Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham
I’ll never forget the first swim meet with my then 7-year-old son.
We walked on deck and I saw a panicked look take over his face. His once quiet sanctuary of a sweet swim coach and a dozen kids in the Minnows group had morphed into chaos.
It was a home meet with more than 700 swimmers and a crush of parents and siblings. It scared me, too.
“Event 4 has been reseeded,” blared through the speaker. I thought they meant the grass had been “reseeded.” (Reseeding happens here every fall when the summer Bermuda grass dies off and it’s reseeded with winter rye. You have to stay off the grass.)
My son missed his first event and the official in white scratched him out of his only other one. Then he was lectured by the meet administrator.
“Wow. This is harsh! Not at all like T-Ball,” I thought.
Looking back, it was a traumatic introduction to swimming. It would have been better if a parent took me under his or her wing, an older swimmer had looked out for my son, or a coach had prepared us.
The sport can be overwhelming and foreign to families with little or no swim background. A little bit of education gives parents the bare minimum of what is acceptable behavior on our part and what to expect for our child. A deeper dive can help us become advocates for the team, the sport and our kids. Education can turn problem parents into cheerleaders.
There are many areas where we need education: the sport itself, meets, how the team works, how we can support and volunteer, how to encourage and help our kids, and where we may cross the line. Learning about the process of our child’s development in the sport is important, too.
Parent education can be found on team websites, newsletters, Facebook, emails and SwimSwam. USA Swimming has great resources for parents on their website, too. Coaches and boards may hold parent meetings—but in my experience, many parents don’t attend meetings— or read information. They have unanswered questions and may not understand how their behavior impacts their kids and the team.
I think one of the best methods of education is for more experienced parents to reach out to newer ones. Share your knowledge and you can make a difference. Plus, coaches can be the ultimate teachers for us and our kids.
Coaches and parents guided me through this process, and although I’ve made a ton of mistakes, they helped me from making more.
What tips do you have for new swim parents? In what areas do you think we need more parent education?
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.