Swim Parent Tip: Seeing the Big Picture and Trusting the Coach

Courtesy of  Elizabeth Wickham

I remember when my daughter had just moved up into the senior group as a 13-year-old. It was September, the first meet of the season, and we had a new head coach. He put her and other swimmers in hard, killer events. The 400 IM, 1650, 200 fly, etc.

The group she had just moved up from swam “fun stuff.” 50 free, 100 free, 100 fly.

At the time, my daughter felt life was unfair.

Her coach had many years of experience and entered his senior kids in these tough events for a reason. Probably for several reasons. He was getting a baseline. This would help him all season long in planning their training. The swimmers were also learning what they were made of. I’m sure there were more reasons than I fully understand.

He was questioned by more than one parent during the meet:

“Why is my swimmer in all these hard events?” or “It’s the beginning of the season. My swimmer isn’t going to do well.”

Looking back with 20-20 vision, I see more positives than negatives from that one swim meet. My daughter and her fellow swimmers survived. No, they didn’t get all best times, but they rose to the challenge and swam to the best of their abilities.

Parent Tip:

Parents need to step back and let our kid’s coach do his or her job. Let’s not second guess them.

At AA and JO meets, my daughter balked at having to swim the mile and 200 fly back to back. When she complained, one of her coaches — a former distance swimmer — said, “Get used to it. That’s life as a distance swimmer.” At first, it was a mountain she didn’t want to climb. After a few times, my daughter embraced it and felt a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Fast forward to college and she’s swimming either the 1000 or 1650 plus the 500 free at every dual meet — in a time period often under two hours. You bet she thinks of her coaches from when she was 13 — who always put her in tough events. She’s probably even thanking them.

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: http://bleuwater.me/.

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

So, true, Elizabeth. I’m in the same situation, my 13-y-o daughter is swimming with the “big fish” on her team now. She often questions the coach’s practice sets and mostly distance meet entries, because she doesn’t yet see the big picture. It’s all part of the learning experience, and I hope she continues to swim in college and will look back, as your daughter is doing, and realize that it was great preparation for all aspects of life!

6 years ago

Did the coach communicate his plan to you, or did you just accept his training on blind faith alone?

Elizabeth Wickham
Reply to  FletchMacFletch
6 years ago

Thanks for commenting. Communication with the coach to gain understanding is a positive. Good coaches will educate parents as well as kids.

Reply to  FletchMacFletch
6 years ago

Is it the coach’s job to communicate to you, the parent? I know I spend plenty of time defending my position to my parents and it takes energy to do that — energy well-spent perhaps on planning further training.

I stand there and come up with new things to get people faster…on the spot. Do I have to communicate this to the parents? Or must I stick with this “plan” that I’ve gotten everyone to check off on?

Reply to  Coach
6 years ago

Coach, I agree that what coaches do is not fully recognized or appreciated by most parents. I think that the point being made is that if you take the time to communicate in a “structured” format you can convert questioning parents into educated advocates. There are inappropriate times that parents MUST be aware of, to not approach coaches, such as not during practice, a meet, or other times that distract the coach from doing his primary job of coaching.

Reply to  Coach
6 years ago

I’ve found that all the great coaches we’ve had are completely transparent with what they are trying to accomplish with their practice elements, chosen meet events, even comments to the swimmer that may have been a little, shall we say…pointed. The important point to make is that those questions are usually answered via an email, or a text when the coach is NOT directly occupied with trying to do their job.

As far as the coach above feeling no compunction AT ALL to communicate the training plan EVER to the parents, you better rethink that position. The Parent signs the checks after all, and they are your customer!

Dave R
Reply to  Coach
6 years ago

Some parents (typically those new to the team) may ask questions because they are still evaluating whether you are acting in their child’s interests (i.e. you do not have enough of their trust to operate without answering questions). It’s important for parents to have confidence in the adults who influence their children’s lives. A swimmer whose parents don’t trust you is in an unhealthy situation for the swimmer, for the family, for the team, and for you. Don’t expect this sort of question to go away if unanswered.

Alternatively, most parents ask questions at least in part to learn and better understand the sport. Such questions offer opportunities to improve your athletes’ support structures at home – after all,… Read more »

6 years ago

So true! Thank you Elizabeth. My daughler is the slowest in her JO group right now but I trust her coach and I do my job as a parent to remain an encourager and supporter

mr. s
6 years ago

I think it’s great when coaches challenge swimmers as described above, but more broadly I would advise to trust but verify. Not all swimmers will mesh with all coaches and coaching style can certainly influence a child’s interest in the sport.

It’s important for the team to communicate their program structure (e.g. college prep, swimmer goals vs coach goals oriented, more recreational, etc.) and expectations, especially if there is wholesale coaching change. This will help swimmers and parents know if the coaches are the right fit.

6 years ago

This is a difficult article to publish because it is such a common issue/problem amongst squads. A great read and an interesting perspective. Coaches reading this may interprete what you have read differently (individuality) as they may assume they address the issues you have raised appropriately in their own style. If the coach approaches his/her role as a profession then I believe a thorough rationale should be given to swimmers rather then “because I’m the coach response”. It’s different if the coach has proven themselves in the past where the parent or swimmer can see those top ‘successful’ swimmers and see the end of ‘the big picture’. If a coach can’t or is not happy to answer a question to… Read more »

Kathryn Kurie
6 years ago

A great article. However, am I the only parent of an average or mediocre (or even “slow”) swimmer? All the articles I find are related to fast or good swimmers. Not many address average or less swimmers. This sport needs to figure out a way to encourage slower or mediocre swimmers – not all kids have raw talent and can be moved to seniors at age 13.
Swimmers like mine (and their parents) get discouraged because all the focus is on the fast swimmers – it is all about them all of the time. Even training articles are geared toward elite swimmers. The “big picture” for us is remaining in the sport – and that challenge becomes greater as… Read more »

Reply to  Kathryn Kurie
6 years ago

If your club only focuses instruction on swimmers who currently (and I say currently because I’ve seen plenty of ‘slow’ swimmers just starting out begin really getting it with instruction and start to blow up) are fast, I’d suggest finding another club focused on the progress of the swimmers and also having fun, and not so much on the ‘bottom line’ (e.g. how many swimmers they are sending to Junior nationals)

But I’d make darned sure that is exactly what is going on, and you’ve had a pointed discussion with the President of the club and the coach as to why there is your (and your swimmer’s) perceived bias in instructional focus towards only the fastest swimmers!

Reply to  The Splashfather
4 years ago

“Finding another club” could be difficult depending on where this person in particular lives. Not all people live in large population areas with many different options. But I agree splashfather, if there is another team that is a better fit, I suggest leaving. I’m in an area where there are both a lot of nationally ranked teams, and slower teams with hardly any elite swimmers. I notice that there are a lot of happy swimmers on the non-elite teams

But I agree with your post also Kathryn. There are many teams where only the fast swimmers get recognized. My team seems like this sometimes, but I try really hard to change the culture and recongnize everyone, at least with… Read more »

Bill Heins
6 years ago

Kathryn, just help your swimmer concentrate on the value they get from swimming aside from places or time standards. Your swimmer looks better, is healthier, and balances life’s multiple challenges better than would be the case without swimming. As long as those things improve within the one swimmer over time, comparisons to other swimmers are irrelevant. When I was a runner in high school, I just wanted to get faster than I was before; occasionally not finishing last was just gravy. That satisfaction and dedication will last a lifetime.

Randall Marquis
6 years ago

I also have a coach that is pushing perhaps what he believes are “the limits,” but frankly I am torn between the mantra of “have fun” and pushing an 8-year old into 9-10 long distance races.

With a son with two meets left where he qualifies to swim with his peers and his age group, I want him to enjoy the last moments of his group. His coach wants to push the 9-10 longer distances… forget about his specific age. I believe he has plenty of time to be a 9-10.

In a sport where it is proven that “having fun” is a major part of having a long life in the sport, my instincts say “have fun” for two… Read more »