Florida Swimming

USA Swimming Handbook on Swim Parenting  

Dear Parents,  

The Parents’ Handbook includes important information on how to be a supportive swimming  parent, as well as general information about the sport and how you can get involved as a  volunteer to support your child and the entire team.  

This publication has been created to help educate you on how to support your child throughout  his or her swimming career. USA Swimming has conducted research about why kids choose to  participate in swimming and what makes it fun. Supportive parents play a very significant role in  why kids swim, as well as why kids quit. We suggest you take the time to talk to your child about  your role as a needed support system for him or her. This is the best way to communicate your  interest in making your child’s swimming experience the best one possible.  

This booklet will also provide an overview of some of the rules of our sport. It is by no means a  substitute for the USA Swimming Rules and Regulations book, but will give you some general  guidelines of what is expected of your children from a technical standpoint. As children go  through developmental changes, they will often get disqualified for stroke infractions due to  changes in body balance and types. We have included some helpful hints on how to make this  situation a positive one.  

Finally, this handbook contains ideas about volunteer jobs within your child’s team and local  association. If you are interested in helping, please be sure to read this section and then speak to  your team’s coach to find out how you can best serve the club. 

Welcome to the best youth sport in the world. The network of people you and your child will  meet could very well become lifelong friends. We believe that these friendships along with the  fact that your child will be learning life skills and gaining a high level of fitness, really makes  swimming the best youth sport in the world. Your child will continue to reap the benefits of  swimming long after their participation ends.  

We hope that your experience is a great one and we wish you the best of luck. 



Welcome to the exciting world of swimming! By joining USA Swimming, your child has become a  member of one of the country’s largest, most organized, and competently coached youth sports.  

This handbook will acquaint you with the sport of competitive swimming and introduce you to  the organization of USA Swimming. USA Swimming, the National Governing Body (NGB) for  competitive swimming, is a non-profit corporation made up of dedicated volunteers. This means  that everyone, from the parents and officials of your local club to the members of the National  Board of Directors, gives their time and talent to serve the organization.  

This booklet contains information that will help you and your family get the most out of  participating in age group swimming. We want to let you know how important your role as a  volunteer is to our sport. As a volunteer, you can be actively involved in many programs and  instrumental in strengthening swimming in the United States. With a positive attitude and a  willingness to lend a hand, you will also have a great impact on your child’s athletic environment  and their love of swimming.  

There are many benefits to participating in the sport of swimming, including meeting terrific  people. The camaraderie among swimmers is unique; many swimming buddies become lifelong  friends. In addition to being around fine people, swimming provides one of the most beneficial  forms of exercise for cardiovascular and overall fitness. Possibly the greatest benefits of  participating in an organized swimming program are the life skills your child will develop. These  skills include time management, self-discipline and sportsmanship.  

Research has shown that the main motivation for children to choose sports is their desire to have  fun. Age group swimming can be fun, exciting and rewarding. Many children improve rapidly  during the developmental stages due to growth and improved technique and it is difficult to resist  the tendency to push young athletes. At this stage, however, the emphasis should be placed on  technique and not intense training. We also recommend that the training schedule for  developmental swimmers be flexible enough to provide them with time to participate in other  activities. Since swimming careers can extend well into adulthood, swimming at the youngest  levels needs to be fun, pressure free, and filled with learning experiences. This will ensure that  swimming remains enjoyable throughout their lives.  

Once a child reaches puberty, scientists and coaches feel more serious training can begin. This can  be a particularly frustrating time for swimmers. During this transition from age group to senior  swimming and from childhood to young adulthood, an athlete may experience a plateau in  performance while skills and physical abilities struggle to become equal with each other. Best  times can be few and far between while training time is increasing and can require more time  and dedication. While the coaches have prepared swimmers for this change, many parents may  begin to question whether a child’s swimming career is over at this point. These factors, coupled  with the other normal difficulties of puberty, can sometimes lead a swimmer to leave the sport 


prematurely. It is critical that parents and coaches be cooperative and very supportive during this  period of adjustment, realizing that it will likely pass and the rewards will be even better.  

This handbook is designed to help you help your child succeed in swimming. Remember that not  every swimmer becomes a world record holder, but everyone gains from their swimming  experience. Supporting your child in any of their activities can be one of the most rewarding  experiences of your life. This booklet will also give you an overview of the many ways in which  volunteers contribute to the overall swimming program and will provide suggestions on how to  manage and retain volunteers in your program.  

Please ask questions of your coaches and officials, as well as the experienced parents on your  team. They all have the same goal: to provide your child with the best possible experience in  swimming. Keep in mind that the swimming program only works because of dedicated people like  you !  

Thanks for helping to make swimming the best youth sport. 


1. Thou shalt not impose your ambitions on thy child. 

Remember that swimming is your child’s activity. Improvements and progress occur at different  rates for each individual. Don’t judge your child’s progress based on the performance of other  athletes and don’t push them based on what you think they should be doing. The nice thing about  swimming is that every person can strive to do their personal best and benefit from the process of  competitive swimming.  

2. Thou shalt be supportive no matter what.  

There is only one question to ask your child after a practice or a competition - “Did you have  fun?” If meets and practices are not fun, your child should not be forced to participate.  

3. Thou shalt not coach they child.  

You are involved in one of the few youth sports programs that offer professional coaching. Do not  undermine the professional coach by trying to coach your child on the side. Your job is to provide  love and support and a safe place to return to at the end of the day. Love and hug your child no  matter what. The coach is responsible for the technical part of the job.  

You should not offer advice on technique or race strategy or any other area that is not yours. And  above all, never pay your child for a performance. This will only serve to confuse your child  concerning the reasons to strive for excellence and weaken the swimmer/coach bond.  

4. Thou shalt only have positive things to say at a swimming meet.  If you are going to show up at a swimming meet, you should be encouraging and never criticize  your child or the coach. Both of them know when mistakes have been made. Please remember  that “yelling at” is not the same as “cheering for.”  

5. Thou shalt acknowledge thine child’s fears.  

Your child’s first swimming meet, 500 free or 200 I.M. can be a stressful situation. It is totally  appropriate for your child to be scared. Don’t yell or belittle, just assure your child that the coach  would not have suggested the event if your child was not ready to compete in it. Remember your  job is to love and support your child through their entire swimming experience.  


6. Thou shalt not criticize the officials.  

If you do not care to devote the time or do not have the desire to volunteer as an official, please  don’t criticize those who are doing the best they can.  

7. Honor thy child’s coach.  

The bond between coach and swimmer is a special one, and one that contributes to your child’s  success as well as fun. Do not criticize the coach in the presence of your child, as it will only serve  to hurt your child’s swimming.  

8. Thou shalt be loyal and supportive of thy team.  

It is not wise for parents to take their swimmers and jump from team to team. The water isn’t  necessarily bluer in another team’s pool. Every team has its own internal problems - even teams  that build champions. Children who switch from team to team are often ostracized for a long time  by the teammates they leave behind and are slowly received by new team mates. Often swimmers  find that switching teams does not improve their performance.  

9. Thy child shalt have goals besides winning.  

Most successful swimmers are those who have learned to focus on the process and not the  outcome. Giving an honest effort regardless of the outcome is much more important than  winning. One Olympian said,” My goal was to set a world record. Well, I did that, but someone  else did it too, just a little faster than I did. I achieved my goal and I lost. Does this make me a  failure? No, in fact I am very proud of that swim.” What a tremendous outlook to carry on  through life!  

10. Thou shalt not expect thy child to become an Olympian.  

There are 250,000 athletes in USA Swimming and we keep a record of the Top 100 all-time swimming performances by age group. Only 2 of the swimmers listed in the 10 & Under age group  made it to the Top 100 in the 17-18 age group. There are only 52 spots available for the Olympic  Team every four years. Your child’s odds of becoming an Olympian are about .0002 %.  

Swimming is much more than just the Olympics. Ask your coaches why they coach. Chances are  they were not Olympians, but still got so much out of swimming that they wanted to pass the love  for the sport onto others. Swimming teaches self-discipline and sportsmanship; it builds self esteem and fitness; it provides lifelong friendships and much more. Most Olympians will tell you  that these intangibles far outweigh any medal they may have won. Swimming builds good people,  like you want your child to be, and you should be happy your child wants to participate.



Competitive swimming programs provide many benefits to young athletes including self discipline, good sportsmanship, and time management skills. Competition allows the swimmer to  experience success and to learn how to treat success and failure as two sides of the same coin,  while becoming healthy and physically fit. As a parent, your major responsibility is to provide a  stable, loving and supportive environment. This positive environment will encourage your child  to continue. Show your interest by ensuring your child’s attendance at practices, coming to  swimming meets, volunteering for your club at swim meets, participating in fundraising, etc.  

Parents contribute to the success experienced by the child and the team. Parents serve as role  models and their children emulate their attitudes. Be aware of this and strive to be positive role  models. Most importantly, show good sportsmanship at all times toward coaches, officials,  opponents and teammates. Remember that you are teaching your child at all times.  

Be Enthusiastic and Supportive!  

Remember that your child is the swimmer. Children need to establish their own goals and make  their own progress towards them. Be careful not to impose your own standards and goals. Do not  overburden your child with winning or achieving best times. Let them know that first they are  the child you love, and second, a swimmer. Tell them you will love them whether they swim well  or not and ask only that they give their best effort. Learning about oneself while enjoying the  sport is the most important part of the swimming experience. The swimming environment  encourages learning and fun, which will help your child develop a positive self-image.  

Let the Coach Coach !  

The best way to help your child achieve goals and reduce the natural fear of failure is through  positive reinforcement. No one likes to make a mistake. If your child does make one, remember  that this is a learning experience. You and your child should learn to treat success and failure as  learning experiences and not life changing situations. Encourage your child’s efforts and point out  the positive things. The coach is the one you have assigned to judge a swimmer’s performance and  technique. Your role is to provide love and support regardless of the outcome.  

Keeping the Fun in Swimming  

A few years ago, USA Swimming conducted a survey to try to understand why kids participate in  swimming and why kids drop out of swimming. (Results from this survey were printed in the  December1996 issue of USA Swimming’s Splash). Probably the most important finding from this  survey was that fun played a huge role in participation. Kids stay in the sport because it is no  longer fun. 


Based on this finding, USA Swimming decided to conduct a follow-up research project to try to  identify exactly what is fun and what is not fun about swimming. In the first phase of this project,  we held focus group interviews with a total of 48 age-group swimmers (ages 8-18) from three USA  Swimming clubs. The athletes were asked a variety of questions to uncover their perception of  these two aspects of swimming. Two of the questions asked focused on how parents influence  kids’ swimming enjoyment – 

“What do parents do that makes swimming fun?”  

“What do parents do that takes away from the fun of swimming?”  

The question was not whether parents have an influence on kids’ swimming enjoyment (because  we know they do) but on the specific things parents do and say which influences the fun in  swimming, both positively and negatively.  

Through these focus group interviews, the kids were able to help us better understand the  influence parents can have on their enjoyment of swimming. From a review of the athletes’  responses, several themes become evident. As you read on, keep in mind that this is coming  directly from age group swimmers and reflects their swimming experiences.  

What do parents do that make swimming fun? What do parents do that takes away from the fun  of swimming?  

Provide support  

One resounding thing coming from the kids was that parents increased the fun in swimming by  providing unconditional encouragement and support. For the most part, it seems that a physical  presence at meets and interests in what their child is doing goes a long way towards enhancing  swimming enjoyment. The kids seem to enjoy swimming when they feel their parents support  them regardless of their performance. This theme is illustrated by the following:  

My parents are very supportive....I know my parents will be happy for me whatever I do. I  mean, if I do bad, they’ll still be comforting and if I do good they’ll be happy for me. I think  the people whose parents are pushy are going to have the most potential to quit because they  have so much pressure on them.” (Age group 15-18)  

“She (mom) doesn’t expect any more from me than I expect from myself which I think is  important because when parents start placing expectations on their kids, it just makes the  kids more stressed. I just think parents should be very supportive.” (Age group 15-18)  

“You need reassurance (after swimming poorly) that they still love you. They’re still going to  give you a ride home” (age group 13-14)  

“I always want my mom to be there. I always want someone to be there watching me,  cheering and stuff like that and I don’t feel like I want to do as well when they’re not there. I 

kind of feel like I need to show them even though they tell me I don’t need to show them” (age group 13-14)  

Don’t Push Too Much  

A theme that was identified by the kids as detracting from the fun of swimming related to  parents’ pushing too much. Some of the kids felt that excessive pushing by their parents to  practice, compete and perform well made swimming less fun, as exemplified below:  

“I don’t like it sometimes because they push me so hard that it makes me feel bad and I just  don’t like to swim sometimes because they push me so much. “ (Age group 10 and under)  

“I saw this one mom who was yelling at her kid, and saying things like, ‘ I spend so much  money on you. I can’t believe you did so bad today.’ The kid was already crying and her mom  was still yelling at her. Then her mom throws her stuff down and leaves. If my mom ever did  that, I’d just want to quit because you need encouragement from everyone around you if you  want to win.” (Age group 13-14)  

Learn Optimal Push  

Interestingly, there was a positive side to this idea of ‘parental pushing’. Kids talked about the role  of parents in enhancing fun in swimming by providing a push. However, caution is warranted as  there is a fine line between pushing in a positive way and pushing to the detriment of kids’  enjoyment. As evidence below, it seems a slight push from parents can enhance enjoyment and,  as kids point out, is often needed.  

“I think your parents sort of want you to do things and I think you kind of grow to like it......  You are sort of pushed firmly by them.” (Age group 15-18)  

“They kind of push us to go to swimming practice.... And it makes us feel better that we swam.” (Age  group 11-12)  

“I like it when my parents push me because I was out for a year and I became a C swimmer  because I aged up and just this last week I became a B swimmer instead because my parents  were cheering me on and they pushed me.” (Age group 8-10)  

“It’s kind of good for them to push you or make you go to practice.” (Age group 10 and  under)  

Resist Assuming the Role of Coach  

A last theme evident from the kids’ response is tied to the idea that when parents take on the  roles and responsibility of the coach it takes away from the fun in swimming. Critiquing races,  offering suggestions on what went wrong or how to improve, and placing expectations on  performance are examples of things parents do that tend to decrease the kids' enjoyment. An  exception to this seems to be when parents have credibility as swimmers; advice is sometimes 

welcome as it is viewed as coming from an expert as opposed to a parent. To be sure, however,  parents may want to ask their kids if they want advice or suggestions regardless of the parents' swimming background. Kids talk about this detrimental influence:  

“My parents are supportive of me but sometimes my mom keeps asking me about what I  think I did wrong if it’s a bad race and I want to just forget about it. It is really annoying  when she keeps asking me.” (Age group 13-14)  

“I like it whenever my dad gives me goals because he’s a masters swimmer. But my mom,  whenever she’s in the pool, all she does is float and she doesn’t like to get her hair wet unless  she’s in the shower so when she says ‘You gotta keep on doing this’, I’m having a hard time  believing it because she doesn’t really swim that much. She just likes playing around with it.”  (Age group 10 and under)  

“My dad used to be a swimmer and he almost made it to the Olympics so him just being there  is a real big motivation and he gives me advice and stuff.” (Age group 13-14)  

What Does all This Mean ?  

1) Taking it all in conjunction, it seems that kids want parents to be a presence in their swimming but  they want this presence to be one of unconditional support with little advice. In essence, the kids  seem to be saying, ‘Mom and dad, support my efforts but don’t try to help me swim faster.’  

2) Parental ‘push’ was mentioned by the kids in both a positive and negative vein. Because of  individual differences in needs and preferences, it is probably very difficult for parents to define  and identify an optimal ‘push’; a push that is strong enough to be beneficial but not so strong that  it is perceived as overpowering by the kids. However, for the benefit of the kids, every effort  should be made to walk this fine line and try to achieve an optimal ‘push.’  


1) Your child needs your emotional, physical, and financial support.  Be liberal in providing this support.  

2) Provide optimal ‘push.’ 

3) Understand development. 

Long-term development as an athlete, and growth and development impacts performance.  

4) Be realistic in terms of expectations. 

Factor in age and skill level; be aware of your child’s perception of your expectations. 


5) Emphasize performance and effort, not just outcome.  

The athlete only has control over his/her performance. Define and measure success as giving  maximal effort and as personal improvement.  

6) Keep winning in perspective.  

7) Focus on the power of rewards - 

· Give plenty of encouraging and rewarding statements.  

· Give rewards sincerely and when warranted.  

· Catch your kids doing something right.  

8) View swimming as an arena in which to teach your child about commitment, hard  work, coping with adversity, etc.  

9) Work to form an effective Coach-Athlete-Parent Triangle.  


The following survey has been taken from the Amateur Swimming Association of Great Britain. If  you answer yes to one or more of these questions, you may be in danger of pressuring your child.  It is important to remember that the parents’ role is critical and should be supportive at all times  to ensure a positive experience for your child. 

  • Is winning more important to you than it is to your child?  

  • When your child has a poor swim, is your disappointment, such as through body language or  vocal tones, obvious?  

  • Do you feel that you are the one that has to ‘psych’ your child up before competition?  

  • Do you feel that winning is the only way your child can enjoy the sport?  

  • Do you conduct ‘post mortems’ immediately after competition or practice?  

  • Do you feel that you have to force your child to go to practice?  

  • Do you find yourself wanting to interfere with coaching and instructions during practice or  competition, thinking that you could do better?  

  • Do you find yourself disliking your child’s opponents?  

  • Are your child’s goals more important to you than they are to your child?  

  • Do you provide material rewards for performance?