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ESC – Supporting Our Swimmers through Competition: A Parents’ Guide

1. Your stress is contagious As a parent it is so important to not feel anxious about how your child may deal with a training session or competing at a meet. Let the swimmer develop their managing skills to overcome tricky situations. Of course, support them with guidance and advice but it is so important not to express your worries or anxieties that you are feeling. Providing your child with an insight to these, you are fuelling them with additional concerns and generating possible negative outcomes.

“the stress and anxiety we feel about our swimmer’s performance trickles down into how stressed and anxious they are.” (Poitier-Leroy, 2019 a)

2. Your expectations are contagious Placing emphasis on winning rather than focussing on achieving small goals, like obtaining PBs, is not healthy. Shioemaker (2015) recognised through research that:-

“Athletes who were the most stressed out and anxious (with anxiety measured in terms of worry, physical symptoms-tense muscles, and concentration disruption) had parents who really wanted their kid to beat the competition, or ‘to not lose to others’”.

“The age groupers experienced concentration disruption the most when their parents were more interested in seeing the athlete out-perform the competition compared to achieving a personal best.”

You may have heard a lot of focus by coaches on swimmers comparing their swims against their personal best times. This must be re-enforced throughout – small personal goals. It is also the best measure of progress. But, remember, swimmers cannot obtain a PB every time they swim. If we did, there would be no end to our success! We also need to support them positively when they do not PB. Avoid comparing times to other swimmers. Additional to the above points raised, each swimmer is different. They all have different strengths/weaknesses, differing dates of birth, differing peaks and troughs in performance etc. 3. Look beyond the medals The monthly club fees, the meet fees, expensive swim costumes, early morning training, forever being poolside watching your child swim up and down….. the list goes on to the lengths you go to as a parent to support your child’s love of swimming. This is fantastic but Poitier-Leroy (2019 a) recognises that parents sometimes feel this investment requires a return on their efforts and financial input:

“As a result you might feel yourself putting more emphasis on winning in order to see a return.”

Remember, if your child is enjoying their swimming, they will make progress. Do not place a level of expectation on them or put pressure on the child to give something back through their performances or achievements. Their experience and life skills they are developing, by being a part of the club will seriously outweigh the gold medals. This is your return for the copious hours that you dedicate to your child’s love of swimming!

“But if you want the best for your child, the research continues to show that a relaxed, hands-off, let-the-kid-own-the-sport is best for creating an environment where they will not only have more fun, but also excel both in the short and long term.” (Poitier-Leroy, 2019 a)

4. Avoid over-analysing their performance and let them own the sport In addition to the quote by Poitier-Leroy (2019 b) above, he also recognises that by encouraging accountability, the swimmers will generate their own understanding and ways to develop further. By providing excuses for failure it will not allow them to truly reflect on their swimming and evaluation will be limited. Furthermore, let them develop their own goals to achieve. Of course, provide encouragement along the way to help them achieve their goals but do not intensify it for them. By generating their own goals they will be more motivated to achieve them in the long run and are likely to be more honest when evaluating any experiences of disappointment.

“How they swim isn’t a reflection of you. Don’t fall down the over-identification trap where your child’s swim performance is a reflection of you, leading you to ignore how they feel about the sport and focusing on your feelings. Taking the burden for their swimming also removes accountability on your swimmer’s part. The more likely it’s their thing, the more likely they are to be successful.” (Poitier-Leroy, 2019 b)

5. Set the standard to how they should react As a parent it is your responsibility to set the example of how to react in times of disappointment and during times of success. You will be the biggest role model to your child so set the tone. Also be conscious and considerate to the situation and other swimmers and parents. You may be over the moon about your child’s achievement, selections for a team gala or squad move (for example) but consider the negative impact this may have on other children and parents if it is exuberant or inappropriate. On the flip side, hold your cool if you are disappointed with your child’s swim or news regarding team selections, squad moves etc. I would return to the above note – let your child evaluate their swim or reflect on news about selections themselves. They may react very differently to how you expect or how you initially did.

“It is contradictory and confusing for children to be told to have self-control, to stay calm and focused in moments of high pressure when their parent is screaming at the coach and losing their chlorinated mind from the stands.” (Poitier-Leroy, 2019 b)

6. Do not punish swimmers for bad swims I’m confident that this does not happen at ESC. When researching, I read stories of parents refusing to feed their children or shouting at them when they witnessed a disappointing swim. Totally unacceptable!

On the flip side though, if we analyse further guidance from Swim England Competitive Swimming Hub (2019) that states we should not ‘dangle carrots’ to reward a better outcome are we ultimately punishing our children for not achieving the desired goal? Additionally, we are then making our job in supporting a disappointed child that hasn’t achieved a PB much harder. The advice would be to consider what you are putting on the table for your child prior to a swim. I am just as guilty of such stigma around the need to reward my children at a meet making references to PBs but focus really should be placed on “what they did well rather than the outcome achieved” (Swim England Competitive Swimming Hub, 2019). 7. Do not treat volunteers poorly I think at ESC the respect and appreciation of our volunteers is supported by our parents. We have come a long way as a club and we have high levels of support and commitment from parents to help the club progress.

This being said, there will always be some concerns and issues that people have with things that are happening at different times within the club but it is that person’s responsibility to approach any issue in a respectful manner. I am not naïve to think everyone is always happy and content with everything but I do expect any issues to be raised in the correct manner. If you think you can add something to the team to improve a concern you have and help the development of the club there is always a voluntary role for all parents at ESC.

“Honestly if people spent as much time helping as they do sending strongly worded emails or gossiping about those that do the actual work, things would probably go a lot more smoothly.” (, 2017)

This ethos also follows through to officials. If your child has received a disqualification at an event, approach the coach to seek clarification from the organisers for the reasons. I read issues online about parents having arguments with officials at open meets, this would certainly not be acceptable at ESC!

8. Gain a good balance: encourage attendance at training sessions but do not force your child to swim There needs to be a balance of swimmers regularly attending training sessions to gain the opportunity to make the necessary progress but there also needs to be time given to swimmers for down time. Give your child time to remove themselves from swimming when they are not at the pool and maybe consider times when attending a training session would not benefit the child. You know your child best and know when they need to miss a session. That being said, do not fall into the trap of letting them slack! Children are very clever and can manipulate a past situation to suit their demands. On the flip side, do not force your child to swim. If it is becoming an increasing battle to get them to the pool, maybe being part of a club is not for them:

“Honestly, if your kid doesn’t love the sport, spend your time and money helping them explore other activities they may love more rather than bribing them or guilting them into another season. Trust me you all will be happier in the long run.” (, 2017)

9. The facilities do not make the athlete We are extremely lucky at ESC. We have a modern, new Leisure Centre and Chipping Campden is a good facility for our swimmers. For some swimmer though there may be things that they do not enjoy about some of our facilities or swimmers may take a disliking to certain venues for competitions. To experience these is still important though. If we remove obstacles then they will not develop the skills to deal with adverse or difficult situations. As a parent, let them embrace these difficulties to make them stronger and they will also be more equipped to deal with future obstacles. This links through to winning and losing; being part of a club that wins everything makes defeat more difficult when it happens! 10. Take time to understand the structure of swimming at the club Swimming is not the most straight forward sport. There are so many things to consider – different strokes, race distances, swim meets, external club galas, internal club galas, different squads, different skills, different categories of insurance etc. It can be quite stressful to a parent.

We have committee members in place to support parents in understanding the structure of the club but ultimately they are all volunteers. As parents, take the time to read club emails, log into Swim Club Manager, pay fees on time, make notes of meets and the events that you have entered for your child, attend squad and parent meetings etc. It may seem un-related to your child’s swimming but if you are more organised, knowledgeable and well informed, your child will feel more confident and supported. I would say that nine out of ten emails that you receive as a parent, there will be something relevant. Ensure they are not going into your junk also!

If anything seems confusing speak to committee members at sessions or arrange a meeting to speak to someone who can help. The more information you can gain, the best you can support your child. 11. Be there for your child and club The theme running through the stages all lead back to just being there for your child. Ultimately, they just want you to be there for them both. They will need you in times of disappointment and will certainly want to share their successful times with you.

“Win or lose, all they really want to know is that their swimming, and by extension their identity, isn’t a prerequisite for you being there for them. Don’t make your love conditional on how they swim. All they want to know and feel is that first or last, whether they are world record holder or local sharks-and-minnows champ, that you will love ’em.” (Poirier-Leroy, O. (2019 b)

“Where possible emphasise the importance of being a team player. Swimmers that motivate others are often the happiest and gain the greatest benefit out of training and competition. This goes for swimming parents also. Cheer for your own child but cheer for their teammates too. This will help to create a positive atmosphere amongst the swimmers and their supporters.” (Swim England Competitive Swimming Hub, 2019)

References: Poitier-Leroy, O. (2019 a). Swim Parents: Your Stress and Expectations Are Contagious. [online] SwimSwam. Available at: [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].

Poirier-Leroy, O. (2019 b). How to Be an Awesome Swim Parent. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].

Shoemaker, S. (2015). Pre-Game Jitters: Research Suggests Student Athletes and Parents Both Contribute to Anxious Feelings Before Competition – IC News – Ithaca College. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].

Swim England Competitive Swimming Hub. (2019). Swimming parents: 10 dos & don’ts to help performance. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019]. (2017). 10 mistakes swim parents make. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Oct. 2019].

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