A Parent’s Guide to Crushing Championship Season

The spring championship season for swimming is upon us. Major high school championships in Texas, Ohio, Minnesota, Georgia, and several other states, along with American collegiate championships, will have the blood pumping and weekend-after-weekend of exhilarating performances.

Coaches prepare their athletes to perform their best at this time of year with tapers, motivational speeches, and team bonding rituals. But what about parents? How should parents approach championship season both to help their athletes maximize performance, and to help their athletes maintain their joy for the sport?

Here’s a list of tips for how swim parents can crush championship season.

1. Regulate Your Emotions!

Your athlete could go through a wide range of emotions during this time of year. They could hit their taper perfectly, clear their goal times, and win their championships, or the complete opposite could happen. They might get sick. They might get the taper blues. They might slip off the block and add time at the end of their taper.

Remember that your role as a parent is to support your student-athlete and the goals that drive them. It can be tempting for parents to project their own goals, or missed dreams, on their children, and to feel the same emotion as your athlete. What your athlete needs from you in these moments is smooth and steady: not to high, not too low. Be excited for them, but don’t build up so much expectation that the letdowns become a miss.

Your swimmer has a coach who is going to help them get ready for championship season. What they need from you is a parent, who is going to understand and support them either way. That confidence will pay off big in and outside of the pool.

2. Don’t Rush Anything

The highs and lows of championship season can drive a lot of energy toward rash decision-making. A swimmer having a bad result can make for a quick trigger to change teams or quit the sport altogether. A swimmer having a great result can also lead to a rushed decision to look for the next-best opportunity immediately, quit other sports, go 100% in on swimming.

Don’t do this. Take a beat, take a breath, and wait for the emotions to settle and stabilize. That’s good advice both for yourself and your athlete. If your swimmer comes home from the championship meet and says that they want to quit swimming, table the discussion for another time. Let those tempers and emotions cool down, and then evaluate once everyone has had time to reflect.

In the short-term, you can let your swimmer know that they’ve been heard, and you understand their frustration, and that you want to talk to them about it – but that there’s no urgency in those decisions. Gather information if you want to, but don’t push for a decision right away.

3. Focus on the Bigger Picture!

Parents, coaches, and athletes alike all have to remember that one championship swim meet is a very small blip on a very long lifeline. Your swimmer will have more successes and more failures in their lives, they will have more swim meets (there is no age limit on Masters), they will go on to careers and families and all kinds of other things.

Don’t fire off the email at the coach about how disappointing the season was as soon as you get home. Parents can and should give coaches feedback, but that feedback should be thoughtful, constructive, and shared in the moments after the heat of the emotion has passed.

Don’t build up the moment to be too big, and you increase the odds of the moment not being too big.

That doesn’t mean that your swimmer (and you) can’t have disappointments. Disappointments are a part of sports, and they’re a part of life.

But if you can’t enjoy the journey, if you can’t learn to embrace the losses the way you embrace the wins, at best, life is going to be a constant strain, and at worst, life is going to be a constant disappointment.

The same is true if your athlete wins, by the way. Be gracious. Encourage them to be gracious. Be humble, and lead them by example. It’s not about showing false modesty. It’s about showing empathy and remembering that everyone is better when we lift each other up.

4. Don’t Make Dramatic Changes to Your Athlete’s Diet

The most-asked question I get as a swim coach was “what should my swimmer eat before the big meet?”

And my answer was always the same: if you’re waiting until taper time to make dramatic changes to your nutrition or dietary plans, you’re too late, and maybe even making things worse.

Try and stick to the best version of what they’ve been eating all along. Don’t eat a whole fried chicken the night before the meet, but if you normally have a light breakfast, have a light breakfast. If you normally eat a big dinner, eat a big dinner. You don’t want to risk upsetting your swimmer’s digestive system with any dramatic last-minute changes.

5. Check in on the parents of swimmers who didn’t have great swims

At the 2021 US Olympic Swimming Trials, a parent of an elite athlete sent me a text. Her observation was that when your swimmer does well at that level, you get a text from anyone you’ve ever met. The moments when you need the support least, you have the most support.

But when your athlete doesn’t succeed, when they don’t win, when they don’t make the cut, people don’t reach out. They don’t always know what to say. When you need the support the most, your phone is quiet.

Reach out the parent of the athlete who had a disappointing performance. That doesn’t mean you have to reach out to every parent of every athlete who doesn’t have a good swim. That might feel condescending. But check in on those who you’re close with. The parents who you’ve built relationships with. You don’t have to solve their problems, you don’t have to ‘say the perfect thing.’ Just say hello. Send them a good hug GIF. Ask how they’re feeling. Keep it simple. The exact message isn’t the key, it’s about letting them know that you’re still there for them.

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Coach Mike 1951
1 month ago

Here’s a simple one to add: don’t brag about your swimmer beating another kid in a race, especially with that kid’s parents in earshot. 🙄 Basic manners.

1 month ago

Really good article, well done Braden.

1 month ago

They still have to do their homework 🙂

Sunday Morning Grind
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

Would you rather an A or an A final?

1 month ago

The best thing I was ever told from my swim parent, regardless of the outcome of my race was “I was just happy to watch you swim”. Whether it was a PB or I added time. It’s always nice to have a fan in the stands.

Reply to  Luke
1 month ago

I say that to my daughter too. I also always tell her I love watching her support her teammates. She and her friends are young and still relatively new to the sport. As an old timer I know it’s the friends and the good memories that keep you going when it gets tough and what you remember the most when you hang up your competition goggles.

1 month ago

Great article !

1 month ago

These are great and so true!

Swim Mom
1 month ago

As an empath I experience my swimmers emotions plus all the up and disappointing emotions from the parents. I use to leave championship meets being an emotional wreck. I have learn how to monitor and regulate. Thanks for the tips aimed at parents. It is needed!!!

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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