As a parent your kids are going to take you out of your sports knowledge comfort zone. Often they are going to pick a sport you know nothing about. When all you know is baseball and football, how do you teach/coach/support your kids when they choose swimming? This is a father’s/parent’s guide.
Let me give you some tips for when you know nothing about the sports that your children have chosen. The tips are specific to swimming but germane to a lot of other sports.
1) Swimming is one of those individual sports like track and field. Even if your kid is in a long event, the time you spend rooting for them is like 1/100 of the time that you spend at the swim meets. So, sit back and get to know your neighbors.
2) If your kid is coming in last make sure that you are not the first person he sees clapping and shouting encouragement. Words to the wise, the kids consider this phenomenon as “the pity clap,” as the parent, don’t get caught doing it for your kid.
3) If your kid comes in last don’t ask, “What happened?”
4) Learn the lingo. Let’s face it; you are going to lose credibility with your kid when they swim their legs off to only come in last in the heat and all you have to say is "you have try harder." Don’t offer any advice to your kids until they ask for it.
If you don’t know how to swim back stroke competitively then you really don’t have anything to offer. Your advice should remain general. I found it easier using quotes from Vince Lombardi because that is the sport that I know best. Again learn the lingo so that eventually you might be able to actually give them advice.
5) Know what your kid’s best times are. Swimming has many shades of victory. Sure, it’s nice to come in first but a personal best time is a victory that you need to celebrate with them or they will know you don’t have a clue about what’s going on.
6) Make sure that you know when the practices and meets are scheduled. Really, pay attention because I once drove five hours to a meet that wasn’t scheduled until the next week (my son heard me swear that day). Don’t trust your kids, check with the coach.
7) Encourage your child but keep your expectations in check. Your child may look good swimming any of the four recognized swim strokes but the chances of them making it to the Olympics are slim. Less than one percent of all USA swimmers are fast enough to compete at the American Olympic trials.
Be realistic and push them towards the next level that they may be able to achieve whether it is championships, regional, sectional, or even the nationals. They already know the times that they need to achieve and they will let you know what is realistic.
8) Support the other swimmers. Get to know their names and their parents. This will earn you a lot of good will. You can sit at these events for hours, sometimes they can eat up a weekend and many times there are hotels stays involved. It’s nice to have some adult conversation when all the reading material is used up.
9) Don’t be that “parent,” the one that is always questioning the coach and officials or pointing out the mistakes of other kids. (This holds true in any sport) You don’t want to spoil the joy of competition for your child or for anyone else. Your child wants you at their events but if you are not supportive then they are going to either resent you being there or they may actually pick up some of those bad behaviors.
10) If your kid ever whines about the sport just pack them up and head for home. Let them know that if they don’t want to be there then you don’t either. This is a life lesson for them and a tough one for a parent to pull off. They need to know that the only reason that you are sitting in the stands is because of them.
By placating them you only allow that kind of behavior to continue and grow. Any sport is about enjoyment of competition and losses are part of competing. Make sportsmanship part of your lesson.
Both my children swim and play tennis. I didn’t know a thing about either sport. I didn’t know the rules, didn’t know the nuances. I went to as many meets as I could and in between events I’ve watched playoff games on a four inch television screen with 20 other dads. Because of their natural abilities and despite my lack of knowledge, my daughter now plays tennis for Salve Regina University and my son swims for Providence College.
The best thing I did as a parent was support them. Their enjoyment of their chosen sports will lead them to the level of play that they were meant to reach.