After 10 years of watching my son’s swim meets and hearing about practice and other details regularly, it is hard to imagine not seeing him swim once he goes to college. Being a “swim mom” has been a part of my life for so many years – attending swim meets, rejoicing (or sympathizing) after good (or bad) races, serving on the board of directors, interacting with fellow swim parents, volunteering at our team-hosted meets, traveling to away meets….the list goes on and on. So how do we transition away from being a swim parent once they go to college?
The transition needs to start before they leave home and it seems to go much easier for the swimmers than the parents! And that transition begins in high school.
Let Your Swimmer Handle Communication With His Coaches
Most year-round senior coaches communicate almost exclusively with swimmers and, while it is hard for some parents to adjust, it is helpful. Also, it is easier to let the kids handle communication regarding practice schedules since they often drive themselves. If a parent emails a senior coach with a question, the coach will often assist in the weaning process by talking to the swimmer at practice instead of replying to the parent’s email. Be sure to let your swimmer know that he needs to tell you when this happens so the parent does not feel that the coach did not respond.
Different teams handle notifications about practice changes in different ways. Some send out emails and some coaches make announcements to the swimmers. Swimmers need to learn to keep track of such changes as they will be managing their own schedules in college.
Most senior coaches discuss meet entries with the swimmer before entering them in meets. Parents should not play a role in this process and certainly should not express doubt about the events. Swimming is such a mental sport that the swimmers need to have confidence in their coaches and their ability to swim events at meets.
Swimmers need to feel comfortable discussing college recruiting with coaches too. A coach will often ask swimmers for lists of colleges in which they are interested and give guidance for communicating with coaches. When swimmers have questions about specific programs, they need to ask their coaches.
Parents definitely cannot handle communication when their swimmers leave for college – I do not think there are any college coaches who will respond to an email from a parent about practice drills or meet entries favorably. It is best to let the swimmer get used to handling it while still in high school.
There can be exceptions to these situations, especially when it comes to injuries. In that case, it might be a good idea for a parent to let the year-round coach know what is going on, recovery time, medical restrictions, etc., to make sure the swimmer returns to training appropriately.
Let Your Swimmer Manage His Practices
We all know a parent who asks his swimmer on a daily basis what they did in practice, what the coach told them, which lane they were in, split times, and so forth. By the time they are teenagers, most kids (especially boys) do not want to be asked these details after every practice. Typically, swimmers will share news if there is anything noteworthy. Even if they don’t, we will survive as parents not knowing if they focused on distance free or individual strokes that day and if our swimmer was in the lane for the A interval or the B interval. I rarely know this information unless there is a practice that my son is dreading or where he does particularly well or particularly poorly. There is a fine line being being involved and supportive and being in their business – we want to keep the lines of communication open without asking for every little detail.
If there is an issue at practice, let your swimmer handle it whether it involves a problem with another swimmer or wanting something different in training. By this age, the swimmers can speak for themselves (or better learn quickly) and they can explain the situation better than a parent can.
I do include waking up with my swimmer in a different category. If he can wake up at 4:10 am before school, I can mix his breakfast shake and tell him to be careful driving and to have a good day. At our end-of-season banquet each year, the seniors almost all thank their parents for waking up with them before morning practice all those years. It means a lot to the swimmers and is a show of support from the parents.
I know one swimmer whose dad called her every morning of her freshman year to make sure she was awake for practice – I definitely do not plan on doing that as I plan to enjoy not having the alarm go off at 4:10 am 3 days a week.
Swim Meets – Parents Should Be Spectators and Volunteers
By high school, parents still need to volunteer if their team hosts meets. Other than that, they should watch the meets and offer support but the swimmer should handle everything else.
Long before they get to the senior group, swimmers should be packing their own bags for meets, making sure they have goggles, caps, water, snacks, and suits. Coaches usually tell the swimmers when to wear tech suits and swimmers should handle that, although parents probably will have to order and pay for them. I know parents who still pack their swimmers’ meet bags when they are juniors and seniors in high school and I wonder if their child will know how to pack for their first college meet.
When my son was younger, I never missed a meet. In fact, the first meet I ever missed was when he was 13 because my mother was in the hospital. Once my son began driving himself to meets, he occasionally told me I did not have to go if it was not a big meet. At the time, he was on a team that hosted 95% of its meets so I was volunteering anyway.
When he was 16, he changed teams and since he was transitioning to a new training style and focusing on technique, his times were pretty awful. At his first two meets, he told me there was no point in me spending my day at the pool as we both expected his times to get worse before they got better.
Long Course season goes by quickly and, in no time, we were traveling to Senior Champs. He swam all best times and got his first Winter Junior National Cut and I was happy to be there to see it.
Our new team participates in more team travel trips where swimmers travel with coaches and a parent chaperone. At the USA Swimming Futures Meet, I volunteered to chaperone so I could watch him swim, plus get to know some of his new teammates.
I recently traveled with my son to Senior Sectionals which may well be my last time to travel to a meet with him. It was bittersweet and, looking back, I think the last couple of years have helped prepare me for next year when he swims in college. As he is going to school far from home, I will not be able to go to his meets although I hope to travel to watch him swim in conference championships.
Several of my swim parent friends have asked if I will still come to meets to hang out with them and because I will miss swim meets. As much as I love my friends, it is easy to say no. I will follow my son’s meets on Meet Mobile and be happy that he is growing up and becoming independent while I join many former swim parents who learn that it is easy to find other activities to fill a weekend, such as playing golf, spending time with children still at home, traveling, and finding new hobbies. Of course, I will spend much of my time helping other parents navigate the college swimming process!
Michelle Lombana is committed to helping parents like herself whose children want to swim in college. When she’s not learning how to be a college swim parent, she can be found at www.collegeswimmingguide.com.