I am definitely the Swim Mom x 3. One or more of my children has been involved in competitive swimming for the past 3 years and, most likely, I have many more years of being a Swim Mom ahead of me. My two older children are both talented swimmers. My daughter, in particular, has already achieved time cuts in 8th grade that many high school swimmers never reach.
As with most talented athletes, both of my older childen put pressure on themselves to perform well. My daughter puts a TREMENDOUS amount of pressure on herself to perform well in the pool. They feel pressure from their swim coaches as well. As the parent of a young athlete, my kids don't need me to put more pressure on them.
As the Swim Mom x 3, I have a very clear idea of what my role should be in relation to my children's competitive swimming. To be The Excellent Swim Mom, I should:
- Drive my children to and from swim team practice on a regular basis and make sure they arrive on time. Since they practice 5-6 days a week, this, in and of itself, is quite a time commitment.
- Provide lots of healthy food for them to eat both before and after swim team practice. Swimmers burn a ton of calories in the water and they need food to fuel them before practice and they need food to recover after practice.
- Attend all of their swim meets. Either my husband or myself and usually both of us attend every single one of our children's swim meets. Swim meets are long, they are hot, and they are often boring when nobody you know is swimming but we are there. We are there in the stands, we are there.
- Be encouraging NO MATTER HOW MY CHILDREN PERFORM IN THE POOL. What does this mean? It means that I need to be encouraging when my children swim their best times and when they don't. It means that I should not be bouncing-off-the-walls excited when they do unbelievably well and I should not be disappointed when they don't swim as well. They need my steadfast and caring ENCOURAGEMENT no matter how they swim. They should never ever worry about letting me down or be worried about my reaction.
Last year my daughter made finals in all of her events. She had an amazing meet and came home with multiple medals and many best times.
We only attended for two days this year. Amber swam 4 events and made finals in one of the events, therefore, she made finals on Saturday but not on Sunday.
Amber was crushed about not making finals on Sunday. Other than in the USA Speedo Champions Series meets she has attended, Amber ALWAYS makes finals. She managed to hold it together on deck with her coach, and even with her father but when she finally had a chance to be alone with me, she completely came undone.
She cried and cried and in the midst of her tears, she told me that she just didn't know what she would have done if her dad had been anything but kind and supportive when he met her in the lobby. She said that she just didn't think she could have handled her disappointment if she had to deal with our disappointment as well.
My son swam in the afternoon so I stayed back at the hotel with him for morning prelims so he could rest before his swim meet. When Amber emerged into the lobby, my husband just hugged her and told her she did great. He hugged her and told her she did great and that he was proud of her even though they both knew she was way off her best times and didn't make finals. But, here's the thing, he would have told her about the same thing if she swam her best times and she made finals. As parents of young athletes, we need to be consistently encouraging.
Now, most swim parents are very encouraging to their children but some are not. I also truly believe that every parent of a young athlete can strive to be even more enouraging towards their athlete. My daughter hears swim parents raking their kids over the coals when they don't perform well in the pool. She hears parents screaming in the stands, "KICK IT IN, KICK IT IN!!!!" when their children are already swimming as hard and as fast as they possibly can. She hears about the carrots of rewards that are dangled over the heads of other swimmers to earn when they make a particular time cut. She hears and sees it all, and frankly, she's completely disgusted by all of it.
Now, my husband and I aren't perfect swim parents. We make mistakes - we've gotten swept up in the excitement of great meets in the past and have been overly excited. We've made a few comments about specific aspects of their swims that were designed to be helpful. But, we've learned a lot along the way and we've learned to always be encouraging and, mostly, to keep our mouths shut when we think we might want to offer helpful swimming hints. The best advice we ever received was from a seasoned swim mom who pointed out that swimming is a VERY long road and, as a parent, you have to try to keep an even keel. Really, many competitive swimmers start swimming at age 8 or younger and swim all the way through college year-round. That's a really long time and there are going to be ups and downs.
My husband and I don't scream in the stands at our swimmers. Sometimes we cheer a tiny bit, sometimes we clap, but mostly we watch, we smile, and we wave. We NEVER stand up and scream at our kids, we know they're doing the very best they can do at that time.
My husband and I don't dangle carrots in front of our kids to encourage them to make certain time cuts. Swimming is THEIR thing - if the rewards they receive within USA swimming and the internal rewards they receive on their own are not enough, then they shouldn't be competing. Swimming is an unbelievably hard sport and it is also a very individual sport. The motivation to succeed has to come from within. My husband and I can't manufacture that internal motivation. We want them to swim and do well because they love to swim and do well.
My husband and I let the coaches do the coaching. Their coach goes over how they can improve after every swim, even if they swam their best time ever. In swimming, athletes can always improve. They don't need us to critique their strokes, their start, their turns, their finish, their anything in the water. They need our encouragement and love consistently and without fail.
When parents put performance in swimming, or any sport, ahead of their relationship with their children, they are chipping away at the bedrock of trust, love, and security that a parent-child relationship should be based upon. As a parent, the relationships that I have with my children are so much more important than ANYTHING that my children have ever done or will ever do in their swimming careers. As the parent of young athletes, I must make sure that when my children are looking to me to support them when they're at their lowest, I support them without fail and without reservation. My children deserve nothing less than my unconditional love after a swim meet. Too many times, young athletes need unconditional love and they get nothing but the disappointment of their parents.
Amber handed me her heart wrapped up with her disappointment about her performance at the pool this week-end. Thankfully, I cherished it and was able to comfort her. What would have happened to our relationship if I had, instead, thrown her heart on the slimy pool deck and stepped on it?