Courtesy of Donna Hale
My daughter has been swimming most of her life. She began this crazy journey at five years old in a small community pool that’s now park land. She was drawn to the water very early, almost as quickly as she learned to walk. So at five we learned about the wonders of year-round swimming and what to look for when you are searching for a great USA swimming program. August is often the time that athletes select clubs for the coming year. Whether you are new to swimming or thinking about making a change, here are a few swim mom tips for helping your child navigate the sometimes murky waters of club selection.
My child has been lucky to have three amazing coaches – all were the right fit for the seasons of her swimming life. Most coaches can teach technique, design training programs, and assess your child’s skills quite well. Where the big difference manifests itself is character. The best of the best emulate character and teach this to our children. Nothing is more important. Remember the amount of time your child spends with a coach is mind boggling. Be sure the coaches’ values reflect what is important. Great coaches expect excellence, but they also recognize that swimming is a part of life. They search out and embrace teachable moments. They celebrate. They also console. They are one of your child’s biggest role models.
Bigger is not always better.
Living in an area bursting with great USA clubs, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking the clubs who produce the most Olympians are the best. The harsh reality is that the stars of this sport have a God given talent and would excel wherever they train. Yes, they work hard, but most are just plain gifted from the start. The biggest club may not be the best for your child. The single greatest measure of success is if your child is having fun and progressing in the sport. And remember, sometimes it is better to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. You don’t have to be on the largest team to get a college scholarship, go to Sectionals or even qualify for the Olympic Trials.
Are the swimmers friendly and supportive? Are they bonding during those pre-dawn workouts and grueling sets? One of the greatest things about swimming is the enduring friendships. They should be cherished and nurtured. Most swimmers will tell you that locker room gabbing, playing the occasional tricks on their coach, and the just for fun relays make the sport fun. One time when my child was young, she and another friend secretly changed the screen background of their coach’s computer to a photo of themselves. The coach did not know how to change it back, and it was good for some terrific laughs and great memories. Of course none of the group would help. Now I am not advocating that your child play pranks on the coach. I am just pointing out that your child is making memories that will last a lifetime. Be sure they are making these memories with great teammates who are supportive and fun.
The sport belongs to your child.
Parents, grandparents, teammates, and even coaches are there to offer support and, in the coaches case, training and feedback. But in the end, the relationship is between your child and the water. It has taken me far too many years to fully comprehend this with the gentle nudging and in some cases darn right directness of great coaches. We are just along for this ride. Swimming does not define our child any more than any single factor defines anyone. I’ve been involved in several sports as a parent and can say without reservation, no sport requires more self-sacrifice than swimming. So your child’s voice in where they want to swim and for whom is the one that matters. In the age of helicopter parenting, and yes I am guilty as charged, that’s hard to accept. But it is true. They need to love it. Nurture that love. Don’t destroy it. Let them chart their course. And you savor the moments.
Your presence matters.
Now this may sound like a conflict to the advice above but it is not. Please volunteer. Think about the number of parents needed to run a meet. Don’t be the parent with their head buried in the Kindle. Volunteer. Your child is watching. Timing is something any parent can do, and it is best seat in house. This shows your swimmer that it is important to give something back – to be a part of the community. This lesson carries forward to other areas of their lives. The very best clubs offer opportunities for service. Michael Phelps just spent time at Special Olympics. Swimmers around the world noticed. Coaches appreciate the help. And it makes the sport a family affair. One of the things that bothers me most as a swim parent is when I have to go in the bleachers begging for help. So before you hide when someone comes looking for help, ask yourself if this is the example you want to set?
Be sure your child has fun.
Getting up at 4:30 every day, missing the Friday night movies out, and spending yet another weekend at a pool are sacrifices. In the race for cuts and medals, if it is not fun don’t do it and don’t force your dreams on your child. The best clubs help develop the goals of each and every swimmer. Winning a gold medal at the Olympics is not the only definition of success. Here’s to the start of a great SCY season and another year of amazing memories. Enjoy it. One day, sooner than you think, this will be over. Your coffee bill will go down, but you will miss it.
Donna Hale has been a swim mom for nearly 12 years. Her daughter swims for The Potomac Marlins as well as her summer and high school team.