One Tip for Swim Parents About Relays

by SwimSwam 18

June 23rd, 2015 Club, Opinion

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

Relays can be the most exciting and funnest part of swimming—for both swimmers and parents.

I remember when my daughter was in 10 and unders. A bunch of 8 and 9 year-olds were competing for the coveted fourth spot on the JO relay. Their coach said that whoever swam the fastest 50 free at last ditch would make the team. My daughter didn’t make it. I found her in the warm-down pool crying.

Grandpa was with us and he said, “This is way too much pressure for a young kid.” She used this “failure” as motivation to work harder and earned a spot on relays from then on.

When my son was in the 11-12 age group he was picked for a JO relay. As a “relay only” swimmer he was thrilled to be part of the meet. It was a big deal for him to get a goodie bag, 
t-shirt and JO cap. When we arrived at the pool—after driving two hours and checking into a hotel—the coach said he had some bad news.

One of the dads, whose son was swimming individual events, didn’t want to stay for relays. My son was devastated. I asked the dad why they couldn’t stay the extra hour? He said, “It doesn’t matter. They aren’t going to score points.”

I’ve heard stories repeatedly through the years of relay teams being let down by a swimmer. If you’ve got a kid who is fortunate to be picked for a relay, remember this is part of being a TEAM. Many kids love swimming on relays more than anything else. They often swim their fastest times because their teammates are depending on them. Being on a relay helps form friendships, good sportsmanship—and gets kids excited to swim.

If you ditch your kid’s relay, you’re showing your child that being a team player isn’t important. Animosity and drama get stirred up by skipping a relay. It won’t quickly be forgotten.

Here’s my one tip for parents about relays:

If your team is depending on your swimmer to be on a relay, remember that three other swimmers and their families are involved. Please communicate with your coach and other families. Don’t leave your swimmer’s teammates and families high and dry at a meet.

Here’s a question for both parents and coaches: What does your team do about families and swimmers that are no-shows for relays?

Elizabeth WickhamElizabeth 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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Marieke Roberts
7 years ago

Relay poopers need to hire their own private coach and stay off a team

7 years ago

We’ve been on age group teams that split the entry fee for relays across all four swimmers – even when someone decides not to swim after its too late to avoid the entry fee. We’ve only been on one team that makes the inconsiderate family pay the entire relay’s fee, and it always surprises me that it’s not a more common practice.

7 years ago

Another thing parents need to realize, is that building relays is a bit of an art form. It isn’t always “four fastest on the A relay, next four on the B relay” and so on… Sometimes, if you divide the 4 fastest among 2 relays, you might score BOTH relays, and earn more points than if you had stacked ONLY the A relay.

Further, a coach may spread the fastest kids out across ALL the relays (if you are fortunate to go deeper than a B relay), when ENTERING the meet, in order to qualify as many relays as possible. But once AT the meet, they’ll do considerable rearranging, right up to the event, based on how everyone is swimming… Read more »

7 years ago

Reason #437 not to leave before relays… YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN!

personal story, first year doing club ever, after college at sectional. A relay consisted of LSU swimmer, TCU alumni, and Harvard breast stroker and an A&M swimmer. seeded first, would probably get first, did get first. I was on B relay, 3 highschool kids and me, 24 years old. Relay seeded 14th maybe I don’t remember. Backstroker, swims out of his mind new PB, breast stroker too, I almost out split the A relay flyer and free swam a PB. got 3rd over all only 2 seconds behind our a relay. It was the last event that night, or that weekend, none of us really wanted to… Read more »

Reply to  mcmflyguy
7 years ago

So true. At JO’s a few years ago, our team only had one girl qualify individually. rather than have her and I sit on the pool deck for several hours by ourselves, we put together a relay so her friends could swim at the meet and she would have people on deck to talk to. When it came time to swim the relay, all four girls had individual PR’s in their splits and the backstroker’s 100 back counted as her new best. Best way to finish off a championship meet.

7 years ago

In my experience, its not usually the swimmer who doesn’t want to swim or stay for relays. It’s the parents who have another agenda.

7 years ago

AMEN! GREAT ARTICLE! It is always an honor to be picked on a relay team. My daughter is still hopeful that one day she will get her chance to swim on a relay with her team mates.
My son was on one of the relays and did awful on his event and over heard one parent from our team saying: “we already had a big lead and lost it!” Me on the other side feeling bad because I know he was referring to my son who died on his fly the last 10 meters. I hope some parents will be a little sensitive and keep bad comments to themselves while on deck with other parents listening.

Reply to  SwimMom
7 years ago

You could just as easily say that it was actually his son who let down the team, by not building enough of a lead on his own leg for your son to defend. Neither point of view is any more right or wrong than the other.

It’s a TEAM event and no one is guaranteed relay teammates who always perform exactly as well or even better than the entitled, ‘someone else let me down’ swimmer (or as often may be the case, a good-sport swimmer with bad-sport swim parents). Sometimes that entitled swimmer (or normal swimmer with entitled swim parents) is the one who needed to step up and help carry his or her teammates to victory, but instead… Read more »

Reply to  Dave
7 years ago

And to clarify that first paragraph, my intended point was that both statements would be equally wrong and unfair. My apologies for particularly sloppy writing there.

Reply to  Dave
7 years ago

Thank you. Very well said.

Reply to  Dave
7 years ago

My swimmer has been on plenty of relays where he was going to be pitted against a faster swimmer. A good relay will KNOW that they need to buy that swimmer a lead, and as long as that swimmer goes “lights out” they have done their job. Its a pity that this strategy doesn’t often get communicated to the parents.

7 years ago

Another important point about relays is that swimmers fortunate enough to be selected to represent their team on a relay should give it their best effort. I have seen many instances where kids tank relays because it may interfere with their individual events. I have also seen cases where the kids are tired and think in those situations, it’s okay not to try their best. Both of these situations are examples of poor sportsmanship. The message they send is that these swimmers feel they are more important than the other swimmers or the team, and therefore it’s acceptable to sacrifice the relay for their individual needs. People may forget the results of the relay, but they don’t forget how you… Read more »

Anon Swimmer
Reply to  Joeswimmer
7 years ago

I’ve done that. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either. Honestly, if a relay isn’t going to matter points-wise and it’s going to interfere with another swim, then why would you mess yourself up?
Before you give me Internet hate, here’s what happened.
It was my last swim on the second to last day of a swim meet. Every event was really close together for me, and I hadn’t had a very good meet yet because of it. I still managed to be first in everything I swam, but that’s only because I’m 14 and placed higher in the state. Anyway, the idiot meet director had placed 200 IM relays right before the… Read more »

Reply to  Anon Swimmer
7 years ago

If you do not want to swim relays for fear of interfering with your race schedule, let a coach know. Other swimmers would be honored to swim with the annoying (or maybe excited) 13 year old.

Reply to  Anon Swimmer
5 years ago

Wow. Just wow. You are one of those people who blames everyone else for your problems. In your post, you blamed the meet director, your coach and a teenage girl. Furthermore, you complained that you had a bad meet, even though you got first in everything??? Your attitude needs to come down a notch and you need to grow up a bit. Appreciate the fact that you got to be on a relay team. Many kids don’t get the chance.

Sane Swim Parent
7 years ago

Great article, but don’t forget the parents who go nuts because their child is not on the relay. It’s beyond crazy.