Our sport faces many challenges, such as title 9, foreign swimmers on collegiate scholarships that should go to our young athletes first, long grueling age-group weekend invitational’s and of course controlling parents.
Recently a mother brought her 9-year-old son to my team to try out. He was good enough to join our introductory level. His mother made it clear that he is swimming with the goal of a collegiate scholarship (her goal of course).
Some parents are driving their swimmers out of the sport or any sport for that manner, especially age-group sports. Parents today have their children involved in too many activities with unrealistic expectations. High School and Middle School counselors, as well as educators, have helped create this mindset. It seems to be all about resume building for college. Do you really believe that matters? “Hey look I have completed 20 plus extracurricular activities….yeah but are you good at any of them?” What have you learned? We need to take a step back and really think about what is happening. I truly believe and so do you that if you do your best at one or a select few activities it will carry you further in life. Achieving good grades and doing your best in swimming (any activity) will get you into college.
You can’t progress mentally and physically without putting in the time. The current age of instant gratification and achievement must end. Parents expect it and kids don’t understand it. Parents with children with age-group children surely don’t remember how they were raised.
So how do we combat this issue?
1. We must educate the parents without telling them how to parent. Explain physical and mental progressions of the sport. We need to help them see the whole picture and what to expect at each level. A 10 & U champion doesn’t mean they will be a champion in high school.
2. We need to teach parents that (time) a :55, in any event, is not the only measurement of success. What about the start, turn, streamline, breakouts and kicking skills in practice? These are better gauges of success. Learning the fundamentals as mentioned will create faster swimming in the long term.
3. We need shorter meets for the introductory families and swimmers and fewer of them or at least coaches need to choose meets with this in mind. Add more dual meets to your schedule with shorter events, especially for new swimmers at all levels. YMCA and High School swimming already offer this type of swimming. Why would a novice swimmer and a new family to swimming want to start with a grueling 3 day meet? What incentive do new High School and Middle School swimmers have to continue after their season?
4. It would be great if we could align all States High School swim seasons. This would encourage year-round swimming allowing USA swimming to create a better championship schedule. There are a lot of fast High School swimmers that stop swimming when the season is over.
5. Make sure you have fun with the younger ages and teach mechanics to keep them injury free and interested. Re-arrange expectations and goals so swimmers are their fastest in High School and enjoy training. Teach about plateaus in our sport, tapering, muscular development, weight training and of course nutrition.
Lastly, when does a swimmer commit to swimming? This really depends on the child mentally and physically.
Swimming is an investment but what is the return? Is the return a collegiate scholarship? Some think so. What about work ethic and understanding how hard work relates to results. Don’t forget about discipline, time management, friendship, self-esteem and sportsmanship.
Fun fact: Swimmers at all levels have the highest GPA of all sports in High School and College thus in return very responsible.