Ask Swim Mom: What If the Coach Has Favorites?

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

Dear Swim Mom,

Kids talk a lot among themselves and I’ve overheard my son and teammates say they feel like the coach has a favorite. The kids say the coach doesn’t pay enough attention to them and spends all his time with this one swimmer.

Is there anything I can do to make this situation better for my son and his friends? Your thoughts about this are appreciated.


Not a Fan of Favorites


Dear Not a Fan of Favorites,

There could be more to the story about the coach and swimmer that your child and teammates are not aware of. There could be extenuating circumstances that are private. In any case, if it is truly a problem for your child, you can make an appointment with your coach to talk about it. Or, better yet, if your child feels strongly enough, they can talk to the coach on their own.

I have noticed that kids who show up every day and have great attitudes, sometimes get more attention from coaches than swimmers who show up sporadically. Not that this excuses a coach for having favorites, but you can see how difficult it would be to not focus on kids who are invested in their program.

Other situations I observed where it looked like certain kids were getting more attention than others were due to things we weren’t fully aware of such as a learning disability or other physical limitation.

I’ve heard more than one coach say that they try to treat each kids fairly although it’s nearly impossible to treat everyone the exactly the same. They say that kids have different ways of learning, talent, maturity, ability to follow directions, etc. It’s a coach’s job to figure out what works for each swimmer.

Obvious favoritism can be harmful to the esprit de corps on a team. Through their swim careers, they may have a dozen or so coaches starting in learn to swim programs through college swimming. Each coach will bring different abilities, skills and talents. It’s important that your child is swimming because they love it, not because they are trying to please a coach, or their parents.


Elizabeth Wickham

What advice would you suggest to “Not a Fan of Favorites?”

If you have a question or topic your want addressed, please email Elizabeth at [email protected]

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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3 years ago

Coaches like everyone has favorites. And anyone who says they don’t, are lying to themselves. My son’s coach has clear favorites. His are the swimmers that get him the most national recognition. Is it right? No. Is it fair? No. Is it life? Yes. The sooner you learn that the happier you will be.

jo swim
3 years ago

mom should be on the lookout for grooming behavior playing out as favoritism

3 years ago

Read an old article by John Leonard about playing favorites. We all do it.

3 years ago

I had parents accuse me of playing favorites when I coached HS swimming.
It’s pretty difficult to not have favorites when there are kids who are in the water everyday, while their teammates “forget” their suits at home multiple times per week.

Reply to  MarkAV
3 years ago

One year, I had an entire team that qualified for state, except 1 swimmer. I took him along as an “alternate” even though he was never going to swim because he was a freshman and I thought it would be a nice thing to do, would help him feel part of the team and stick it out, and maybe motivate him by all of the swimmers working hard at that meet to keep going.

2 years later, when enraged about something else (I accused him of sleeping in his car during practice – which he was, because it was an incredibly distinct car), I was accused of favoritism in that instance. Because he was the only one I didn’t let… Read more »

Fly Girl
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

OK, let’s live in the REAL word. In the real world almost every coach plays favorites. And there is not always a good reason. It just is. This is one of the great life lessons of swimming. Because in careers, this is a given. Sometimes it might be because a kid works harder, but sometimes it can be for no reason at all. It is a harsh lesson but a good one.

3 years ago

Most of the comments so far seem to support coaches in their rights to favoritism. And I agree, as humans coaches will have favorites, though I think that being able to work past that and not openly show favorites is a skill good coaches should have.

It’s also worth exploring the reason for why people are favorites. As has been stated, positive attitudes and behaviors are definitely worthy reasons. But there can also be neutral reasons, or unfortunately still in this day and age, negative reasons (e.g. racism, sexism, attraction).

The main thing for kids in these situations is to 1. accept that life will not always be fair; this is only the start, and 2. focus on what you… Read more »

Reply to  iLikePsych
3 years ago

I think this is a fair and well-balanced comment. Everyone has inherent biases for one reason or another, whether they like to admit it or not. The key for a good coach is to review the feelings of favoritism they have HONESTLY (and that’s crucial) and ensure that it’s not, in fact, a bias poking its head through. Maybe you were a nerd in high school and so you commiserate more with the nerds on your team. Maybe one swimmer gives you a bigger Christmas present than the rest. In addition to the more blunt reasons laid out above, those are the things we have to work to eliminate as coaches.

Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

Lol. Nerds.

Sprinter Mentality
3 years ago

I 100% agree with this blurb. They more time, energy, and respect they give the coach, the more the coach will give said SWIMMERS time, energy, and respect. For example, if you choose to not show up to a job on time, show up to a job infrequently, and do not have a good attitude, chances are your bosses will not be too fond of you. This is synonymous with swimming: if you do not show up on time, are not a frequent participant, or have a bad attitude, how on EARTH do you expect to build a good relationship with the coach and gain his/her respect?

Once again, all of these situations can be directly related to real life… Read more »

Old Coach
Reply to  Sprinter Mentality
3 years ago

I’ve used the John Leonard piece every year for as long as I remember….. it’s interesting how many parents are “offended” today vs. the lack of a parental response 15 years ago.
Yes. I have hard, come to practice, listen to me, give back equally to what I give you…. show that you are invested….. and 99% of the times the swimmers that whine about favorites are the ones that don’t work, don’t show up, don’t have their equipment, always have an excuse and usually have a parent right behind them with more excuses….. you want to be a “favorite”? then act like the favorites act. I’d be ecstatic to have a whole pool of favorites!!! Instead of… Read more »

Chris H
3 years ago

As a college coach I make the “favorites” talk part of my recruiting pitch and remind my student athletes as well. It’s simple, work hard and BE COACHABLE. Those are the favorites….it’s human nature, you will get less feedback if you don’t make an effort to use that feedback. The more you use what a coach tells you in your training and races the more you get.

3 years ago

My coach has said on more than one occasion he has favorites and he would be lying if he said he didn’t. He said his favorites were the ones who showed up had a good attitude and were ready to throw down. And honestly I agree

Reply to  Jimbo
3 years ago

Honestly who wouldn’t favour kids that show up ready to go each day? It’s like teachers preferring students that are in class every day and show they’re interested in what is being taught. Any person that makes your job more enjoyable will obviously be wanted vs the people that make it more difficult