One Tip For Swim Parents: Don’t Speak

by SwimSwam 14

November 07th, 2017 Lifestyle, Swim Mom

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

Whats the first thing most parents do if their child loses, doesnt make their cut, or has a flat out bad swim? We talk. We want to reassure. We want to make them feel better. The moment we see our child, we might say: I saw you went out really fast,or Dont worry, you have another swim ahead.

That all sounds innocent and we have the best intentions, right? But what happens? Our kids may argue with us, be defensive or be quiet and sullen. Theyre not happy and nothing we can say will may it better.

In a Washington Post article I read by Nancy Star called The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak,she talks about her experience as a soccer mom that I believe works for us swim parents, too.

“Your child doesn’t have to play in the Super Bowl for you to know the feeling. Their team was supposed to win and then they didn’t. What do you do? Being the mother of two girls who played soccer and ran track, I thought I knew the answer: Talk it through. Tell them you love them. Say it’s just a game. Remind them there’s always a next time. Isn’t that what good parenting is all about? Keeping channels of communication open even in tough moments?

Turns out the answer is no. I learned this when I had a “don’t speak” moment.”

I understand this all too well. After my kids were disappointed after a swim, Id want to take away their hurt and make them feel better. Id say all the things they didnt want to hear and in return, Id get a barrage of negativity that would take me by surprise. I never understood that I wasnt making it better, but I was making them feel worse. They werent ready to rehash a bad swim with me. I read in David Benzels book, 5 Powerful Strategies for Sport Parent Success,that we should wait for our kids to talk to us. We need to be there and listen. But, if we start the conversation first, even with the best intentions, theyll probably pull away and stay quiet. They want to please us so much they may take any little thing we say personally, and believe theyve let us down. Give them time to think and process their thoughts before saying anything.

Heres one parent tip about not speaking:

After a swim, stay quiet and listen. Our kids may open up more than ever if we let them take the lead in the conversation. If our swimmer starts the conversation they may ask for our input.

What do you say after your child has a less than stellar race?

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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Swim Fan
3 years ago

For the very first time I think I disagree with Elizabeth’s article. I would definitely agree that staying silent is better than saying the wrong things, and being a good listener is key, but silence can convey disappointment or rejection. Your kids are looking for reassurance that’s it’s going to be ok and you support them no matter what. Learning to say the right things in the right way is key. A long and silent ride home from a meet feels all kinds of wrong and could be taken the wrong way. Be a good listener and reassure – it’s worked for me for many years very successfully.

Reply to  Swim Fan
3 years ago

I think she is saying “in that moment don’t speak”, not, “don’t speak for the rest of the day/meet unless your kid opens up.” In short, I think she’s saying to do exactly what you say you do (“Be a good listener and reassure”) – Listen first (even if that listening is a bit of silence), then reassure

Reply to  Blackflag82
3 years ago

totally right

Swimming Fan
Reply to  Swim Fan
3 years ago

She has a good point, and especially with regard to a child that is not much of a verbal communicator. Non-verbal language can convey your reassurance. A pat on the back, a shoulder hug and a loving look can work wonders. The reality is that their is often very little to say and your swimmer may just need to process things through himself or herself. That’s the way I was with sports. I didn’t want to talk about it until I had processed everything myself. My swimmer is that way as well. Less speaking initially can be better.

3 years ago

Far too much paranoia in this article about parenting the “wrong” way by the author. Her advice might work for some but it is not the only way.

3 years ago

I usually take my cue from them. If they want to talk they will. Usually a “You okay?” Let’s them know that I’m here…and when they’re ready, they’ll open up, or not. It’s their decision.

3 years ago

Well once they swim in college you can’t anymore. Might as welllearn now.

3 years ago

I agree. No words, just a hug. And wait for them to talk.

3 years ago

The problem is there simply VERY few coaches that can teach, a lot of trainers out there, but almost no teachers. If you asked most coaches to break down a kids stroke they would be lost. So If a parent was a former swimmer and especially if they were a good swimmer (college or JR nat level) Chances are they probably know more than their coach. So if you see the same errors over and over, it might be your duty to speak up! It depends on the child, coach and many other factors. But old adage let parents parent and coaches coach is very naive!

3 years ago

Robert, bravo! I always get a certain impression from these “How to parent” articles. I find them interesting, and usually the advice falls into the “safe” category. Coaches often agree with the advice given here, too. Coaches also forbid “their” swimmers from getting technique lessons from other coaches, from swimming with their school teams, etc. I lived with a fellow swimmer in college that had weekly (or more) calls with his club coach wherein his club coach would criticize the college coach and instruct the swimmer on how they should approach different aspects of training. Crazy.

Let’s be honest…a lot of club coaches are terrible, have huge egos and want to control every aspect of their swimmer’s development. Involved… Read more »

3 years ago

well said!