Ask Swim Mom: Should I Force My Child to Go to Practice?

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

Dear Swim Mom,

My child is 10 years old and she’s been swimming for close to two years now. When she started out, she always wanted to go. But lately, she’d rather stay home and miss practice about once a week. I’m worried that forcing her to go to practice will ruin her passion for swimming. If she doesn’t want to go, should I allow her to stay home?

Do you have any ideas on how to get her to want to go to practice like she used to? Is it better to let her miss practice or make her go?


Mom of Reluctant Swimmer


Dear Mom of Reluctant Swimmer,

I suggest talking with your child and saying you’ve noticed she doesn’t seem to want to go to practice as much as she did before. You can ask if anything has changed. Is she losing interest because it’s getting harder with less focus on fun? Does she have friends in her group, or have her friends started a new activity? One coach told me that young kids may not want to go to practice because of something as simple as the water being too cold.

Is your child passionate about swimming or is it your passion? If she doesn’t want to swim, there’s really no way she’s going to make it through the long haul. If she truly wants to swim, it’s normal for interest to waver. Sticking with it and improving may ignite her passion once again.

Whether to force your child to attend practice is a question of parenting styles and family values. Some parents follow their children’s leads and support their kids in whatever activities they’re interested in, while other parents will select their kids’ extracurriculars. There are parents who will take their kids to practice without question, while others will allow them to stay home whenever they want.

I spoke with Randy and Colette Anderson who have three daughters who swim including Olympic medalists Alyssa and Haley Anderson. When their kids were young, they’d explain they were signing up for the season. When the girls wanted to quit in the winter because it was cold, they’d remind them that they made a commitment but were free to quit when the season was over. Summer would come and they’d want to sign up for another year. The parents said they introduced their kids to lots of different sports and activities when they were younger and they discovered their interest and talent was with swimming.

We can encourage our kids to swim, get them to practice on time, but in the long run it has to be their sport. They need to take ownership of swimming and be intrinsically motivated. At 10 years old, there’s plenty of time to get serious about swimming and there’s time to try out other activities to see if she’s passionate about something else. We don’t want to put too much pressure on their results and performance or we can definitely squelch their love of the sport.

What are your thoughts for Swim Mom of Reluctant Swimmer about whether or not to force her daughter to attend practice?

If you have a question for Elizabeth Wickham, please email her at [email protected] Your question may appear in an upcoming story.

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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Carolyn binder
2 years ago

I have two adults children who competed in college swimming. When in their early teens, they knew that they would have to choose another activity of somewhat equal value if they wanted to quit swim. Also they would need to have a one on one with their coach. It was their decision but on occasion I realized I was holding my breath while waiting for their decision.

2 years ago

We are talking about a 10 year old that wants to take one practice off a week? Let them. Jeez.

2 years ago

I would want to know how many practices per week she is attending. If she’s missing one out of four, that’s a lot different if she’s missing the only practice per week. I would talk to her to find out why she doesn’t want to go to practice and then set a new commitment that I would hold her to. If she wants to miss one practice a week that’s fine, but once she has committed to the other practices, she has to stick with that. Like the Andersons suggested, she can reevaluate at the end of the season. I think it’s important to teach children the value of sticking with something to which they have committed, but it needs… Read more »

2 years ago

Dear Mom of ten year old:

– focus on time drop, not placing

– my parents told me when I said I wanted to quit at 10 ” quit, we don’t want to pay for something you don’t want to do.” I quit. Didn’t start year round still 12th grade, and walked on in college. I’m a dIII all American and had a full academic scholarship

– a practice a week isn’t anything.

– Have em exposed to lots of sports

– like another poster said, make em go through the rest of the season, then quit

Swimmers mom
2 years ago

We were very laissez faire at 10 as to whether the kids went every day, mostly because they had other sports and interests and we didn’t want to prematurely cut those out. That said, if the programming in the pool is good, there may be an impact in terms of reduced progress if a kid misses 10 or 20 percent of the program time. We missed practice because of conflicts with other activities. Not going because they didn’t feel like it wasn’t really an option that would have been discussed. That said there is kind of a window to pick a sport and become proficient. If they don’t love swimming I would bail while there is still time to learn… Read more »