A note from Badger Parent Advocate, Mike Conaton:
I recently caught up with coaches Eddie Reese and Greg Rhodenbaugh and asked them about their views on the parent’s role in swimming.
Greg Rhodenbaugh is the head coach of the men’s and women’s swimming programs at the University of Missouri and recent USA assistant coach at this summer’s Pan Am Games. While most of his coaching experience is at the college level, Greg also happens to be the parent of EIGHT kids of his own, many of whom are age group swimmers. “People think I’m an expert because we have eight kids”, says Greg. “We just try to help them learn how to take responsibility – isn’t that what parenting really is”, he asked rhetorically. “You can have an age grouper swim really well by doing everything for them”. But in the long run ironically, Greg implied, we can set our kids up for failure. “The ability to take responsibility can come naturally with maturity”, he concluded. But it seems it can be hastened by parents backing off and allowing kids to fend for themselves and be responsible. Responsibility in swimming can include getting to practice and making a consistent effort when there, preparing for meets, building self-confidence…
I think “helping kids take responsibility” sums things up beautifully and succinctly. And it’s amazing how that theme even carries into the college level.
Eddie Reese is a three time Olympic head coach and the legendary head coach at the University of Texas, where he won his 11th NCAA team title this year. Eddie told me he is happy to take inbound calls from his kids’ parents, but he often filters the “advice” he hears from some. “Some parents will want to tell me how it is and I kind of look at them and say I’ve been doing this for a while”, said Eddie. I find this hilarious and incredible to hear. Look, we parents mean well I always say, but comes a time we have to let our kids be coached, especially by the best of the best. “And comes a time kids have to take responsibility for themselves” said Ed. Again the recurring theme. He told me the story of a parent who called to ask Eddie to help their son deal with a couple disappointing races at a big meet. Eddie’s response – “he needs to help himself…We can’t keep pillowing these kids”, he added. I will add the commentary that he is of course talking about young adults in college if you think this sounds a little harsh. Eddie dishes out a lot of tough love but most know he is a sweetheart of a guy and his kids would take a bullet for him, and vice versa.
Both Eddie and Greg intimated that they tend to spend a lot of time (and probably too much time) with certain swimmers, who even at the loftiest levels, can still struggle with confidence. Self-doubt can quickly spiral. Thus the earlier comment cautioning against coddling age groupers too much. Relying on someone else to support kids emotionally can be a crutch and can catch up to them. The consensus seems to be that kids need to learn to take responsibility for themselves as early as possible. Eddie offered up his advice on the subject – “The key to success and longevity [in swimming] is learning how to deal with problems at each next level”. There is always a new set of issues and obstacles to overcome at each turn (i.e. plateaus, training fatigue, self-confidence, physical and emotional maturity). It’s how we deal with those issues and overcome those obstacles that defines our ability to achieve continuous improvement.
Eddie went on to suggest a little bit of humility is also important. “You can’t ever think you’re above it all. I still pick up trash on the pool deck and put in lane lines”, he said.
Words of wisdom for us all….