3 Signs You’re An Over-Involved Swim Parent

Swim Parent at CeraVe invitational
Photo Courtesy: Heidi Torregroza

By Nicole Cassou, Swimming World College Intern

I must preface this list with one simple fact; swimming is hard. I’m not just referring to the extraordinary level of discipline and commitment this sport demands of its athletes, but also of those athletes’ parents.

There are the early morning drives, the hours of sitting in that stuffy natatorium, and then finally, the meets. In the early days of my swimming career my father used to affectionately describe meets as “waiting around for five hours watching kids you don’t give a crap about to see your kid swim for two minutes.”

Probably around the time I was 11, both of my parents’ attitudes about swimming had evolved to the point where they had become true fans of the sport, but they, like many parents in my own humble opinion got a little too into it. It can be hard not to after all of those monotonous hours spent in the hot, chlorinated air.

One of the most important things a parent can do to ensure the longevity of their child’s swimming career is to let them own it early on, so that they can establish their own intrinsic motivation and development.

These three behaviors are just some of the traits I have seen in over-involved swim parents, but they are often the most detrimental. Self-awareness of these habits can help parents make sure they are giving their child the room to develop on their own, so that by the time their swimmers are driving themselves to practice, they’ll be going because they want to.

1. You know all of your swimmer’s competitors’ times, technique, and how they race.

patrick-ryan-young

Photo Courtesy: Patrick Murphy

While simply being in the know about the competition is fine, and can make meets more engaging, it can also lead to a toxic behavior that can undermine your swimmer’s confidence; sizing them up against the competition.

If you find yourself talking to your swimmer more about others’ races and times than their own, you will most likely leave them discouraged. I can assure you that most swimmers are constantly comparing themselves to their fellow teammates and competitors, so when their own parents start to do so, the path to getting as fast as that other kid can start to feel like an insurmountable challenge. This outlook can lead swimmers to anticipate practice not with the desire to improve, but with dread, fearful that the work they put in won’t get them to that other swimmer’s level of success that their parents keep raving about.

A healthier way to motivate your swimmer to be better is to simply ask what their coach thinks they should work on. For their next race focus on looking for that technique element or pace change, not what the kid in the next lane is doing.

2. You talk to your swimmer’s coach one-on-one more than they do.

Jack Bauerle Frank Busch Stefanie Williams coaches

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Whether this correspondence is by email or in person, any conversations about development, times, or technique should remain strictly on an athlete-coach basis.

Encouraging your swimmer to talk to their coach is one thing, but taking it upon yourself to have that talk with the coach is an entirely different story. It is absolutely crucial that young swimmers have the confidence to verbalize their goals and concerns to their coach. This skill will become of the upmost importance as swimmers mature, and large time drops become harder and harder to come by. Clear communication with a coach about individual needs will ultimately become what sets the stage for continued improvement.

3. You instruct your child how to prepare for their race—mentally and physically.

Photo Courtesy: © Peter H. B ick

Photo Courtesy: © Peter H. Bick

Every athlete is different when it comes to race preparation. There are those who don’t even need to dip a single toe in the water for warm-up, while others need a full 20 minutes to swim right up until they race. Some will laugh and talk with teammates behind the blocks to stay calm, while others isolate themselves in a corner with headphones in.

Telling your swimmer when to warm-up and when to stop talking to their friends and focus might seem like harmless guidance, but it is up to them to discover what works. There is no way for a parent to know how their child should prepare so that they can be at their best. This will most likely be a process of trial-and-error, so patience like most things in parenting is key.

77 comments

  1. avatar
    Jack DaRipper

    Baloney… You need to distinguish between an obsessive parent and an interested parent that is healthfully concerned with their child’s swimming and progress. This article is way off. If I did the same thing with their homework how would that make me a better parent while they were struggling doing it. My swim coach never talks to my kid and if I didn’t talk to him, nobody would.

    • avatar
      Sandie

      He isn’t ‘your’ swim coach. He’s your kids. I get what you are saying though. I often feel that as one of the ‘others’ my daughter gets overlooked by the coach as well

      • avatar
        Kate

        Yeah, I did notice that “my swim coach” thing. That sent up a red flag.

      • avatar
        Jack DaRipper

        He is your child’s swim coach. This is what I meant. So now that that’s clear I’ll tell you what I’ve observed. In fact, I see most kids being ignored when I’ve gone to swim meets, while the coaches shoot the breeze with their “supposed” stars. In fact, I don’t even go to most swim meets because of work obligations. The feedback I’m getting is from my child himself, who clearly states that he is ignored and never told what’s good or bad. He just gets yelled at and that’s it. As for moving to other swim clubs, I’ve seen the same thing and other parents have commented the same thing. USA Swimming has wonderful regulations but they have nobody checking to see if the local swim clubs are actually following through with all their wonderful policy descriptions.

    • avatar
      swimparent

      Agree the article is negative.

    • avatar

      If your child’s coach does not talk to your child, change clubs. The club is missing the boat.

      • avatar
        swimparent

        Agree, but it’s not always that simple. Only other club is 30 miles away, and child has good friends as well.

    • avatar
      Patty

      I understand your point but honestly, I’d recommend you get a new coach. Your coach should be talking to your child before AND after every race as well as meetings with each of their swimmers to help them create goals and a plan of how they are going to achieve those goals! Not every swimmer is going to be a Q swimmer but most certainly every coach should be a “Q” coach! Of course we talk to our children about swimming! It’s part of their life; part of our lives as well, but you and I are not their coach. Why should we be in charge of doing their job that they get paid to do? if your coach does not have your child keep a log book with his own handwriting in it, listing the goals they have made together as a coach and swimmer and a plan of how to achieve those goals, as well as a record keeping track of your swimmer’s times in all the events offered, again, in your swimmer’s own handwriting, you might want to suggest this. The only other handwriting in your swimmer’s log book should be the coach’s … in the “comments section” after each race. Arrange to have your child/swimmer ready to go “talk” to the coach with log book in hand … the coach will record his/her time and jot quick notes on what to work on! It’s a great thing!! Coaches are valued tools and that is why we pay to belong to their team. I could teach my children to swim but honestly, the bond that was made between them as swimmer and coach has carried them forward into their adult lives…and yes, the coach is STILL involved in their lives! I know you are a good parent because we swim parents are just that … “good parents” … but really, encourage your swimmer to go to their coach … get a folder and have your swimmer give it to him. I tell you, the coach will be impressed beyond measure and your child will become a better swimmer as they learn to trust their coach. On the up side, it also lightens up your load, to sit back and enjoy the race! Good luck to you. You are a great parent, now make your coach be a GREAT coach!

  2. Meredith Ingle

    Christall Pulliam Ingle ???❤️❤️

  3. Milla Bauer

    Lisbeth, minder måske om en jeg kender? Men det er godt at forældrene følger med!

    • Lisbeth Højholdt

      Ja Milla kan da kun nikke godkendende til det ? dog er jeg ikke helt så “slem” på punkt 1 & 2 men punkt 3 er jo når træneren har lidt for meget om ørerne og glemmer svømmere der skal på skamlen og det gælder ikke kun min egen. Ingen undskyldning men som han også skriver – det er godt nok mange timer man bruger på denne sport så det er svært ikke at engegere sig på den ene eller anden måde. ?

  4. avatar
    swimparent

    In a perfect world, this is great advice. Most likely written by someone who had a “fast lane” swimmer who got lots of attention. Kids have different personalities, learning needs, ability levels, development rates, etc. Many coaches actually don’t understand this because they lack any background in child development. They swam, they were good, so they think they can coach. And maybe they are a good coach for the best swimmers, because they can relate to them. But they may ignore the average or slower swimmers.

    Some coaches do nothing with goal setting, whereas others have kids fill out goal sheets weekly. And not all coaches communicate well — with swimmers or parents. Some coaches don’t even watch their swimmer’s races.

    Also, not all kids are outgoing and will go to their coach for these discussions. Many kids are compliant and don’t feel comfortable asking. That skill comes much later in some kids than others.

    I agree there are SOME over-involved swim parents, but look deeper, there is more of them when the coach is under-involved with their kid.

    • avatar
      Kate

      This article isn’t that negative as far as I can see. I’m not really sure why this advice would only work in a “perfect world”. It gives a lot of good advice if you take it for what it’s worth. Quite frankly, many kids will talk to coaches (or teachers) before they will talk to their parents. This becomes more true as the child gets older.

    • avatar
      COswim Parent

      Actually, the author is an intern and as I remember a swimmer from Colorado. Great article Nicole! You’re great swimmer who I am sure is speaking from your own experience. I’m sure you were never compared to that other girl you were swimming against…what was her name…oh, Missy. You are a great by your own right!

      • avatar
        swimparent

        Right…the experience of superstar swimmers, and their parents, is often different from experiences of average swimmers…even those who work harder and make more practices. I see coaches that walk right by most parents to go chat with the superstar’s parents…happens all the time!

  5. Leah Rosner Cadek

    Oh yikes…I might be guilty. I know all of the kids Brady’s age.

  6. Katy Dean

    Good stuf, all true#!

  7. Debi Skarecky-Hill

    I know a few parents like this-I am NOT one of them.

  8. Bethan Aldridge

    Hahahahahahaha Andrea Aldridge ??

  9. Ben Dugas

    This article is garbage…

  10. Paige Wright

    Brent Wright Cynthia Wright

  11. John Dussliere

    Redundancy in the title!!! Haha!!

  12. Michael Buna

    While I agree that sometimes some parents can be overly “pushy”…… How can a parent be “over involved” in their kids life…?????? I don’t agree. For most parents, their kids are their whole lives and everything we do is for them!!! Coaches and clubs need to remember this sometimes I think!!!!!

    • avatar
      Kate

      Their kids are “their whole lives”? Uh Oh. My mother once told me that the hardest part about being a parent is knowing when to step in and knowing when to let go. I have come to agree with that. Unfortunately, kids don’t come with an owners manual.

    • Noelle Tolbert

      Because it’s important to let the child mature and develop a relationship with the coach on their own. It will improve their confidence all around if they can handle it on their own. Best thing I ever did was step back. My oldest refused to swim a race the other day and instead of hovering while coach talked to her, I walked away and told her, it’s between you and him. She respects him and it will pay off as she matures.

  13. avatar
    swim-mer

    I love that all the “swim parents” are reacting to this. Ha! Point proven!

  14. Amy Baggott

    You’re welcome coach Thomas Moore!!!!! ?

  15. avatar
    swimparent

    Look at the photo…none of those parents are looking too overly involved. They all look pretty bored!

    • avatar
      swimparent

      In fact, the one “Swim Dad” is yawning! LOL!

  16. avatar
    Luanne.

    I flunked! Didn’t do any of them… Became an official instead…

  17. Luanne Zuniga Aakhus

    Flunked.. Only knew which level of comp was next… Became an official instead..

  18. Jocelyne Humbert O

    Swim kids don’t want anyone in their ears, they are focused on what they have to do. Times? Baseball has stats, Football has score, basketball has points. Coaches speak rarely and not at a meet, they have too many to worry about. We are there to support the sport, it’s hard work, it’s disappointing, it’s rewarding and parents are there to support our kids. Keep an extra towel, don’t look down you’ll miss your kid’s 21 sec. drink plenty of water. Enjoy the meet and be just as excited for personal bests.

  19. Haya Salah

    Ghada Hegab you are

  20. avatar
    Noelle

    If you take issue with this article, then you are one of the parents that has a problem. I recognized early on that I was turning into this parent and I have taken steps way back and it has been the best thing for my children. Now they go to the coach and talk to her about things that they need to discuss and I stay out of it. They’ve developed a relationship and that is a good thing. And when I sit on the sidelines and I look at the other swimmers that they swim against it’s not about comparing kids it’s about all of the kids improving on their times.

  21. Noelle Tolbert

    Let the coaches coach and the parents just enjoy the race.

  22. Mal Bradley

    Lily Robinson ??

    • Lily Robinson

      Look at all of these disagreeing comments ??

    • Mal Bradley

      Yeah they all sound like something an over involved swim parent would say ??

    • Mal Bradley

      Also, a few names came to mind when I read it ?

  23. Eip Class

    Lmao….extra towel,H20 and mood stabiliser for mom perhaps. ?

  24. After years of watching my own 3 kids swim and then spending some time coaching at the Age Group level, along with my 15 plus years of working in elementary education, I would agree wholeheartedly with this article. We are doing our children a disservice to care more about their sports/activities/grades/friends than they do. The purpose of “sport” is to grow in confidence, independence and self-awareness……can’t do that with your mom/dad hovering and solving the problems for you.

  25. Bg Edwards

    Guilty on 2 of 3….

    • Cyndy Reed

      Wait – are you saying I’m over involved?

    • Corina Reed

      No I thot ud see pop in it (the last one) it was supposed to be funny

    • Cyndy Reed

      Ok, ya…I do see him. I was nervous!

  26. Michael Carmody

    I barely know my own kids times.

  27. avatar
    Michael

    I have no idea how to share this with my team without upsetting parents. However, I think the ones that would benefit most from reading this probably don’t recognize that this article is about them.

    • avatar
      SwimCoach

      You could preface the article with a personal note about your experience, ask the parents to read the article with a mind to be the best support for their swimmer, and to approach you with any questions. It may even be a good discussion tool at a parent meeting.

      Your set of parents may be different from the ones I work with, but I found that when approaching any conversation or sending out content to help educate the parent, it was helpful to focus on how we can work together to benefit their swimmer and set clear boundaries as both coach and parent to help them succeed in the sport (and beyond). Then when a problem arose when a boundary was crossed, we were able to have better conversation about it.

      Good luck and I hope you find positive way to share this information with your team!

  28. Ruby Borozan

    Jenny Borozan you know who this is

  29. avatar
    Stacey M

    We know a parent like this. During our first chat she said…”Oh hi, my daughter is faster than yours, I looked up her times, my daughter should be in a better squad.” I said, “Hi I’m Stacey, whatever!” She knows every swimmers times and lets them know when they haven’t swum well. Same parent sits on pool deck every session watching and talking inappropriately about children, oh and is in the coaches face everyday, she’s the one that always buys him a coffee…suck. She also dragged her daughter out the pool after a comp because she didn’t “beat” a squad mate. Feral! We moved clubs to escape her particularly, as did 3 or 4 other families, she put herself on the committee and has taken over, so the whole club is now crap. Some of those parents have the power.

    • avatar
      swimparent

      I really wish coaches would see beyond their free coffee and realize these brown-nosing parents are helicopter parents just schmoozing them to get their kid favored. Wish coaches or board would tell the kiss-up parents to knock it off or at least find a way to accept equal opportunity donations, such as an anonymus fund only for Starbucks giftcards for coffee.

  30. Lisa Walshe

    Well Meg looks like I am the perfect swimming parent after all! Not tooooooo involved!!!

  31. Amanda MacLeod

    Sharon Volkov – do we know anyone like this lol!!!

  32. Tracey Jones

    Lockie Jones bahahaha bahahaha

  33. Colbi Ryan

    Dermot Ryan thank god I don’t tick any of those boxes. Those endless hours in the stand means more book time. According to this I’m not an over involved parent.

  34. Charlene Tallen

    I was a riding instructor, often I world have to have a little conversation with parents about boundaries. If send Mom or Dad off for a coffee, and they’d come back and sit and watch. Often they were amazed at what their children had learned in the short time they were away.

  35. avatar
    Kevin O'Driscoll

    As a coach and a parent, this is right on. If you know other kids best times, you’re whacked. Coaches do have favorites, the one’s who follow directions, the one’s who accept a challenge, the ones who greet their coach at the beginning of practice and thank them afterward. Coaches prefer coaching the kids who always have their equipment, spare googles, cap and don’t have to be reminded to hydrate and never offer excuses. Coaches need motivating too, motivation is a two way street. As a coach, I knew my swimmers best times, as a Dad, I don’t know my children’s best times, I have to look them up. My job as a Dad is simply to say, “I love to watch you swim!”

  36. Tracy Miller Nottage

    Jamie Fellrath, I have to admit this was me a few years ago. I’ve really tried not to do these things of late.

  37. Marie-Reina Hoffman

    Hey its my parents! No wonder I burnt out and started hating swimming.