The Importance of a Strong Parent / Child Relationship in Swimming

by SwimSwam 5

March 14th, 2015 Club, Lifestyle, Opinion

Courtesy of author Gary Barclay. Featured image: Michael Phelps and family.

The parent / child relationship is critical in every family and takes a lot of work from both parties. There is no handbook on how to raise children and every family and relationship within a family will be different. The ultimate goal from my point of view is for parents to build a lifelong relationship with their children.

For children who swim, a strong parent / child relationship is very important.

In many cases you will spend a lot of time together travelling to and from swimming pools for practice and competitions. This provides you with a fantastic opportunity to build and maintain a strong relationship with your son or daughter. Many parents would love to spend more time with their children where they can talk and discuss what happened that day and many other topics. Swimming parents have this opportunity.

Every child will develop at a different rate. Some will develop early and others will develop later and in many ways we have no control over a child’s growth and development. One attribute that all parents of sporting children need is patience and truckloads of it. Be patient with the development of your child and be there for them in their times of need.

The key to establishing and maintaining a strong parent / child relationship is to love your child regardless of their performance. By providing this unconditional love, you will build the foundation for a strong relationship for many years to come.

Providing a foundation of love and support for your children is critical to their development and your happiness as a family.

It is vital in the sport of swimming that parents’ support their child at all stages of their development. Your child will have good days and bad days, days when they will train well and days when they will train poorly. They will have days where they swim personal best times in every event and on other days they will swim well outside their best times. Regardless of the outcomes and performance levels in training and competition it is important that you support your child.

This support is especially important if swimmers are going through a bad patch, or things aren’t working out for them. The social side of swimming is very important, with many swimmers creating life-long friends throughout the years of training. At times, these relationships or peer pressure from school friends may affect your child. Be there for them, listen to them and provide advice as you see appropriate.

In the sport of swimming, it is recommended that parents take an active interest in their child’s participation through providing the child with basic necessities such as the finances and the transportation needed in order to train and compete. Parents also need to provide the daily love, care and encouragement that a child needs. It is of paramount importance that swimmers are encouraged and supported whether or not they are perceived to be a success or failure.

Parents must also control the degree to which they become involved with their child’s participation in competitive swimming. Parents need to ensure that they are not re-living their youth and perhaps a lack of achievement through their children.

A parent should not place greater importance on the child’s performance than the child does.

Parents should focus on their child’s effort rather than the overall outcome of the event. Teach children that an honest effort is as important as victory, so that the result of each race is accepted without undue disappointment. Coaches teach swimmers to focus on the process and the outcomes will look after themselves. Parents should follow this lead.

Communicating a parent’s acceptance of their child regardless of achievement is very important to all children.

Educate your children that that they are not valued more or less important by achievements such as medals, placings or personal best times. Obviously these are the best outcomes but if a parent makes more fuss over a positive result and reacts badly over an average result it puts increased pressure on the “achievement” rather than “trying your best”.

Communicating a parent’s acceptance of their child regardless of achievement is very important to a swimmer. This allows the relationship between the coach and swimmer to develop and takes pressure off the parent/child relationship.

Gary Barclay is the author of Swimming for Parents – The Ultimate Education Guide for Swimming Parents. It is available at

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5 years ago

I agree – I don’t focus on how a child does relative to other children. Even focusing on times is not really that important. As a parent however, I have no problem being scathingly critical for technical missteps in either meets or practice. For example, negative splitting a 100 which the child has done dozens of times. Or not breathing the first 25 of a 200 IM or free. Forgetting to kick in a 50.

Reply to  Anonymous
5 years ago

Those things, IMHO, are the job of the coach. Not the parent.

Reply to  Anonymous
5 years ago

You should not be coaching them at all, unless you’re the team coach. Always let the coaching staff handle that side of the sport.

As the Head Coach and parent, I do not like having to critique my own child and sometimes have other coaches handle it. It can definitely be taken personally (daughters more than sons).

Reply to  Anonymous
5 years ago

With all due respect, I would ask how “scathing” criticism communicates unconditional love? Also, I would recommend as a rule: 5 affirmations before offering a single criticism.

5 years ago

Interesting article and I agree unconditional love and support is a given. There are moments during those car trips where kids ask for feedback, they need an honest opinion especially if the coach is a poor communicator, they want to know if they swam ok, they need input and they know when they’ve struggled in an event, there is little value in lying about it. There are times when it’s appropriate to expect a swimmer to ‘go do your best” instead of “try” . An excellent psychologist we use says parents can contribute to the performance of swimmers because they’re trusted, they’re loved and can be honest with a child without offending. It’s unrealistic to suggest parents should just be… Read more »