A Swim Mom’s Memory of the First Meet

by SwimSwam 10

October 31st, 2018 Club, Learn to Swim, Lifestyle

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 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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S. T.
6 years ago

My son’s first meet was when he was 7 and it was long course. He never swam or even seen a 50 meter pool before. Heck, I hadn’t either. My initial thought was this isn’t going to go well. Fortunately, the team’s head coach took control of the littlest swimmers, holding their hands, getting them on the blocks, whispering words of encouragement into their ears. His first event was the 50 fly. He did great but no time showed up for him. We were clueless and figured he dq’d. We thought “oh man he worked so hard to get across that big pool to only get dq’d.” But no, he just didn’t hit the touch pad right and he actually… Read more »

6 years ago

Our summer team this year had a pizza party after the first practice. The kids got to eat a piece of pizza and then go back to swim for fun under the lifeguards’ supervision, while the parents got a quick whiteboard presentation on how to read a heat sheet, what the different volunteer positions are (with handouts!), what terms like “bullpen” and “runner” and so on mean in swim meet context, what’s the order of events in an IM and a medley relay, why some of your kids might have to be on the opposite side of the pool for the little kids’ relays, etc. from the board members. We matched up new parents with experienced parents in smaller groups… Read more »

8 years ago

As a highschool swimmer, I remember my first meet, and how I was so scared because all I knew how to swim was freestyle. I didn’t know how meets were run, or how to know when your event was. And sadly, neither did my mom. Luckily for us, the captain of my team took us both to the side and explained it the best way he could. He handed my mother a heat sheet, highlighted my name, and told her to study it. Without his help, my mother would probably still have issues today with trying to find me on the blocks.

8 years ago

I vividly remember our first meet, like it was yesterday: the 2004 SCS Olympic Section Spring Championships and the meet was huge (they ended up splitting the Section in two the following year). Somehow my kids found their heats and lanes alright; I only vaguely remember being part of that. I do remember one of my kids DQing her relay because she didn’t touch the wall on the flip turn. I was mortified, sitting with all the more experienced moms, but they had all been there before and were able to laugh it off. I bought the girls the meet t-shirts, with their names starred on the back, because I thought you were supposed to do that for every meet.… Read more »

Elizabeth Wickham
Reply to  Anne Lepesant
8 years ago

Thanks for commenting, Anne. I saved all the t-shirts, too. I made swim t-shirts quilts when my kids left for college–and I had never sewn before! The quilts are great memories from their age group years.

cynthia curran
Reply to  Elizabeth Wickham
6 years ago

That is cool, A T-shirt I won as a kid since I won the 100 yard butterfly at OCSC got a lot of blood because I fell off a bike the same year. I lost that shirt or other T-Shirts but I have one from a masters meet I did in 2,004 and two from the local senior Olympics in Tucson Arizona.

8 years ago

While it can be harsh for a new swimmer and parent the sport teaches both quickly to get their act together. One of my most proud moments as a swim parent was when a swim mom told her swimmer(who is a year older than my swimmer) to follow my child down to the deck to swim an event because that parent felt my child was more mature than hers and would be where she should be when she should be for the next race.

I loved it when my child got to the point that I would hug her as she went to the locker room for warmups and I would not see her again until she was done.… Read more »

Lakeside Aquatic Club
8 years ago

Our Club has a mentoring program where new parents are paired with a veteran parent who can act as adviser, “translator”, or just a calm voice among the chaos. As the author states, it is a great opportunity for parents to share their knowledge and make new members feel welcome and informed.

8 years ago

Every new parent I guess have their own stories to tell. We had the same experience with my daughter when there was no one to help and guide us on her first swim meet. But now with so many new swimmers our coaches made sure that older kids help the little ones and guide them in their first swim meet. There will always be missed event but I’m sure they’ll learn from that. Friendly parents help a lot so that too makes a difference to newer ones.
Great article Elizabeth. Thank you.

Dan F.
8 years ago

Here in northeast Oklahoma, we have a park & rec league, where we have a series of weekly meets which are not USA Swimming sanctioned, and not officiated (therefore no disqualifications). The meets are small, usually with about 3-6 clubs participating. They are very low-key, with mostly 25-yard events. These meets are a wonderful introduction for the younger swimmers to how meets work.

On top of that, our club has an intra-squad meet at the beginning of the season that is designed to train both swimmers and parents how meets work. In that meet, called My First Swim Meet, most of the parents are brought down from the stands onto the deck for training. For many of the parents and… Read more »