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Parent Support of Swimmers – How much is too much?

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 as well as 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 control the degree to which they become involved with their child’s participation in competitive swimming. A parent should not place greater importance on the child’s performance than the child does. Parents should focus on the child’s efforts 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.

Educate your children that that they are not valued more or less important by achievements such as medals, placings or PB’s. 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 too much pressure on the achievement rather than “trying your best”.

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

Parents who involve themselves in talking to children about their races prior to the race will often confuse the swimmer because the swimmer will have already received race instructions from their coach. This leads to the swimmer receiving mixed messages and the outcome is often a performance below what it should have been.

Once a swimmer enters a Marshalling room, parents should stay well clear and let the swimmer focus on their race. From my experience, parents who pull their children out of Marshalling rooms to discuss tactics or try to motivate their children will put undue pressure on the child and while a below par performance often results, the detrimental effects of a parent being too involved with a swimmer leads to the swimmer retiring from the sport prematurely due to the weight of expectation they carry. I have seen this over and over again in the past 20 years.

Parents should never discuss races with their child in front of other children, particularly fellow competitors, as what a parent says can affect other people and this is unfair, unprofessional and should not be tolerated in any program.

If the swimmer makes mistakes or has a poor race, the swimmer’s coach will make the swimmer aware where he or she went wrong, and as such, the swimmer requires support and understanding from their parents rather than additional advice. If a parent is disappointed in a swimmer’s time, place or effort, the swimmer will more than likely be 10 times as disappointed.

Parents must remember that it is the swimmer’s perceptions of their parents actions that will affect the swimmer and not the intentions (as good as they might be) that were behind their actions.

While at training, coaches in most programs are instructed to give their undivided attention to the squad in the water. Parents are asked not to come on pool deck to speak to the coach while squad is in progress. Swimmers are encouraged to speak to coaches in regards to most situations, however if parents need to talk to the coach, approach them after the session or phone to make a suitable meeting time.

Finally, if you have a problem or concern with your child’s training please speak to your coach first and then the Head Coach if you are still concerned. They are the people who can help you.

Gary Barclay

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