Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham
What’s the first thing most parents do if their child loses, doesn’t 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 “Don’t 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. They’re 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, I’d want to take away their hurt and make them feel better. I’d say all the things they didn’t want to hear and in return, I’d get a barrage of negativity that would take me by surprise. I never understood that I wasn’t making it better, but I was making them feel worse. They weren’t ready to rehash a bad swim with me. I read in David Benzel’s 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, they’ll probably pull away and stay quiet. They want to please us so much they may take any little thing we say personally, and believe they’ve let us down. Give them time to think and process their thoughts before saying anything.
Here’s 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.