6 Swim Parent Stereotypes That Can Hinder a Swimmer’s Success

Swim Parent

Swimmers and coaches alike know that it takes several factors to help a swimmer be successful and achieve his/her goals. One crucial factor that may be a given but under-addressed is the parental role in a swimmer’s achievement. While the swim parent and coach can make a great support team, they also may not see eye to eye on the swimmer’s success.

When a swimmer begins the sport, the commitment the child is taking on also becomes the commitment of the parent. This commitment should not just consist of paying for swim team and dropping them off at practice (although these are good things, too). Support and encouragement from parents are vital ingredients to success – it shows that you also support them in life.

While most parents want what’s best for their kids, sometimes this “help” ends up hurting the process. Here are six swim parent stereotypes that tend to hinder swimmers more than help. If you are one of these parents, it’s never too late to turn it around!

1. The Overzealous Parent

The overzealous parent (usually) has good intentions, but they can come across as hyper-critical. When their swimmer has a good race, they can tend to either overshadow their performance by pointing out what they could do better or talk about the next thing they want their swimmer to accomplish instead of celebrating the latest victory. They also get upset when their swimmer does not perform the way they think they should and may try to push their swimmers too hard.

Encouragement and challenges are good for swimmers; however, adding stress and pressure as a parent is detrimental. According to Dr. Robert T Muller, “Pressure has a detrimental effect on child health and leaves them feeling distressed and deflated.” Pressure will eventually cause the swimmer to be unhappy no matter how they swim and will take away their enjoyment in the sport.

2. The Under-Involved Parent

Swim Parent at CeraVe invitational

Photo Courtesy: Heidi Torregroza

The under-involved parent is usually categorized by an “I don’t care” attitude. No one really knows who they are except for a few whispered rumors and educated guesses from the swim moms, who know everyone on the team. The under-involved parents hardly know when practice is and certainly don’t know when the meets are until the last second. They never volunteer and seem to disappear when the call for more timers is announced.

They have no enthusiasm when they see their child swim, and they rarely attend meets by their own choice (not work related). The swimmer may feel unsupported by this parent in their swimming endeavors. Because of this, the swimmer may become disheartened and lose their love and commitment to the sport. Swimmers can usually tell how much their parents support them by the interest and time their parents put into it.

Teams of Tomorrow cites a survey of professional minor baseball players which found that the majority of the players who had made it to the professional level had parents who regularly attended games, gave them financial help for games, gear, and camps, and encouraged them to keep reaching for their goals.

3. Negative Nancy

Negative Nancies takes the negative approach and comes across to the swimmer as if they don’t believe in them. When the swimmer talks about the tough practice, Negative Nancy doesn’t wait to hear about it and begins to say that their practices are too hard and that they are going to get injured. Or, if they have a swimmer who wants to go to the Olympics, they laugh and tell them to be more realistic.

When the swimmer qualifies for a championship meet hours away, Negative Nancy doesn’t celebrate her swimmer’s success and instead begins to fret about the travel costs and how the swimmer has swum too many away meets already this year. This constant worry and negativity transfers to the swimmer and causes them to be negative about themselves and the sport.

4. Hold-You-Back Helga

Photo Courtesy: Hayley Good

Hold-You-Back Helgas hold the swimmer back in a variety of different ways. They may keep their swimmer from going to practice or give their kiddo excessive amounts of sugar with no discipline. They can make their swimmer a sore loser by getting angry or upset when one of their opponents (or even friends in some cases) beats them or gets put on the Sectional relay instead of them. They begin to give the swimmer an entitlement attitude.

Perhaps one of the biggest things they do to hold their swimmer back is to ban their swimmer from going to big meets that they qualified and worked hard for. There are many reasons swimmers can’t go to their championship meets (such as finances), but Hold-You-Back Helga keeps the swimmer from going for other reasons, thus preventing their swimmer from going onto the next level. This will cause the swimmer to be disappointed and frustrated.

5. The Overall Unsupportive Parent

This parent is not supportive of their child’s swimming in general. They are overly critical and make their swimmer feel guilty for the commitment they have given to swimming. They never watch their child swim. This causes a loss of confidence as the swimmer wonders if they are really doing the right thing.

According to a study done by the Youth Development Through Recreation and Sport, the vast majority of feedback from parents in sports is either used to put the athlete down or to critique instead of to lift up and encourage. Swimmers (and athletes in general) usually cannot perform to their potential if they feel like they are making their parents unhappy or don’t feel the support from those they love.

Athletes need someone to celebrate their victories with as well as be told to never give up and try again when they lose.

6. I-Know-More-Than-The-Coach Parent

This parent tries to coach their swimmer behind the coach’s back. The coach tells the swimmer to do one thing, yet the parent tells them to do the complete opposite. You can see this parent giving the swimmer technique feedback (even though they may not know swimming themselves) and encouraging their child to not listen to what the coach has to say. This causes the swimmer to disrespect and undermine the coach around the other swimmers. Whether they realize it or not, this parent is teaching their swimmer to disrespect authority figures.

Dominique Stasulli of Simpli-faster writes that over-the-top parental coaching causes stress, anxiety, fatigue, burnout, and loss of personal drive.

Swim Parents Can Make the Difference


Photo Courtesy: Terren, flickr

Swim parents do a lot for their swimmers. Truth be told, most successful swimmers would not have accomplished their goals without the encouragement and support from their parents. When swimmers set high goals for themselves, the parents have to be behind the athlete. Being successful in this sport takes an enormous amount of commitment from both the athlete and the parents.

Swimmers need parents who support the coach, who will get their swimmer to practices, help provide and educate the swimmer on proper nutrition, provide time for needed rest and get swimmers to camps and meets that provide opportunities for experience and growth.

When you see an athlete who is successful in this sport, they are most likely dedicated, hard working, and resilient. But if you look closely, you will most likely also see parents who believe in their swimmer and provide opportunities, support and encouragement throughout the process.

Swim parents – let your swimmer’s dreams fly and trust their coach. Trust the process, and remember that what your swimmer needs most from you is love, encouragement, and the opportunity to put their hard work on the line day after day.

What can you do as a swim parent to help propel you swimmer to success?

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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Kim Henry
5 years ago

I remember explaining to my 16yr old son, when he was devastated by his time in a final, that this is just 1 meet out of many that he will be competing in, and how he has a long swimming caree ahead of him. Followed with lots of cuddles from mama.

3 years ago

If they are getting up at 4am I see no hindrance ?

3 years ago

78 days into lock down – how about an article on how parents can help to keep swimmers spirits high or how parents can cope with their own anxiety on watching their child be disappointed over lost seasons. I’m sorry another “don’t do this crappy swim parent” article just isn’t what we need right now.

3 years ago

Tara Garrett Houser you nailed it.

3 years ago

Great article. Might I add…and musical instrument…and dance…and singing…and…

3 years ago
Reply to  Betsy Perkins

And you can have split support. One parent supports the right way & one doesn’t.

3 years ago

No could ever say you & Justin fall into any of those stereotypes Janelle. You & Justin are extremely involved & supportive of Madi…great parents…..❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️