Are Parents Adding to Performance Pressure?

by SwimSwam 12

June 13th, 2018 Lifestyle, Swim Mom

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

I believe our children experience more pressure to perform in their sports and academics today than we did. We didn’t have many club teams and most sports in my area were through school. We knew who the natural athletes were and they weren’t taking private lessons to get better. It was also common for kids to try a number of different sports. Today, kids are specializing in single sports at younger and younger ages. Even college recruiting has started earlier, too.

We want our kids to get accepted into great schools. The pressure for high grades and SAT scores means that many hire private tutors, college admissions experts and our kids lose sleep. Did you know that UCLA received more than 102,000 applications last year and accepted only one out of six? Harvard had a record-breaking 42,747 applicants and they admitted a little over 2,000. Add that pressure to hoping for a scholarship and it’s no wonder we’re witnessing epidemic anxiety and depression in our youth.

What can we do to help our children with performance pressure?



Be there for them.

Offering unconditional love is the best thing we can do. When they know we love them no matter what, it alleviates some pressure. Yes, we want what’s best for them, and we want them to give it their all, but even if they fail, we still love them. When they’re away at college and something negative happens, we want them to be comfortable reaching out to us.



Praise effort.

When we see our kids trying hard, we need to tell them we’ve noticed. In a sport like swimming, where the stopwatch doesn’t lie, it’s almost impossible not to focus on performance. But, according to many experts, if we praise our kids strictly for their performance and not the hard work they put in, we can add to the pressure they feel. They may believe they’re never good enough to please us.



Don’t add to their pressure.

Sometimes we can make our kids feel pressure by comparing them to other swimmers. Or, maybe it’s just us displaying some unfortunate body language at a meet. They will pick up on nonverbal cues. We may be feeling bad for them, but they’ll interpret it as us being disappointed in them instead.



Provide a calm and supportive atmosphere.

If you’re an anxious person or get nervous watching your kids swim at meets, they may get nervous, too. If we can try to be calm and create a supportive atmosphere, we’re already getting rid of some of their performance pressure. Making our kids laugh can ease tensions, too.




I’ve learned the last few years to just listen. When our kids tell us about a problem, they may not want us to offer solutions. Instead of problem-solving, they may want to rant and then they’ll feel better. Listen and watch how they will open up more.


How do you help your child with performance pressure?

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.

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5 years ago

If parents are banking on, and spending resources to get their kids an athletic scholarship, they are chasing a mirage. You’d be better off putting that money in a 529 plan, than hiring an elite private coach for your youngster, no matter the sport. I agree with the author, about the increase in pressure on kids.

5 years ago

@leonardmatt. I am a high school swimmer too. My dad is super chill because he swam at a competitive level and gets it. He is also busy at work so has his own stuff. My mom is clueless about swimming and either misses my races because she is talking or is on her laptop working. My dad drops me off at meets and goes to the gym and comes back and sits in the hallway until my race. Waves and goes back to the hallway. What he does in the hallway I have no idea. Neither has been to a watch a practice since 2014.

Reply to  SwimMan
5 years ago

dam thats sad

Caeleb Dressel Will Win 9 Gold Medals in Tokyo
5 years ago

Yes. Coming from a highschool swimmer.

5 years ago
Reply to  HappyFan
5 years ago

Great article. Anxiety and depression in high school students continues to rise, and because of the ridiculous stigma surrounding mental health issues, no one wants to acknowledge the problem. Kudos to past and current Olympic swimmers who are talking about their journeys and showing that it’s OK, even necessary, to ask for help. Hopefully coaches and parents will learn to talk to teens about their struggles and emotions.

5 years ago

Im a swimmer, 17, why are there so many articles on all these parents? My parents dont know anything about swimming and any time I make a cut for the level meet I have to explain what it means to them. Ive been swimming since 11, but man all these parents I read about on here sound crazy not gonna lie. It amazes me the amount of swim moms I know that do not even work.

Reply to  Leonardmatt
5 years ago

Different parents have different values. Sounds like you have great parents.

Reply to  Leonardmatt
5 years ago

You’re lucky. I was, too. I could add two seconds in a 50 free and my mom would be like, “well, I thought your turn was good.” I don’t even think she could have told you what IM order is. When I started to focus on swimming, it was entirely my decision, she was just happy I wasn’t out getting into trouble.

Unfortunately, those parents are in the minority these days. Having coached now for almost a decade, I have seen some absolutely insane parents putting ridiculous amounts of pressure on their children to perform. It’s all my colleagues and I can do just to get some kids to the blocks at a big meet without freaking out. I’m sure… Read more »

Reply to  Leonardmatt
5 years ago

your parents sound like they didnt really care….

Reply to  GoBigOrSwimSlow
5 years ago

Like Adam said, different parents have different values, and different outlooks. Just because they don’t know everything about swimming doesn’t mean they don’t care or aren’t supportive. And I agree with LEONARDMATT that many of the parents on here do sound obsessive and controlling. I am worried about the future of our society with all the pressure in academics and sports on today’s youth. So many are not learning to deal with disappointment, failure (gasp! yes, it’s a part of life) or to perform basic life skills that are a necessary part of becoming an adult. If parents aren’t ‘helicoptering’ and doing everything for their children, they’re now being labled uncaring or bad parents!

5 years ago


Educate yourself as a parent about the academic, athletic, and career options out there, find out what really makes your child happy and what they want to do and get out of life, and help your child to set realistic goals with smart priorities and give them the best chance to optimize those outcomes and manage the pressures they feel. The points Elizabeth makes are important, but the tone of this article is “we still expect our kids to go to Harvard or swim at Texas, but we just won’t add extra pressure to the already intense pressure they put on themselves.”

And it’s not just about pressure to only go to the best schools — I know several… Read more »