Parenting a Swimmer


I’ve been a little hesitant to write this post because a Mom blogger always needs to be mindful of the privacy rights of her children. However, my teenage daughter has shared her swimming struggles somewhat publicly lately, and I thought if it would help another swimmer or another mom or dad struggling to parent a teenage athlete, then maybe it would be a good thing to share here.

My 14-year-old swims competitively and she is very serious about her sport. She has five sectional cuts, but since she turned 14 last spring, she has been adding lots of time in her events (not a good thing for you non-swimming readers).

Her body changed from the body of a child to the body of a woman, as is the case for many 14-year-olds. With those changes came some problems with her strokes. She worked very hard all summer and early this fall to correct those problems. She NEVER EVER misses a practice — early morning, evening, late afternoon, weekend, holiday — she’s there. She doesn’t back off at practice either — according to her coaches and some of her teammates, she is one of the hardest workers in the pool. She does the dry-land work that our swim club provides her, and she continues to compete in swim meets.

We attended a swim meet in Columbia, MO a few weeks ago at which she had hoped to come close to swimming her best times. It didn’t happen. She had big adds in her best events. Because she was feeling good about the progress she had made on her strokes, it was hard for her to experience this again. And because I’d heard some of the positive feedback regarding her stroke work, I also had higher expectations about what would happen this past weekend. So initially, I was was frustrated with the results, too.

But then I had some great conversations with other parents and with one of her coaches, and I have to say, I’m even more proud to be this young lady’s mother. The parents reassured me that this is so very normal. Many of them shared stories in which their own daughters went through the very same thing around the same age.

I’d heard this, but it helps to hear it again and again. Not all swimmers go through this, but a lot of them do, and many of them add time in their best events for more than a year. I remember one young lady in our club going through this a few years ago. She had been a “young star”  and then all of a sudden, she was adding time at every meet. At the time, I remember admiring her perseverance and telling my daughter to make a mental note of her work ethic. Of course, I hoped against hope that it “wouldn’t happen to my kid,” but I guess my daughter DID make a mental note, becuase she is now doing exactly what that young lady did. And you know what? That swimmer is one of my daughter’s biggest supporters, joking with her, reminding her of the struggles she endured, encouraging her to keep working hard at practice even when it’s not the popular thing to do. And her parents are among those reassuring me on a regular basis. That helps a lot.

One of the coaches told me that the she’s doing everything she should be doing to pull through this minus one — she needs to readjust her expectations. He said that when she competes in her next meet, she should look to drop off of her times from the meet in Columbia — NOT to drop time off her BEST times. He said it may still be months before she is coming close to swimming her best times. I cannot tell you how much that simple thing helped us. He also said as her parents, our job is to NOT get frustrated with her, but to support her.

He said part of supporting her includes never questioning the program she is following in front of her because she needs for us to believe in what she’s doing and in her coaches as much as she does.

We aren’t the kind of parents who question the program. I know there are parents who jump ship to another club the minute their kids start struggling, blaming the coaches or some aspect of the training program for the issue. That’s not us. But it was good to be reminded of this so that we can talk to her about how MUCH we believe in her coaches and in her training program.

So, we just had another meet this weekend, and we did the whole “adjusted expectations” thing. It was so liberating. And you know what — she DID drop from almost all the times she swam in Columbia. She didn’t hit any of her best times — the closest she came was 3 seconds in her 200 free. But she left the meet feeling successful. Her coaches told her that her strokes are back to looking like they should. Now, she just needs to work on doing them faster.

So, if you’re the parent of a swimmer who is going through this, I hope you have coaches who are as wise as our coaches and as willing to comfort and reassure parents. If you don’t, maybe this post will help you support your swimmer through his or her trials.

UPDATE: My daughter posted this in 2013 on her Facebook page with a comment thanking her Dad and I for being supportive of her during her swimming career. I was brought to tears by the sweet gesture, especially after I read the article. I like to think that we followed the advice in the article more often than not, and I really appreciated her saying that we had. I think it’s a good article to share again, because it’s something all parents of young athletes should try to remember — the message is “I love to watch you play.”!



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