How to Be A Great Swim Parent

One of my favorite memories of swimming is the morning that my dad woke me up before dawn and made me a fried egg sandwich before driving me to a Saturday morning swim meet. We were singing along to Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” as we pulled into the parking lot, and at the end of the chorus, my dad turned and said, “Do you feel fast today, Ace?” I gave him a big smile and sang (shouted) as loud as I could, “YES I DO!”. 


More than forty years have passed since that morning and I don’t remember how I did in that meet, whether I was first or last or set a personal record. What I do remember is how much fun swimming was because my parents did everything they could to support me – and then simply let me swim. If you are a parent who wants to help your child achieve their best and yet still have fun swimming, here are four tips for being a great swim parent.


Know your role

You are not your child’s coach. One of the biggest complaints coaches have is that well-intentioned parents often give their swimmers advice on how to improve their performance without realizing that the advice runs counter to what the coach as said.


Trust your swimmer’s coach. They have spent countless hours learning stroke techniques, methods for constructing workouts and drills, and they want to help your swimmer turn in their best possible performance. When you offer your swimmer pointers about their performance, you are setting up a situation in which your swimmer is forced to choose between you and the coach – and it will not benefit your swimmer. You will teach your swimmer that their coach is not trustworthy, and you’ll make it harder for the coach to do their job. You’ll also set yourself up as a “difficult parent,” which will not earn you or your swimmer any points with coaches, teammates or other parents. Leave the coaching to the people who are being paid to do it.


Encourage responsibility

If your child has chosen to swim, let them be the one to take responsibility for it. You should support their efforts, but you should not be the one taking ownership of the experience. My parents would get up at the crack of dawn for practice or meets, and would drive me almost anywhere for them. They would sit in the stands for hours on end waiting for me to swim my races, and they would enthusiastically cheer for every swimmer. However, they left the decision to swim up to me.


I can remember days when I didn’t want to go to after-school swim practice or compete in a meet. I would whine and drag my feet, hoping that my parents would get me out of practice or make an excuse for why I couldn’t go to the swim meet. My parents were smart about it, though. They’d tell me it was my choice whether I wanted to go or not, but that if I didn’t go, then I was going to have to be the one to explain why I wasn’t participating. This lesson served me well not only in swimming, but in many other areas of my life because it taught me that while I have the right to make choices, I also have to take responsibility for my choices.


Listen and support

As a parent your job is to support your swimmer. This means asking questions and listening to the answers rather than doing all the talking. I was twelve-years old when I realized I was never going to be an elite swimmer. I knew I loved swimming and being part of the team, but I recognized that I just didn’t have the drive to push beyond being “good” in order to become “great.” One weekend morning, before a big meet, I asked my parents if I should keep swimming even though I wasn’t ever going to be the best at it. I told them that I felt bad that they had to drive me to practice and get up early on weekend mornings if I wasn’t going to be able to win every race. I said that I felt bad about all the money they were putting into my swimming when I wasn’t the very best.  I told them I thought that I should quit.


My parents quietly listened as I spilled everything I’d been thinking, and then my mom asked, “Do you enjoy swimming?” I nodded, and my dad asked, “Do you want to keep swimming?” I nodded again. They smiled, and my dad said, “Then keep swimming, Ace. You don’t have to be the best at something to participate in it; you just have to want to do it. If you enjoy it, we’ll find a way to make sure you can keep swimming.” This was the best possible response they could have given because I did love swimming (and still do), and by letting me know that they’d support me even though I’d never be the “best” they taught me that doing things I enjoy is more important than winning.


Model good behavior

In an era when “winning is everything,” sometimes good sportsmanship gets shoved to the side. As a parent your job is to teach your swimmer how to be a generous winner and a graceful loser.  The best way to do this is to model good behavior by cheering for every swimmer on the team (not just your own), by supporting the coaches rather than arguing with them, and by emphasizing the importance of being a good team member.

My parents modeled good behavior by getting involved with the team and volunteering when needed. They took their turn at bringing snacks to swim meets and being race/lane judges when our team hosted a meet. My dad volunteered to be the announcer at meets (even ones I wasn’t swimming in). Looking back on my decade of competitive swimming, I have some incredibly good memories and can see how my participation in the sport shaped the way I approach life in general. I owe my parents a great deal for being such a wonderful support system and for teaching me life lessons that have stuck with me.

And with a little effort, all parents can do the same!

The quick and the dead…. (improving reaction times)

I am going to run through a few reasons you want your athlete to improve reaction times and then I will give a couple of examples of fun activities to help coach them for it and keeping them engaged while doing so.

So obviously getting off the starting block first in a race of any kind is an advantage but if we are talking about any race over a 50 freestyle you might be thinking, “it’s not THAT important”, having witnessed a tie for first place in a 1500m at the UK School Games when I swam I feel in every race there is a need for a fast reaction, here are the top reasons why it is important.


Number one, confidence. There is nothing that will ruin a race quicker than a bad start, it can be a slight hesitation or a mistake like a slip on the block itself but a swimmer mentally will not fully recover. It changes their mindset from their first underwater to their first few strokes and can literally ruin any race. I have seen 200 freestyles where a bad reaction led to a misplaced first 50 and then the swimmer was too tired to complete their race at usual speeds. The nerves of a swimmer are settled with a good reaction and once they are in the water they can go about their business, if the start is a worrying area then it can drain their confidence on the entire event.


Number two, waves. A hesitation on the start can put you in the worst position in swimming, just behind enough to catch every wave from the opposition. This can make the beginning of a race mush more hard work, cause you to miss a breath or take in water and in shorter races it can be an unsurmountable deficit.

Number three, it’s free time. If there is a way to go faster in the pool by exerting no more effort, you would be foolish to not take advantage of it. That is what a fast reaction does, with the amount of time spent on perfecting turns, underwater kicks and finishes just to drop a fraction of a second this free time available needs to be utilized by every swimmer.

Constantly forcing swimmers to learn skills in the pool can cause mental fatigue and they switch off and perform worse so I believe the best way to work on things like this are to try fun activities outside the pool where they don’t even realize they are working on it. As a finisher to a dryland practice is the Tennis Ball Biggest Fan game.

How to Play;
Split the team into pairs, each pair is given two tennis balls. Swimmer 1 holds their arms out straight in front of them with one ball in each hand and Swimmer 2 takes up the same position with their arms straight in front of them and their hands placed on top of the other swimmers hands. Swimmer 1 then randomly drops one tennis ball and swimmer 2 must react and catch the ball before it hits the ground. Once they have practiced this a few times they each take three turns and the best score of successful catches wins, in the event of a tie they play sudden death taking one turn each until one drops and one catches. Then the winning swimmer will find another winner to challenge, the losing swimmer becomes a fan for the swimmer they lose to cheering them on in the tournament. If you are cheering for someone and they lose you then join the fan base for the swimmer who beat them.

Eventually you end up with a grand finale of your last two swimmers and your team divided into two groups all cheering on their team mates to catch tennis balls. It gets competitive, it gets loud and it is really fun to end a session with all while working on swimmers reactions and also developing a great team atmosphere to lead them into their pool session.

So, You Think You Can’t Swim? Guess Again!

I was eight the first time I dove in and swam a full length of the pool. Since then, I’ve swam competitively and non-competitively, and racked up more laps than I can count – or remember. While I have never been fast swimmer, I have always loved the feeling of being immersed in the water as my arms and legs work in tandem to propel me from one end of the pool to the other.

Simply put – I love to swim.

When I talk or write about swimming, I tend to get two distinct responses. The first is from other swimmers who smile, and then add their own description of what it feels like to slice through the water as they accumulate yardage and test their speed. The other response I get is from people who wistfully say, “You make swimming sound like so much fun. I wish I could swim, too.”

This article is for those folks.

Swim Lessons

For those in the U.S., the American Red Cross offers adult swim lessons in locations around the country, as does U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS offers a list of individual swim instructors as well as pools where adult lessons take place). In Australia, State Swim Swimming Schools offer lessons for all ages, and the Aquatic Center in Sydney offers adult swim lessons.

For many folks, swim lessons that cover the basics are the first places to start. While it may initially feel strange to sign up for lessons, the investment in learning how to properly perform the basic strokes will be worth it. It will make lap swimming much more enjoyable, and lower the risk of swim-related injuries.

DIY Swim Programs

For those who may have a little background in swimming or those who aren’t keen on signing up for lessons, there are other options. One of the most touted programs is renowned NCAA coach Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion Swimming Technique. The program is based on the premise that there is more benefit to approaching swimming as a skill, rather than as a test of endurance.

Butterfly Stroke - SwimbetterLaughlin’s program focuses on the three C’s (comfort, control and confidence), taking the path of least resistance (streamlining form and not making waves), and moving from the core (better integration of strokes and core support). One of the most compelling testaments to Laughlin’s method can be found in Tim Ferris’s blog article detailing how he learned to swim in ten days using the Total Immersion method.

Swim Clubs and Clinics

If you’re someone who has a little more experience swimming, but just doesn’t know where to start in terms of training, there are many local clubs that welcome swimmers of all abilities. The benefits of joining a swim club are that you’ll get coaching support and regular workouts designed by someone who understands the need for adapting workouts to different levels. You’ll also be swimming with swimmers of varying levels, and who will often offer advice regarding stroke and breathing techniques. Swim clubs can also provide additional motivation for those who want to get into the pool, but have trouble making time for the workouts.

For those looking to improve their skills, but not able to invest the time in lessons, U.S. Masters Swimming offers regular stroke clinics around the country. Designed for every level of swimmer, the stroke clinics offer an evaluation of all four strokes (though swimmers aren’t required to swim all four strokes) by top area coaches. The goal of the clinic is to help swimmers improve stroke technique and to teach them drills that will enable them to continue to refine their strokes as they swim.

No matter what level swimmer you are, there is a program that can help you find a way to enjoy swimming, and reap the benefits of what many consider to be the perfect exercise!