So many times I’ve heard coaches say they wish they were coaching a team of orphans. It is a cry to the fact that quite often parents, although well intentioned, get in the way of their children’s development. Recently though, I was lucky to see good parenting skills put in action. It was a great display of how powerful parents can be when they are prepared to support others who have their child’s best interests in mind, regardless if they completely agree or understand it. On to the story:
At a swim meet in early January, my group was really not following directions, especially with regards to pre race warm-up/post race warm-down. After a full day of telling the kids to do those tasks properly several times over, frustration set in. So, the next morning, I warned them that I would no longer talk, but instead would have a pretty harsh punishment for those who were still not on task: they would be told to go home! The rationale was that if they were not taking care of their bodies during the weekend, they were not there to race well anyway.
The real intention was, off course, to have them perform the tasks they were there to perform in the first place: warm-up, race, warm-down, hydrate, refuel, repeat! Socialize in between those things rather than do those things in between socializing. It went well for our prelim session, and up until almost the very end of the finals session. With only relays to go, I turned to two boys who had been out of the water for a while, about 10-15min before their relay, and asked: “When are you warming up?” At that point, they were already breaching our agreement, but I wanted to be proactive. They both stalled, sat around for a few more minutes, and by the time they got up it was “too late” for them to warm-up, so they headed straight behind the blocks.
I figured there was an opportunity for a lesson to be learned: on being responsible, accountable, and following through. I also thought learning this was more important than any race they could swim that or any other weekend. When I told them they were not allowed to race the next day, to say they were upset would be an understatement. Since these were teenagers, anger was the emotional response. Now, in come the parents’ role:
One of the parents thought the punishment was too harsh, despite it having been agreed to. Let’s just say she stood by her kid. The other told me “I’ll support you 100% with whatever you decide”, followed by some stern words to her kid regarding his behavior and reaction. In addition, the kid was told he was going to come to the meet the next day and support his teammates (yes, the parent was going to drive him there for that!). The next day, this boy came in, apologized for not doing what he was supposed to, and was pleasant company throughout the day, supporting his teammates. I’ve had many great, proud moments as a coach before, at meets and in workouts, but few will ever match watching this kid, recognize he made a mistake, accept the consequence, apologize, and move on. And I’m sure that was only possible thanks to his parents.
Fast forward to our championship meets in late February and March. Guess which one of those boys had better end-of-season meets? Well, let’s be honest, it is not a guess. The boy who’s parents “stood by him” made very similar mistakes with regards of taking care of his body through the rest of the season, including at our last meet, and while he enjoyed time drops (he does work pretty hard in practice, which makes his conduct at meets that much more puzzling), he fell short of his goals. The boy who’s parents helped him realize his behavior and attitude needed changing had one of the best seasons I’ve ever seem, going from not having state cuts to state finalist, swimming 100% best times at the championship meets, and in fact swimming so well we had to re-define his goals for the summer (the ones from January became obsolete within a couple months).
Many would focus on the parents that stood by their kid, and how they almost stood on the way of their child learning an important lesson. However, I can say there is no way the 2nd boy would have taken the lesson to heart if it weren’t for his parents. Therefore, rather than wishing a team of orphans, I with I had a team full of parents who ‘get it’. That might seem like wishful thinking, but it really is up to us, coaches, to keep doing our share of parent education. We might fall short in many cases, but I can say with conviction that the few times in which we get the kind of support we (coaches and swimmers) need from parents will more than make up for every shortcoming.