Ask Swim Mom: When is it Time to Step Back?

by SwimSwam Contributors 3

September 13th, 2019 Lifestyle, Swim Mom

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

Dear Swim Mom,

I have two swimmers under age 11 who are in their second year of swimming. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when we go to meets. We volunteer and try to help out wherever we can. But, the problem is when my kids add time they get really upset. If they are crying over a bad race, I’m not a happy camper, either. Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth the effort.

I’m wondering, is there something I can do to make sure they are having more fun at meets and the whole family enjoys it, too? Are my kids too young for me to step back?

—Overwhelmed Age Group Mom


Dear Overwhelmed Age Group Mom,

It’s a tough job to make sure everything runs smoothly and everyone is happy. Our kids work so hard, we hate it when they’re upset and disappointed at a meet. A lot of things at meets are out of our control. Obviously, we can’t swim for our kids or ensure they get best times. We also can’t control things like weather, if a swim meet runs smoothly, if our kids get sick—or who is in the lane next to our kid. So, if stepping back means giving up control, then now is a good time to start.

As your kids get older, you’ll be doing less for them. Don’t try to do everything yourself and let your kids help out. You can make sure they pack their own bags and help with snacks. They should be checking in by themselves and knowing to warm up before their races. The more responsibility they have at an early age, the more they’ll take ownership of swimming.

Also, if your kids are getting upset over a bad race, try not to discuss it on the car ride home—unless they bring it up first. By not focusing on times, but pointing out things they’ve improved on or complimenting them for effort, you will help them get over a bad race. Maybe they won’t focus so much on results and enjoy hanging out with friends. Of course, some kids really hate losing more than anything. But, how they react to disappointment is a great lesson learned from swimming and one we can help shape.

Understanding our role as a swim parent is vital. It is true that our role changes as the kids get older. But the basics are parents parent, coaches coach and swimmers swim. I hope you hang in there and your kids truly love swimming. Give them space and ownership and they may last a lifetime in the sport.

What advice do you have for Overwhelmed Age Group Mom?

If you have a question for Elizabeth Wickham, please email her 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

Volunteer! It actually can be fun and please don’t look at it as an obligation. You are doing it for your kids, not for your club, not for volunteer requirements, not to curry favor… You are doing it for your kids.
And when you don’t volunteer or you act as though it’s beneath you, for those other parents to do or it’s just a checkmark to get out of the way, your kids watch you and associate it with your commitment to them.

Mike T
3 years ago

Retired 15 year swim dad with 10+ years as a meet referee…

Many coaches say there’s more to be learned from a bad swim than a great swim. When your swimmer opens up about a bad swim, as a swim parent, don’t comment on the swim – ask them about their feelings and encourage them to talk to their coach. Volunteer but don’t use that as a way of being on deck so you can monitor your child’s happiness. When I was officiating, I made it a point to not talk to my kids any differently from any other swimmer. Post meet, my usual swim dad questions around meets were “did you have fun?” “did you enjoy being with… Read more »

Rebecca Candebat
3 years ago

VOLUNTEER!!! most meets are run on parent volunteers. You can volunteer to time or better yet become an official. Make it a family event where the parent volunteers (and enjoys it), so the child will enjoy bonding with teammates without a hovering parent. This way the family is invested in the sport not just the child. That way when a child has a bad race let the teammates/ coach handle the situation. Children have a tendency to be less dramatic amongst their peers. And if your volunteering there is no way for you to have to deal with it. Its a win win situation