One Tip for Swim Parents about Sports Specialization

Should your swimmer only swim, or participate in several sports? As a swim mom for almost 15 years, I’ve had this conversation on the pool deck over and over.

My oldest did swimming, tennis, karate and piano, all at once. It was crazy. He had all these interests and I willingly hauled him around town.

He’d swim in the summer and fall and come back to it in the late spring. By age 11 or 12, he figured out that he was falling behind the year-round swimmers. He couldn’t compete and he wanted to. It was his idea to play piano and swim, dropping the other sports.

I dragged my daughter to the ballet studio. I loved ballet and was still dancing. My daughter must love ballet, too. Right? Wrong. Tears ran down her cheeks as she pulled on tights and a leotard. Her brother got to splash and play in the pool. She thought ballet was some weird form of punishment.

In both cases their sports specialization was self-directed, not parent-coerced. My son grew weary of rushing from practice to practice, or as I remember it, “If this is Tuesday it must be Karate.” And my daughter, well, she was happy as pie to focus on swimming at age seven.

Here’s my tip:

Follow your swimmers’ lead and support them in their choices. They will know when and if they want to specialize. They can’t put in the hours and hard work swimming requires to please their parents or their coach. They have to love it!

Swim parents, what’s your opinion on sports specialization?

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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I agree that kids should be having fun in any activity they choose! Thanks for sharing and I will be posting this on our Facebook page.


I played so many sports until highschool. Before Jr. high I did, as we called it the revolving door of sports, basketball, baseball, soccer then swimming. then of course I hit Jr. high and did football, basketball, track and swimming. Now I was doing summer league, neighborhood swimteam, and i was still fast, wasn’t the fastest but would still win sometimes. My mom would always ask me if i wanted to take it more seriously but I liked every sport. and they never pushed me, my sister, or my brother into any sport we didn’t want too.

Very true. Let the swimmer take the lead. Forcing specialization upon a child is the quickest way to burn out.

The child will also feel pride in making his/her own choices. When something become mandatory it automatically becomes a little less appealing. Reality is, if they don’t want to swim they shouldn’t have to. Hopefully it’s the act and not the environment leading to their choice.

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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