Foolproof Guide to an Awesome Swim Meet

As a parent and coach, ensuring athletes enjoy their journey in competitive swimming is close to my heart. Parents have the power to make or break the meet experience.  

Teach preparation.  Meets, especially travel meets, can help swimmers learn many basic life skills. Packing well and staying organized can get the meet off to a great start.Let your swimmer do the packing! Have him/her lay out everything near the suitcase and swim bag then give them a quick overlook. Don't forget extra goggles, an extra cap and racing suits.
  • Plan meals. Ordering ahead for pick up and eating at the hotel with friends is our favorite go-to plan. Eating out with large groups is fun, but that can diminish valuable recovery time.   
  • Pack healthy snacks and simple breakfast foods to eat on the run. 
Show support.  The best words to say to your swimmer at meets should be to have fun and should make him/her feel loved and supported, regardless of meet performance. 
  • Catch your child being a good teammate, a coachable athlete, or a polite kid in general and let the coaches keep up with best times, splits, and needed technique improvement. 
  • If you feel the need to analyze your child's performance, look at your swimmer's results from last season (if younger) and last year (if older).  It is never a good idea to compare your swimmer to other swimmers.  "Comparison is the thief of joy." ~Theodore Roosevelt
  • Make sure your athlete knows you love watching him/her swim. Critiquing starts, turns, stroke technique, and race strategy is best left to coaches.  It really confuses swimmers when parents are coaching athletes and giving varied feedback or instruction. I encourage parents to talk with me about any concerns they have, after the meet, when we can all think clearly and objectively.
  • Be a great listener and allow time for your swimmer to initiate race talk. If your athlete doesn't bring up the events, resist the urge to review the performance. Give them time to process the event and enjoy the entire meet experience. It may be a week or two before they decide they would like to talk about it.    
Enjoy the process.  Look for overall growth in your athlete as a whole person. Sometimes we forget the main reasons why we put our kids in youth sports. We neglect to nurture the athlete when we are obsessed with performance.  
  • Notice your child being a good teammate and friend. Focusing solely on dropped times, winning, or beating a rival can do more harm than we realize.  
  • Look for and encourage your swimmer to emulate maturing athletes who show confidence and grace under pressure. 
  • Point out when you see them handle stressful situations or success with grace and poise. Notice when they are having conversations and building relationships with coaches.  
  • Keep in mind that swimmers may learn much more from a bad swim than a good one.  
  • Success may look different in the eyes of coaches. Allow them to be the ones to show disappointment if necessary. Sometimes coaches are working with athletes on something that doesn't seem obvious from the stands.  
  • Parents who provide unconditional love will typically have the happiest swimmers. Happy swimmers are fast swimmers. Fast swimmers keep swimming.   
Encourage intrinsic motivation (rather than extrinsic).  Intrinsically motivated athletes participate for pure enjoyment of swimming and usually have greater satisfaction and longer term success in the sport. 
  • These athletes naturally concentrate on skill and technical improvement. They are able to focus on the the task at hand. I see these swimmers proficiently incorporate skills, recently learned in practice, during their races without fear. If a kid is worried about losing a promised reward, it may add too much pressure for them to try something new or even to trust their coaches. 
  • Intrinsically motivated swimmers are less stressed when they make mistakes. However, if and when they do make mistakes, they learn from them rather than shutting down and reacting out of fear. When motivated with external rewards, swimmers often have more anxiety and difficulty coping with failure or unmet goals.  
  • These kids often develop healthier, trusting, long term relationships with coaches because of their self confidence fostered by their own intrinsic motivation.
Below is a great TED talk if you have an extra 10-15 minutes to watch it.  It will be well worth your time.