SwimSwam proudly presents a new series of conversations with swim parents, in which “ordinary” swim mom Anne Lepesant talks to “extraordinary” swim parents about the similarities and differences we experience in raising swimmers. Here Anne talks with Jeff Julian, former USA National Teamer, husband of Olympic Gold Medalist Kristine Quance Julian, father of up-and-comer Trenton Julian, and head coach at Rose Bowl Aquatics.
1. What is your background? Were you (are you) a competitive athlete?
I grew up in a swimming family. My mom was one of the pioneers of open water swimming, swimming Lake Michigan twice. My aunt placed 4th at Olympic Trials, when they took three, in a photo finish. My brother and sister are also 9 and 11 years older than me, so I have truly spent my life on a pool deck following them to workouts and meets since I was a baby. I went on to become captain of the USC Men’s Team, win Pac 10’s and US Open, member of the US National Team, bringing home a silver from the World University Games. I owe my love for swimming to my mom, who absolutely loved this sport and everything it had to offer.
2. When did you first realize you had an exceptional athlete on your hands?
My wife (Kristine Quance Julian, 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist) and I laugh because everything is on “Trenton time”. Our son is an up and coming athlete, looking to continue to climb the ranks, but he did it on his own time. When he was 10 and under, he was swimming well and doing things like making finals at JO’s, breaking team records, etc, but then he turned 11. Then some friends of his said he was only fast because of his parents and he seemed to decide to test that theory. Over the next few years he went through the motions, didn’t drop much time, would have races of adding 15 seconds in a 100 and we did our very best to bite our tongues. We would make sure he was okay and try to have him learn from those swims. Somewhere between 13 and 14 years old, he turned a corner. He was playing other sports at the time, but made the decision himself that he wanted to achieve more in his swimming. Early in that decision though, he had an ankle injury that kept him from kicking for over a year, but he was determined to move forward. So the work started, long before he would ever see the results. That lesson and ownership of his swimming has really paid off now though. He works for every bit of his success and understands how important that focus is now. We try to share that story, so parents understand that we (as coaches) have allowed our own son to go through those rough patches in order to learn what is needed when it’s time to really work for your success.
3. How have you managed to balance your athlete’s school / sports / social life / family life?
I am a strong believer that “balance” is all relative to the individual. Priorities are great guidelines for an athlete, or person in general, but being truly committed to something needs to play a role in finding that balance for that individual. Of that list, family is always considered first, but we look to have that priority fit into what Trenton’s goals are in swimming and school. His academics are crucial to his success in life, but he needs to be responsible enough to where it won’t impact his ability to remain focused also on achieving his other goals. “Sacrifice” is always considered such a negative term by so many people, but for us, if you are deciding not to do one thing because of a passion and drive you have for something else, that’s not a negative at all. It’s a decision being made that I don’t believe should ever be considered negative. As I mentioned above, I believe the athlete (or in this case my son) must guide that process. There will always be things that we push or enforce along the way, but if Trenton can learn to find his own “balance” while keeping in mind his own goals and dreams, then he’ll be happy in his process along the way.
4. How differently do you father your other children?
My situation is somewhat unique here. Trenton is our only child, so it’s not about parenting differently for a top athlete or not, but instead my situation involves the fact that I have now been coaching my son for nearly 2 years and how I try to manage that with coaching the rest of my swimmers. To start, I think the question is fair enough. I believe that I coach much the same way that I father. I allow kids to make mistakes, in hopes they will learn from them. I try to instill the reasons behind what we do and why it’s important. Sometimes that gets lost in translation and I need to be there to reign them back in. I am not a yeller overall. When I do get to that point, it really does put me in a bad mood. Not because I am continuing to be mad or upset at them, but because I think I could find a better way to teach them and have it sink in. I want the very best for all of my “kids” and when I am on deck, I try to give that same approach to everyone. Of course, especially to those who show me they really want to improve their process and reach their potential.
I get asked a lot how it is to coach my own son and my answer is always the same, right now it’s a dream. That’s not to say he’s always perfect, but when he’s one of, if not the top, worker I have in the water and working his process, it makes it easy. I try to come down on him the same as other athletes otherwise, but that’s been few and far between at this point.
Here’s an example where I think that balance again depends on the individual more than a “rule”. Trenton is a kid who doesn’t like to take too much of my time at the pool. So while I have heard from almost every coach who has coached their son to be sure to draw that line between swim and home, I don’t think it makes sense to do that for Trenton. Instead, I coach at the pool and I am whomever he wants me to be at home. If he wants to get away from swimming or isn’t happy with me from something, I become dad and let swimming go. But if he wants to talk swimming, since he doesn’t like to at the pool as much with me, then I am coach and we talk swimming. That’s not always easy, but I’ve found it to be the best for us.
Okay, last example for this one. The one advantage I get with Trenton is to know exactly where he is in his swimming and thinking, and I know firsthand that he listens to my guidance to get the most out of our training. So just this past season we had a discussion that I didn’t want him getting “distracted” in the weight room and doing more for the sake of doing more. I wanted him to follow the path being laid out for his success. This wasn’t different than other conversations than I have had with other athletes, but we had a long discussion, just the two of us. I thought it had gone well, but then the next weights morning he was upset that I only got “mad” at him rather than others doing the same thing. That was a bit of a slap to the face for me. I thought I had explained everything well, but sometimes reasons get lost. I then had to explain to him that just like some other things that I don’t allow to get under my skin when swimmers won’t listen, I can’t let those things drive me crazy. I teach and some learn and some ignore the first lesson (or first 10 lessons). I had to explain to him that I had that conversation with him because I know how much he wants it and how well he listens, and that I wanted him to really learn that lesson. He listened, pulled back and continued to have great training in and out of the water.
Just as it is to parent or coach anyone, it’s trying to find that individual fit for the best learning opportunities.
5. What is the best part about being a swim parent?
I absolutely love this sport and everything it has to offer everyone involved. My favorite part of being a swim parent is being able to see the significant impact swimming has had on my son’s life. It’s helped him learn lessons that would have been extremely difficult to teach in any other way. Teaching him that TEAM is about more that wearing the same jersey, but it’s what you do to make those around you better, even if they are your competition. I won’t list everything here that swimming has done for my son, but I’ll just leave it at my favorite part is seeing the value that will be carried in my son for his entire life.
6. What has been your biggest challenge?
Within the realm of being a swim parent the biggest challenge I have had is allowing Trenton to go through years of being unfocused, not really working hard and just going through the motions. As those that know us can imagine, both Kristine and I are very competitive people. Well, during that time for Trenton, we were in the car headed to workout and we were talking about what sports he might want to play in high school. Then we had this conversation:
T – do you think I could make the team in soccer?
J – Sure, you just need to work hard, learn and continue to improve
T – That would be fun. I was thinking about it, and I wouldn’t want to be the worst player on the team though. I don’t really want to be the best either. I just want to be somewhere right in the middle.
I think I almost crashed the car and sat there in silence. What do I say to that? I want him to be happy, it’s his life. I just could not relate. Kristine could not relate. Where does that come from? Well, I said “okay, you’ll just have to work and see where things are when you get there.”
I also believe that kids need to find their paths. Pushing them to reach higher won’t teach them anything in the long run. While we had no idea how it would turn out, we remained quiet, supported Trenton in his own decisions and allowed him to find his own way when it came to sports.
Wow what a difference it is today. No more middle of the pack thinking for him, but that was his own decision. So, while it was difficult, I would highly recommend guiding your children to find their own path rather than forcing what you believe to be best. While it was difficult for us, we couldn’t be happier with how things worked out.
7. What is your favorite memory of your child’s swimming career?
There are so many along the way, some having to do with performance and others with experiences, but most recently was to watch him win the 100 fly out of lane 8 at CIF. My favorite thing of all time as a coach is to see the immediate, huge smile on swimmers faces when they touch the wall and see that goal achieved. It is an incredible feeling. To see it from my son and my swimmer all at once really hit a special place for me (multiplied even more by my current health battle). I can’t really separate the two (swim dad/coach) but while the win was amazing, the coolest part was to see him use every bit of his work in the water (turns, underwaters, etc) on a daily basis clearly make the difference in the race. He didn’t just win, he earned the win, and that is such an incredible feeling.
8. Do you get nervous watching him swim?
I used to be extremely nervous when he was racing (when he was younger) because you never quite knew which Trenton would show up (at least that’s how we used to put it). Now it is so much easier. It’s not that I don’t get nervous at all, but now it’s been more about if he will get all the way to his goal times or not. As a coach I try to speak to swimmers about “erasing the questions” when you get to meets and you do that by working your process during the season better than you ever have before. So since I get to see him do that every day, day in and day out, those questions or nerves are also erased for me. I know he’s worked for it and he’s ready. That’s not to say bad swims never happen, but they are few and far between and are used as motivation for the next one if it does happen.
9. How have you handled disappointing races/meets?
Really the same way we try with all of our swimmers. It’s okay to be disappointed, but the important thing is to learn from it and take a drive away from it to be better the next time. I remember something my dad used to say to me when I was a swimmer and would have a bad race. “We’re disappointed for you, but never disappointed in you.” It takes a bit to understand that, but I think it’s the perfect place for a parent to come from when helping a swimmer through the rough patches. We also would love to see those smiling faces at the end of the races, but we can never project disappointment from our side of things.
10. What advice do you have for other swim parents?
Enjoy the sport, see it for what it offers much beyond the times or successes achieved in the water and above everything else, be there to support (not push) your child. Being a coach and a swim dad, I could probably go on for a long time on this question alone, but I try to keep it brief.
Support and love your child with every step along the way. Let the drive and push come from your swimmer and the coach, no matter how hard that might be at times. It will pay off, in the water or out, and you’ll see just how much your child can do with their own motivation.
Anne Lepesant is an ordinary swim mom. Her four daughters have been with Swim Pasadena since 2004 and now two swim in college (Caroline is a junior at SCAD Savannah; Victoria, a sophomore at Princeton) and two in high school (Madeleine and Isabelle attend Pasadena High School). In this series, Anne explores the question: “ordinary” swim parent to “extraordinary” swim parent, what it’s like to raise truly exceptional swimmers? What experiences have we all shared? Where do our paths diverge? Stay tuned for some interesting #SwimParentMonday conversations.