Teenage swimming – the difficult years?
Teenage swimming is always something that is spoken about in a negative way as so many swimmers going through teenage changes decide to quit the sport. None of us have a crystal ball to look into the future and see what lies ahead. Having said that, as a swim mom I believe that if you prepare for it and know how to handle difficult situations you might just see your swimmer through teenage swimming to realize their dreams in their twenties.
Monica swam her first fun gala in September 2013 aged 6. Two months later, she set 2 meet records for the girls 7 and under age group at the Blue Oceans Aquatics swim meet. This became a trend for past two years with records tumbling at swim meets as she progresses through the age groups.
Dealing with teenagers quitting swimming
In January 2014, during a training session, before another fun gala, in conjunction with her learn-to-swim instructor, we took her times when she sprint just to note what her training times versus gala times would be. A mom and the senior squad coach were standing right next to me discussing the teenage swimming years.
The mother had an older son who was a swimmer up to teenage years and dropped swimming preferring to play water polo as it is a team sport and much more social than swimming. The boy used to be the talk of the town in primary school, and the mother admits that she “pushed” him too much which resulted in the child quitting swimming aged 12.
At that stage, the sister was swimming at the same club as Monica and the topic of pushing children at a young age was raised especially when we were present. The approach with the sister was no pressure, do everything just for fun.
Today another swimmer’s mom announced that her daughter and the Captain of the swim team at her school decided to quit swimming – she is now 12 years old and in high school. It is not just the parents that like to raise the topic, but coaches as well – our attitude is we hear what you say and take note but we are the parents and our swimmer’s mental and physical health is our concern.
Swimming’s crystal ball
Monica is now 8-years-old and she loves swimming. We are however not blind and the constant hints about pushing young swimmers do not go unnoticed. We just prefer not to comment so we do not enter into discussions about the topic.
The fact that we do not discuss this topic does however not mean that we do not do our homework. The teenage swimming years are slowly creeping closer as Monica will be 9 in March 2016, in theory leaving one year before we also have a teenager in the house.
One of the coaches that we work with wished for a crystal ball so we could see if Monica keeps on swimming through the teenage years and take swimming further to career status. Swimming moms do not have crystal balls to look into the future. The only thing we have is our relationships with our children, knowing them on a level that coaches and for that matter the world out there do not always understand.
I answered the coach by saying I do not have a crystal ball but what I do know about my child is that when she makes up her mind, she just does not change it. This characteristic is fabulous as she decides 12 months in advance what the theme of her next birthday party must be and just not change it, leaving 12 months to prepare for the next birthday (ha, ha).
We noticed this with her music too. She said she wants to learn to play the piano and that is just what she is doing as another activity. Practicing piano is no issue for her as it is something she likes to do – the same goes for swimming.
Set swimming goals
I found a very insightful article about seeing swimmers through the teenage years. Written by a coach, with some checklists and suggestions to find out why the teenager wants to quit swimming. It is so helpful that we already implemented a lot of the ideas in it and added a couple of our own.
One particular suggestion is setting achievable goals in teenage swimming. Monica aged 8 set her own goals. It is stuck on her notice board in her room where she can review it at any time and remind herself that she set those goals to achieve in the particular swimming season.
The goals are not about winning and times which you might expect. At eight, she set goals to swim correctly and work on things she still forgets. Yes, there is a goal to keep coaches happy too. It is normal for kids to want to please the people that she loves most so we do have it as a goal.
One of the most insightful books I read about teenagers and how to handle the changes stipulated that it is most likely one of the most difficult issues adults deal with during the teenage years. The change that sets in from pleasing my parents, to please myself first and then pleasing the parent.
My theory as just a simple hands on swim Mom is that if you know about it, learn about it, and make a plan to handle it in the right way so that it is not an issue. Having done all of this there might still be issues. We will address the issues as they surface.
Monica gets loads of love and support in swimming – dad is Coach and mom training buddy as it is really hard to train on your own at such a young age (we have pool and club issues in our town so no choice as far as that is concerned not that I mind, I love swimming especially training with my daughter. This will change in time to come but I am making the most of every day as long as I have this privilege).
Lay down clear guidelines and rules
We also have a couple of rules which we implemented:
- The gym we train at has sliding glass doors. Once we leave the gym, what happens at the gym stays at the gym.
- The swimmers do not know what is the daily program (swimmers being Mica and Mom). Every day is a surprise. We do explain to Monica when she is building up for an event that training is going to be tough so she would be expected to work harder and smarter. When tapering, we also explain that she is now going into a resting phase which will make her swim faster. We also tell her when she competes against older children at age group galas and when she swims with children her own age. It is something she asked for so we comply – I suspect she has her own way of motivating herself when she swims against older children but that is another topic for another article.
- Motivational videos – she likes watching some amazing races on Youtube – Katy Ledecky, Katinka Hoszu, Missy Franklin.
- We also never go to sleep angry – this ties in with the rule about the glass doors at the swimming pool. On this point she is also clear that it does not mean that we do not love her or each other if we are angry – it is also ok to get angry – staying angry is not good. This relates to everything in life and running a household, business and school not just swimming.
- She knows that she learns from mistakes she makes and not necessarily from what she does right. If you do something right all the time, you learn nothing and part of the swimming journey is to learn and grow as a person and a swimmer.
- Never assume you will win or be the best. On this point, we keep Monica humble due to the records she set and the gold medals which, according to a lot of adults are irrelevant prior to the teenage swimming years. As a young swimmer, it is however still important to get the medals and trophies and it keeps her motivated so it is important to emphasize that winning is not a given. You have to work at it all the time.
- Be an example and do well with your God given talent – be an inspiration to others. Our cause of choice is Childhood cancer and we support the Go Gold September childhood cancer awareness project.
Teenage swimming years do not have to be difficult
Whether our approach works or not remains to be seen (follow us and see me complain two years from now – ha, ha). Going to be some interesting years ahead. As one of those nutty moms, I have no fear of the teenage years. We will tackle the bull by the horns and just soldier on through it.
Swimming is such a good sport and Monica knows already that the oxygen on her brain is good for her brain and blood flow and that she is swimming with a goal – that goal is to throw the asthma pump away by age 10.
We can only lay down the principles, set an example as her parents. If all else fails, we will involve a third party to find out why she worked so hard just to quit teenage swimming years.
Other than that do what my coach did during my teenage years and that was to send me back to the boarding school after training so tired that I did not have time to actually take on any other arguments with anybody – swim, eat, sleep…..