Are You Ready for College Swim Parenting?

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

When your child goes off to college, the experience of swim parenting will change. Be prepared for a new role as the parent of a collegiate student-athlete. Hopefully, you’ve prepared your child to be an independent and strong person. By high school, our kids should be handling communication with their club coach. They should know how to organize their days with school, homework and practice. If we’re doing basic things for them, they may struggle when they’re in college.

Here are four ways that college is different than club parenting:


Out of the daily loop.

Coaches communicate with the athletes–parents, not so much. We’ll be out of the loop on what’s going on at the pool on a daily basis. The only way to know what’s going on is if our children share with us. As an active club swim parent, we knew when our kids had a great workout, when they felt frustrated, etc. We talked with coaches if we had any questions. We’ll no longer have that access to coaches and our kids will have total ownership of their sport.


Listen but don’t problem-solve.

When our child tells us about an issue, our job is to listen, not problem-solve. Back in the day, we rarely called our parents more than once a week—on Sunday or at night to avoid long-distance charges. Our kids can text or call us constantly and we may get a live feed of their daily aggravations. Instead of reacting, we need to listen. Be supportive, but don’t jump in to help. Most likely they want to vent and aren’t asking for us to step in.


Helicopter days are gone.

We can’t wake our children up for practice, drive them to the pool or remind them of assignments. It’s time to let go and let them take charge of their lives. If they sleep through practice, it’s between them and their coaches. Hopefully, we won’t even know about it. For overly involved parents of high school kids, juggling through their days of school, homework and practice, this separation can be a big relief. Enjoy it and let them learn from their actions.


About swim meets.

No more setting up for meets or working in the snack bar—those days are over. Swim meets will continue to be fun to watch, but without long hours of labor for a weekend meet.  Dual meets are so much shorter than club meets and team rivalry gets so exciting. At the conference meets, we cheer loudly and wear funny stuff on our heads–something we’d never do at a club meet. Our kids would have been so embarrassed. In college, it’s expected for parents to act silly.

In what ways do you see your role as a college parent different from the club days?

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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Todd DeLusant
5 years ago

D3 Swim parent so still have snack bar duties. Drove over 3500 miles last yr to meets. Had to get used to catching a few minutes w/ my kid before she got on the bus back to the hotel or school. No more rides back home together. While I miss those times, I’m sure she doesn’t miss rehashing each event! Lol! No more “hey Coach, can we talk about…..”. Told to “trust the process” and we’ll see you at conference championships at the beginning of the yr. Drove me nuts from Oct to Feb but the team ended up winning the AMCC Championship team title and she swam 7 PB’s and broke the school record twice in the 200 IM.

5 years ago

Well, we still end up timing and at one big meet run the snack bar (that helps raise the money to offset winter training)… those days aren’t really gone :).