Goal Setting for All Ages

Everyone should have a goal, no matter how old they are, or how small or silly that goal may seem. Personally, I plan on learning to whistle. I’m not referring to the whistle-while-you-work kind of sound, but the shrill, high whistle accomplished by putting your fingers in your mouth.

I’m talking about the kind of whistle that would silence a room, get a group of people to pay attention, and allow me to connect with my swimmers across the pool deck without shouting their names. On Twitter it would be a perfectly reasonable #SwimMomGoal.

Every child needs a goal, whether it is swim-related or not. Just make sure their goals are age appropriate and something they chose themselves—or it isn’t going to happen.

Remember that children don’t know what they don’t know. Read that again. Slowly. They are not born with the inherent ability to set goals. They need to be taught how-to pick one, create a plan for reaching it, and then be encouraged along the way.

When teaching your swimmers about goal setting, use the acronym SMART. It stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time sensitive.

Specific – The more clearly-defined the goal, the better. Your swimmers may need suggestions because “swim fast” is just too vague.

Measurable –  This is easier than you think. Pursuing a specific time cut is a great way to measure progress towards a goal because swimmers can see incremental improvements from one meet to the next. And if they get their time, they met their goal!

Attainable –A 10 and under swimmer will not be able to get a Speedo sectional cut, no matter how hard they train. Don’t set your children up for failure.

Realistic – The root of the word is “real.” Don’t lose sight of it. But that doesn’t mean your swimmer shouldn’t stretch themselves.

Time – Attach a timeframe to the goal. It should have an end, a time in which it will be accomplished. This helps motivate swimmers to work diligently and stay on-track.

In our house, everyone sets a swim goal at the start of the season. They range from swimming a stroke legally, to getting a qualifying cut for a high-level meet, and everything in between.

The goals get posted on the bathroom mirror, which guarantees they are read frequently, and whether my swimmers realize it or not, this is a great way to start and end each day…with purpose.

Desperate for Success

The long course is coming to an end and the rumors are swirling regarding performance-enhancing substances. I know, it sounds silly because we are talking about children who are 19-years old and younger, but parents and swimmers have been speculating over the last several weekends about who uses something to get a competitive edge.

I’m not sure what would constitute an edge at this age, but I do enjoy hearing parents discuss the possibilities. Highly entertaining considering I really don’t think such a thing exists.

Many swimmers worked hard and are well tapered as the final meets take place.  This often results in big time drops that haven’t been seen all season. That’s normal when you combine quality coaches with dedicated, focused kids.  But this is where the toxic parents come in.

Sometimes they make up things to psychologically shake the confidence of other swim team members. It sounds extreme, but it happens. All the time. Their children repeat things they are hearing at home, because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and the rumors begin to fly.

The toxic parents are usually doing this for a specific reason. Maybe they are trying to lobby for a coveted spot on a relay team (Coaches usually use times to decide relays because it is fact-based and fair.), or they feel their child needs an excuse for not doing well at a meet (Not every meet is going to be a good one.), or they are too focused/jealous of other swimmers (Instead of focusing on their own swimmers.).

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, you can’t predict or explain time drops in this sport. I always say the stars have to align for good things to happen—and sometimes they do.  Swimmers can plateau during a season and then out of nowhere have the best swims of their life. It doesn’t mean they are doing something reckless in order to accomplish them.

Unfortunately, performance enhancing products are being used at this level of competition. To think they aren’t is putting your head in the sand. I have heard everything from the extreme (steroids!) to the slamming of 5-hour energy drinks before a race.

Personally, I’m less interested in what others do and try to stay focused on my own children. More specifically, making sure they aren’t partaking in any of these crazy antics and stressing their health and well-being trumps everything…including fast swim times.

For parents who these tactics are a good idea, think again. Do a little research. Although you may see some short-term time drop benefits, over time they may cause permanent damage or even death.

Is this happening in your club?

Red Flags: When to Find A New Club

red_flag2_bayrak1-300pxAt some point, you may wonder if you should leave your swim club for a new one. That’s a very personal, family decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are many reasons to make a change.

My family has switched clubs—a few times—and we never regretted it. Despite the naysayers, you can leave a team and find happiness at another one. Here are some situations where leaving is in the best interest of your swimmer:

  • Favoritism. Let’s be honest, we all have favorites. I like some friends, family members, and co-workers better than others. This is normal. But when you join a swim club you are paying for a service. All kinds of things go south when a coach does not give equal time to their swimmers. It damages the coach-athlete relationship and over time it will be irreparable. At one club, a coach gave undivided attention to children whose parents paid for private lessons on the side. He watched those children like a hawk during practice and at swim meets, while the others were basically ignored. Equal and fair treatment of swimmers should be the rule, not the exception. If I pay for a service then I expect to receive it. Or my money walks.
  • Group dynamics. Sometime people just don’t mesh well. And that’s okay. Bullying among teammates, aggressive parents, disinterested coaches, all of these things can create a poor swim club environment. If your child starts dreading interactions with individuals at practices/meets then ask your swimmer about it and reevaluate your situation. Sometimes a child will tell you directly what is happening, or you will notice a change in their behavior. If there is a problem, work with all of the parties involved to try addressing the issue. If you can’t find a solution that satisfies you, it might be time to find a new club.
  • Questionable coaching practices. There are a lot of things coaches do that I don’t understand. This is their area of expertise, and I respectfully stay out of their way…until I see something that flies in the face of common sense. Like what? Dryland sessions that were so intense in the length and degree of physical activity that kids were vomiting, yet the activity continued. A coach sitting in his car while swimmers pushed it around the parking lot as part of their dryland “workout.” Verbally degrading and pitting one teammate against another as a way of “pushing them” to do better. Sadly, I could share add a dozen more examples. Ego-tripping coaches, lack of child development knowledge, and antiquated training techniques are mentally and physically dangerous for children. Period.
  • Long commute to/from the club. There are only so many hours in the day. If your commute to swim club practice is very long it can cause all kinds of issues. Your swimmer might have difficulty maintaining relationships with their friends, completing homework, getting enough rest, and trying new sports/activities due to time conflicts. Not to mention you will probably be the primary driver for several years so you are vested in this, too. Really discern if this situation is doable long-term. I know from personal experience that a long commute won’t get any easier over time. Not to mention the cost of gas and tolls adds up quickly!
  •  Environmental issues. Yes, something in the pool water or an indoor pool area can be making your child sick. Asthma and allergy triggers abound in a moist, enclosed space, especially if there is poor ventilation. This can bring about nose, throat, and lung irritation, which might lead to repeated doses of antibiotics. Many young swimmers who have a reaction to an environmental issue at their swim club end up with an asthma diagnosis. Away from the pool area they are perfectly fine, but while swimming they have to take daily medications–so parents beware.  Additionally, when pool chemicals are not properly balanced, swimmers can experience severe itching, redness, skin lesions, rash, or scales/crust on their skin. If you see a connection to a health issue and your child’s practice location, follow your instincts, see a doctor, and in some cases it might be best to switch clubs. Your child’s long-term health should be your first priority.

Ultimately, you will know when it’s time to join a new swim club. Don’t let other families convince you to “hang in there” or stick it out for one more season. Do what is in your family’s best interest and all of you will be happier and healthier.

Did this article help you decide it was time to find a new swim club?



Swim Meet Snacks

When I’m packing meet snacks for my swimmers, I always wonder what other families feed their children. Many of us have a small, shoulder-bag type cooler we take with us wherever we go stocked with food and drinks.

I find it really keeps costs down, and it helps the kids stick to a food plan leading up to and through the last day of a meet. After all, swimmers should only be eating familiar foods they can easily tolerate. Never count on a concession stand to fuel your children. Most of the things I have seen sold are not conducive to good racing including: pizza, candy bars, pop, hot dogs, donuts, and bags of chips.

I purchased my picnic thermal tote several years ago from Thirty-One gifts (www.thirtyonegifts.com). The square shape makes it perfect for tucking under your seat in the bleachers or leaving it at your feet when things get really crowded. The bag zips all the way around and has one exterior pocket where we tuck in items we need to keep close in hand.

This is what I typically put in our snack bag on the morning of a meet:

  • Bottled water. The kids have reusable water bottles they refill all day. However, they say the water tastes “funny” at some swim venues. I want to make sure they stay hydrated, and I don’t want to spend $1 or more per bottle at concessions, so I bring some bottles from home. After all, you can buy a case of 24 for $3 or less and that’s a big money saver!
  • I usually pack a variety of fresh fruit and/or fruit cups. In the summer, watermelon and strawberries are a big hit. In the winter, clementines, pears, and a bag of pre-sliced apples are the main requests.
  • I fill small, Ziplock snack bags with their favorite animal, graham, and snack crackers.
  • Pretzels and peanut butter. Again, I fill a Ziplock snack bag with pretzels and send along to-go containers of peanut butter to dip them in. We also like to dip carrots in peanut butter, so you may want to try that combination, too.
  • Unsweetened apple sauce. This is the go-to snack that my kids eat right after warm-ups. It is especially good for those who get gastrointestional distress when feeling anxious. You can buy the individual applesauce cups or invest in a larger jar and portion it into smaller containers. Don’t forget to pack plastic, disposable spoons!
  • Cheese sticks. This is a convenient way to have some protein and keep your swimmers feeling full. Freeze them overnight before putting them into the cooler.
  • Dinner roll sandwiches. Depending on how long a meet runs, swimmers may need a more substantial snack in between races. That’s when I pack turkey or ham sandwiches made on dinner rolls or Hawaiian rolls. Remember, it is not about quantity but quality and timing when you fuel your swimmer. A small sandwich will fuel them better than snacks, if they have enough time to digest it before their event.
  • Hand sanitizer, tissues, disposable spoons, ibuprofen, Sharpie marker, pen, and mints. These items go into the front pocket on the cooler.

So, what do you pack in your family’s snack bag?

Sizing For Technical Suits

This year I splurged. I decided to get my oldest child an elite suit for an important, upcoming meet. I heard the sizing was different from their standard suits, so I whipped out the tape measure to be sure the suit would fit.

I had to order the suit online because we don’t live anywhere near a swim store. There would be no trying it on beforehand and that made me anxious since they are pricey. To ease my nerves, I called the Speedo help line to make sure I was getting exactly what I needed and there would be no unpleasant surprises. I also wanted to know how they handled returns, so I would not be stuck with a large bill and suits that did’t fit.

I took the representative’s advice and ordered two suits. They arrived quickly but both were too small…can’t get past the knees kind of small…and they had to be returned. Disappointment for my swimmer. Frustration for me.

So, I ordered a few more suits, in a few more sizes, and this order-exchange cycle continued for over a week! By now I have charged thousands of dollars on my credit card (anything we don’t keep should be credited back to me when the merchandise is returned), but we finally have a suit that fits.

The take-away is that Speedo technical suits are sized much differently than their practice suits.  For example, my son would normally wear a size 28 because his waist is 28 inches, yet in a Speedo LZR Elite 2 technical suit his waist measurement put him in a size 22. I know, it doesn’t make sense, right?

Just know that you really need to pay attention to the sizing guides, and even then, the recommended size may not be the best fit for your swimmer. Be prepared to order/try multiple suits, so start this process earlier in the season versus later. I found the whole thing stressful.

Also, there are many different kinds of technical suits available from other manufacturers including Arena, Nike, Dolfin, TYR, Yingfa, Blueseventy and more. It will help to familiarize yourself with the different levels of technical suits, compare different styles offered by the same manufacturer, review the suits’ benefits, and research customer feedback/ratings before deciding what to purchase.

Personally, I found http://www.toadhollowathletics.com/TechSuitsDummiesDec2015.pdf to be a great starting point for learning about technical suits. Maybe it can help you, too.

I’m still on the fence whether a technical suit is money well spent. When you have a minute, let me know what you think. Does a high-end suit really make a difference?

Swim Meets and Spectator Etiquette

I did some people-watching during a recent swim meet. After a few heats, it dawned on me that spectators may not always know what type of behavior is expected of them. Maybe, with one post, I can help make long, hot, crowded swim meets just a bit more bearable for everyone.

Standing at the railing to watch your child swim is…well, rude. Doing this blocks everyone’s view. Let me point out that your child is not the only person in the race—there are seven other families who are just as excited to be there–but they are demonstrating common courtesy. We have all been sitting for hours waiting to see a race that may take 30 seconds or less from start to finish. You don’t want to miss a second and neither does anyone else. Please sit down.

If you want to stand up and get a better view, ask the people behind you if that’s okay. Chances are, they will say go ahead. Otherwise, you may hear people yelling, “Down in front!” Let me clear up any uncertainty you may have at that time. Yes, they are shouting at you. This also includes holding up an iPad to film your swimmer. Seriously, are you really going to watch all of those races you are taping?

If you need to leave the stands, do so quickly. Of course you will leave the bleachers at some point during meet, but when you do it, remember to move with purpose. Don’t stand up, stretch, talk to the people around you, and then stop in front of the railing to lean over and talk to your swimmer. Races move quickly, especially when there are fly-over starts, so keep that in mind.

Don’t yell instruction to your swimmer while they are racing. First of all, they can’t hear you. I asked my kids and they agree, they don’t hear much, and they certainly can’t discern your voice over the roar of the crowd. I know it’s hard to contain your excitement, but stating the obvious (i.e. “Go faster!”) or giving detailed, technical instructions are pointless at that time. All you are doing is annoying the people around you. As a friend once said, “Act like you’ve been somewhere before.”

Don’t take up more room than you need in the bleachers. Many aquatic facilities have a hard time accommodating all of the spectators, so don’t put your towel/blanket/cooler/or other items across more seats than you actually need. If you do, and you are clearly not using that space, people will push it aside to make room. As a result, tempers flare and things can get ugly. I’ve seen it.

No flash photography. This rule is enforced because a strobe light and buzzer are used to signal the start of a race so deaf and hearing swimmers begin at the same time. A camera flash may confuse a swimmer standing on the blocks and result in a false start and subsequent disqualification from a race. Grandparents in particular are prone to pulling out their cameras and trying to take photos. It is best to tell them ahead of time or leave the camera at home altogether.

Pick up your garbage. I’m always disappointed that people leave garbage on the bleachers at the end of the day. How can you walk away from your banana peel, a half empty bottle of Gatorade, or other miscellaneous trash after gathering up your personal belongings? There is no excuse for this. You know better.

Swimming is an exciting sport to watch and it is always great to see the stands packed with supporters. Just be sure you are modeling good sportsmanship and manners for those around you. Are there any other etiquette tips I forgot to cover?

Tapering Has Its Challenges

The largest meets of the season are around the corner and many swimmers are starting to taper. I wanted to explain what a taper is so you can best support your kids during this important time.

A taper takes place leading up to a major event. It is the reduction of exercise, anywhere from a few days to almost three weeks, before a major competition. The coach dictates what the swimmers should be doing at practice, but once they get home you need to know:

  1. They won’t be as tired as usual. This can be hard to deal with since swimmers are very active kids! Resist the urge to suggest they go outside and “burn off” that extra energy. They need to rest their bodies. Consider it supercharging for the big event.
  2. They will eat less. That’s logical, right? Make sure you feed them healthy meals and snacks. As always, reduce or eliminate as much sugar and/or processed foods as you can. It is up to you to stock the fridge and pantry with the right things and say “no” to fast-food restaurants. It’s temporary, so hang in there and help them stay on the right path.
  3. Keep them hydrated. Make sure your swimmer is taking in enough liquids. Encourage them to carry a water bottle during the school day and keep one nearby at home. I refill them as the kids do their homework, watch TV, etc.
  4. Germs become the enemy. Not only are swimmers paranoid about getting sick before a big meet, but parents are also nervous about it. Unfortunately, this is out of our control. The best you can do is encourage frequent hand washing and clean high-traffic surfaces with Lysol wipes. I pay special attention to door handles and light switches in the bathrooms. It may not help, but sometimes doing something—anything, makes me feel better.
  5. Rollercoaster mood swings. For parents this can be the toughest part of the taper. Swimmers are ecstatic when coach gives them a bit of praise, and in the next second are questioning if coach has any faith in them. Everything is heightened and has more meaning to the kids right now. There is nothing you can do about it, so take a deep breath, and know it will pass.

Above all, relax and encourage your swimmer to trust the process. How do you help your swimmer during their taper?

Is Summer Swim Camp Necessary?

emptypoolIt’s the time of year when swim parents are making decisions about whether or not to send their kids to camp. Sometimes a club coach will recommend a specific one, while other coaches feel it’s a waste of money. This can be very confusing.

Before you decided to commit several hundred dollars to a swim camp, let me tell you what we discovered over the last several years.

  • Camp is fun if you really love swimming. If your swimmer is passionate about the sport and enjoys practice and competing, then it will most likely be a positive experience. If your swimmer is lukewarm about the sport, save your money.
  • Maturity is a consideration. Camps list a minimum age requirement as a guideline. If you doubt your child’s ability to be self-sufficient or show the appropriate level of maturity then don’t send them. There’s always next year.
  • Research who will be coaching your child. One summer we sent our oldest to an elite camp that was several states away. We rented a house, took the entire family, and signed our swimmer up as a “commuter” camper. Pick-up in the evening allowed us time to interact with a few of the coaches, and imagine our surprise when they told us about their backgrounds, some of which did not involve swimming or coaching! Just because there is a flashy video, a high-profile person’s name affiliated with the camp, or it is held at a university that has achieved success, is not a guarantee your swimmer will be getting solid swim instruction.
  • Camp can fill an important void. Sometimes the quality of club coaches leaves something to be desired. This makes camp a good place to learn new techniques and drills or simply hear something explained in a different way. I remember a club coach repeating the same feedback to one of my children on a regular basis, yet my swimmer never made the change. Following summer camp I noticed the bad habit was gone. It turns out a camp coach used a funny analogy that really hit home.
  • Mental health break. Sometimes the atmosphere at a swim club is not healthy. From demanding coaches to ultra-competitive teammates, these things can have a negative impact on impressionable kids. Sometimes it is healthy for a swimmer to step away from their club for a while—without interrupting their training—so they can refocus on their goals.
  • Be realistic. There is only so much improvement a child can make in five days. Do not expect perfection or mastery of skills just because they attended a camp. Keep this in mind before you write the deposit check.
  • Age groupers. Personally, I think age groupers benefit from camp when they need a lot of fundamental corrections. Camp also gets them excited about taking their swimming to the next level, plants a seed about going to college, helps them develop social skills, and fosters independence.
  • High schoolers. A consistent training regimen and working with a club coach who already knows a swimmer’s strengths/weaknesses is valuable.  At this level, a swimmer is expected to be at practice every day and attending camp may be something a club coach won’t support. Keep this in mind because you want to avoid having a rift between the coach and swimmer. If you don’t know where they stand on this issue, just ask them!

So, will your kids be going to swim camp this summer?

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Perfect Water Bottle

waterbottlesI’m a stickler about my children drinking water during workouts and at swim meets. I consider a water bottle as important as a good pair of goggles or a multi-vitamin. It’s easy to spend $8 a piece or more on this basic necessity.

My family tried all kinds of brands, shapes and sizes in the past. Now our go-to is a basic 20 oz Rubbermaid model with a flip top lid. Here’s why:

  • Easily separate the lid from the bottle. When the lid is permanently secured to the bottle you run the risk of not always tightening it well, resulting in an empty swim bottle and a wet swim bag. Colorful, sticky sports drinks can never by fully cleaned up once spilled inside a bag. Just trust me.
  • Flip top lid so liquids must be sipped. Yup, no bite valves and straws for us. I’ve seen a lot of kids pull up on the spout of their water bottle and push it back down with their teeth, and although I’m not a dentist, I’m sure that isn’t a good thing.
  • Dishwasher safe and BPA-free. Healthy and time saving. That’s my kind of product.
  • Highly durable. To date, I have never thrown one away. The only reason I buy new ones is because my youngest child tends to lose them. So, if you find one sitting all alone on the bleachers at your next swim meet—it’s probably mine.
  • Accommodates regular ice cubes. No worries about making special, smaller sized ice in order to keep drinks cool. Remove the lid and you can hold the bottle right up to a refrigerator ice maker, and it fills without spilling ice all over the floor. Oh, the simple pleasures in life!
  • Buy them at major retailers and online. This is a standard item, so they are carried all year round. Also, Rubbermaid frequently offers high-value coupons which makes these an even better value. I bought a 4 pack for about $14 at Target this week using a $1.50 off coupon. They ended up costing approximately $3.50 a bottle which is a great value.
  • Use them for school lunchboxes, too. The water bottles serve double-duty in our house. When the lunchboxes come home from school the water bottles get pulled out, refilled, and go right into the swim bags. It also saves space in my dishwasher every night.

Let me know what practical, everyday products your swim family can’t live without.

Keep Team Parties Simple

At the end of every season our club holds a team dinner and the swimmers love it!  I think it’s nice for them to spend time with their friends and coaches outside of the pool. Food, drinks, and some acknowledgement of a person’s hard work goes a long way to create good memories. I fully support the idea, but sometimes parents take something simple and make it larger than it needs to be.

A sign-up was posted asking for parents to help setup for the team dinner this year. I admit there were not a lot of names on the list and it bothered me. I decided right away that I would help out.  After all, this was a two hour dinner on a Saturday night and it sounded like a reasonable request.

A few days later I got a confirmation email saying I was to show up 5 hours prior to the event. Five hours! What in the world was going to take so long? I knew the meal was being catered so no cooking would be involved. I envisioned disposable place settings, plastic tablecloths from the local dollar store, and a buffet table. Well, I was way off base!

When I arrived there were parents swarming the area with boxes and crates overflowing with decorations and hand crafted displays.  I found myself in the middle of an over-the-top theme party where no detail was overlooked.

Fog machine, check! Red carpet entrance way, check! Indoor light show, musical entertainment, table decorations, plated dinner service, and the list went on. It rivaled a wedding or high school prom.

I was asked to do all kinds of things that afternoon in order to help carry out the theme. Some of the tasks flew in the face of safety and common sense, but I played the role of worker bee and just went along with it. I told myself it was only (gulp!) a few more hours, and it would all be over. Thankfully, nobody got hurt.

Of course I gushed over the evening plans, marveled at the talent and creativity of others, and took photos for proof this really happened. I did my assigned tasks with a smile and tucked away several amusing stories to share with my husband later that evening. The whole I time I kept thinking, “This is too much.”

In the end, I was awe-struck by what the event organizers accomplished, and I couldn’t help wondering if the kids really appreciated the effort. On the way home I quizzed my brood about the event. It turns out they didn’t remember much about the decorations, said the food was just okay and they would have preferred pizza or pasta, but they had a good time. Ultimately, that’s the only thing that mattered.

So, what’s the takeaway? Whether you are in a club that throws fancy parties, or in a smaller club and worry you are not doing enough, just remember this:

  • The swimmers are happy to be together no matter what kind of an event you plan. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself and others.
  • The coaches, swimmers and parents appreciate all of your efforts, both big and small. You are contributing to some really special childhood memories.
  • Keep things simple so you don’t burn out the current volunteers or scare away new ones. If volunteers have a positive experience they will continue to help when asked.
  • Don’t set the bar too high for your events. This increases the change that nobody will want to take it over and you will have to continue doing it. Forever.

How does your team celebrate the end of the season?