School is quickly wrapping up, the weather is getting warmer…that means summer swimming is just around the corner. For some this will be your kids first experience as a competitive swimmer…that is awesome! Seriously, it is truly an awesome time where everything is new and exciting for both you and your swimmer. It is also the time where your child will decide if this is the sport they love…and you’ll have a big role in that decision whether you realize it or not. So here is my advice to all the new swim parents out there….
1. Your kid is going to be PAINFULLY slow….it’s OK!
Seriously, do not compare your swimmer to anyone else but themselves. Many of the other kids they’ll be swimming with or against will have more experience, while your kids will have to go through the growing pains that you weren’t around to see the “fast kids” go through. When my twins started swimming, I remember going to their first meet… first up for them was the 25 meter backstroke…my husband and I rushed over to get the best seat…got the video camera out, and held our breath with excitement as the swimmers were told to take their mark….30-40 seconds later all the other kids were done swimming and my two hadn’t made the half way point yet. About 2 minutes into the “race” we decided we could go ahead and put the video camera away for a while (like years). Not exactly the hotly contested race we were expecting…but in hindsight I know that 2 very important things happened during that race… 1. They didn’t drown (the life guards were on the edge of their seats though, trust me!) 2. They got out of the pool grinning ear to ear, eager to swim the next race. Hope swam for 13 more years and loved it all, and 14 years later Will has swum at State & National Championships, just finished his freshman year of college swimming, and plans to go into coaching when he finishes his collegiate swimming career. Looking back, my only real regret is that I put the video camera away that first day.
2. Take oodles of pictures
3. Wait for them with a “towel hug” after their race.
When Will was young he was so tiny, it didn’t matter how warm it was outside he’d always shiver and turn blue after every race. So I started waiting for him at the end of the pool with his towel, I’d wrap it around him and give him a huge hug, telling him how great he did…I didn’t care that by the end of the meet I looked like a drowned rat too. They grow out of these things far too soon. I miss those hugs…sadly such things are frowned upon at high school and college meets….so live it up while you can!
4. Your children will embarrass you during practices.
It is a difficult transition for some kids. For most kids pool time equals play time. For a competitive swimmer practices are a whole new ballgame, for the first time they are in a pool with a large group of kids and they are expected to work, and work hard. It is inevitable, your kids will get in trouble for goofing around, not listening, or messing with other kids. You’ll also get kids crying that they want to get out because they are cold, too tired, etc… In fact, one of my kids got so nervous the first few weeks of practice he looked like he had completely forgotten how to swim. I remember telling the coach…”You know he can swim, you’ve seen him do it, I swear I’m not making it up!!”…the coach laughed and told me not to worry he’d be fine, and eventually he was. Bottom line is the first year or two of swimming is as much training the kids on how to do practices and meets as it is training them to swim. Let the coaches do their jobs and work with the coaches to correct behavior issues….eventually everything will work out. And fear not you’re not the first swim parent to have an overwhelming desire to find a long stick you can use to poke your kid with as they swim by and tell them to knock it off already!
5. Your kids will make silly mistakes…it’ll be ok
Life is confusing for a new swimmer …mistakes will happen, it’s ok. It happens all the time…kid swims the wrong stroke…miscounts his laps…misses her event…a relay is lined up at both ends of the pool and they both go on the gun resulting in two swimmers in the same lane swimming on a collision course. Everyone will giggle and smile….don’t worry they are not laughing at your kids, they are fondly remembering when their kid did the exact same things years ago. The bright side is these are rec meets, not state championships….mistakes are meant to be made here and the kids will learn from them. Someday you’ll smile and giggle at the next generation of swimmer’s mishaps while you fondly remember your kid’s oopsies too.
6. There will be all levels of talent, and everyone will be welcome.
This is one of the best parts of rec swimming. You’ll have kids of all ages swimming at all different ability levels, and everyone is welcome on the team! I’ve seen everyone from Olympic trial qualifiers, to kids who can hardly make it across the pool swim at the same meets and/or on the same teams….and no one thinks twice about them all happily swimming together. It’s amazing! If you get the chance remind your kids to watch the better swimmers closely, a lot can be learned just by being around them.
7. Have a positive attitude
How you react to things will greatly influence how your kids react. If you complain the meets are long and boring, so will they…whereas if you treat it as a opportunity to make new friends while catching some sun and have some fun racing mixed in…your kids will be more likely to enjoy themselves. Instead of focusing on their place in a race, focus on whether or not they improved their time, or if they improved a specific skill….celebrate their accomplishments with them….and remember that not all accomplishments are measured in wins, loses, ribbons, and medals…sometimes they are measured in towel hugs and ice cream cones on the way home.
8. Pack like a swim mom!
Finally…not only are you a cheerleader, event manager, entertainer, and provider of warmth and comfort at meets….you’re also expected to have a swim mom/dad bag that rivals Mary Poppin’s stash of stuff. Snacks, drinks, sun screen, extra goggles, extra swim cap, money for concessions, chairs, a blanket to lay on, extra towels for after race hugs, bug repellent, umbrella, sharpie for writing events, heats, and lanes on arms, and dry clothes to go home in…and most importantly a camera/phone!
So enjoy your first year’s of Rec League swimming. No matter how stressed or embarrassed you might feel on occasion, trust me…someday you’ll look back and miss this!