The Parent’s Survival Guide for Dealing with a Taper

by Olivier Poirier-Leroy. You can join his weekly motivational newsletter for competitive swimmers by clicking here.

The role of swimmer parent is a rich and diverse challenge that requires a vast and evolving skill set; from scheduling car pool, fundraising planning, officiating and much, much more.

During the period of the taper, a several week long period of equally intense bouts of doubt and confidence, the parent also becomes psychologist, hostage negotiator, and counselor.

To better understand how to cope with your athlete, here is a breakdown of the 7 most common stages of the tapering swimmer, along with suggestions for how to help your swimmer and you get through the taper with sanity intact:

1. The Second-Guesser. The swimmer will become inundated with thoughts of regret battered with panic, of wishing they hadn’t missed that one morning workout three months ago, and now, because they had, all those hundreds of other workouts are completely for naught. If only!

Remedy: Remind the athlete of all the work they did put in. If they have a log book, sit down with them and go over all of the practices, all of those nightmarish main sets that they whooped. Remind them that at this point, one more practice is merely a drop in the bucket of all the hard work already done.

2. The Phantom Pain Menace. Whereas a few weeks ago in the midst of 5k+ two-a-days there was barely a mention of aches and pains, now your swimmer is over-analyzing every soreness, acheyness and oh-my-god-is-that-a-headache-what-could-that-be-from? Anything that might remotely feel like an injury is given the complete House treatment. General panic and disorder ensues.

Remedy: Limit their Googling; the swimmer will look up their aches and pains and be terrified by a long list of diagnoses. Achey shoulder? Irreparable shoulder injury. Fatigue? Sounds like mono. General soreness? Definitely mono.

3. The Bouncy Ball. The taper is a magical thing in that everyone responds a little differently. For some, they are initially more fatigued than they were during hard training, while for others it is go time. With a nearly limitless surplus of energy this athlete can be found careening through rooms in the house, picking up new interests such as cleaning (?!), and also seeking out new activities outside of the pool to drain their energy.

Remedy: Put that kid to work! Just kidding. Very often swimmers will look for ways to burn this energy off, from playing hoops to going on Ultra-marathons. Try to limit the latter as to not completely decimate the swimmer’s taper.

4. The Hulk. On edge and irritable this athlete is frustrated with everything; how the taper isn’t going as well as it could, how they don’t feel as good as they’d like in the water, and how the big meet is two time-zones away. Two time-zones! The Hulk, well, smash.

Remedy: Food. More sleep. A couple Disney movies. Not thinking about swimming.

5. Lost & Bewildered. This swimmer comes home from practice with a stricken, mildly confused look across their face. As though stepping into another dimension, they aren’t sure if they have fully crossed over into the tapering phase, or they are in the pre-taper phase still, or even if they are in a pre-taper recovery-power phase. Sorry, where am I?

Remedy: Seek clarification about an exact date, hour and minute that the taper officially began with coach and placate athlete.

6. Mr. Feel Good. With the yardage down, and the rest up, a tapering swimmer is likely to feel rather, well, fantastic. So much so that it would behoove them to get another workout in. If it feels good, do it, right? Nope!

Remedy: Don’t support them scratching this itch. It’s a normal part of the tapering process. Hide goggles, running shoes and/or any surgical tubing laying around the house.

7. The Emotional Pile Up. For the entire season this athlete has stoically pounded out everything his or her coach dished out. They performed at the in-season meets, posted some hellishly fast get up swims in practice, and invested every last ounce of energy into swimming their pants off come championship season. However, with taper in full effect this athlete’s stoic facade promptly collapses. Wild and unpredictable mood swings varying from a calm depression to an hysteric giddiness leaving all those in their wake to wonder, “Now, what was that?”

Remedy: Remind your swimmer that the taper is a leap of faith, it’s a process, and that no matter how un-awesome they feel at the time, to trust that their body will show up ready to slay some best times on race day.


Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer. He’s the publisher of YourSwimBook, a ten-month log book for competitive swimmers.

Conquer the Pool Mental Training Book for SwimmersHe’s also the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High Performance Mindset.

It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, and anecdotes and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.

Ready to take your mindset to the next level?

Click here to learn more about Conquer the Pool.

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3 years ago

Are you kidding… parents involved with a taper… get a freakin grip…. let the kids … be kids… go to bed…!!!!

3 years ago

Be careful and always check for the date of comment in discussion sections. Once I was responding to the dead person.

4 years ago

All I try to do is provide good meals, love, and tell the kids I am praying for them and am proud they worked so hard. I don’t watch practice or offer any swim suggestions or inquire about taper. My kids are older. and I have seen how burdened kids can get when their parents are overly competitive or put too much pressure. I see it this way, maybe this can help, after 12 years of swim parenting three kids up to the national level, if they are committed to swimming and care so deeply about “taper” and their work-outs, then hopefully that discipline will translate into being responsible parents, drivers, employees, and just good humans. Try to let the… Read more »

Swim Mom
5 years ago

I remember a couple of years ago when one of my sons was tapering and was in a blue phase of feeling crappy. He was not acting like his normal self, and he was getting upset about stuff he would never normally care about. We got into an argument, and then the light bulb came on. He was sitting in the back of the van and he said, “I feel like I’m gonna cry and I have no idea why.” I said, “It’s the taper.” We both started to laugh, because we had seen his older brother like this once before during taper. It can do a number on you both physically and mentally.

7 years ago

There are certainly physiological aspects to getting someone ready for peak performance, but in my experience no aspect is more important to tend to than the mind. Once the parents get involved with talking about taper, the coach is at a disadvantage.

So many people are concerned about “how they feel”. I’ve seen people who feel great and swim slow, feel slow and swim great, feel great and swim great, feel slow and swim slow. When you are constantly inspecting “how you feel” and wondering “how the taper will work”….it makes me chuckle.

On rule I have, and I generally keep this to myself: once a parent starts talking with the coach about “how to taper” — it’s all… Read more »

Reply to  coach
7 years ago

Love this.

Reply to  coach
5 years ago

This is so true. Championship season brings out the best swimming humor. One day they feel great, the next they forget how to swim. I remember several meets where my kids would say how horrible they felt in warm-up and then went on to swim great. Its a bit of a roller coaster if they share it with you but we ride it out and laugh knowing each day is different. Its been said earlier but it is true you do not have to feel good to swim fast.

Reply to  coach
3 years ago

Every time I see one of these articles it makes me cringe. Why does SwimSwam encourage overinvolved parents and feed into their idea that they are a major part of the process? Want to be a great swim parent? Use common sense on things like sleep and diet and encourage your kid to trust their coach. Let them know that your love for them is not tied to their swimming performance and that life is much bigger than swimming. That’s pretty much it.

Reply to  Patrick
3 years ago

Probably because it’s better than encouraging the counter-narrative that all of you coaches seem more interested in: let the coaches have full control, do whatever they want without question, and wind up with sexually, physically, and emotionally abused athletes that battle severe mental health issues well into their young-adult lives.

Sorry coach, but you all abused the “total control” rights. Time to learn teammwork. Crazy parents are a problem, but so are control-freak coaches.

7 years ago

Taper is overated and it’s usage is the great scapegoat for just plain performing poorly. ” we didn’t taper right”. The word should be eliminated. Swimmers should swim fast more often.

Reply to  CoachGB
7 years ago

We never use the word anymore… we talk about ‘race prep’ for most and some of the bigger, close to men dudes we talk about ‘rest’… taper is a stupid word.

7 years ago

Once taper hits it reminds me of when our kids first learned to walk. Way back in those days we needed “safe proof” the living areas so that toddlers couldn’t pull things down on themselves. Now we need to safe proof the living areas from our 17 year old to avoid damage from careening balls that range in size from tennis balls to stability balls.

We never ask our kids how they “feel” during taper. It’s asking for trouble. They tell us anyway and our response is always “that’s good”. and/or “you don’t have to feel good to swim fast.”

Reply to  newswim
5 years ago

Our swimmer now in his 20’s still never fails to injure himself… Jammed fingers, stubbed toes, knife cuts, basketball or med ball injuries, twisted ankles. He needs a padded room!

8 years ago

Psycho Daddio,

That is the most loaded question I have seen on this web site. Each kid is his or her own circumstance. How many sessions have they made? What was their training volume? Which events are they training for? Maturity level? How do they perform under pressure? Etc. there are 1000s of things to consider.

Reply to  Adam
8 years ago

Right. But how do you taper if you have say 20 of them. You do not taper individually, you taper the entire group. How? Based on the strongest kid? or, based on some fixed rules you have? I do not think any coach considers all those reasons you listed, in practice.

Swim mom
Reply to  PsychoDad
7 years ago

Psychodad, my kid’s coach would break down the training group further and segment them into different taper groups, depending on what meets and events they were swimming and other factors.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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