By Bonnie Moss//Contributor | Friday, May 31, 2019
The level of parental involvement in youth sports can seem like a delicate balancing act. How much will yield the best support for the swimmer?
Coaches across the board agree that it’s the little things parents do outside the pool that make a huge difference in a swimmer’s performance. Getting them to practice on time and monitoring their sleep, nutrition, hydration and especially positive influences, all add up to big dividends.
“The swimmer is never going to want it as much as the coach or the parent,” says Erik Scalise, head coach at Northern Nevada Aquatics. “The parents need to trust the coach’s expertise, and trust their kid will give their best effort. Parents should offer humble praise for a good performance and never berate for a bad one. They can do so much by supporting from the sidelines. Even the simple things, like giving their swimmer new googles, will make that swimmer feel supported,” says Scalise.
Mark and Tracy Curzan, parents of young butterfly phenom Claire Curzan of Raleigh Swimming Association, have watched their daughter’s rise to swimming success through the years, and the emotions don’t get easier.
Claire is the fastest 13-year-old in the 100y butterfly (53.95) in the country and has shattered NAG records in several events. Tracy says she still gets nervous for Claire before every event, but knows she has to keep it fun. “This sport requires so much, you have to enjoy it too. I tell her “I don’t care if you dog paddle to the wall, I love you no matter what,’” says Tracy.
Claire’s father agrees. “Age group swimming can mean crazy drops. Success is periodic, and you can’t rely on those drops. So we try to keep it in perspective.” says Mark. “Last year I watched her break the 50 and 100 fly national age group record, in the same race. She has given up a lot for her training, and I just want to understand her needs and make sure she’s enjoying it.”
Mark and Tracy also have let Claire take the controls on what she needs during competition. Parents aren’t allowed on deck at major meets, and the large amount of downtime in between warm-ups and racing requires good planning. Claire now knows how, when and what she’ll eat, and how much time and help is needed for her race suit.
Mark also volunteers during some meets to help the team and to see Claire swim, but after giving her a quick hello and a positive fist pound, he steps aside and lets the coaches coach.
Parents who act as coaches get into trouble, says NNA coach Scalise. “You are a parent first and foremost, not a secondary coach. Don’t get too worked up or emotional about your kid’s performance and don’t talk it to death at home. Swimmers needs a swim life, a school life and a home life.”
How Parents Can Help
1. Swimmers are busy! Unfortunately, sleep can easily take a back seat to training, homework, family obligations, chores and socializing. Make sure your swimmer is getting plenty of rest and recovery. This is their only time to let their bodies recover. Aim for 8 hours minimum and be a good role model by setting the example.
2. As our sports continues to progress in training techniques and proper nutrition, basic principles still exist: “Garbage in, garbage out.” It’s hard for any kid to resist junk food, and it’s equally hard for parents to skip the drive-thru in lieu of quality nutrition when rushed. Plan ahead with menus. It will save you time and money, and your swimmer will better fueled. Aim for a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains.
3. Being just one percent dehydrated can lead to poor performance. Make sure your swimmer has a large refillable water bottle (newer hydro flasks can retain cold temperatures 24 hours). Have them go easy on the popular sugar-loaded sports drinks.
4. Relaxing in front of the TV? Have your swimmer stretch, foam roll or self-massage.
5. Monitor your swimmer’s outside influences and make sure they are positive. Who are their role models, who are they following online, what are they saying on social media, and what is being said about them? Make sure all of it is positive. Don’t be afraid to make them unplug.
6. Hugs all around! It can hard as a parent to watch your swimmer have a disappointing swim. No matter what, a hug is ALWAYS the right answer. Be their support system. Let the coach offer the proper feedback and constructive criticism.
7. Keep it fun. When training becomes a ‘chore,’ the path to progress takes the wrong turn.
8. Be patient. If you’re looking for immediate gratification, swimming is not the sport for you. Long hours in the pool might not equal a best time at the end of the season. But don’t give up. Be patient. Their time will come, and when it does, it will be significantly more rewarding and gratifying than any overnight success could ever offer.