Ask Swim Mom: What Should I Say After Races?

by SwimSwam Contributors 16

November 20th, 2018 Lifestyle, Swim Mom

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

Dear Swim Mom:

My 13-year-old daughter doesn’t always respond well or appreciate what I say to her after she races. Do you have any suggestions about offering praise or making comments about swims? How could I better approach this?

—Perplexed Swim Parent

Dear Perplexed,

Many of us have praised our kids, wanting to make them feel good about their races, only to have them let us know that we literally know nothing. It’s not a pleasant feeling, but they may not be happy with their race for reasons that we’re not aware of. Maybe they didn’t follow their coach’s race strategy, or maybe they missed a goal they were shooting for.

The number one tip to remember when praising or commenting to our kids is to praise their effort, not their performance or talent.

There are lots of studies that show that kids who are praised for their efforts develop more confidence than those who are praised for performance. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. from Stanford University and author of “Mindset” has done numerous studies showing the benefits of praising effort over talent. In one study of New York fifth and sixth grade students, she offered praise to two groups: one for how hard they worked, the other for how smart they were. The group who were praised for effort were willing to take on harder challenges, while the ones praised for intelligence were more likely to take on easy tasks where they wouldn’t make mistakes and would still look smart.

We should praise our kids, but not over-praise on every little thing they do. When we praise them all the time, they become immune to our words and may not believe us.

Also, it doesn’t help them if we critique their technique or offer tips for better racing strategies. That’s what their coach is for and they need our support as a parent, not our coaching tips.

What other advice do you have for “Perplexed Swim Parent” about commenting after races?

Do you have a question for “Ask Swim Mom?” If so, email Elizabeth Wickham at [email protected] and your question may appear in an upcoming column.

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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Swimmer Brent
2 years ago

My mum was really good at this. She knew how to read me and roughly what was a good swim versus a bad swim. If she thought I’d be unhappy, she wouldn’t say anything and would give me space to be less than thrilled with the result. If it was a good swim, she just asked what I thought of it. Never tried to coach me or lift my spirits or whatnot. Worked perfectly for me, but it also took a while for her to work it out and until then we went through exactly what Perplexed Swim Parent was experiencing.

Reply to  Swimmer Brent
2 years ago

Mine are not so good about this. When I do bad they want to “cheer me up” and just make it worse and when I do well they give me critique even though they never swam and have no idea about it

Reply to  Swimmer Brent
2 years ago

I tend to say nothing to my three after their races. I swam so I understand how unintentionally annoying it can be. They all work so hard. I praise them for how hard they work. I show them I love them by having their favorite foods for them after the meet or asking them if they want to take a friend to chipotle After the meet is over. I think as parents we always think we need to act or respond to everything in real time. Of course respond to emergencies or bad behavior etc!!! But what you may think is a bad swim is not something you need to talk to your kids about right after it happens!!! And… Read more »

Reply to  Swammer
2 years ago

I remember having to recap meets with my dad and I always felt I disappointed him. I never want my kids to feel that way so we talk about funny things that happened, friends from other teams they saw and of course what we were going to eat after the meet. When you start doing this it is amazing how much they appreciate it and also how they find enjoyment from things unrelated to their races.

2 years ago

Great article! The post race parent-child relationship is really fascinating – A quick look around the pool and you can spot the parents trying to figure out what to say (or what not to say).

For me, speaking to mum & dad after a bad race was really difficult. I always found it hard to react positively to my parents’ attempts to cheer me up because I just wanted to be left alone for a few hours. Nothing frustrated me more than my mums beaming smile (and her bloody sympathy voice) and my dads offers of treats after a bad swim – It just felt like salt in the wounds ha.

2 years ago

This is such a tough issue. I feel so guilty now for how I treated my mother when she tried to be encouraging after a bad swim. She couldn’t win–if she praised a bad swim, I would get mad at her for being fake, but if she was real about it, I would get mad at her for not being supportive. I think giving your child space and reminding them that their hard work will pay off eventually is helpful.

2 years ago

Say.. what did your coach say? Well I thought you looked great. How do you feel about it? Would you like a snack?

Reply to  Notbecky
2 years ago

I don’t pretend to know the answers as I can miss the mark. But I tend to say things like NotBecky. I’m glad to know I am not the only one. 🙂

cynthia curran
2 years ago

Swimming dad was important in my life as a teenager. He is deceased now, so the swimming I do at senior olympics he didn’t get to see.

2 years ago

There is always “l love to watch you swim,” works in all situations.

Howard Schein
Reply to  Kalikimo
2 years ago

I was an age group, high school, and college coach and official for my daughter. My best response to her races, especially during the eras when others were her coach, was: “I love to watch you swim.” If she wanted to engage me in a conversation about her swimming, she could take the lead, but her swimming was hers, not mine. After college, she coached her high school team with me for three 3 years, and it was totally fun to see her continued engagement as a partner.

2 years ago

I have found that waiting several hours after the meet to offer any particular critique seems to work well. Discussing ny child’s performance in the car on the way home is not a good idea. Fresh out of their races, a child may take criticism very personally. But several hours later, I find that my child can look at their races in a more neutral way. And if you can couch critiques with positive talk too, so much the better.

2 years ago

Before a meet, I ask my kids if they have any goals for the day. Afterward, I always ask which event was their favorite and why. (I never address whether the goal was met….they know if it was/wasn’t). It is interesting to hear the favorite event, as it isn’t always the event they pr in, but usually a fun relay they swam.