10 Ways Parents Sabotage Their Children's Swimming Careers

Plus 10 alternative behaviors to support, not damage, their progress

Here are the top 10 ways parents sabotage their children's swimming careers, followed by positive alternatives:

  • Sabotage: Give the child a material reward for good performance: a visit to McDonald's at age 8, for example.
  • Helpful: Let the rewards be internal. Let the sport "belong" to the child, not be something that the parents want. Help them understand the value of working hard to improve themselves and allow them opportunities to prove themselves through their sport.
  • Sabotage: Demand that the child keep up with another kid, who always wins.
  • Helpful: Understand that children develop at different rates in terms of size, strength, coordination, emotional and intellectual maturity, and just about everything else. Allow your children to compete only against themselves and measure them only against their own best efforts.
  • Sabotage: Coach your child yourself, part time.
  • Helpful: Parents are for unconditional love and support. Coaches are for critical analysis of performance and developing physical, emotional and tactical skills. If you doubt your coaches' ability to coach, talk to them about it or go somewhere else, where you trust the coach.
  • Sabotage: Insist that your child swim the race the way you want it swum, the way you did it or how you saw it in the Olympics.
  • Helpful: Techniques to swim races vary; swimming for a 10-year-old isn't what it is for a 20-year-old or an Olympic swimmer. Allow the coaches to select the race strategy that they deem age appropriate and developmentally proper for your child.
  • Sabotage: Get them a candy bar before they swim so they'll have some quick energy when they dive in.
  • Helpful: Sugar creates an immediate "sugar high" in the bloodstream followed by a huge dip in blood sugar, so just about the time your child gets up to swim he or she will want to lie down and rest.  If they must eat between races and meals, offer a bagel or non-sugar carbohydrate snack.
  • Sabotage: Tell your 15-year-old, "You were so good when you were 8!"
  • Helpful: Don't compare past results if you had a precocious swimmer. Encourage improvement, and if the times aren't improving as they age, be glad they still enjoy swimming, The pool is a better option than the mall.
  • Sabotage: Stand by the side of the pool each time the child swims to offer support, cheering wildly and emotionally.
  • Helpful: Sit down. Smile. Cheer internally. When your child comes back, ask how he or she thought the race went. Listen. Be quiet. Learn.
  • Sabotage: When your child does well, demonstrate your enthusiasm with words like "Wonderful" and behave as if you can't believe the child could do something worthwhile.
  • Helpful: Making a big deal of a best time seems as if you are surprised the kid could do it. Express your confidence that the wonderful thing you just saw is an everyday event for a child as dedicated, hardworking and talented as yours.
  • Sabotage: Tell your child he or she "must" make this time, place, final, or medal.
  • Helpful: Avoid crushing pressure. Let the child know that each swim is an opportunity to go fast. If you miss on this one, you'll get another chance shortly. No one swim meet is make it or break it for an athlete's career.
  • Sabotage: Spend your time on the way home dissecting how your child, the coach, or other children did.
  • Helpful: Go home. Feed your child. Don't talk about the race unless your child wants to. Let the sport belong to the child, not to you.