Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham
What can we do to help our kids overcome anxiety when they’re racing at swim meets? When my son was in the 11-12 age group, he would get so scared at meets. I’d watch him turn pale and physically shut down.
I felt awful for him, but I didn’t know how to help. His favorite coach noticed and told my son to get some music that pumped him up—and just like Michael Phelps—wear head phones before his races. It was amazing how that simple tip helped!
I also remember my daughter at her first JOs. She said she had a nightmare that she had come in last place. She was in the very first heat of the first event, the 200 meter free, and she was terrified. Guess what? With all that imagining and dreaming that she would come in last place—that’s exactly what happened. She learned that it wasn’t the end of the world and was able to move on from there.
Looking back on those two examples makes me realize that perhaps I wasn’t the best swim parent on deck. Thankfully, I learned from coaches and more experienced swim parents to let up on unintentional pressure.
Here are eight tips for swim parents on how we can help our kids when they are anxious at meets:
Don’t focus on performance. We put too much pressure on our kids if we expect never-ending wins and best times.
Make sure they know you love and support them regardless of swimming.
Don’t compare your swimmer to their siblings or other swimmers.
Let them know that you want them to enjoy their sport and put in their best effort. If they’re having fun and know they’ve tried their best, the anxiety should melt away.
Ask them why they are afraid. Encourage them to talk about it with you or their coach.
Acknowledge that your child’s anxiety is legitimate and that we all have to overcome fears.
Buy them a journal and suggest they write a page a day. Maybe they’ll be able to express their fears and work through them in their journal.
Encourage them to create a mix of their favorite music and wear headphones before racing. It will help them focus and get a rhythm going. If listening to music helps Olympians, it might help your kids, too.
What other tips do you have to help your swimmer overcome their anxiety at meets?
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.