Swim Mom Musings: Choosing the Right Swim Team

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.


Coaches matter.  

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.


Culture matters.

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.

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Eva - a swim mom, too
2 years ago

I am so thankful to have found your blog! I’m struggling with a coach who has said and acted very unkind to my daughter. My daughter no longer wants to swim with this coach…. my daughter is in the oldest group- high school level and no one talks to each other. My daughter tells me that the coach makes them nervous! That they feel he could snap at any moment! I haven’t forced her to go back and now I’ve even pulled my younger daughter from the team. Now we are searching for great coaching! And a team that encourages unity! Friendship!

Kind regards,

7 years ago

great article. though i would refrain from thinking and stating that any one sport requires the most amount of self-sacrifice. i too, have children in multiple sports – to include swimming as the main one. but self sacrifice comes down to the individual, not the sport. you can wake up early, train long and hard, be fanatic about your nutrition, etc when wanting to succeed in any particular sport.

7 years ago

Our club team requires parents to volunteer in at least 3 meets per season, or they won’t allow the swimmer of that parent enter a meet. The system works well, and we have no trouble getting volunteers anymore. We used to have to play polka music over the speakers to get volunteers!
Even so, it’s a bummer at high school meets to see the same volunteers on deck, and see the same people in the stands week after week not willing to help.
(P.S. To EMORYSWIMMOM2018, I am too! At parents’ weekend, I would love to know who you are. Let’s try to find each other at the banquet!)

Reply to  CJ
7 years ago

If you are the parent of a current swimmer, just ask them because apparently all the swimmers know who I am. If you are a “newbie”, welcome!!! Just ask your swimmer to ask an upperclassman who I am and believe me, they will gladly point me out haha. We seem to be of like minds, so I look forward to meeting you too.

7 years ago

Most teams have a very large volunteer buy-out payment. What I don’t understand is the arrogance of some parents in thinking that their volunteering contributes more to the team than those volunteer buy-out payments.

Reply to  anonymous
7 years ago

As meet director/administrator/official, I have been involved in many club and HS meets for over 10 years. Believe me, your team needs your time, not your buy-out $$. Most of us know it’s always the same group of parents who never volunteer but constantly hover over their kids at meets and complain (among themselves) coaches don’t pay enough attention to their kids. To be fair, if you have very young or novice swimmers, it’s important for you to be available when they need help. Otherwise let it go and your kids will thank you later.

Reply to  anonymous
6 years ago

Because very simply, those parents who volunteer DO contribute more. They help get the tasks done that are required to run the competition your child is participating in. The buyouts are huge because they are intended as a last resort penalty for those who can’t be bothered to be contributing members of the swim community.

7 years ago

if no one volunteered there would be no meets.

7 years ago

Why volunteer? I would rather focus on my children and what they need. If a team needs people to do something then they should use those people who want to volunteer and not burden those people who don’t want to volunteer. If there is still a manpower shortfall then hire people.

Reply to  Anonymous
7 years ago

Why volunteer? Hire people? These swim teams are almost always parent-run organizations so hiring outside help is NEVER in the budget. If you don’t want to volunteer & set a good example for your child, YOU can hire someone, & pay them out of your own pocket to work for you. That is your choice, but either way pull your weight. Over the years, it’s so frustrating watching parents who seem to think they are above working meets. Be present for your child with a stop watch in your hand.

Reply to  Anonymous
7 years ago

Hope you are being sarcastic, right? In our LSC, it’s a fact that parents who volunteer have fast swimmers. You need to let it go and leave it to your child and his/her coaches.

Speed for Cash
Reply to  Anonymous
7 years ago

In addition to not wanting to be involved in your child’s swim team (as a volunteer) perhaps you are also thinking that faster times are for sale, cash in, fast times out?

Reply to  Anonymous
7 years ago

Wow. This is a bad attitude. How about No Volunteer, No Swim. Many teams actually require volunteering — why? Because meets cannot be run without volunteers. Officials, timers, and many other jobs behind the scenes.

Reply to  Anonymous
7 years ago

I hope that your not serious with your comment! If you are, you have a lot to learn.

7 years ago

We are in the process of switching clubs, and have chosen a smaller one. There are two BIG clubs in our area and one that qualified to 13-year-olds to the Olympic trials. (Not hard to find my city now). But we went with putting our talented swimmer in a smaller club where kids have fun AND excel. We also sat out the long-course season and only did summer league, which really bothered some parents. “She’d easily make 4 or 5 regional cuts!” My daughter just wanted to have fun, and so she just did summer league with “eat my bubbles” drawn on her back! LOL At the championships she set personal bests in every event without even knowing she was… Read more »

7 years ago

Great article! A couple of notes from a 16yr Swim Dad. There is no perfect answer in terms of a club for all kids. We also started at age 5 with a small local USA team that was a perfect fit at the time. Lot’s of one on one attention and low stress atmosphere. Two club mergers later, the larger team has managed to keep most, but not all of those atributes. The big step from Age Group(12&Under) swimmer to the Senior level is often a time of stress, usually involving a new coach and even a venue change for larger clubs. This transition point can often lead to some athletes feeling lost in the crowd and changing clubs or… Read more »