this demanding. In addition, collegiate swimmers have more time… Read more »

Mom of 3 swimmers
5 years ago

I agree 100% with your statements. At the very least, the manditory a.m. attendance should be off the table until senior year. If they want to offer a.m. workouts as an option, fine. But our team requires a similar schedule to the one you described all through the teen years, and it seems to result in far too many overuse injuries as well as burnout. Our daughter just walked away from the sport during her junior HS year because she realized the rigors of the double practices left no room for proper studying, volunteer work (to prepare for nursing school), choir experiences, and personal development opportunities in church. She’s planning to swim the high school season, but just didn’t feel… Read more »

Reply to  Mom of 3 swimmers
4 years ago

My daughter quit swimming because the coach demanded a schedule from 11-12 year olds that is not seen in college. She spent 6 months saying she hated it, hated him, hated water and everything to do with it. Next week she starts with a new swim team. Her choice, she misses it but she will not go back to that coach. I think it’s wrong to say that the coach has no influence, if the coach undermines your confidence in your own ability, criticises instead of providing constructve feedback, teaches one way and one way only despite the vast differences in motivation, ability etc then a child will quit because they cannot keep up under that kind of negative barrage… Read more »

Reply to  KSPSG
4 years ago

Not sure why all these initial comments get negative votes. Sounds like very reasonable concerns. Too many teams require young swimmers to attend 8 practices per week, then look around and see who hasn’t quit due to boredom, injuries, or illness. “Oh these must be the talented swimmers” we say.

And because of that I worry we leave an enormous amount of talent on the wayside. It is possible there are very talented young swimmers who can achieve elite levels, but are unable to recover from 8 practices per week. They can get to the same place, they just need more time. Especially the handful of born sprinters. They are very fast but need more recovery.

Reply to  KSPSG
10 months ago

Agree – a coach who is more invested in only certain children and constantly offers praise to the same children, regardless of their performance, has a profound effect on a child’s confidence and desire to swim. Coaches need to check themselves regularly, it is their duty as a coach to not allow this to be a pattern of behavior.

Love my Swimmer
5 years ago

My 13 year old swims 3 weekday mornings, 5 afternoons and every Saturday morning. Her long days start in the pool at 5:30am, then after school practice ending at 6pm. I never push her to go…it is totally her choice. She looks forward to meeting her swim family on deck every day. She comes home beaming when she’s out swam her teammates in a set at practice. She chooses to get up at 4:30am, and to make it to every practice, unless she has a heavy load of homework, or a school event that interferes. I don’t agree that morning practices burn out swimmers. It totally depends on the athlete and their love for the sport.

A Parent Who Did Quit Years Ago
Reply to  Love my Swimmer
5 years ago

After having quit swimming myself years ago, I was very concerned about my child quitting swimming. At the age of 12 my daughter started to get much better in the sport. She had asked me to swim more often, but as a parent, I voiced my concern and would only allow her to swim 3 times a week and maybe 4 times a week once a month. She wanted to swim 2 a days in the summer season and I would not allow that until she reached high school swimming. I did not want her to get burned out. I wanted to make sure she always had room to improve and not have her peak like I had seen many… Read more »

I hate myself
Reply to  Love my Swimmer
3 years ago

Your 13 year old is a legend

4 years ago

I’m not entirely sure I agree it’s a matter of early hours that bothers all teens. I think getting up at 5am in November is a very different experience in Florida versus Minnesota. That being said I certainly think society could re-think the way middle school and high school is run. An emphasis on compassion and understanding what teens go through is much preferred to, as you say, the military style, boot-camp mentality that seems to pervade too many coaches’ minds even today.

5 years ago

My son who’s a senior always arrange team bonding with his team mates and I’m proud of him for organizing those things even with his busy schedule. He once told me that every time he has a bad day at school he looks forward for swim practice.
I am careful with my 13 year old now because she’s in the stage that she doesn’t do well every time at practice or having a few bad meets. I don’t want her to get burned out with swim.
Thank you for the great article. I will keep all these in mind. Team bonding I believe is very important and I’m glad my daughter has some great friends in her swim team.

5 years ago

Agreed on the AM practice. Kids have too much homework at night to be able to get up and swim at 4-5 am 5-6 days a week, swim in the afternoon a couple days maybe, THEN start homework (on top of sitting in school for 6-7 hours a day). It’s just too much for many to handle, and it’s understandable.

The real tip
5 years ago

Most of the times, is the coach’s fault. Coaches don’t know how to handle their obsessive “power hungry” mental state and doesn’t allow swimmers to have fun, to do another sport, to have a car, to date, to have non-swimmer friends, to miss a swim meet, and the list continues. If your kid wants to quit, get the coach fired. As long as they show up for practice and perform, what is the problem?

Swimming should be fun. Kids may tell you different reasons, but deep inside they don’t like their coach and they are just too young to tell their parents, but among their circle of friends is something they all know.

Reply to  The real tip
4 years ago

As a coach who has been painted by your broad sweeping stroke, you can go…

Reply to  coacherik
4 years ago

I think what he’s saying, CoachErik, is that those coaches are far too common in our sport. And that is something to think about…and a reason swimmers quit. Look at how many quit during HS, which should be one of the best times of their swim careers (or the best if not swimming college). But many coaches just write off kids when they plateau or if they don’t want to swim college.

5 years ago

I agree that am practice is too much for High School students. If the Sr’s want it then fine, but the coach shouldn’t make it absolute for younger ones. Too much concentration and focus needed for school.
My first am practices happened through college. Even then I had tough class schedule and remember dozing off in afternoon or pm classes. I liked having a demanding schedule, but more for college when you have your freedom from parents and can build into your own.

Joel Lin
5 years ago

Back in the day there was no science, or not enough, supporting the conclusion that not enough sleep is damaging to our health. Knowing this now, we shouldn’t be doing it to kids. I’d implore clubs to flex time workouts so that heavy training can be done on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Not popular with all parents, but if a kid has an off Tuesdays and a lighter day on Thursdays, it would make for better to have kids mentally and physically healthier through school weeks. Morning workouts during the weekdays need to be much better thought out. it is time to stop doing what damages re health of school aged kids.

5 years ago

I would guess swimming has equal stats (or worse) because at 13+ some athletically talented kids switch to more popular sports among their peers, or what their high school offers (football, basketball, baseball, track, volleyball). There’s a lot of competition among the sports for the kids in high school who are athletic. Swimming is a very time consuming sport- and if a swimmer is competing at a high level in club swimming, a very very expensive sport (with travel, suits, training, etc). I think at 13+ academics, test preparation, and getting a first paying job has more focus (and kids have more awareness they might not compete athletically at a college level). If you need more time for academics, work… Read more »

5 years ago

To those who complain about coaches who demand morning practices – you should look around to see if you’d be happier with another team in your area. Some coaches want to maintain a very competitive team and some swimmers want that and perform well. It would reduce moral if some swimmers were allowed to come and go as they please.

I speak from some experience. My youngest is more of a scholar than athlete so he switched teams and now swims 3 x per week at a team with a very laid back coach (with almost a masters-coach-like mentality as far as attendance goes). There’s nothing wrong with not putting swimming first – but you have to find a… Read more »