Swim Mom: When Our Kids Have Big Dreams

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

I have a question for swim coaches and parents. When our kids have huge dreams, should we tell them what is realistic and reasonable? Or, do encourage them to dream? Every child I interviewed for our team’s newsletter dreamed of being an Olympian. Yes, it can happen. It did twice in our club’s 50-year history. The odds are it won’t happen for most children, but perhaps it’s those Olympic dreams that keep children in the pool.

In my humble opinion, when they are young—before high school—let them dream. But, when they’re teenagers and say they want to be on the U.S. Olympic Team or get a “full-ride” scholarship, and it isn’t realistic, maybe it’s time to say something. Or, should coaches manage expectations for their swimmers? Most of our kids figure it out on their own through years of practice and competition.

Here are four thoughts about dreaming big:



Kids aren’t held back like many adults from big dreams, because they don’t have life experiences that get in their way and hold them back. I believe in the expression, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” When our kids dream of becoming Olympians or earning college scholarships, they may visualize reaching their goals. In a sense, they are practicing achievement in their minds.



Becoming an Olympian or scholarship athlete has many smaller goals along the way that can be achieved. We and their coaches can encourage our children along their particular path. I’m reminded of a swim parent who came from another team and told our coach, “My child is on an Olympic track.” The coach’s answer was, “Let’s focus on getting Sectional cuts, first.” He wasn’t being derogatory, but rather asking for focus on the immediate and achievable tasks at hand.



When our kids are in high school and if they want to swim in college, we can help with research. By looking at the results of college conference meets, we can help our kids understand where they can have an impact. As for full-ride scholarships, we can explain how many scholarships are available for fully-funded teams compared to the number of swimmers and that most scholarships are partial rather than full. If they have a dream school, they will know if it’s a realistic goal or how much they may need to improve to make the team.



The hard work kids put in today is like a savings account. They will reap rewards later, if not immediately. If they continue to persevere and work hard, they may achieve their dreams. If they don’t make it to the Olympics, yet they’ve tried their best, they are a success. Learning about failure and how they respond and pick themselves back up will help them throughout their lives.

What are your thoughts about whether parents or coaches should manage expectations for our children?

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.

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HB Swim Dad
4 years ago

I believe kids need to be disappointed in order to develop their own self-therapy and coping mechanisms. We as parents won’t always be there to pick them up when they as adults they face abject disappointment (job termination, spousal infidelity, personal betrayal, criminal conviction, etc.). Being disappointed as a child or teen is painful but very manageable because parents are there to pick them up. If they dream big great, the bigger the better, then they can practice falling and hitting the ground with us there to pick up the pieces. Easier to shepherd them through the disappointment now, at age 16, then watching them suffer disappointment as an adult at age 30 without the experience to cope. Yes, it… Read more »

Reply to  HB Swim Dad
4 years ago

HB swim dad. It was my father that was more interested in my swimming than mother was. As a kid I was disappointed a lot with the swimming but as a 61 year old. I found it it is one of the few things I can do better than most people my age or sometimes younger.