I recently had a conversation with the parents of a 10 year old swimmer. Both parents were upset that their son had not been doing better at meets and were critical of how hard he was trying. They were also upset about the excuses he was giving them about why he wasn’t doing better. His mom explained that his swimming took up a lot of time and cost a lot of money. From a time perspective, he had practice 5 days a week and would start having meets 3 out of 4 weekends throughout the fall and winter. Financially, their costs included team membership, meet fees, equipment and traveling. She stated that this was a big sacrifice for not only their son, but for the family as well. She explained that if this was going to be this big of an investment, she was expecting him to improve and get better. When she asked me my thoughts, I asked her if she really wanted to hear what I thought. She hesitated and then said she did.
First of all, I think this discussion exemplifies some of the problems that are starting to become magnified in youth sports. As I have mentioned numerous times in these newsletters, I believe our society is putting more and more pressure on kids at younger and younger ages to compete in sports, continually advance up the rankings and get better. A couple of months ago I wrote about the national basketball tournament for second graders. These parents are part of the generation of parents who expect their kids to start COMPETING at an age where I believe they are not emotionally mature enough to succeed on a steady basis. Fewer and fewer kids are PLAYING sports at younger ages, as the emphasis is getting more heavily weighted on competing. I frequently drive by the grade school my sons attended. They are now 23 and 22 years old. I rarely see kids playing baseball or playing on the playground equipment. What I usually see is an organized sport practice going on with several adults coaching.
A recently retired swim coach, whom I have known for 30 years told me that he believes there shouldn’t be rankings for kids younger than 13 or 14 in most sports. He emphasized that he was becoming more and more frustrated with the parents of younger kids because they had unrealistic expectations about how fast their kids would progress and improve. He stated that he typically had intense conversations with many parents about how swimming is a sport that takes time and patience and that kids are not going to continually drop times. Their times will commonly go up and down pertaining to their training and the emphasis the coach is putting on training at practice. Many parents did not understand and some told him that his perspective was not what they were expecting in order for their kids to progress.
I told the mother that I thought there was probably nothing wrong with her son. I asked her why he was involved in swimming. She told me that their family watched Michael Phelps in the Olympics in China and her son said he wanted to start swimming and go to the Olympics. His mother said that these were still his goals and that she was going to give him the opportunity to achieve them, even as she said, if they are “really hard to achieve”. When I asked her what frustrated her the most, she said that he wasn’t always getting better and that he came up with lots of excuses. She told me that both she and her husband would get frustrated with him and typically got upset. As we continued our discussion, it became more apparent that even though her son wanted to swim, both she and her husband had goals and expectations that I felt were unrealistic for their son. He needed to advance on his own pace, identify his own goals and work towards them, knowing that he wouldn’t always achieve them. I felt his parents needed to be a support system and a sounding board for their son. They needed to put their goals for him in hibernation and let him progress at his own pace. After all, he is only 10. I explained that if they continually put pressure on him, I would probably lose interest and want to quit. I told them to let the coach coach their son, and let him be the athlete, not them. Hopefully, they will back off. Your thoughts.