How to Make your Child’s Summer Swimming An Awesome Experience

IMG_0880It’s swim season! Community pools are opening their gates, and summer swimming leagues are kicking into gear. Here’s how you can help your child have an awesome swimming season.

Choose Your Team Carefully

Watch a couple practices – from a distance. Are the coaches making an attempt to talk to and connect with every single swimmer? They should be. One of the teams I worked for set this expectation clearly at the outset of every season: every child should get a, “Hi Jenny!” and a high-five when they arrive at the pool for practice. Every single day. A welcome greeting that includes their name says, “You are important here.” Kids should feel welcome on their team, and hopefully that welcome feeling makes them excited to see their friends and coaches.

When I was a summer swim kid, I was one of the slowest for many years. The fast kids got all the attention, all the help. I was left to figure things out for myself. So when I set off as a coach, I made a concerted effort to talk to the kids at the BACK of the lane. The effort to coach EVERY SINGLE SWIMMER paid huge dividends. (And then I felt validated a months later when I learned that Richard Quick – the extremely successful coach of Stanford Women’s swimming – had the same philosophy. It’s hard to do, but always worth it.)

Bottom line: Pick a team whose coaches and philosophy value all the swimmers, not just the ones who will score points at the Championship meet.

Be a Parent, not a Coach

I know one coach who said, “After every race, a kid should get some constructive feedback and some unconditional love. If the parents want to give the constructive feedback then I’m going to give the kid a high five and tell them they’re awesome.” At that very moment a frowning kid walked away from a parent and into the coaches tent, and the coach said, “Buddy!! You are awesome.” The kids eyes lit up and a huge smile beamed across his face with the high five that ensued. “What’s you next race? 200 IM?” The kid noded, a flicker of uncertainty clouded his face. “Okay, see you then!” The smile returned, the coach tousled his hair, and the kid bounced out of the tent. The coach looked at me, and said, “I mean, that’s so much more fun than having to coach!”

Be the parent, and get to enjoy your kids smiles. Not that coaches don’t love those exchanges, and not that constructive feedback has to come with a cloud of disappointment, but the unconditional love ought to come from you, not us. We really do want to coach. But the good coaches are gonna make sure every kid gets what he or she needs to be successful.

Commit to the Experience

Our  goal as coaches – particularly in a summer league – is to help every swimmer get faster over the course of the season. In order for that to happen the swimmers need to come to practice more than once a week. Consistency is the key to getting better at anything.

This is true not just of practice but also of the meets. In order to see improvement, the kids need to swim in more than one meet. And this is especially true if it’s their first season of swim team. Here’s why:

At the first meet, the swimming is totally secondary to learning how a meet runs. Where do I go and when? What is a heat? Where is lane 2? When do I know it’s my turn!? Stress, confusion, help!! Major freakouts (often more by parents than kids) are common. If you only go to one meet, you never get over this. You never realize, as many parents say to me at the end of the season, “It looks like chaos, but it’s actually incredibly organized!” Yup.

Commit to the experience so your kids have a chance to get over the initial stress. If they learn nothing else, hopefully, they realize it’s a blast to ignore the coaches’ exhortations to sit in one place and save the junk food for later. Every kid should know the exhilaration of spending a hot summer night running around like a head-less chicken, hopped up on M&Ms and red vines and adrenaline.

Happy summer swimming season!

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