Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham
Standing at the end of my swimmer’s lane, I cheered loudly at the big meet. Next heat, I stood with a fellow swim mom and we cheered for her daughter. Then, another parent pulled us aside and said, “There are college coaches here and you’re ruining your swimmers’ chances to be recruited.”
I was stunned. First, I had never considered cheering for swimmers as “bad.” Second, our kids were 13 years old and college was the furthest thing from our minds. We highly doubted any college coach would pay attention to our swimmers who barely made cuts for the meet. In that particular case, I believe the mom offering advice was out of line. But, it was the first time I ever considered that my behavior could have an impact on my kids’ college recruiting. After talking to several coaches, I learned they do pay attention to parents.
Here are four things college coaches said could raise a red flag during recruiting:
The parent communicates on behalf of their swimmer. The parent acts as the point person and sends emails about their child to the coach. In person, the parent asks all the questions and the swimmer stands by silently which makes it difficult for a coach to develop a rapport with the athlete. One coach told me there are only two people a college coach wants to talk with: 1. the athlete, 2. the athlete’s coach.
What happens when a college coach observes a parent coaching from the stands or arguing with coaches and officials? If a parent acts way out of line—and I mean beyond normal parent enthusiasm—the coach may make a mental note of that parent’s behavior. Although college coaches have less interaction with parents than an age group coach, if they’re looking at several comparable swimmers, they may choose to go with swimmers with non-confrontational parents.
Helicopter parents who do everything for their kids can cause problems. Kids who aren’t allowed to fail or handle the day-to-day tasks of caring for themselves will have a harder time adjusting when they’re away from home. Coaches want to recruit kids who will be successful academically and in the pool—without mom and dad. They pick up cues if parents are “helicoptering” and if the swimmer is independent or not.
Conversely, how athletes treat their parents is important to coaches. One coach told me she overheard an athlete yell at her mother on the cell phone. Another coach said a swimmer was rude to his parents in person. In both instances, the coaches took a pass on those athletes.
What parent behaviors do you think would be a red flag to college coaches?
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.