A 4-Time Olympian’s Thoughts on How to Prepare Kids for College

by SwimSwam 5

July 08th, 2017 Club, Lifestyle, Opinion

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

The swim team creates an experimental space for our kids to learn life lessons through success and failure. We know our kids will be busy, supervised, and engaged in a healthy activity. As a parent, we’d love for our children to make it to the next level, get best times, and be happy. But often, our desire for perfection can get in the way of their growth.

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Jill Sterkel, four-time Olympian, gold medalist and former head coach of University of Texas women’s swim team for 14 years. As a coach, she had lots of experience with incoming freshman, plus she’s a parent. I asked her what parents can do to help our kids transition from high school to college.

Here’s a few of Jill Sterkel’s thoughts:

“I have a theory. It’s not scientific. It’s my own theory I’ve cooked up in my head, for what it’s worth,” Sterkel said.

“I think parents who have raised their children and have given them the leeway to make mistakes, and have corrected them along the way, have kids that fare far better in college than the kids who have been forced to do this, do that, ‘because I said so.’

“Letting some of those mistakes unroll in a less high stakes environment is a good idea. Because, when it’s time to go to college, if they’ve never been allowed to go out and do things—they’re like “Let’s go!” I’m not saying let your kids go crazy, but build parameters or boundaries where they might make mistakes growing up.”

Sterkel explained that when kids are in college, there’s nobody waking them up and telling them to go to class. There’s no one telling them they can’t go out at night, or need to be home at a certain time.

“You’ve got to teach independence, with boundaries. When they can experience a problem and work through it to the other side, there is a sense of accomplishment. There’s a sense of “Wow!” They are adding to their toolbox. It’s easier for us to jump in and fix it. We can fix a problem in two seconds and we’re done, but that doesn’t teach them a whole lot.”

After my conversation with Jill Sterkel, I looked back at my parenting mistakes. I wish I could get a do-over. I didn’t give my kids enough freedom to fail early on when the stakes weren’t too high. I wish I had. Because, trust me, failure will inevitably come. If we can start letting our kids fall down, pick themselves up as a toddler, fail a spelling test in grade school, and face the consequences of not waking up in time for class in middle school or high school, they’ll be better off in college.

Age group swimming is a perfect place for us to let our kids experience the consequences of their choices and build a toolbox of coping skills for their future.

What tips do you have to help your kids transition to college life?

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.

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T Hill
6 years ago

Simple but excellent article. As adults & teenagers acknowledging our mistakes- hopefully little ones. Showing respect, caring & love for one another goes a long ways as well. Thanks for sharing !

6 years ago

Well. when you kid has some learning disabilities and Asperger’s its hard to know what to do. This is the experience of my parents with me; and my father use sports as a kid to deal with his failure in reading since he had dyslexia Sports alone doesn’t always help a child even if they don’t have more difficulties. Knowing who Sulla the dictator when you were 13 years old and having other difficulties with reading and math up to grade level ads with the pressures of swimming or the enjoyment of swimming.

8 years ago

Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child. Great article!

8 years ago

As a parent it’s really hard to see you child suffering from a disappointment. It’s hard to see them doing something when you know it isn’t right. I know as a parent we are just here to give them guidance and support. They still need to do the job of making things happen.
Great article and thank you Elizabeth!

Reply to  SwimMom
6 years ago

Well, no one can changed the past. The reason I swam again as an adult is because something was missing from childhood.