A note from Badger Parent Advocate, Michael Conaton:
Ok, so I’m finally getting to this potentially tricky topic. So what should be the parent’s role in the life of a swimmer?
There are numerous resources and articles out there that I used as guidance for myself overtime. In these letters I write, I am sharing with you the related articles that have resonated the most with me, including this week’s article attached. This article is actually quite popular on many different club websites, and is even included on the USA Swimming website. The article features Badger’s own Olympian Cristina Teuscher, her mother, and Badger Head Coach John Collins. The article addresses how coaches deal with “the other stuff”, namely us…the parents. I had to think a lot about “this stuff” myself because I was so close to the sport as a former swimmer. I probably thought too much about it but at least I have a nice collection of articles today to show for it! I know many of the Badger parents are former swimmers/athletes as well. As always, I am not trying to preach or tell anyone what’s right and wrong. In this column I have been asked to try to share some of our experiences as a parent volunteer for what they’re worth and I always try to back up my arguments with third party articles.
Ultimately, I went out of my way to try not to coach or give too much advice to my kids along the way, or certainly compare my experiences to theirs. I had my time, this is their turn. We didn’t have any school colors or USA flags on our walls at home. We tried to consciously separate the pool from home. Home was an escape from the pool. After the kids did have me as a coach for little league baseball for many years, I told them that they had moved on to “real” coaches. If they had questions or issues I told them to talk to their coach and build a rapport with them, that I was not their coach. I’m not saying any of this is the right or wrong way to do things, but that’s what we did. My wife is a lot like Michael Phelps’ mom referenced in the article. She did not know any of the kids’ times, and the kids knew it, and consequently always loved to be with her after practice or at a meet for her conversation about anything but swimming and her unconditional love.
For my part, like I said I tried to bite my lip and not ask about underwaters or stroke count or streamlining or not breathing off the start or the wall….and for the most part hopefully the kids would tell you I stayed quiet. I tried to sense when they’d be receptive or not. And I always, always, pointed out something awesome about a swim before I asked if I could “offer a suggestion”. I probably shouldn’t have even done that.
And obviously not all kids are alike. Some like to talk about swimming, read “swimswam” too much, post goal splits and dry land schedules on their bedroom walls…and others don’t want to talk about it at all…or only on their terms. The point is, we found that there is an element of knowing your kid. They are all different with different needs. For all of them we always tried to be as supportive as we could be. For the most part, that involved driving them to practices and making sure they were eating enough and eating the right things. And for the most part, coaches would say that’s really all you need to do. Let the coaches do the rest. That’s certainly the recurring message in many of these articles on the subject.
The leap I made was to put the kids in the coach’s hands. I’ll admit it was difficult in the beginning. And to do that you have to have faith and belief that the coaches know what they’re doing. I knew John from the days when I used to swim against Rick Carey (unsuccessfully). It was a bit surreal to me that my sons would be swimming for John so many years later. I felt lucky that we had a Badger, world class-caliber program in our own backyard. So this part was actually pretty easy. Hopefully my letter a couple weeks ago describing the Badger program and giving perspective to other similar programs can help you all have faith and belief in the program you have chosen. And you need that faith because once you start questioning the coaches at home, you start to undermine their credibility and the kids start to question and lose their faith.
This is not to suggest that any of this is happening, I’m just highlighting the importance of the parents, kids and coaches all being on the same page and believing in one another. After all, parents mean well and only want the best for their kids. It’s hard for us to let go and believe that we are in fact doing the best we can by actually not getting too involved. Coaches know this too and know it’s hard for us. But have some faith, not only in coaches but in your kids. Allow them to self-select into this sport. At the end of the day, they’re the ones who have to put in the hard work.
USA Swimming has a whole section on the coach and parent relationship with some really good articles: Click here.
In general you will see in these articles the recurring theme of less parental involvement is preferred by the coach. I do understand this, but…I do also believe the parents at least have a right to have access to the coach. We are the parents after all, we are paying the bills, and we mean well and want the best for our kids. There probably is an absolute right and a wrong way to go about this access though. We just need to ask the coaches what the protocol is. Proper lines of communication are key. Like any other person in any other work place, we need to communicate with coaches with respect and with the protocol they determine…we just need to ask…probably after practice best, and away from the curious kids.
I can also try to answer questions you may have directly and even privately one on one if you want. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep anticipating topics to help the coaches. Always interested in more ideas. Thanks for reading.