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Do's and Don'ts for Sport Parents

By Michael A. Taylor
Gymnastics Risk Management and Consultation
Visit Michael’s Website at



  1. Get vicarious pleasure from your children's participation, but do not become overly ego-involved, 
  2. Try to enjoy yourself at competitions. Your unhappiness can cause your child to feel guilty. 
  3. Look relaxed, calm, positive and energized when watching your child compete. Your attitude influences how your child feels and performs. 
  4. Have a life of your own outside of your child's sports participation. 


  1. Make friends with other parents at events. Socializing can make the event more fun for you. 
  2. Volunteer as much as you can. Youth sports depends upon the time and energy of involved parents. 
  3. Police your own ranks: Work with other parents to ensure that all parents behave appropriately at practices and competitions. 


  1. Leave the coaching to the coaches. 
  2. Give them any support they need to help them do their jobs better. 
  3. Communicate with them about your child You can learn about your child from each other. 
  4. Inform them of relevant issues at home that might affect your child at practice. 
  5. Inquire about the progress of your children. You have a right to know. 
  6. Make the coaches your allies. 


  1. Provide guidance for your children, but do not force or pressure them. 
  2. Assist them in setting realistic goals for participation. 
  3. Emphasize fun, skill development and other benefits of sports participation, e.g., cooperation, competition, self-discipline, commitment. 
  4. Show interest in their participation: help them get to practice, attend competitions, ask questions. 
  5. Provide; a healthy perspective to help children understand success and failure. 
  6. Emphasize and reward effort rather than results. 
  7. Intervene if your child's behavior is unacceptable during practice or competitions. 
  8. Understand that your child may need a break from sports occasionally. 
  9. Give your child some space when need. Part of sports participation involves them figuring things out for themselves. 
  10. Keep a sense of humor. If you are having fun and laughing, so will your child. 
  11. Provide regular encouragement. 
  12. Be a healthy role model for your child by being positive and relaxed at competitions and by having balance in your life. 


  1. Base your self-esteem and ego on the success of your child's sports participation. 
  2. Care too much about how your child performs. 
  3. Lose perspective about the importance of your child's sports participation. - Gymnastics Risk Management and Consultation Michael A. Taylor 


  1. Make enemies of other parents. 
  2. Talk about others in the sports community. Talk to them. It is more constructive. 


  1. Interfere with their coaching during practice or competitions. 
  2. Work at cross purposes with them. Make sure you agree philosophically and practically on why your child is playing sports and what they may get out of sports. 

  2. Ignore your child's bad behavior in practice or competitions. 
  3. Ask the child to talk with you immediately after a competition. 
  4. Show negative emotions while watching them perform. 
  5. Make your child feel guilty for the time, energy and money you are spending and the sacrifices you are making. 
  6. Think of your child's sports participation as an investment for which you expect a return. 
  7. Live out your own dreams through your child's sports participation. 
  8. Compare your child's progress with that of other children. 
  9. Badger, harass, use sarcasm, threaten or use fear to motivate your child It only demeans them and causes them to hate you. 
  10. Expect anything from your child except their best effort. 

Guy Edson
American Swimming Coaches Association
5101 NW 21st Ave., Suite 200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309

800-356-2722, 8 AM-5PM Eastern Time

Forged By Adversity

Guy Edson, ASCA Staff

I was following a school bus the other day when it stopped to pick up two middle school aged boys.  Because of the framed glass emergency door in the back of the bus I could watch the two boys playfully tussling with each other as they made their way to the very last seat of the bus.  Finally the bus began to move again – it seemed to take forever just to pick up two boys.  I then thought back to my childhood days and riding the school bus.  As soon as I crossed that white line on the floor at the front of the bus the doors closed and the bus sped off to the next stop, adding the dimensions of speed and bumps and movement to the normal tussling.  It took balance and strength to make your way to the seat.  Quite frankly, I sometimes didn’t make it to a seat without being deliberately shoved, or through my own clumsiness, stumbling and nearly falling.  It was a challenge – but I never considered it as such.  To me, it was “normal.”
Our school bus practices now are far more safe and part of a widespread effort to insure the safety and comfort of our children.

Who can be against that?
At the risk of getting some “what are you thinking” emails and maybe even a few cancelations, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that our society’s collective efforts in protecting our children have, in subtle ways, removed “opportunities for falling down on the bus” and other failures.  Failure is simply not allowed.  Adversity is to be minimized. 

Consequently, a healthy attitude toward failure and adversity is often undeveloped.  A few years ago I was hired as the dryland training coach for a local high school.  During a heavy weight lifting cycle I explained the concept of lifting to failure.  (Lifting to failure, by the way, is an accepted and common practice in weight training.  Widely written about and researched, it is the de facto method for improving strength.)  Failure, as a concept, was so foreign to these high schoolers that they didn’t get it.  Even when I demonstrated it, they still didn’t get it.  Have we painted failure so darkly that no one gets the importance of it anymore?

I am happy to report that some do still get it.  Recently we interviewed a young person for an open position and when asked what she was really good at she replied that she was very good at failure.  She explained that it was through failure that she learned how to succeed.  How refreshing it was to hear that!  (And yes, she was a former national level swimmer.)

Last week I attended a lecture by a former Navy SEAL who, after over 30 years of service, is now part of the SEAL training team.  He explained the SEAL Ethos and what stood out to me was the phrase, “Forged by Adversity.”

“Forged by Adversity” is at the heart of what we do with our upper-level, older age group swimmers and all advanced senior swimmers.  Adversity, however, is not something normal people deliberately seek.  Most avoid it.  All good coaches find that it is one of the greatest tools for shaping swimmers not only into great swimmers, but into future grownups with one of the best of all the life skills.

Adversity provides the opportunity to build determination, build confidence, build mental strength, give perspective, and to build physical toughness.  Are these not qualities we want in all our children?

Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength."
And in swimming practice, adversity comes from sets, or possibly whole workouts, deliberately designed by the coach to make the athlete fail.  The coach does that by creating a set where a combination of the distance, the intensity, and a low rest interval make it difficult if not impossible to make.  There are many strategies and methods for doing this that go beyond the scope of this newsletter AND these strategies include a progression for how much adversity is presented at what ages, but the bottom line is this:  Swimmers get better through a workout environment that offers the opportunity for failure.

And so, Parent, what is your role in all of this?  I hope you refrain from seeking to protect your child from the adversity and opportunity for failure at swimming practice.  To do so is to deny your child the opportunity for building the qualities described above.  Instead, consider your role as the encourager.  Encourage  your swimmer to persevere, to break through, to come back the next day determined to work harder against the adversity placed there by the coach.  Then enjoy and celebrate the moment when your child does break through.  (And they will!)

Another Reason To Love Having Your Child on the Swim Team

[Editors note:  This recent article by Nanci Hellmich in USA Today reminds us of how wonderful our sport of swimming is.  Our swimmers are continually active in practices.]

Kids Active Only About Half Of Time In Sports Practices

By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY

Kids on soccer, baseball and softball teams are playing hard during practices an average of 45 minutes, which is less than half the time they're there, a study shows.

"Millions of youth participate in sports, but kids are spending a lot of time waiting their turn, getting instruction or doing skills practice, which may not be very active, especially in baseball and softball," says exercise researcher James Sallis, director of the Active Living Research Program at San Diego State University.

He and colleagues recruited 200 children, ages 7-14, on 29 different community sports teams for soccer, baseball and softball. There were equal numbers of girls and boys.

About one-fourth of the players wore accelerometers during practices to calculate how much of the time they were moderately to vigorously active. Practice times ranged from 40 to 130 minutes for soccer; 35 to 217 minutes for baseball and softball.

The government's physical activity guidelines recommend that children get at least 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

Among the findings in Monday's issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine:

  • On average, kids were moderately to vigorously active for 45 minutes, which was 46% of their practice time.
  • 24% of all the team members met the one-hour activity goal; only 2% of girl softball players met the recommendation.
  • Girls were less active than boys in all sports, but only by an average of 11 minutes per practice.
  • The most active players overall were soccer players, boys and children ages 10-14.
Other research shows that children are often more active during free play than structured activities, because the more time coaches spend giving instruction and doing some drills, the less activity kids get, Sallis says.

Girls playing softball were particularly inactive, he says, so coaches could set a goal of incorporating more physical activity during those practices.

"Even if kids are spending an hour and a half at a sports practice, most aren't getting all the activity they need for the day," Sallis says. "So parents may need to find some other way to make sure their kids are getting 60 minutes of activity a day."

[Editor’s concluding note about the above comment:  “That ‘other way’ is swimming! Sign them up for the swim team!”]

"Teaching Hard Work to Parents As Well as Children"

By John Leonard
The above quote came from the former President of USA-Swimming, Coach Jim Wood of the Berkeley Aquatic Club of New Jersey, in response to a question “what can we do to improve American Swimming?” at a USA-Swimming Steering Committee meeting last January.
Jim, as many of you know, is a 40 year plus veteran of the coaching scene, and owns his own pool and program and has been a leader in USA-Swimming for many years. He currently is President of USA-Aquatic Sports, the umbrella organization for the Aquatic Sports in the USA, as they report to FINA.  He’s produced Olympians, National Champions, great age group teams and runs a highly successful swim business and swim school.
And his statement rang a bell with me.
I do talks for parents all over the world, as well as in the USA. And I “part time coach” my own team here in Fort Lauderdale, so I can stay current with all the things coaches face on deck in our sport. A considerable percentage of the parents that coaches deal with regularly have changed significantly from 10-20 and certainly 30 years ago.
I always ask parents what factors have led to their current success in life. Invariably, the majority have stories of hardships faced, challenges met, hard times overcome, on the way to a solid life and family, fiscal security or any sort of success you want to mention.
After these stories, a majority of parents say some variation on “boy, I don’t want my kid to have to go through that!”
And I am always floored. “you mean, you don’t want your child to experience the same formative experiences that you are describing as the ‘thing that made you what you are today’?”.
Invariably, they look at me blankly and then slowly it dawns on them what they are saying and the eyes go to the floor and you can almost hear an audible “hmmm….”
The natural response of any parent is to “protect” their child.
But let us not confuse “protect” with “shelter”. Children only really grow up under some pressure, some need to overcome something, the need to stretch, try harder, grow….in short, to GO TO WORK on something they care about.
The harder the work, the more satisfying the growth, maturity and individual strength created.
When we do something for our children that they are capable of doing themselves, we make them weaker. (not stronger) We want strong, independent children, yes? ……..Yes?
When we let children do for themselves, they learn to work for what they want.
Just like you and I did. And most parents did.  Hard work is good for all of us.
Have confidence in your child and let them grow. They will prove themselves as strong or stronger than you. But they need you to “give them something” to get there…….
…the Freedom to do the hard work themselves.

The Awesome 8 Year Old

By Guy Edson, ASCA Staff
I have never met a coach who didn’t want all their athletes to be the best they can be. 
I have never met a parent who didn’t want their child to be the best they can be. 
So why do we have so many conflicts between coaches and parents?  The simple answer is that each sees a different path. 
Let’s take the case of the unusually advanced 8 year old whose parents want their child to swim with the next group of 9-12’s.  “After all,” the mom says, “my son is faster than half of the kids in the next group.”  (And she is correct.)
Why wouldn’t the coach give a wholehearted “Yes,” and say, “I’ll move him up right away.  In fact, I believe he can make the send off intervals that the 11-12’s are making so I’ll put him there.  In a year he may be ready for the senior team.”
Why not?
Because every good coach sees the importance of long term progressive development and views their young swimmers as long term endeavors.  Coaches should take a patient and a progressive approach to the development of their young swimmers.  Coaches want swimmers in the program through their teen years and into their 20’s when they are physically mature and have the greatest potential for life changing participation.
Ask an adult who dropped out of swimming by age 12 or 13 what they remember from the sport and chances are, they remember very little.  Now ask an adult who swam through college what they remember and chances are they will tell you it was one of the most important life changing experiences of their life.
So how do we keep a swimmer in the sport that long?
Many parents also will echo the importance of long term development.  However, they just want to speed it up.  There is a sometimes verbalized refrain, “The better he is now, then the better he will be in the future.”
This is not true in most cases.  Parents who are otherwise well-meaning, sometimes push their budding stars to excel too early at almost any cost.  And that cost is frequently failing to finish the long term.
Parents should take note: A 2001 study by the National Alliance for Youth Sports found that 70 percent of American kids who sign up for sports quit by the time they were 13.  The reason?  They said it wasn't fun anymore.
A study done by the ASCA staff years ago and repeated several times since shows that only 17 to 20% of the aged 9-10 swimmers ranked in the top 16 are still swimming at the national level 5 years later.  USA Swimming also did a study using the all time Top 100 list and found that only 11% of the top ranked 10 and unders are still ranked as 17-18 year olds. 
What is the primary reason we lose swimmers?  The number one reason according to a survey done a few years ago is simply that swimming stopped being fun.
And what are the elements of fun?  Friends, caring coaches, and absence of undue pressure from mom and dad to achieve their goals for the child.
When we move an 8 and under to an older age group we…:
…take them away from their friends.  (“Friends” is the number one reason why young swimmers stay on the team in the first place.)
…take away their opportunity to be the leader of their peers.  Good coaches build core groups of swimmers around leaders and move those core groups up through the program very nearly together.
…take the edge off of that wonderful, playful, crazy style of an 8 year old – because now, they are with older swimmers who usually do not share the same traits as an 8 year old.
…place tremendous pressure on the swimmer because now it’s not about having fun and being with friends, now it is about the serious business of work and achieving the goals mom and dad are setting for the child.
…change the progression and move the swimmer to a program which they may not be able to handle physically, developmentally, or mentally.  Dryland training for an 8 and under is vastly different than for an 11-12 year old.  The amount of fundamental kicking is less for an older age group swimmer.  The amount of stroke work is also less for an older age group swimmer.  Skip a proper progression of these and you risk developing an incomplete athlete.
…provide less time for games and relays.
…ignore the fact that the 8 year old may be better than the other 8 and unders because he is simply older biologically and developmentally than his peers and in all likelihood his peers will catch up to him at some point and many will pass on by.  When that happens it is very difficult for the swimmer to understand why they aren’t so “good” anymore and lose interest in the sport.
…identify the 8 year old as a “talent” with tremendous pressure to live up to it.  Some parents even identify their young swimmers as “our talented little butterflyer” or backstroker or breaststroker, etc.  The problem is, as swimmers grow and body proportions change, they frequently lose their ability to be very good in one specific stroke.  If their identity is attached to a stroke and they lose their stroke, then they lose their identity.  Good coaches don’t create specialized age group swimmers and try very hard to create well rounded IM swimmers.  When parents push a certain stroke upon a child, it adds to the stress.
…place the child in a socially difficult situation.  Chatter among swimmers between sets and before and after practice – the so called “locker room talk” -- may be very inappropriate for an 8 year old to listen to.
…change the focus of the coach as the coach now has to take special care for an under-age swimmer in the group who might not make all the intervals or understand all the instructions.
Neither parents, nor coaches, can MAKE a child be a great swimmer.  We can only provide the environment with the proper emotional support (parents) and challenges (coaching) in a well crafted progressive program aimed at the long term development of the child (coaching).  It looks like I have reduced the role of the parent to that of providing emotional support – correct!  That’s what you can uniquely provide and that is what is most needed from you.
Next time you come to practice, bring an extra towel for your child, and bring a book for yourself.  Allow your child to get lost in the fun of a practice with their buddies while you simply watch them for the sheer joy of it without worries about their swimming future… or, just get lost in your book.
The Day After

Guy Edson, ASCA Staff

Workout on the day after a swim meet is critically important to attend.  

Why is it so important?
  • It’s an opportunity for the coach to recognize the good performers in front of all the swimmers.
  • It’s an opportunity to review the team’s progress toward seasonal goals.
  • It’s an opportunity to immediately address weaknesses observed at the meet with individuals as well as the team and to respond with drills, teaching, or appropriate training.
  • It’s necessary in order to stay on the training plan.  Depending on the time in the season, resting from a practice is counterproductive to swimming fast later in the season.It’s an opportunity to directly and deliberately face being tired and to perform regardless – an awesome life lesson.

Unfortunately, an occasional parent will make a coaching decision that their child can take the day off to rest.  We need the support of parents to get their children to practice on the day after or risk their child losing the above benefits.

"But It's Only a Relay"

Guy Edson, ASCA Staff
This is an article about false assumptions.  The coach assumes all relay eligible swimmers will be available for the LSC championship meet.  The parent assumes that because their child didn’t make any individual cuts their season is over the week before the LSC champs and plans a family vacation.  Opps.

This is an article about planning.  Coaches plan the season with the end in mind and a common goal is to place as high as possible in the LSC championship meet.  Workouts and progressions are designed to prepare age group swimmers for this important meet and relays are a very important part of scoring since they are worth twice the points as individual events.  In addition to the scoring aspect, team building and the experienced gained by relay only swimmers are important as well.  We like to see parents plan for the end of season meets accordingly as well.

This is also an article on communication.  Coaches communicate the importance of the end of season meets from the very beginning of the season and parents would be wise in checking with the coach throughout the season as to the possibility of their child swimming at the LSC championship meet, whether in individual events or relays only.

Relays give relay-only swimmers an opportunity to prepare for the end of season meet along side of their friends.  Relays give them a greater sense of belonging to the team and contributing to team goals.  Relays give the relay-only swimmer a chance for a “best time” at the end of the season and a chance for a medal or ribbon they might not otherwise have an opportunity for.  Relays inspire swimmers to come back the next season as an individual events swimmer.  And, relays are simply fun. 

All the extra arrangements for the relay only swimmer; all the waiting around; and all the extra expense… is it worth it? 
You bet!

"Eliminate Your Competition"

Guy Edson, ASCA Staff

Here are some short vignettes of parent--coach interactions I have collected over the past couple of months at meets I have attended with my own team as well as observations other teams here in South Florida.
  • Early in the morning before the meet warm-up a coach, holding one corner of the shade canopy and trying to both direct a hand full of helpful swimmers and negotiate around the corner of the bleacher is suddenly replaced by a crew of parents telling him, “You and the swimmers have more important things to do.  We will take care of this.”
  • During a passing rain shower hitting in the middle of the 400 freestyles, a parent stands by the coach with umbrella in hand so the coach can watch and take splits in relative dryness.
  • In the finals’ heat sheets the coach discovers that one of his swimmers is seeded two seconds faster than she actually swam in prelims and the erroneous time is a JO qualifying time.  After talking to meet management he finds out that there was a “timing error” and the meet management felt the results were fair and were not going to change them.  He explains the situation to the dad of the swimmer and before the coach has a chance to say that the child has to truly make the time standard, the dad beats the coach to the thought saying, “she has to earn it by doing it.”
  • Most everyone has left at the end of prelims except officials, timers, a few coaches and swimmers preparing for a couple of heats of 1500’s.  During the short break the coach reviews splits and strategies with his swimmers and doesn’t have time to leave the deck.  A parent brings him a cold soda and a sandwich from the concession stand.
  • After finals a group of parents clean up the area they had occupied that day leaving it cleaner than they had found it.
  • A swimmer who qualifies 9th and fails to make finals is comforted and reassured by the dad who then, without comment on the swim, directs the swimmer to speak with the coach.
  • A parent sincerely asks if the coaching staff can do a private lesson to fix his son’s butterfly.  The coach said that he didn’t believe he needed a private lesson, but just needed to apply what the staff is saying to him in practice every day.  Before the 50 fly event the coach reminds the boy, with the parent present, to get his head and chest down, hips up, and to stretch the entry before beginning the stroke in order to allow the hips time to get up.  In the event the swimmer dives in and swims uphill butterfly the entire way.  The coach explains to the parent that every day the staff reminds the swimmer about proper timing and body position in the water and he sometimes tunes in and does it but more often doesn’t.  When the swimmer returns from the swim for post race analysis the coach asks the swimmer if he thought at all about his hips up and he said “no.”  The parent then says to his son, “Sounds like you just need to pay more attention in practice.”
  • A swimmer who has noticeably struggled all meet long has one last chance to make finals and all parents stand up to cheer the swimmer on.  (He makes finals.)
  • On the last day of a three day meet, a swimmer -- who has had an exceptionally good meet and made several qualifying times the previous two days but is noticeably tired -- makes the final of one event on the last night.  It is an inconsequential event for the athlete and there is no team scoring involved.  The coach recommends that the swimmer scratch finals and go home early to get some rest.  The dad is fully supportive.
  • Due to a ton of scratches, a young swimmer is moved all the way up to first alternate and this would be his first chance at a final.  He is excited about the opportunity to swim again.  Even though his best time is far behind the other qualifiers his parents are also enthusiastic about bringing him back for a chance at swimming in finals.  However, there are no scratches and the boy is unable to swim and is noticeably disappointed.  His parents hug him and reassure him that his time will come and they stay for the rest of finals to watch and cheer for the other swimmers.
…All good examples of wonderful parent support.

So, where does the title “Eliminate the Competition” come from?  It comes from another vignette: 

  • During the 400 freestyles in a qualifying meet, a 12 year old swimmer who I had just finished going over the pre-race strategy with the coach, was pulled aside on his way to the blocks by the dad who told him to “eliminate the competition” on the first 200 so that he would have an “easy time of it” on the second 200.  This may be an acceptable business strategy but not so good in the 400 free.  The boy tried to do as the dad said and did indeed go out fast but failed badly on the second half of the swim and missed a qualifying time substantially.  The dad stormed out of the natatorium without talking to his son or the coach. 
I was going to write an article about this situation and what might have been a more appropriate chain of events but then I starting thinking of all the good things parents do at swim meets and I decided to focus an article on the positive instead, because the positive parent behaviors far outweigh the negative behaviors.  We coaches thank all of you parents who model such good choices for your children and the team.

It's Not About Butterfly (or back, or breast, or free...)

Guy Edson, ASCA Staff

Coach (giving instructions to a group of above average ability 13-14 year olds):  “The next set is nine 100’s of fly on 1:30, descending one through 3, 4 through 6, and 7 through 9.  The purpose of this set is twofold:  first, controlling your swims, and second, facing the challenge and beating it.  We’re leaving on the next 60, get ready to go.”

Swimmer:  “I suck at fly.  It’s not my best event.  Why do I even have to do this?”

Coach:  “This is not about butterfly.  It’s about your mind.  It’s about mental toughness.  It’s about learning how to deal with the very difficult.  Swimming practice is not designed to be accommodating to what you like, it’s designed to be relevant to what you need, and at the top of the list of relevance is dealing with adversity and learning how to approach the seemingly impossible.  This set is an unabashed challenge to your ability to tough it out. Get ready to go.”

However, the swimmer walks out of practice and later complains to her father who comes to the next practice and confronts the coach.   “How does an impossible butterfly set help her breaststroke?” he demands.

What can happen?  The coach can give the same answer to the father that he gave to the daughter and if the he buys into it, then we have a partnership – coach and father:  the coach presents the challenges and the dad provides the emotional support to the child. 

If the father doesn't buy it, the child will lose an opportunity to challenge themselves, convince themselves "I can" rather than "I can't", and the coach will recognize an athlete who is not ready to step up and "take a chance" yet, which is the first step to long term success."

Is there anything more important in this coaching and swimming endeavor than learning to deal with adversity?  Are you giving your coach the authority, the freedom, support, and the blessings to prescribe workouts which enable the swimmer to develop resiliency?

Hard Work 

We believe hard work is its own reward. We believe that everyone benefits from hard work.  It teaches all of us that nothing is given to us, it has to be earned. It teaches us that life is not fair as sometimes those who work the hardest are not rewarded the most. But without hard work, there is a reduced likelihood of reward.  Hard work “feels good”.  It makes us feel valuable, capable, and self-sufficient. One of the few things we can control in the world is the level of our own effort. When we work harder than we thought was possible for us, we open new doors of possibility in our lives.

We believe that children need to be TAUGHT to work hard. Role modeling from parents, from coaches, and from teammates is the best teacher.  Young people learn when they say “I’m tired” from sitting around all day in front of a computer, that they have to learn that SPENDING ENERGY in hard work, BRINGS MORE energy to your body and mind. Want to feel great? Get up and work hard. Sitting around does, in fact, make you tired.  Children need to be taught that. It is counter-intuitive.

We believe that Resiliency is THE great trait to learn from swimming. Everyone gets knocked down in life. The critical thing is to learn to bounce back up immediately and re-double your efforts.  When I speak to parents, they always tell me that they attained the position they have in life by overcoming all the obstacles that fate placed in their way. Then, they often say “I don’t want my kids to have to go through that.”

This is lunacy! You don’t want your children to learn from the same pieces in life that made you successful?

Children need hard challenges. They need to “fail” as often as they succeed. They need to learn to quickly and effectively bounce back up and get back to work.  Parents protecting their children in the extreme are called “Curling Parents”. (Because they remove the obstacles from the path of the child.) IT IS SO MUCH BETTER to prepare the child for the hard path, than try to clear the hard path FOR the child. Each time you do something for your child that they can do for themselves you make your child WEAK.  Show your confidence in them by allowing THEM to overcome the obstacles. Resiliency.

It’s a Family Thing.  Everyone in the family has a role in swimming.

The child does the work, the learning, the physical effort. The parents remind the child of their commitments made and of the life skills that will make them a success in life and in swimming.  The Coach coaches. The friends support and cheer and encourage. The parent takes care of the “get the child there” logistics so critical to a child’s success and consistency.  Everyone has a role. Play YOUR role and don’t interfere in other’s role.

 Prelims and Finals Meets 

Written by Head Coach Ray Benecki,
The FISH, Fairfax, VA
Every so often we are presented with the tremendous opportunity to swim in a meet that has prelims and finals sessions. These meets are structured so as to present the fastest 8, or 16, or 24 swimmers from the morning or afternoon prelims sessions with another chance to swim again at finals in the evening. The number of swimmers advancing to finals in this fashion depends on the meet, their age group, and sometimes the events themselves. Some meets offer finals for all age groups, except for the 10 and unders. Some meets offer one heat of finals for 11 and 12 swimmers, but two heats of finals for 13 and older swimmers. Distance events are usually swum just one time, and sometimes the 11-12 200 fly, 200 back, and 200 breast are Timed Finals also.
These types of meets provide a valuable learning experience for our swimmers and encourage them to swim at a high level of competition. These types of meets are valuable tools to prepare our swimmers for their end-of-season Championships. Either they get a taste of swimming finals, or get a better appreciation of what it takes to qualify for finals next time.
Swimming the same event twice in one day is quite a challenge; making finals in two events doubly so. And you can imagine qualifying for three. Yet we don’t want to wait until our biggest meet to face this challenge. The more experience you can get trying to qualify for finals, and swimming finals, the more confidence you will have, the faster you will swim, the stronger you will be.  
A swimmer should enter a prelim race with the goal of making finals. To expect anything less would be to sell yourself short. To expect not to make finals would be self-limiting.   
As a swimmer develops and reaches this level of competition, we would like you to keep the following information in mind.  
What is Involved? Be prepared! Clear your calendar for the entire weekend. When participating in prelims/finals meets, just expect to be there all day. Ideally, we would like our swimmers to go home to rest and refuel between prelims and finals. Swimmers need to be back in time for warm-ups in order to prepare for their final race(s). Please plan accordingly to assure a successful swimming experience for your athlete.  
Atmosphere: The atmosphere at prelims is very different than during finals. The fastest swimmers have a hard time swimming best times during prelims especially knowing that finals will take place only a few hours after their initial, qualifying race. The goal is to swim fast enough to make finals. However, in the history of the FISH, we have had swimmers swim best times during prelims and they were totally surprised when they realized, they had just secured a spot in the A Final.  
Pressure: After a long day of swimming the athletes return one more time to the pool for the final races, the fastest races. Who will touch the wall first? Though the pressure it tense, athletes handle it better when participating in these types of meets more frequently. Therefore, when a swimmer qualifies, participation is a must. In addition, the team spirit among the athletes can alleviate some of the pressure. Teammates cheer each other on and the FISH spirit takes on a life of its own.  
Reaching Goal Times: Prelims/finals meets create an environment for our swimmers to reach their goal times in December. Representing your team in a final race, scoring points for your team, and getting that time you worked so hard for, is all part of the learning experience.
All FISH swimmers are capable of “breakout” swims. Be prepared for prelims AND finals!

Kids Should Not Consume Energy Drinks, And Rarely Need Sports Drinks, Says American Academy of Pediatrics 

Sports and energy drinks are heavily marketed to children and adolescents, but in most cases kids don't need them - and some of these products contain substances that could be harmful to children. 

In a new clinical report, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) outlines how these products are being misused, discusses their ingredients, and provides guidance to decrease or eliminate consumption by children and adolescents. The report, "Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?" is published in the June 2011 issue of Pediatrics (published online May 30). 

"There is a lot of confusion about sports drinks and energy drinks, and adolescents are often unaware of the differences in these products," said Marcie Beth Schneider, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition and co-author of the report. "Some kids are drinking energy drinks - containing large amounts of caffeine - when their goal is simply to rehydrate after exercise. This means they are ingesting large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, which can be dangerous." 

Sports drinks and energy drinks are different products, said Holly J. Benjamin, MD, FAAP, a member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, and a co-author of the report. Sports drinks, which contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes and flavoring, are intended to replace water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise. Sports drinks can be helpful for young athletes engaged in prolonged, vigorous physical activities, but in most cases they are unnecessary on the sports field or the school lunchroom. 

"For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best," Dr. Benjamin said. "Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don't need, and could contribute to obesity and tooth decay. It's better for children to drink water during and after exercise, and to have the recommended intake of juice and low-fat milk with meals. Sports drinks are not recommended as beverages to have with meals." 

Energy drinks contain substances not found in sports drinks that act as stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana and taurine. Caffeine - by far the most popular stimulant - has been linked to a number of harmful health effects in children, including effects on the developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems. Energy drinks are never appropriate for children or adolescents, said Dr. Schneider and Dr. Benjamin. In general, caffeine-containing beverages, including soda, should be avoided. 

The report contains tables listing specific products available today and their contents. 

"In many cases, it's hard to tell how much caffeine is in a product by looking at the label," Dr. Schneider said. "Some cans or bottles of energy drinks can have more than 500 mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of 14 cans of soda." 

AAP recommendations include: 

- Pediatricians should highlight the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks with patients and their parents, and talk about the potential health risks. 

- Energy drinks pose potential health risks because of the stimulants they contain, and should never be consumed by children or adolescents. 

- Routine ingestion of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks by children and adolescents should be avoided or restricted, because they can increase the risk of overweight and obesity, as well as dental erosion. 

- Sports drinks have a limited function for pediatric athletes; they should be ingested when there is a need for rapid replenishment of carbohydrates and/or electrolytes in combination with water during prolonged, vigorous physical activity. 

- Water, not sports drinks, should be the principal source of hydration for children and adolescents.

Article URL:

By Lisa Liston
Lynchburg YMCA Swim Team
Nutrition is important ALL THE TIME to keep the tank full for athletic training and performance. Athletes need to EAT TO TRAIN, not train so they can eat. In general, the athlete’s diet should be composed of 60% carbohydrates, 15% protein, and 25% fat. Carbohydrates are necessary as the dominant fuel in moderate and high intensity activities. Carbohydrates provide the energy to keep your engine running through those long practices and intense races! Protein is not an energy source, but it is important because it builds and repairs muscles, produces hormones, supports the immune system, and replaces red blood cells. Fat plays a critical role in the overall functioning of the body; it aids in digestion and energy metabolism, helps maintain body temperature, and plays a part in regulating hormone production.

In order to maintain optimal training and performance energy levels, it is important that athletes eat early and often! Athletes should have a carbohydrate snack before morning workouts -- even if a small amount. (While some don’t like to eat early in the morning, you can train your body to begin accepting food.) You should never go 3 or 4 hours without a snack during the day. It is better for swimmers to eat 6-8 times a day rather than just three meals a day. Athletes MUST have a carbohydrate snack immediately after practice. For proper muscle repair to begin, you have about a 30 minutes window to get some food in after practice. Within 1-2 hours of practice, swimmers should have a full meal. Without adequate fuel, swimmers will become fatigued and are more prone to injury as they are not helping their muscles recover.

Some excellent choices for your post-workout recovery snack might include chocolate milk, power bars, yogurt, bagels with peanut butter, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.   The more you weigh, the larger your snack should be.  For instance if you weigh 120 pounds, 1.5 power bars may be sufficient, but if you weigh 175, then you might need 1 cup of chocolate milk and a bagel with peanut butter. 

Not only is getting adequate food important during regular training, it is also critical during meets to maintain peak performance. After racing, swimmers need to replenish fluids and eat a small snack. Sometimes a swimmer won’t have quite enough time to warm down after a race and eating some food to help the recovery process along is just plain smart.  Stuck at a summer league meet with no warm down at all? Keep moving around and eat a few peanut butter crackers before your next race!

Check out USA Swimming’s nutrition tracker on the web to be sure you’re getting enough! As we head outdoors into the 50 meter pool in just a few days, training demands will become greater and swimmers are likely to need more calories to sustain successful training.

FAQ’s For Parents Training and Workout 

This article is published by USA Swimming on their “Successful Sports Parenting” CD and is also published on the USA Swimming website at  (Used by permission of USA Swimming.)

1. Sometimes my child doesn’t want to go to practice. He wants to play with his friends. Should I force him to go?

You should not force your child; you want his participation to be his decision. Reinforce the choices and decisions he has made to start his sport. For example, your son chose to go to practice on Tuesday and Thursdays, on other days he has the freedom to do other activities. As a parent, explain your expectation that he fulfill the commitment he made by joining the team. You don't want to force your child into a sport that he does not enjoy, yet you want your child to be involved in a 'lifetime sport', to learn about making and keeping a commitment and to interact with peers  So, what are you to do?

Instead of allowing your child to make a daily decision about going to practice, allow him to decide whether or not he wants to participate for the season. Once the decision is made to participate, he is making a commitment to the team and needs to follow through on it by attending practice on a regular basis. A haphazard schedule is detrimental to the athlete’s overall development.

Interestingly, when asked to reflect on the role of their parents in their swimming, athletes from a recent USA Swimming World Championship team talked about being pushed to swim by their parents on a weekly basis but knowing they could quit if they stopped having fun with swimming.

2. My child has a lot of interests and activities so he only attends about half of his practices. What will happen to his competition results?

Children involved in other activities can benefit in the areas of coordination and balance, as well as improved social and intellectual development. Specialized training in one activity does not necessarily need to take place at this stage of development. Will your son’s teammate who makes all practices have better results? Probably he will because his teammate is working solely on developing one sport skills. It is up to you to explain to your child that making the choice to participate in other activities can have its consequences. Tell your son that he should not compare his results to that of his teammate, but to focus on the fact that he is benefiting from and enjoying other sports.

3. It looks like my child is having a lot of fun at practice. Shouldn’t she be working harder?

Be happy that your child is having fun!  According to a recent study conducted by USA Swimming children who experience fun while participating stay in sports longer (Tuffey, Gould, & Medbery, 1998). At this stage of the game, the most important aspect of development is the mastery of skills, which means learning the proper technique. Fundamentals must be established prior to true “training” taking place. And, if she is having fun in the process of learning, she is more likely to continue to the sport.

4. It looks like all they do at practice is drills. Shouldn’t they be training more?

Your child needs to develop a solid foundation in mechanics.  Drills and drill sets serve the specific purpose of teaching skills and fundamentals. Drills develop motor coordination, motor skills, and balance. In fact, your child’s coach may prescribe a particular drill, just for your child, in order to improve an aspect of her technique. In addition, she may actually be experiencing a “training” benefit from drills.  Drills require concentration and aerobic energy to do them correctly.

5. My daughter’s coach sometimes makes her “sit out” for disciplinary reasons. Isn’t that a waste of her time?

The coach has set up expectations of proper behavior. Hopefully, your child is aware of the consequences of testing these boundaries. Obviously the coach is reinforcing what is expected of the children at practice. We encourage you to reinforce the coach's practice expectations by discussing your child’s behavior and the consequences of that behavior. Hopefully, this “time out” begins to reinforce self-discipline, accountability and respect for others.

6. My son complains that some of the kids cheat in practice. What should I tell him?

Praise him first for completing the workout the coach offers. Remind him that he is there to improve himself and he can’t control what his teammates do. Tell him however, that his best course of action is to continue to do things right and others may actually be influenced by his good example. By committing to do his best at all times, over the long haul he will reap the benefits of his hard work.

7. My daughter just moved up to the Senior Group. Now the coach wants her to train twice a day. Is this really necessary?

Your child has established proper technique and fundamentals by progressing through the levels of the team. It is appropriate at this stage of your daughter’s career development to increase the training loads. This includes adding the two mornings per week. Although morning practices come extra early, most coaches feel that this level of commitment is necessary for your daughter to reach the next level of her career.

Training for competitive sports is demanding on young athletes. As athletes develop, they need to understand the upcoming time demands. One specific principle of training that applies is the progressive overload principle. A person must be stressed slightly more each day over time to continue to improve. In order to do that, the coach must plan additional time. The addition of morning workouts often becomes necessary for the coach to develop young athletes to their maximum potential.

8. What type of commitment is needed for higher levels of competition?

While an athlete’s performance is influenced by numerous factors, there are three that exert the greatest influence: physical, technical and mental. As athletes progress, a greater commitment, of both time and energy, is needed to enable an athlete to address all of these factors.

Additionally, the athlete is asked to take more responsibility for and ownership of his practice and competition performance. One way of doing this is by accepting responsibility for leading a lifestyle conducive to performance, i.e., proper nutrition, adequate sleep, time management and managing extra-curricular activities.

9. Is my teenager sacrificing too much to train?

What you may consider a sacrifice, such as missing a school dance, football game or simply going out with friends, your child many not consider a sacrifice at all! Instead, your child has chosen to commit to his sport. By doing so, he realizes that a certain level of training is necessary for him to achieve greater goals and does not look at these activities as missed opportunities. Keep in mind that your child realizes missing a workout is like missing sleep, it cannot be made up. If, however, your child is expressing sentiments that he is missing these chances, then it is time to re-evaluate the balance in his activities.

10. What does the coach mean when she says that my teenaged daughter controls 80% of her own training?

At this stage it is important for the athlete to take full responsibility for her sport. Your coach is just reinforcing this concept. Having a good attitude, developing proper time management, and demonstrating a strong work ethic are important both in and out of the practice and competition. What your child’s coach is referring to is what we call “hidden training factors.”  She is in control of what she eats, how much sleep she gets, her practice attendance, and even her effort on practice sets. This may really add up to even more than 80%.

11. My child used to compete in all of the events, but now her coach has her focusing on only a few.

Prior to now, your child needed to acquire a wide range of skills and the aerobic development necessary to allow for this specialization. At this point in her career, her physical development allows her to train for specific events. Children at this stage have reached the physical maturity necessary to specialize in particular events for which they are best suited.

12. I notice the coach having meetings with the older athletes at the beginning of the season. What are they talking about? Is he asking for input?

Typically the coach likes to share his seasonal plan with the group prior to the start of the season, as well as reviewing the previous season’s strengths and weaknesses. This plan highlights the major competition, tapering and the overall training plan. By presenting the athletes with information, the coach is making the athlete part of the process. This meeting may also be a prelude to individual goal setting sessions and an opportunity to begin to build team unity.

13. My child was very successful as very young child. How can I help her reach the next level?

When your daughter is making the transition, she needs to realize that she is participating at a higher level. Improvements are in tenths and hundredths, rather than seconds, due to biological and physiological factors.

Throughout her career, you have been very supportive. This support is still needed but it may have to be a little different than in the past. It is a good time to discuss with your daughter what she needs from you. Do not be afraid to ask her “How can I support you in your sport?”  While you are an important part of her support network, realize your daughter, at this level, should be taking on more ownership of her athletic career.

14. I want my son to qualify for Nationals so badly, but he keeps just missing. What can I do to help?

It is important for you to acknowledge that this is your child’s goal, not yours. Your expectations may actually be putting undue pressure on his performances. There are two types of goals that athletes can set. Outcome Goals focus on the end result of performance such as “win" or "make finals.” Process Goals relate to the process of performance. Examples are “great technique" or "strong finish.”

Athletes have much more control over Process Goals. Outcome Goals are uncontrollable since they also involve the performance of other competitors. Athletes and coaches should concentrate on Process Goals since they involve aspects an athlete can control. Focusing on a time is outcome driven. Although you want what’s best for your son, encourage him to talk to his coach to clearly identify Process Goals to achieve improvement.

The Praise Gap 
Bringing Praising Strategies Used by Coaches and Parents Closer Together.
From Guy Edson, ASCA
From the point of view of many parents, coaches tend to under-praise their swimmers.  One parent complained to me that their child would never rise above the level of “adequate” under my standards.  This is the same parent I earlier saw heaping loads of praise on the child (a 12 year old) for having giving it a “great effort” when in fact the child had just completed a swim that was technically lacking, far off of a best time, and showed no interest in racing.  Clearly there is a difference here.
Many articles cite studies that in the ideal learning environment there is a “magic ratio” of 5 praises to 1 criticism.  Anecdotally I can tell you that most coaches are the complete opposite:  5 criticisms to one praise.
In good coaching those 5 “criticisms” are better labeled “critical feedback.”  The role of the coach is to give critical technical feedback to the athlete – specific and objective information that helps the athlete perform better the next time.  Praise is often given in levels from a simple OK (adequate) to “nice job.”  Coaches are careful NOT to use words that leave little room for improvement like “awesome,”  “excellent,” and “perfect.”  A coach wants the athlete to feel that there is always work to do, always room for improvement.  As long as feedback and praise are consistent, coaches can use the 1:5 ratio very effectively.
One of the difficulties for coaches is that we feel we are fighting against a larger cultural push of standardless self-esteem building.  This is the mentality that “All efforts are good.”  An article in the New York Magazine by Po Bronson cites research that says that self-esteem building by over praising can actually create underachievers.  (How Not to Talk to Your Kids -- The inverse power of praise.  By Po Bronson in the New York Magazine, February 2007.)
Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise.
Dweck and Blackwell’s work is part of a larger academic challenge to one of the self-esteem movement’s key tenets: that praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall together. From 1970 to 2000, there were over 15,000 scholarly articles written on self-esteem and its relationship to everything—from sex to career advancement. But results were often contradictory or inconclusive. So in 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature. His team concluded that self-esteem was polluted with flawed science. Only 200 of those 15,000 studies met their rigorous standards.
After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make up for low self-esteem.) At the time, Baumeister was quoted as saying that his findings were “the biggest disappointment of my career.”

So, what might be good advice for parents seeking to praise and build up their children?  From Bronson’s article we read:
To be effective, researchers have found, praise needs to be specific.
Sincerity of praise is also crucial.
New York University professor of psychiatry Judith Brook explains that the issue for parents is one of credibility. “Praise is important, but not vacuous praise,” she says. “It has to be based on a real thing—some skill or talent they have.” Once children hear praise they interpret as meritless, they discount not just the insincere praise, but sincere praise as well.

With so much overflowing love for our children (I am a parent also) why not praise all efforts, even not-so-good efforts, as a way of boosting spirits?  Why must the coach bluntly say that the performance did not match up with expectations – in short, tell the swimmer it was a failure?  In the article, Bronson refers to a study that helps explain the importance of recognizing failures.
But it turns out that the ability to repeatedly respond to failure by exerting more effort—instead of simply giving up—is a trait well studied in psychology. People with this trait, persistence, rebound well and can sustain their motivation through long periods of delayed gratification. Delving into this research, I learned that persistence turns out to be more than a conscious act of will; it’s also an unconscious response, governed by a circuit in the brain.
“The key is intermittent reinforcement,” says [researcher Dr. Robert] Cloninger [of Washington University in St. Louis.]  The brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through. “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”

Bronson concludes:
Jumping in with praise is like jumping in too soon with the answer to a homework problem—it robs him of the chance to make the deduction himself.
I think it is appropriate to simply ask the child how they think they did, listen to their analysis, then add a ton of love and a big hug, and let it go at that.

World Class Parents 

”So, you want to offer your child the opportunity to be a world-class athlete….”
By John Leonard
If the above sentence doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of you as a coach reading it, good for you!
The fact is, a number of parents DO, without being raging lunatics, wish to offer their child the best possible chance to be a great athlete….in the same way that they’d like to offer them the chance to attend the most prestigious University, visit the best doctors, be a world-class musician or artist, etc. etc. etc.
The key word is “OFFER”. Not “force”. Not “Make”.  Offer. The issue, if you take the words “world class” out of there….is that MOST parents want to “de-limit” their children and “offer them the chance for the best opportunities in life.”.  Put that way, it doesn’t sound so bad. In fact, it sounds like “most of us”.
As every coach knows, the devil is in the execution. (or the details, if you prefer.)
I was asked this question twice on a recent trip to Africa…..where the topic came up because of the perception that African children who aspire to be swimmers are considerably limited  on their continent. Overall, I thought it a fair question.  Here’s my answer….I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts.
#1.  It’s all about the coaching.  Led by the great researcher, Dr. Anders Ericsson, we know that expertise comes from 10,000 hours of focused, purposeful practice, guided by a “coach” of skill, knowledge and understanding of the learning process providing top quality feedback. So the number one task of the parent on the track of great opportunities….do your homework, research the coaches available to your child, spend time in conversation with them, reach a mutually satisfying understanding of “who is doing what” and then get out of the way, and TRUST THEM to do right with your child. You can “oversee the process” but let the coach, Coach.
That’s answer 1, 1A and 1B…..nothing else comes close in importance.  Here are a few other ideas, however.
#2.  It’s about RESILIANCE!  Your child, all children, are going to hit some rough patches in their development. Teach them to persevere, don’t get the roadblocks out of their way FOR them, let them learn to struggle with it and overcome. Everyone gets knocked back/down. The child has to get good at getting back up…ON THEIR OWN.
“Curling parents” are those rushing down the path ahead of the child, trying to clear every obstacle out of the way for them……and never letting the child gain the satisfaction of overcoming challenges. Don’t be one.
“Helicopter parents” are those who hover over their child at every moment, so intent on making sure the child “gets it” that they become the biggest distraction to the child ever “getting it”.  Go sit down. Relax. Read a paper. When the child’s done, love them, don’t make them replay every moment of practice for you. Don’t be one.
#3.  It’s about personal responsibility. Make sure you teach your child that “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.”  If they want to be a world class athlete, only their effort will take them there. Effort. Not talent. Tons of people have talent to achieve great things. Few do. Often because their proud parents forgot that effort is the only way to achieve.  Teach effort.
#4.  Be a Motivation Machine. As the great swimmer Michael Phelps was on his steady, effortful rise to the top of the swimming world, his coach Bob Bowman described Michael as a “Motivation Machine”. Something good happens, he got up the next morning with the mind-set, “I want more of that.” And he went off to practice. (not staying in bed congratulating himself..”I earned some more sleep this morning…I’ll sleep in..”) When something Bad happened, Michael got up and went to practice with the mindset “I’m NEVER letting that happen again”. (not staying in bed and having a mini-pity-party.) One of the greatest things I have ever heard that separates a great individual from the rest of us….Be a Motivation Machine.
Parents, you can teach that to your child and it will be a life-gift of importance.
#5. ENJOY THE RIDE! The Chinese have a saying…”most of life is about Chop Wood, Haul Water”. Mundane tasks that are essential to our progress in life. Life is not always wildly exciting and “ fun”. Mostly, it’s steady mundane effort and work. So learn (both as a parent, and teach to the child…) to enjoy and be very “satisfied” with the day to day tasks that, like water impacting the rock, make up our journey towards a special result. Chop Wood, Haul Water. Learn to value and enjoy it.
Those are my top 5 recommendations. Please add your own and let me know what they are.
All the Best, John Leonard 
By John Leonard

Listening recently to a group of parents (Mom’s, specifically) discussing the challenge of dealing with the drama that gets created by their teenage girls, much of it fueled by an incomplete understanding of human interactions and artificially both “sped up” and “widespread” due to all the electronic communication tool every teenager seemingly has access to….I was struck with the “counter-points” that need to be taught to teenagers, pre-teens, young adults and related “young folk.” 

Without going all “Hilary Clintonish” on you, it did strike me that it takes a combination of parents, teachers, coaches and better informed peers to work on educating our young people on this…if not “it takes a village”, it certainly takes a good number of friends. 
What would constitute some of the parental/coach “talking points” that would address the self-absorbed angst of those challenging years?  Here’s my personal “short list”. Please enhance it with your own. 

#1. Look at your issue within the overall context of your life. (This is called “Growing Up”.)  The fact that Billy ignored you in Math Class does not mean that your life is “ruined”.  Nor does Mary being mean to you in study hall rise to that level….these are MINOR distractions that you are allowing to control your emotions and your temperament. Why give ANYONE that much power over you? Don’t you want to become independent?  Actually, you have a roof over your head, food to eat, your life in a great country and a family that loves you. Get some context here, people!  NO BIG DEAL. Your life is actually pretty OK. (or a lot better than that.) 

#2. Recognize the marvelous stuff going on around you. Appreciate your surroundings, the talented people you are with every day and take some time to “smell the flowers”. There is far more light than dark in your life. (for most of us.) 

#3. Reach out to others. One of the tried and true ways to “feel better” is to help someone worse off than you are. Reach out, get your head out of your own problems…..and do something that helps someone else. It creates instant Perspective. 

#4. Associate with people who are positive and upbeat. Hang around with doom and gloomers, and you’ll soon become one. Look at the good side when you can, speak only with good intent, act by doing random acts of kindness and see how quickly it is returned to you. If all you do is hang out with people complaining about something, pretty soon you’ll think that’s normal and right. It isn’t. What’s right is DOING something to fix your problems. 

#5.  Every problem comes with a chance for you to challenge it, and GROW. Get better, Get stronger.  If it was a struggle to get food to eat, you’d soon become very creative about getting food. Stop whining and get creative about resolving your issue.  Accept and learn to enjoy the challenge of life. You’ll face it every day. Better get used to it and get a good attitude. 

#6. “Chop Wood, Haul Water” – the rural Chinese say that 99% of life is the mundane task… ”Chop wood, haul water”.  American TV shows life as an endless series of exciting, dynamic, thrilling ACTIONS. Not so. Most of life is mundane….interrupted by moments of sheer joy and sheer terror.  Get used to your version of “Chop wood, haul water”. Learn to enjoy the rhythm and essence of your daily life and realize that without the mundane the special wouldn’t be so special. And having “special” all the time is NOT what it’s cracked up to be. (witness all the unhappy and dangerously ill Hollywood starts…….who may be living very “special” lives…..not a prescription for happiness is it?) 

Unhappy teenager? Simplify your life.  Turn off the electronic stuff once in awhile and get outside and experience the real world. Focus on what you can DO for others, not what they do for you.  Find something you love and engage in it fully.  

Parents, remember, your goal is strong, independent children. Every time you do something for them that they should do for themselves, you make them weak. Give them the opportunity to grow. It’s a great gift from Parent to Child.  They need psychological tools to cope with the world.  My top 6 are above. Teach them your own.
Real Self-Esteem Builds on Achievement, Not Praise for Slackers 

By sharon begley

At the annual meeting of psychology researchers in Boston three years ago, two scientists weighed in on a question that seemed to be as much in need of investigation as whether the sun rises in the east.

The pair had asked a professor to send weekly e-mail messages to students of his who had done poorly on their first exam for the class. Each missive included a review question. In addition, one-third of the students, chosen at random, also received a message -- advice to study, for example -- suggesting that how well they did in the course was under their own control. The other third received the review ques­tion plus a "You're too smart to get a D!" pep talk aimed at raising their self-esteem, which everyone knows boosts academic performance. Oops.

Compared with the other e-mail recipients, the D and F students who got the self-esteem injection performed notably worse on later tests. It has been 20 .years since self-esteem became a household word and an educational mantra. The watershed moment came in 1986, when California funded a task force to increase the self-esteem of state residents, based on arguments that the $245,000 annual cost would more than pay for itself in reduced welfare dependency, unwanted pregnancy, school failure, crime and drug addiction. With that, the self-esteem movement was off and running, preaching that one's beliefs about oneself have important consequences no matter what the underlying reality. Healthy self-esteem was to be the wellspring from which wonderful outcomes flowed.

Now, the most exhaustive study ever finds that programs to raise self-esteem fall woefully, even comically, short. 

In the case of the struggling students,-the likely reason the self-esteem intervention backfired speaks volumes. Students work hard partly because it helps them do better academically; 95s feel better than 65s. But "an intervention that encourages them to feel good about themselves regardless of work may remove the reason to work hard-resulting in poorer performance," suggest psychologist Roy Baumeister and colleagues in a monograph to be published next month in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. (The four were tapped by the American Psychological Society to undertake the study.) If you get to feel good without learning Maxwell's equations or the causes of the Korean War, why bother?

It isn't just school performance. From the 200-plus studies they analyzed, the APS group found no evidence that boosting self-esteem (by therapeutic interventions or school programs) results in better job performance, lowered aggression or reduced delinquency. And "high self-esteem does not prevent children from smoking, drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in early sex," it concluded.

Of course, self-esteem and school or job performance are correlated. But long overdue scientific scrutiny points out the foolishness of supposing that people's opinion of themselves can be the cause of achievement. Rather, high-esteem is the result of good performance.

Boosting self-esteem without helping people learn more or perform better does not bring higher achievement at school or work (and can backfire, as our D and F students show). And speaking of backfiring, high self-esteem fosters experimentation, which may increase teenage indulgence in sex, alcohol or drugs.

One solid link does seem to exist between higher self-esteem and performance. The higher your opinion of yourself, the more likely you are to persist in the face of failure. It is left as an exercise for the reader to decide whether this is a desirable character trait. Sometimes, isn't it better to just cut and run?

Self-esteem proponents have also fallen into the trap of taking people at their word. People high in self-esteem report that they're more likable and have better relationships than do those with low self-esteem. But "this is true mainly in their own minds,"says Prof. Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University, Tallahassee. Objective measures typically find the opposite, undercutting the claim that high self-esteem brings superior social skills.

Even the National Association for Self-Esteem is backpedaling. President J.D. Hawkins, who criticizes scientists for confusing "healthy self-esteem" with narcissism, argues that "self-esteem is more than just feeling good about yourself. It's about being socially and individually responsible."

Still, it's a popular product. "People contact us daily saying they need help with their self-es­teem," says Mr. Hawkins, who notes the widespread use of the "Esteem Builders" program in K-12 education.

Amid the ashes of self-esteem, the APS team finds one benefit: High self-esteem makes you happier. But that jolly outcome ensues whether your self-esteem is justified or delusional.

As we persist in praising children even for mediocre work and trivial accomplishments, I can't resist ending with a plea from the APS scientists: "Psychologists should reduce their own self-esteem a bit and humbly resolve that next -time they will wait for a more thorough and solid empirical basis before making policy recommendations to the American public."

Published in the Science Journal section of the Wall Street Journal, 2003

Enough Already With Kid Gloves 

By Christina Hoff Sommers

Purple is replacing red as the color of choice for teachers. Why, you may ask? It seems that educators worry that emphatic red corrections on a homework assignment or test can be stressful, demeaning — even "frightening" for a young person. The principal of Thaddeus Stevens Elementary in Pittsburgh advises teachers to use only "pleasant-feeling tones."

Major pen manufacturers appear to agree. Robert Silberman, vice president of marketing at Pilot Pen, says teachers "are trying to be positive and reinforcing rather than harsh." Michael Finn, a spokesperson for Paper Mate, approves: "This is a kinder, more gentle education system." Which color is best for children? Stephen Ahle, principal at Pacific Rim Elementary in Carlsbad, Calif., offers lavender "because it is a calming color."

A calmer, gentler grading color? Are schoolchildren really so upset by corrections in primary red? Why have teachers become so careful?

It seems that many adults today regard the children in their care as fragile hothouse flowers who require protection from even the remote possibility of frustration, disappointment or failure. The new solicitude goes far beyond blacklisting red pens. Many schools now discourage or prohibit competitive games such as tag or dodge ball. The rationale: too many hurt feelings. In May 2002, for example, the principal of Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica, Calif., sent a newsletter to parents informing them that children could no longer play tag during the lunch recess. As she explained, "In this game, there is a 'victim' or 'It,' which creates a self-esteem issue."

Is anything OK?

Which games are deemed safe and self-affirming? The National PTA recommends a cooperative alternative to the fiercely competitive "tug of war" called "tug of peace." Some professionals in physical education advocate activities in which children compete only with themselves, such as juggling, unicycling, pogo sticking, and even "learning to ... manipulate wheelchairs with ease."

But juggling, too, poses risks.

A former member of The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports suggests using silken scarves rather than, say, uncooperative tennis balls that lead to frustration and anxiety. "Scarves," he points out, "are soft, non-threatening, and float down slowly."

Is the kind of overprotectiveness these educators counsel really such a bad thing? Sooner or later, children will face stressful situations, disappointments and threats to their self-esteem. Why not shield them from the inevitable as long as possible? The answer is that children need challenge, excitement and competition to flourish. To treat them as combustible bundles of frayed nerves does them no favors.

Anthony Pellegrini, a professor of early childhood education at the University of Minnesota, has done careful studies on playground dynamics. I asked him what he thought of the national movement against games such as tag and dodge ball: "It is ridiculous. Even squirrels play chase."

Children who are protected from frank criticism written in "harsh" colors are gravely shortchanged. In the global economy that awaits them, young Americans will be competing with other young people from all parts of the world whose teachers do not hesitate to use red pens. What is driving the new solicitude?

Too many educators, parents and camp counselors today are obsessed with boosting the self-esteem of the children in their care. These adults not only refrain from criticizing their young charges when they perform badly, they also take pains to praise them even when they've done nothing to deserve it.

But two decades of research have failed to show a significant connection between high self-esteem and achievement, kindness, or good personal relationships. Unmerited self-esteem, on the other hand, is known to be associated with antisocial behavior — even criminality. Nevertheless, most of our national institutions and organizations that deal with children remain fixated on self-esteem.

The Girl Scouts of America recently launched a major campaign "to address the problem of low self-esteem among 8- to 14-year-old girls." (Never mind that there is no good evidence these girls suffer a self-esteem deficit.) With the help of a $2.65 million grant from Unilever (a major corporation that owns products such as Lipton and Slim Fast), its new program, "Uniquely ME!," asks girls to contemplate their own "amazing" specialness. Girls are invited to make collages celebrating themselves. They can play a getting-to-know-me game called a "Me-O-Meter."

Uniquely ridiculous

One normally thinks of the Girl Scouts as an organization that fosters self-reliance and good citizenship. Me-O-Meters? How does that promote self-reliance? And is self-absorption necessarily good for young people?

Yes, say the mental health experts at Girl Scout Research Center. The Uniquely ME! pamphlet tells its young readers, "This booklet is designed to help boost your self-esteem by celebrating YOU and your uniqueness. ... Having high self-esteem ... can help you lead a more successful life."

The authors of Uniquely ME! and the executives at Unilever who funded it should take a careful look at an article in the January issue of Scientific American that debunks the self-esteem movement. ("Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth.") The authors, four prominent academic psychologists, conclude, "We have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today's children or adults, just for being themselves, offers society any compensatory benefits beyond the seductive pleasure it brings to those engaged in the exercise."

The good intentions or dedication of the self-esteem educators and Scout leaders are not in question. But their common sense is. With few exceptions, the nation's children are mentally and emotionally sound. They relish the challenge of high expectations. They can cope with red pens, tug of war and dodge ball. They can handle being "It."

Reprinted from USA Today.  Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the co-author of One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance.

The Praise Craze 

Children are getting too much flattery and not enough moral instruction.
By Dan Mack
Even at age 12, Chris is a skilled basketball player. He scores at will for his recreational league team -- but he doesn't get many assists, because he's a ball hog. His teammates sulk during games, waiting for passes that never come. Parents watching from courtside aren't too pleased, either, except for Chris's stepfather, Mike, whose pleasure in the boy's performance is undimmed even when a parent complains to him about Chris's selfishness. Mike later confides to the father of another player that he's not going to talk to Chris about trying to be a more generous player. His stepson has a learning disability, Mike says, "and this is the only place where he can shine."
Mike didn't know it, but he was providing grist for his interlocutor's next book. Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist at Harvard's School of Education and the Kennedy School of Government, recounts the anecdote about Chris's over solicitous stepfather in "The Parents We Mean to Be." ("The Parents We Mean to Be," By Richard Weissbourd, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 241 pages, $25)  It is just one of many illustrative stories that Mr. Weissbourd has gathered over the past two decades. He and his assistants -- including two high-school students, who presumably had good rapport with other teenagers -- surveyed three Boston-area high schools, conducted focus groups, made "informal observations" of families in cities across the country, and interviewed sports coaches, teachers and mental-health professionals.
What did Mr. Weissbourd's research tell him? That nowadays "well-intentioned adults undermine children's moral and emotional development."  Parents have abandoned the "moral task" of rearing children, he says, and are more concerned about fostering their happiness than their goodness. Therapeutic interaction takes precedence over moral instruction; intimacy is maintained at the cost of authority.
"Blaming peers and popular culture lets adults off the hook," Mr. Weissbourd writes. "The parent-child relationship is at the center of the development of all the most important moral qualities, including honesty, kindness, loyalty, generosity, a commitment to justice, the capacity to think through moral dilemmas, and the ability to sacrifice for important principles."
Among the trends that Mr. Weissbourd finds particularly harmful is the fixation of parents on building "self-esteem" (the "praise craze," as he calls it). A psychologist he talks to tells him that by age 12 some children have been so over praised that they regard compliments as implicit criticism: Empty flattery must be compensating for their lack of talent or be meeting a need for extra encouragement. Other children become "praise sponges," Mr. Weissbourd says. In either case, he wonders, what's so great about self-esteem? "Though some violent children have high self-esteem, the self that is being esteemed is immature, incapable of empathy."
“Children's moral development is decided by many factors, including not only media and peer influences but their genetic endowment, birth order, gender, and how these different factors interact.”
                        Excerpt from "The Parents We Mean to Be"

Mr. Weissbourd is also dismayed by many parents who put subtle but unrelenting pressure on their children for academic and extracurricular achievement. He talks to a 16-year-old who says that his parents make an elaborate display of saying that his getting into a "high-status school" is not important to them, that they just want him to learn and be happy. "But then they pay for SAT prep courses and expensive college counselors," the boy says. "There's already huge pressure on me to achieve." Parental hypocrisy and insincerity do not constitute moral guidance.
Mr. Weissbourd rightly identifies the praise craze and the achievement obsession as a reflection of parental status anxiety. It seems that the more successful parents are, the more likely they are to worry about their children's possible failure to live up to that success. One of the author's most arresting contentions is that the children of immigrants "fare better than their American-born counterparts" in almost every measure of mental and moral health. American-born parents would have a lot to learn from immigrants, Mr. Weissbourd insists. They are comfortable with imposing authority and discipline, and they are optimistic about their children's future.
As a psychologist, Mr. Weissbourd is at his best when he analyzes the all too familiar phenomenon of the overzealous sports parent. In a high-school cafeteria, the author sat in on a meeting between about 30 parents and a sports consultant, who was warning them about becoming over involved. A parent raised his hand and made a confession: "I remember my son's last day playing youth soccer. The game was over, and I remember standing out on the field and thinking to myself: 'What am I going to do with my life?' " The first step toward moral education for kids, Mr. Weissbourd says, is for parents to separate their own needs from their children's and to start regarding parenthood as an opportunity for their own moral growth.
Good advice. But parental self-awareness is hardly more than a baby step on the path toward producing tomorrow's productive and caring adults. Mr. Weissbourd identifies some of the more daunting barriers to healthy enculturation -- among them the breakdown of the two-parent family and the decay of standards for public and private behavior -- but he never really gets beyond superficial solutions to these vexing social problems. Urging pediatricians to encourage fathers to attend their children's check-ups, or suggesting that ministers "ask noncustodial fathers how many times they have seen their child in the last month," is unlikely to convert legions of estranged fathers into engaged parents.
The methodology employed in "The Parents We Mean to Be" similarly does not inspire confidence. We hear about Mr. Weissbourd's interviews and surveys, but the book offers few quantitative results or analyses. Much of the evidence of parental incompetence is anecdotal -- even, as with the story of ball-hogging Chris and his stepfather, based on people that Mr. Weissbourd happened to run into. His stories will no doubt resonate with many readers -- who among us has not encountered an oppressively sports-minded father or an Ivy League-obsessed mother? -- but such vignettes do not add up to a firm sociological thesis.
Mr. Weissbourd also tends to gloss over the institutional failures that have driven many parents to passionate advocacy for their children: the failure of public schools, for example, to uphold high academic and behavioral standards. The influence of the media and celebrity culture on children's mores and material expectations is also far more profound than Mr. Weissbourd would admit. And just who is ultimately responsible for the excesses of the self-esteem craze -- parents or the psychologists and educators whose books parents read for advice?
One effect of parents' over-involvement in their children's' lives has been the demise of those arenas of childhood that were once inviolably the province of children themselves: unsupervised play, neighborhood baseball games and other settings where children first exercised their moral imaginations and were forced to cope independently with their own shortcomings. Parents who lament this turn of events may welcome Lenore Skenazy's "Free-Range Kids," which, like Mr. Weissbourd's book, argues that adults should not always try to protect children from failure.  (“Free-Range Kids," By Lenore Skenazy, Jossey-Bass, 225 pages, $24.95)
Ms. Skenazy, a humor columnist, believes we should give "our children the freedom we had without going nuts with worry." She lampoons safety-obsessed parents who see a threat-filled world, from metal baseball bats and raw cookie dough to Halloween-candy poisoners and kidnappers. She advises turning off the news, avoiding experts and boycotting baby knee pads "and the rest of the kiddie safety-industrial complex."
“I really think I'm someone like you: A parent who is afraid of some things (bears, cars) and less afraid of others (subways, strangers). But mostly I'm afraid that I, too, have been swept up in the impossible obsession of our era: total safety for our children every second of every day.”
Excerpt from "Free-Range Kids"
Ms. Skenazy gained a certain national notoriety after she wrote a column about allowing her 9-year-old son to ride the New York City subways by himself. Even parents fed up with our child-coddling culture might blanch at the thought of turning a third-grader loose on public transportation. But Ms. Skenazy will find plenty of supporters for her contention that, in a world where the rights of chickens to roam freely are championed, it's time to liberate the kids.
This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal.  Ms. Mack is the author of "The Assault on Parenthood" (Encounter).

Guidelines For Going On The Road
By Coach Jamie Thomas

Swim team families look forward to February and March as the championship season.  Travel comes with the territory.  So, whether you're going to a qualifier or to nationals, you need a plan for going "on the road".  The length, usually three or more days, of these championship level meets can lead to a loss of that "great feeling" and cause performances to suffer.

The keys to a good road trip are:

1.  Eat the proper foods,
2.  Get plenty of rest, and
3.  Make the days as normal as possible.

The swimmer's diet should consist of low fat high carbohydrate foods.  Appropriate breakfast foods are pancakes, bagels, French toast, cereal, and fruits.  Pancakes and toast should be served without butter or margarine.  Syrup and jams are OK.  Drink low fat milk.

At lunch, avoid fried foods at fast food places.  Try a salad with a minimum of dressing or a potato with a minimum of butter.  Sandwiches with lean meat or skinless poultry are good.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are good and easy, but watch the peanut butter because it is high in fat.  Soup and crackers are also fine, but avoid cream-based soups.  Stay away from soft drinks and drink low fat milk or juices.

For dinner, choose restaurants that offer high carbohydrate items such as pasta, salads, rice, vegetables and fruits.  If you must have pizza, get one with a thicker crust and get low fat toppings like green peppers, onions, Canadian bacon or mushrooms.  Avoid fatty meats and extra cheese.

Why is it important to avoid fats during competition?  After a meal fats enter the blood stream where they temporarily cause red blood cells to bunch up or coagulate.
This in turn prevents oxygen carrying red blood cells from entering the tiniest capillaries – the very capillaries muscles depend on for oxygen.

Be nutrition conscious at all meals.  Remember:  don't sacrifice great performances by eating conveniently while on the road.

Understand that swim meets can be extra exhausting.  While away from the pool, swimmers need to rest and relax.  Napping between trials and finals is a good idea.

When swimming in an afternoon session, swimmers may sleep a little later than usual.  Do not allow swimmers to stay up late or run around socializing while at the hotel.  This wastes important rest time as well as disturbing others.

During "free time" on the road, swimmers and parents should avoid excessive talking about the meet, particularly anything negative.  Instead, think very positive thoughts for short periods of time.

Diet, rest, and attitude are keys to maintaining a "fresh feeling" through a tough, long meet.  Remember these guidelines when you are on the road and minimize the effect of road trips on performance.

Do We Really Want our Children Drinking Energy Drinks? 

I see parents walking into the swim meet with six packs of it.  I see the spent cans and empty colorful little plastic bottles under the bleachers where the swimmers are sitting and wonder, “Why?”

What’s the point of all the swim and mental training we do?  Isn’t the point of it all to establish the life skill of understanding the relationship between fitness, work, setting of goals, and achievement?  Where do the perceived shortcuts offered by energy drinks enter into the equation?  What part of the training do they represent?Certainly these shortcuts do not fall under the category of good nutrition.

Shortcuts are NOWHERE in my equation.  Goals + work + fitness + proper nutrition ==> achievement.  I hate the commercials that imply otherwise.

Unfortunately, the mentality of many is, “why not?” and, “Hey, everyone else is doing it.”

Well, aside from the philosophical issues involved there are also potential health issues.  This alone should scare every coach and every parent into saying “NO!”  “No energy drinks, period.”  Run AWAY from them!

The respected journal Pediatrics published a “literature review” this past week and I have reprinted three related articles below which should, at the very least, raise a doubt in your mind about the potential health risks of energy drinks.

(And just so we are clear, even if these energy drinks were perfectly safe for the body, I would still be against their use as they are intended to defeat one of the most important aspects of life --  we WORK.  We work to achieve.  Shortcuts cheat us of our self-discipline, self-reliance and our-self esteem.)

Guy Edson

Energy Drinks May Harm Kids

Published February 15, 2011, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel

Energy drinks – many of which contain herbal supplements and up to five times the caffeine of a cola – might be quite harmful to children, according to a literature review published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.  Among the findings:

-          Caffeine in the drinks can exacerbate cardiac conditions especially in children with eating disorders) and interfere with calcium absorption and bone mineralization in young adolescents.

-          Additional ingredients may boost caffeine levels.

-          Extra calories in the drinks can contribute to diabetes, high body mass index and dental problems.

-          The drinks are unregulated in the U.S., and the number of overdoses of caffeine from drinking them are not known.  But in Germany, Ireland and New Zealand, officials have reported cases of liver damage, kidney failure, seizures, confusion and arrhythmias associated with energy drink use.

The authors concluded that energy drinks don’t have a therapeutic benefit to kids, and they urged pediatricians to ask patients about their energy drink consumption and let them know about potential dangers.

Energy Drinks May Be Risky For Some With Health Problems, Study Says

February 14, 2011 By Fred Tasker, The Miami Herald

Energy drinks packed with caffeine and sugar may pose serious health risks to users, especially children, adolescents and young adults, according to a study by the University of Miami School of Medicine reported Monday in the online version of Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The study, co-written by Dr. Steven Lipshultz, chief of pediatrics at the UM medical school, says the drinks "have no therapeutic benefit, and many ingredients are understudied and not regulated."

An 8-ounce can of Rockstar energy drink has twice the caffeine of a 14-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola, the study notes.

The energy drink industry disputes the study's findings: "This literature review does nothing more than perpetuate misinformation about energy drinks, their ingredients and the regulatory process," said Dr. Maureen Storey, senior vice president of science policy for the American Beverage Association, in an e-mailed response.

According to Lipshultz, the drinks pose special risks for children with diabetes, ADHD, undiagnosed heart problems and other problems.

Study: Energy drinks could pose serious health risks to children

Kelly Brewington of the Baltimore Sun, February 15, 2011
Packed with harmful levels of caffeine, energy drinks offer no therapeutic benefit and may put some children and young adults at risk of health problems, according to a study published today in the journal Pediatrics. 
Energy drink overdose -- causing a small body to ingest too much caffeine and ingredients such as taurine and guarana -- could lead to stroke, seizure and even sudden death, particularly in youth with health problems such as diabetes, cardiac abnormalities or behavior disorders, the study found.
Because the drinks are marketed as nutritional supplements, they aren't subject to the same caffeine limits on soft drinks or the safety testing of medicines, the authors write. And many drinks include ingredients that aren't regulated or haven't been sufficiently studied, they said.
Researchers at the University of Miami came to their conclusions after a review of published articles -- from medical journals, newspapers and trade publications.
Young people make up about half of the huge energy drink market and somewhere between 30 percent to 50 percent of adolescents report consuming energy drinks, according to background information in the study. Since energy drinks are often marketed to young people, doctors should screen their young patients for their use and work to educate parents and children of the potential harms, the authors write.
Folks at the American Beverage Association told the AP that the report is simply spreading misinformation.
Nevertheless, researchers have expressed concerns about the high levels of caffeine in such drinks before. I wrote a few years back about a Johns Hopkins study in which the author said the drinks should come with labels warning of the possible health risks.
The new study comes on the heels of some local governments banning caffeine-infused alcohol drinks, after federal warnings that they pose health risks. While this study doesn't specifically take on this class of drinks, it mentions that coupling energy drinks with alcohol could only intensify the risks.
Two Practices Each Day… The Argument for Morning Training

By John Leonard
One of regular questions we get in the American Swimming Coaches Association offices is in relation to the importance and effectiveness of swimmers attending morning workouts.  To our knowledge, no reliable scientific research exists to support or discredit this practice.  On the other hand, anecdotal evidence and the history of swim training provides a rich resource of information. 
Double workouts per day have been around for at least 6 decades in our sport.  Typically they are used with teenage athletes and not with pre-teens. The primary purpose is to allow for an increased volume of training. If the team already provides unlimited time in the afternoon practice, there is still an advantage to having two shorter workouts which allows for great intensity in each workout, rather than a longer and less intense session in one training bout in the PM.
A typical pattern over time might be (during the school year) one AM session before school at age 13.  At age 14, two AM sessions per week and at ages 15 and older, 3 AM sessions per week. Plenty of teams use 4 or even 5 AM sessions during the school year. The operative question concerns balancing the young athletes’ need for sleep, rest and recovery versus adding a progressively larger training load.
Many good programs in the USA train twice daily during the summer (non-school) vacation period. 
Historically, coaches report significant gains from athletes who begin a two workout a day regimen.  Also, athletes and coaches tell us that it takes 3-6 weeks for the young bodies to adjust to the change in schedule and then it becomes much easier to “get up and get going” in the morning, with some athletes even preferring the school day where they have been “awake and moving” for 2-3 hours before school.
Length of morning practice varies wildly from 1 to 2 plus hours in each session.
Swimmers are typically good students, perhaps partly because the training schedule forces them to “do it now” when it comes to studying and not procrastinate.  Certainly many hundreds of thousands of young people over the 6 plus decades that this practice has been common have been successful in getting good grades, training twice per day and getting their rest. To think that “today’s children” are any less capable of doing so, is supremely disrespectful of their capabilities.
Finally, it is important to note that many excellent programs exist and thrive on only one outstanding workout per day. There is no magic to “having to have” two workouts a day to succeed. American Swimmers have proven that they can succeed under any variety of training conditions.
Conducting two workouts per day for your team is neither the “holy grail” of training, nor is it an option to be feared. It’s been successful in the USA for many years, fitting into our educational system for young people. It’s also “not the only road to success.”
All the Best for Good Swimming,
John Leonard

Should Age Group Swimmers do Weight Training? 

“My daughter is 10 years old and not very strong. Should she be involved with a weight training program at this age?

From the editorial Staff at ASCA:  First, let’s be clear on what we mean by “weight training” or “resistance training” or “strength training” – all are used interchangeably in the literature and in popular usage.  While there is no official definition of weight training, to most people it implies the lifting of heavy weights.  Visions come to mind of a red-faced and straining athlete with arms quivering attempting just one more repetition of a weight loaded barbell during a bench press.  There is a place for this type of training, but probably not with most children under the age of pubescence.

Weight training is, in fact, a very broad term encompassing use of all types of equipment from no equipment at all – body weight exercises (calisthenics) -- to stretch cords, to medicine balls, to dumbbells, to machines, etc..  A better term for weight training in our swimming world is “dryland training.” 

Dryland training is a crucial part of a swimming program for all ages.  With the decline of quality physical education in many parts of the country we are now seeing children with poorly developed basic skills such as balance, proprioceptive ability, and coordination.  Dryland training can help build these skills as well as help swimmers improve strength.

Let’s look at the strength component of dryland training as this is the area many parents have concerns over safety and injuries.

Research has shown that weight training carries the same risk for children as it does for adults, no more and no less.  The majority of injuries come from overreaching with too much weight or from accidents from dropped weights or overcrowded conditions.  Reports of damaged growth plates from lifting heavy weights have been exaggerated, research shows.  However, caution is still important and pre-pubescent children should not be lifting to failure using weights which limits them to 6 repetitions or less.  Use less weight, more reps; at least 8 to 10.

Age 7 and under’s can do basic exercises with little or no weight, calisthenics, and balance and coordination exercises.  Learning proper technique is very important. Children 8 to 10 can increase the number of exercises and add a bit of weight.  1 to 2 pound Dumbbells are highly recommended as they require balance and each side of the body to do its own work.  11 to 13 year olds continue to add exercises, improve technique, and add resistance.  Noted major league baseball trainer Vern Gambetta says he can make a professional athlete wince using only 15 pound dumbbells – surely our 11 – 13 year olds can receive significant results with much less than 10 pound weights.

There are hundreds of light resistance exercises available for the coach to prescribe to prepubescent children without danger of injury.  We believe that a well balanced, well supervised, and progressive dryland program is beneficial to a young swimmer’s total fitness as well as long term swimming success.

Portions of this article refer to material from Drs. Kraemer and Fleck’s Strength Training for Young Athletes and Dr. Ernie Maglischo’s Training Age Group and Masters Swimmers.

Workouts and the Common Cold 

When swimmers show signs of a common cold should they continue to practice? 

Sometimes over ambitious swimmers, coaches, and parents choose to treat a cold as a simple inconvenience and push on toward that all important qualifier meet in February.

Using common sense with the common cold is the best policy.  Some "colds" may be far more serious infections waiting to become more intense as stress increases and resistance weakens.

Anthony Verde, PhD, exercise physiologist at the Sports Medicine Center in Wayne, Pennsylvania, stated in the June 1990 issue of The Physician and Sportsmedicine,  "You have a good chance of turning a cold into something more severe by exercising with any intensity during the incubation stage."

However, in the same article, Harvey Simon, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School provides the following advice to physicians, "Try to reassure your patients that colds and exercise do not interact in major ways.  If anything, anecdotal evidence says that some athletes feel better exercising with colds. This would make sense because exercise can increase mucus flow, which might provide relief for upper respiratory tract symptoms."

Edward Eichner, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma and an editorial board member of The Physician and Sportsmedicine has found that physicians who regularly treat athletes with colds use the following guidelines:  (Also from the June 1990 issue of The Physician and Sportsmedicine.)

"If the symptoms are located above the neck (runny nose, sneezing, scratchy throat), then exercise is safe...[however] athletes should not exercise with below‑the‑neck symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and hacking cough with sputum production."

Some parents wonder if it is permissible for swimmers to participate in dryland activities and avoid the water during colds.  In fact, breathing the super humid air at the water surface may help relieve cold symptoms.  So long as athletes do not have a fever, history of serious virus infections of which the cold may just be the beginning of, or feel weak and lethargic, a light to moderate swimming workout may be beneficial.  The Swim Parents Newsletter editorial staff recommends the conservative policy of always checking with your family physician and encourages swimmers, coaches, and parents to remember that an upcoming qualifying meet is not as important as a child's opportunity to recover from a cold.

A National Age Group Championships for the USA? 

By John Leonard
About once every twenty years, there is a renegade attempt by someone to create a National Age Group Championship meet.  I say “renegade” because the overwhelming majority of parents and coaches in the USA have more sense than to consider this concept as a potential reality.  It was discussed circa 1975 and again at the end of the 80’s, both times by well-meaning but misguided parents and coaches, and again in 2010, this time led by a few coaches with motives that I cannot begin to discern, but I would not be surprised if making money was involved.
The lunacy of a National Age Group Championship is probably clear to most.
The “bottom ten” below illustrates just the starting point of the arguments against this concept.
1.                  Young age group children do not need the extreme pressure of swimming in something titled “National Age Group Championship.”
2.                  Parents without sufficient experience to understand the negative long term consequences of the pressure above, or indeed, their own role in creating it, will do massive unintentional damage to the long term prospects for their child’s swimming career.
3.                   The “hoopla” of flying across the country, staying in a hotel and swimming in a multi-day “big meet” is certainly a fun experience at age 10-11-12-13 or 14. Then what do we do at 17-18 or college -- compete in a meet in Europe?  Too much, too soon.  Most young people’s first automobile is not a Mercedes -- for good reason.
4.                  Where a child has “early success” in a major meet like this will put them in the straight-jacket of “You’re a butterflier!” far too many years before anything like that really becomes apparent.  Button-holing will keep many potentially great careers from ever happening.
5.                  The financial pressure on age group families to travel across the country to swim meets, completely distorts the values of the sport.
6.                  Ill-informed coaches who can be highly pressured by success-seeking parents and children, will use training tactics with those children that will bring immediate success and long term disillusionment and boredom with the sport.
7.                  Is a high school swimming career of interest to a youngster who ALREADY has been to a “national age group championship”?  The very important “stepping stone” effect of our current sport structure would be lost.
8.                  Ditto for “swimming in college”. The allure of “big meets” is long gone in a jaded 18 year old who has already “been there and done that”.
9.                  We create “has-beens” of a lot of potentially wonderful young people who happen to be “early physical developers” and we “dismiss” the late developers who regularly become our later national and Olympic champions as adults. If they are “dismissed” as unimportant early in their careers, they will disappear and we’ll not have a chance to develop their gifts at the mature age. The devastating effect on the “has been” who says “I was really GOOD at 12, I won a National Age Group Championship!” is profound and negates many of the good values our sport promotes.
10.                We encourage abusive practices of all sorts to make age group athletes into “mini-champions” and thus encourages all the negative behaviors possible in youth sports.  Once you’re on TV at age 12, what’s left to excite you?
THAT SAID, what is the appropriate progression for a young swimmer?  It’s pretty much exactly as it is now.
1.                  An age group career should be focused on local or at most, State-wide competition. Compete locally and compete several times a month and LEARN THE SPORT.
2.                  Step up to the High School Swim Team, where peer group rewards are available and the swimmer becomes more recognized as a great student athlete within the local and state boundaries.
3.                  Step up once again to exciting comrade-ship and faster swimming in college, at conference and now, national championships, where the national experience is meaningful, mature and rewarding.
That, after all, is what has made the American Swimming Program the envy of the world (and unduplicate-able elsewhere) for 100 years.  Keep it intact. It’s not close to broken…just the opposite, it’s ideal.

Setting Goals: The Parent, Coach, Athlete Relationship 

Setting goals and working toward those goals is one of the most important life skills our young swimmers learn.  What are the benefits of goal setting? What is the goal setting process?  What are the respective roles of parents and coaches?

In the American Swimming Coaches Association and USA Swimming’s Foundations of Coaching Course these benefits of goal setting are listed: 

1.  goals challenge swimmers, giving them something to work toward
2.  goals direct swimmers to develop their skills
3.  goals provide a means of evaluating a swimmer’s progress and offer opportunities for success for the athlete.

Simply put, goals give direction and meaning to the day to day workout routine. 

The goal setting process begins with a review of current achievements.  What are the swimmer’s best times?  Next, what significant and attainable goals can be worked for over a reasonable time frame.  Goals can be related to a time standard or to a competitive achievement.  In general, younger swimmers should have a shorter time frame and the goals should be time based.  Older swimmers may have the patience to set longer range goals that may be two, three, or four years away and often those goals are based more on a competitive result rather than a pure time. 

Too often swimmer’s concentrate only on the “outcome goal” and not enough on “performance goals.”  An outcome goal might be “to qualify for senior nationals in the 400 IM in the summer of 2011.”  Related performance goals might include:  “Increase practice attendance to 9 times per week,” ”improve my 200 breaststroke time by three seconds,” “lose 5 pounds by May 1st by  eliminating empty carbohydrate snacks,” and “increase my freestyle stroke rate from 1.3 seconds per stroke to 1.1 in the 400 IM.”  Some people refer to performance goals as “objectives.”

Both outcome goals and performance goals should be specific and time framed.  Specific means quantifiable – it can be measured.  Time framed means there should be a target date for achieving the goal or objective.  Goals should be flexible because stuff happens that we cannot predict and the course may need to be altered.

The positive role of parents is vital.  The three elements of good parenting in the goal setting process are:

1.  Parents encourage their children to set goals. 
2.  Parents ask their children what their children’s goals are. (But do not set their goals for them.)
3.  Parent ask their children how they are progressing toward their goals – especially performance goals.
4.  Parents provide emotional support for their children as they pursue their goals.
5.  Parents work with and support the coach for the interest of their children.

Coaches are the primary goal facilitators. They:

1.  Guide the swimmer to set realistic but challenging goals.
2.  Establish a timetable, or progression for reaching the goal.
3.  Discuss split times or other technical strategies for achieving the goal.
4.  Remind the swimmer of the relationship between workout performance and goal times at daily practices.
5.  Evaluate progress toward goals with the swimmer.
6.  Create team support for individual goals.

Learning to Prepare For Success 

By John Leonard

As I write this in late December in Fort Lauderdale, the air temperature is a “balmy” 42 degrees….well, balmy if you’re from Green Bay, Wisconsin, maybe. Here in South Florida, that’s a cold wave. We swim outside, and the water temperature is 75 degrees as the heaters can’t keep up when the air is this cold. The wind-chill factor, according to Channel 7, is…well, we don’t want to know the wind-chill with a nice brisk 20 mile an hour wind coming off the Everglades. 

My phone rings at 5 AM  and a small voice on the other end asks plaintively, “do we really have swim practice, Coach John?”  Yes, we really do.

“WHY?” Is the next question, which I wrestle with myself on the 15 minute drive to the pool…. Why put teenagers in the water on this cold and nasty morning  when both they and I would prefer to stay snuggled in at home for another hour or hour and a half? 

Now, I KNOW why, but can I express it to my swimmers? Yes, I’ll try. Everyone, on the day after the high school state meet, vows that “next year” they will A) make a final, B) Make the meet C) win an event or D) write in your own goal here.

It’s easy to vow to do something the day after, when you are excited, full of the promise of life and get up and go.  It’s a lot harder to REMEMBER what you wanted to do a couple months ago when it’s 5 AM and cold outside. Then it’s a lot harder and a lot easier to rationalize, “it’s just one workout.” 

The problem is, when teenagers begin to learn to rationalize, they get really good at it really fast, and pretty soon, the ACTION required to fulfill the commitments to those goals, falls prey to the rationalization. And after you rationalize the decision you want to make the first time, it’s so much easier to do it the next time, and the time after that, and pretty soon, the goal is just a dream, because you’re rationalized yourself into thinking “I’d like to do that if everything could be perfect for me, and it would never be cold in the morning, or no social events would ever conflict with practice,  and time with my friends always went the way I want it to. “

But things never go perfectly. The ONLY thing you can successfully predict is that obstacles to your goal WILL come up, and little or nothing will go smoothly. And that consistency in preparation is the only way to raise the percentages of the chance you will reach your goal.   

Read that again…  ”raise the percentages of the chance…” Not a guarantee. If it’s a good goal, there are no guarantees, EXCEPT that if you don’t prepare correctly, according to the plan, you won’t raise your chance of success, you’ll lower it. 

So why go to practice at 5 AM in the cold? Because its part of the plan, and it raises your chance of success. But most of all, because you have told yourself that you will commit to doing it. And if you let yourself down, who won’t you let down?  Prepare for a chance for success. And feel really good about doing that.

Because not very many people do.  

All the Best, JL

Practice Objectives And Routines - What To Expect Notes to Parents from the Coaching Staff
Practices for our advanced age group swimmers are planned in advance based upon short term and long term goals.  Short term goals are usually eight weeks to 26 weeks in time and revolve around increasing the quantity of work, improving the quality (times) achieved in practice, skill development, and progressing towards competition time standards.  Long term goals can be summarized by simply saying we are preparing the children for higher levels of practice ability and higher levels of competition.

There is another aspect of practices beyond the improvement of physical abilities.  We strive to teach and to provide opportunities for young people to learn responsibility, self reliance, team support, ability to face challenges, and satisfaction from meeting and exceeding challenges.

In general, on some days we focus on developing aerobic ability.  Practices range from 3000 yards to 6000 yards in 90 minutes depending on ability.  The practice is divided into "sets" of swims lasting 10 minutes to, sometimes, one hour.  Within the set we will do a series of distances ranging from 25 yards to 1000 yards non-stop; for example, 12 times 100 yard freestyle leaving every 1 minute and 40 seconds.  We work on all strokes during the course of a workout.  We teach the swimmers to read a pace clock, to calculate their times, and to swim with control.  Most sets are designed so that swimmers will descend (go faster) with each swim.  Learning to use the pace clock and report their times to the coach helps the swimmers become accountable and to focus on their efforts.  Coaches also make stroke corrections between swims.

In general, on other days, we do extended dryland work, then warm up swimming, then stroke drills, and then race pace or sprint work.  These days are shorter in yardage, typically 2000 to 3000 yards, but very intense on quality of times as swimmers are challenged to achieve and exceed race pace times.  It’s not unusual to also do relays or possibly a game that improves speed, coordination, and team dynamics on these days as well.

Bottom line:  We seek to create an environment where children are challenged, happy, and improving.

Thoughts About Leadership In the Pool

Coach Mark Schubert:  "If you want to raise the level of your team, you have to center your workout around the best swimmers on the team.  You don't ignore the other swimmers, but you tailor the workouts to challenge the best swimmers, so the others tag along and raise their level.  You can set tough intervals, and adjust the way the sets are done for slower swimmers, but you certainly don't motivate the better swimmers by having them go a lesser workout centered around the majority of the team.  I also feel that by giving extra attention to the better swimmers, you motivate the lesser swimmers to strive to be better, so they get that attention.  As you gradually raise the team level, you will have people breaking through and challenging the good swimmers."

Coach Ira Klein of the Sarasota Swim Academy says it's natural that kids who lead lanes get more time between repeats for valuable feedback from the coach, and that the prospect of earning such attention motivates more kids to take a leadership position in practice, rather than habitually swimming in the back of the loop.

Some coaches, such as Chris Martin formerly with the Peddie School and now with the British National Swim Team, starts sets concurrently at both ends of the pool in order to create twice as many "leaders."

Playing Favorites
By John Leonard

One day a few years ago, a club board member accused me of “having favorites” on our club team. Several other parent board members nodded their heads in agreement The implication was that this was a terrible sin. When I was a younger coach, I thought it was terrible also. And he was right. I did have favorites. My favorites were those athletes who most fervently did what I asked of them. Those that did, I gave more attention to. I talked to them more. I spent more time teaching them. I also expected more of them.

The implication that he was making was that my favorites got better than the others because they were my favorites, and that was somehow unfair. He mistook cause for effect.

The fact is, that the athletes who came to me ready to learn, ready to listen, ready to act on what they learned and try it my way -- even if it was more challenging and more difficult than they imagined -- were ready to get more out of our program. And they were my favorites.

As a coach, I have only one thing to offer to an athlete. That is, my attention. Which means that I attend to their needs. The reward for good behavior should be attention . . . attending to their needs. The consequence of inattention, lack of effort, unwillingness or unreadiness to learn or just plain offensive or disruptive behavior is my inattention to that athlete.

How could it be other than this? If you have three children, and you spend all of your time and energy working with the one that is badly behaved, what does that tell your other two children? It tells them that to capture your attention, they should behave badly. What we reward, is what we get.

As a coach, I want athletes who are eager to learn, eager to experiment to improve, and eager to work hard. I want athletes who come to me to help develop their skills both mental and physical, and are willing to accept what I have to offer. Otherwise, why have they come to me? And I am going to reward that athlete with my attention. In so doing, I encourage others to become like the athlete above. If I spent my time with the unwilling, the slothful, the disruptive, I would only be encouraging that behavior.

The link I want to forge is between attention and excellence. Excellence in the sense of achieving all that is possible, and desired. My way of forging that, is to provide my attention to those who “attend” to me. This does, of course, result in increased performance for those that do so. I am a professional coach, and when I pay attention to a person, that person is going to improve. Over time, this makes it appear that my “favorites” are the better swimmers. Not so at all. The better swimmers are those that pay attention, and thus become my favorites.

What the above mentioned board member didn’t realize is that you must have favorites if anyone is to develop in a positive fashion. The coach’s job is to reward those who exhibit positive developmental behaviors. Those are my “favorites,” and they should be.

Self-Esteem Lie 

by Laura Caler*

We tell kids all the time that “there are no dumb questions.” Okay, I’m here to do something shocking. I’m going to tell the truth. A lot of people may not like this, but I don’t care because it needs to be said:

There ARE dumb questions. Yes kids. Sometimes, you ask really dumb questions. And it hurts me physically when you do this.

Where did we go wrong in society that we are so concerned about self-esteem that we ignore the truth? We tell kids LIES to make them feel better. How is this helping them? 

“That’s okay Ashley, your answer wasn’t exactly right. But you were close. Good job.”

Okay, Ashley, I’m going to lay it out all honest like for ya: YOU WERE WRONG. As a matter of fact, you weren’t even close. Yes, I appreciate you trying, but you were still wrong, and still not even close.

“Ms. C, do I have to do this assignment like everyone else since I have a basketball game tonight? I’m going to go pro someday, so I have to play in this game. I won’t have time to do your assignment.”

Liar Me: “No, you don’t. You try hard every day, and we all know sports are more important than your school work. You take all the time you need. And I can tell you will be a pro basketball player some day. You are WONDERFUL!”

Real Me: “Yes. You do. I realize you have a game, but I don’t care about that. What I care about is you getting in your assignment so that you can LEARN something, just in case your plan of going pro doesn’t pan out. Because I’ve seen you play. And you need to study.”

Okay, so maybe Real Me doesn’t actually say all that. More of a combination of the two, because there is no call to be mean.

But when my daughter breaks something of mine, I don’t say, “Oh honey, that’s okay. Look at all the wonderful new shapes and colors you’ve created by dropping Mommy’s very expensive bottle of perfume on my new carpet. Aren’t YOU the creative one?!”

Nope. It goes more along the lines of this: “Don’t touch my stuff. It’s mine. Not yours. You’re grounded.” 

When did we become so concerned about children’s self-esteem that we LIE to them? How are we helping a child by constantly telling him how wonderful he is? Because let’s face it, the real world will not think he’s wonderful when he screws up. His boss is NOT going to pat him on the back and give him chance, after chance, after chance because he’s such a “good kid.” If he screws up, he will get fired. Because your boss doesn’t CARE about your self-esteem. 

I once had a student ask me if something she wrote was good. I assumed she wanted my honest opinion, so I told her where it was lacking and how she could improve. She said, “Wow. That hurts my self-esteem.”

I said, “Your self-esteem is not my problem. My concern is to make sure you have everything you need to graduate and succeed. Your self-esteem will grow the more you succeed. I won’t lie to you just to make you feel better. You know you’re a good person. You don’t need me to baby you.”

She said, “You’re right. That makes sense.”

And she didn’t run off crying about how I destroyed her self-esteem. Because I didn’t. But I was honest.

Now, I’m not saying we should tell kids they are horrible, or lazy, or rotten. Unless they are. Then yeah, it’s society’s job to make sure that they have are given the opportunity to CORRECT these things. If a child is a mean bully, and the kids at school hate him, don’t LIE to him and tell him he’s wonderful. Tell him he is mean, and this is why kids don’t want to play with him. Then show him ways to correct his behavior and make friends.

My oldest daughter is very, very bossy. I have NO idea where she gets this. And when she plays with her little friends, they tend to get upset, and want to go home early. Instead of coddling her, and telling her she’s a nice girl, and there is something wrong with the other girls, I tell her that she shouldn’t be so bossy. I explain that no one likes to play with bossy people, and that if she truly wants to keep her friends, she should tone it down. I let her know that she’s being mean when she is so bossy.

We are not doing kids these days any favors by lying to them about their character. We are so concerned that kids will grow up having poor self-esteem, that even when they’re bad, we tell them they are good. This is RIDICULOUS to me. 

“Oh, I know that man raped and killed 15 women, but I’m sure he’s got a good heart.” It’s ridiculous on this level. Yes it is. 

Call it like it is. Make children take responsibility for themselves or their actions. If a child is a liar, she shouldn’t be told she’s a “creative story teller.” She’s a liar.

If a child is a thief, he is not “resourceful.” Stealing is NOT just another word for sharing.

Oh, I know. I’ve probably hurt some of your feelings. Well good. We need to stop indulging the people of our society and start making them responsible individuals. When I screwed up, my parents called me on it. When I lied to them, they told me good people don’t lie. When I stole from them, they told me good people don’t steal. They taught me how to take responsibility for my own actions. They were not very concerned for my self-esteem. They were concerned about the adult I would become. And this meant teaching me painful lessons about myself. Lessons children MUST go through to become good people. 

This does not mean we don’t love our children. In fact, it means we DO love them. Because it shows we want what’s best for them. Lying to our children is not what’s best for them. Teaching them to be responsible people will only lead to their success. And this is what will contribute to their self-esteem. Because their self-esteem is their responsibility.  Not society’s.

Which Events Should Your Child Swim? 

Issue:  My 12 year old will be aging up before the end of the season and she needs every opportunity to make AAA times in her best events before then.  The coach, however, seems to have different ideas about the meets we attend and the events she swims.  I do not like the way the coach selects my child's meet and event schedule.

Response:  Rule number one for any concern regarding decisions made by the coach is to communicate directly with the coach at your earliest opportunity.  The coach may mention one or more of the following considerations:

1.  Age group swimmers should have an opportunity to experience all the official events for their age group.  In fact, many coaches would make a case for having intermediate to advanced age group swimmers also swim 200's of back, breast, and fly, as well as the 400 IM and distance freestyles.  BUT, there needs to be a balance found between the time and expense of driving to too many meets versus the larger objectives of a good age group program.  See numbers 2, 3, and 4 below. 

2.  Achievement should be viewed as career long and not dependent on a mid-season peak in coordination with a last meet effort before aging up.  A major push at end of an age group often leads to a letdown than can occur when the child ages up.  This discourages the steady and consistent progress that most coaches encourage in age group swimming.   Coaches plan careers around seasonal planning, not around birthdays.  The primary focus should be on preparing swimmers for the senior team and a secondary focus would be on end of season meets.

3.  A combined and unified team effort for end of the season meets is more important than allowing individual swimmers to "peak" for mid-season meets in order to achieve time standards or rankings.

4.  The coach is the technical expert of the team and the one with the best perspective for event selection.  Event selection often times deliberately includes the swimmer’s weakest events as a challenge, as an evaluation tool, as a change of focus, and/or as preparation for future events.   Frankly, parents and age group swimmers will not often choose events that offer difficult challenges, change the points of focus, or prepare the swimmer in a tactical way for future events.  This is a technical matter and best left to the technical expert – the coach.

Here are a few examples:  Distance oriented swimmers may be asked to swim sprint events in order to work on their speed.  (If the swimmer’s best time in the 100 meter free is 1:13 and they are trying to break 5 minutes in the 400 meter swim then they need the ability to go in 1:13 to 1:14 in the 400 and swimming the 100 gives them a chance to work on their “going out speed.”)

A swimmer who has been a good butterflyer for the last couple of years and has begun to be identified as a “flyer” by herself and friends and possibly parents, but then finds herself having difficulty improving in the fly events – perhaps due to changes in her body as she matures -- can find new motivation in the other events if given a chance to focus on something different.

One of the great core values of swimming is learning to meet difficult challenges with determination for success.  A good coach may deliberately schedule every 11 and 12 year old for the 200 meter butterfly in an upcoming meet and then prepare them for it physically and mentally in practice so that they may face the challenge with some courage.  It’s a great confidence builder.

…And building confidence comes not only from doing what one is good at, but from doing the uncomfortable and difficult.

Why is Swimming a Year Around Sport for Age Group Swimmers? 

First, at the competitive level a swimming athlete must train year around just to stay competitive with all the other athletes.  Swimming is both conditioning intensive and skill intensive.  Strength and endurance conditioning for swimming are not readily transferable from other sports or activities so they must be developed in the pool and in swimming specific dryland exercises.  Swimming skills are constantly being developed and refined throughout the swimmer’s career. 

Not all swimmers are at competitive levels so what is the point in training year around for them?  The simple answer is that a good swimming program provides far more than swimming skill development and improvements in strength and endurance — it provides active development of life skills.  By “active development” we mean planned —  not by accident and not by coincidence.  Coaches regularly stop practice to take advantage of teaching moments to demonstrate or discuss a life skill and we plan short 10 minute discussions on a variety of topics.  Life skills that are actively promoted by this team include responsibility, self-discipline, work ethic, coping with peer pressure to use drugs, time management, team commitment and loyalty, lifetime fitness, nutrition, setting and meeting goals, learning to extend themselves, challenges, cooperation, and goal setting.

We know through research that sport in and of itself does not build character or life skills.  These skills are developed by the influence of role models, the environment, and through a systematic, planned process.  Our staff does this all year around and it is a very compelling reason to keep your child in the water all year around.

Three Variables of a Swimmer’s Performance That Parents Contribute To 

By Jack Maddan, Head Coach and CEO of Hilton Head Aquatics

As we approach the midpoint of the short course season the athletes are realizing that they are on the path to reaching their goals or they need to make some wholesale changes. Each season presents another mountain to climb for each swimmer. The climb they have to make will depend on the level of success they achieved in the previous season. Success is a relative term and is different for each athlete and training group in the program. For one swimmer it might be to qualify for the State meet and for another it might be to make Olympic trials. Whatever the goal might be, each swimmer has to be willing to do more work than they did in the previous season.  And parents can help.

Parents put a lot of time, money and commitment into the sport. You assist in providing the best opportunity for your children to be successful in the pool. Coaches appreciate that. There are certain variables that you have a direct impact on that do affect the swimmers’ level of success.

One variable is practice attendance.  As a parent, we are asking you to support the coaching staff and encourage your swimmers to be at the number of practices required by the coach. If the swimmers are not making that requirement it is hard for them to benefit from the whole seasonal plan. This is critical because each coach has a daily, weekly and seasonal plan and missing out on that will hinder the overall success. This is different with each group, but as each swimmer moves within the program, the expectations become much greater.

Another set of variables are nutrition, rest and body changes. This is, for some people, the most sensitive area, but it is significant and should be addressed seriously.  As parents, if you are not providing your children with good fuel on a daily basis then over time they will not excel in practice. This starts the moment they enter the program.  If you start with good nutritional habits it makes it easier for them to sustain over the course of the season and to establish a healthy lifestyle in the long term. 

It is also imperative that each swimmer is getting adequate rest. When a swimmer is burning the candle at both ends this is where injuries and illness set in. When we have a day off, all swimmers should be wise about the decisions made so their bodies can recover properly.

The physiological factors that take place in athletes can impede or accelerate their progress. When a swimmer is growing, depending on how much they are growing, this can be a good or bad thing. Many swimmers struggle physically and mentally during this time.  The growth can make them stronger in the water or can cause them to be awkward because of growing too quickly. This is usually more typical in boys between the ages of 13-16.   For the girls, going through puberty affects body composition and proportions and can really mess up stroke techniques especially in butterfly and breaststroke.  , especially on the girl’s side.  In addition, girls go from an 11-14 year old with a lean body that recovers very quickly to a young woman’s body that takes longer to recover between workouts. This is where plateaus sometimes take place and can last up to several years. Parental support in a positive manner is a key component in helping them to wade through these waters.  There are two specific things a parent can do.  First, never allow a young swimmer to be identified as a stroke specialist – Be cautious in saying things like, “You’re my perfect little butterflyer,” or “You’ll be swimming the breaststroke in the 2020 Olympics.”  Secondly, focus comments on continual, long term improvement in all strokes.

One more variable:  parental support of the swimmer and coach. This should be the easiest one to control, but it is not always the case. Parents have only one role at a swim meet: support the swimmer and the coach to achieve the athlete’s goals. I think this is important to remember because sometimes the athlete and parent have different goals.  

These are the comments a coach would most appreciate a parent to say to their child before and after a swim:  Before the swim - “Good luck and have fun.”  After the swim -- “Good Job,” and “What did your coach say?” and “I’m proud of you,” or sometimes, “I am sure you will do better next time.”

If your dialogue is different then this, then you are not supporting the coach and swimmer relationship. The most detrimental thing you can do for your child is compare them to another swimmer, coach them before or after a swim, or give them negative feedback after a race.

So what I recommend is to make sure that you are communicating with your son or daughter on how they are doing in practice on a daily basis. Periodically check in with their coach and ask him or her how you child is doing, so there are no surprises when it comes to competition time. 

Remember, swimming is a sport where we look at long term progress.  Some athletes have to work for 6 months to drop one second in an event. If you can really be aware what the contributing variables are for success (and remember that means having some patience to reach the process), then I stand behind the belief that your children will be better prepared for anything that comes their way in life.

On Praising Your Children 

How often do you think about the amount of and type of praise you offer your child?  The wrong kind of praise, or praise used too frequently or infrequently can cause difficulties.  Sometimes we think that it is not possible to over praise a child because constant praise will build a child's self esteem.  However, there is a real world for the child outside of the home and a child's peers may not always be as praise giving as his or her parents.  Other children are usually quite truthful and blunt about the feats of their peers.  A child constantly praised at home may feel themselves placed on a pedestal only to be knocked off outside the home.  
In a recent article in "Parents Magazine", educational consultant Fredelle Maynard listed the dos and don'ts of praise.  First the don'ts:  [We’ve added swimming appropriate examples.]
- Don't praise by comparison ("You're the best swimmer on the team").  It may encourage unnecessary competition or fear of failing next time.
- Don't praise constantly.  If everything a child does is terrific, wonderful, the best, you will run out of superlatives and the child will become blasé about applause.
- Don't praise indiscriminately.  Children who are veteran meet swimmers know when a swim is good or bad.  Parental ecstasies over mediocre performance can either make children cynical or cause them to feel like frauds.
- Don't praise so extravagantly that children feel pressure to go on shining.  Over enthusiastic applause destroys a good motive for activity (to please oneself) and substitutes a poor one (to please parents).
- Don't use sarcastic or "backhanded" praise.  "Well, you did all flip turns for a change."  "You touched with two hands!  I can't believe it."
The best praise to use is encouragement.  Encouragement helps build a child's confidence and autonomy while improper praise can be more manipulative, emphasizing what the adult wants.  Encouragement allows the child to "own" their accomplishments and to find within themselves the strength and desire to do their best.  The following are Maynard's dos:
- Do be specific.  Instead of using words that evaluate ("What a great swim"), describe in concrete terms what you see:  "You kept your elbows nice and high during that swim."
- Do describe the behavior and its consequences.  For example, "Thanks for getting dressed and out of the locker room so quickly.  Now we have more time to go shopping for the new goggles you need."
- Do focus on the child's effort, not the product.  "You practiced hard for this swim meet and it really paid off."
- Do point out how your child has progressed.  "A 200 IM! You couldn't have done that last year!"
- Do give control back to the child.  Let the child do the evaluating.  Rather than say, "I'm so proud of you," say, "You must feel good that you did all backstroke turns."  Try simply asking, “How do you feel about your swim?” and respond accordingly – giving encouragement when they feel disappointed (but never false praise), and joining them in their enthusiasm if they feel really happy.
Consider giving praise at different levels.  “That looked like a better swim.”  “I thought that was a good job, what do you think?”  “That was your best job so far!”  Better, good, best.  Avoid over using such superlatives as “Perfect,” “Great,” “Excellent” which leave little room for improvement.
To sum it all up, catch them doing things right and set them up for continued improvements.
Where Should Fast Age Group Swimmers Train? 

”My ten years old son is the fastest swimmer in his group and he can also beat several of the senior swimmers… shouldn’t he be training in the senior swimming group?”

Answered by: Rick Klatt, ASCA Level 5 Coach

There are three goals I have for age group swimmers on my team who will eventually make the transition to senior swimming. They are:

1.  They love swimming and look forward to practice sessions.
2.  They have a sound foundation of correct stroke mechanics.
3.  They know how to generate speed over short distances.

I think an age group coach needs to be very flexible and very innovative in designing a training program for age group swimmers that keeps their interest and is considered fun. I encourage my age group coaches to include lots of dry land games to build coordination and aerobic fitness. I also encourage the coaches to provide challenging training sessions that are short and to the point. Every training session must include fundamental stroke work and some emphasis on fast swimming over short distances.

There are dangers associated with having younger swimmers training in the senior group.  Although training with the older group may produce rapid improvements, it could harm your child’s swimming career in the long run. Training longer and harder produces stress at his age.  He could lose interest in the sport. This sometimes is hard to do when he is with swimmers that are mentally and physically more mature. Socially, he may become outcast because of his youth and the training may be more than his body is accustomed to. It is very easy for a swimmer to lose interest in the sport when he is not enjoying himself. His self-image can deteriorate easily if not given the proper amount of attention.

It is also important to let a swimmer gradually learn and improve. If he starts swimming in the senior group at 10 years old, the program can become very stale for him by the time he reaches high school.

In our program, a swimmer will normally move into the senior group when he or she is 13 or 14 years old. I feel I can be more successful at helping the swimmers if:

1.  The swimmer has a positive attitude and has the desire to come practice.
2.  The swimmer has a good technical background on stroke techniques so that short reminders to him of his already formulated good habits is generally sufficient.
3.  The swimmer knows how to generate speed over a short distance. At this point we can begin the training that will be required to maintain that speed for a longer distance.

Age group swimmers should be allowed to develop slowly and have fun. By training with swimmers his age, he will be able to interact with friends and develop close bonds with his peers. He can contribute to the team by being a role model and will create a strong self-image as well as being a good leader for his group.

Because They MUST Fail
Rick Boucher
Head Age Group Coach
STAR Swimming (UB Amherst Site)
Amherst, NY

With fifteen years of coaching in this sport of swimming, I have come to notice a few things that happen on each and every team I have ever worked with.  Parents and swimmers, regardless of their location in this country, have similar issues at specific points of their swimming careers.  I would love to address the “First Swim Meet” issue.

The “First Swim Meet” issue has been addressed on every team I have ever coached.  Swimmers and parents are uncomfortable when it comes to attempting their first swim meet.  It is an unknown for both of them.  Children tend to be so upset at the thought of having to compete, that they somehow convince their parents that they should not, or can not be competing at their level.  What do I think?  Attend the first swim meet offered to your child regardless of how you feel about your child’s ability and how they feel about competing.

Here’s why…Every person MUST FAIL in order to become better!  Think about this for a moment.  Would you be where you are today in your career if you would have only succeeded?  I know that I would not.  Some of my greatest professional successes have come through having what I would consider a “horrible season”.

Children are afraid of swim meets because they are “scary”.  A new swimmer knows they are not going to win.  They know that they may get disqualified.  They understand that it is going to be hard work.  They become overwhelmed with the anxiety of having to step out of their “comfort zone” and actually challenge themselves to a level they never have before.  PERFECT!  This is what it takes to become an outstanding individual.  Not just in swimming, but in life.

A ten year old child knows very little about trial and error.  They understand the school system and its grading process, but outside of this, children have had very little trial and error elsewhere.  If they have played in a “team sport”, then they have been judged on a “team level” and not as an “individual”.  Being ranked as an individual is “scary.” 

In basketball, if you don’t get the ball at a time when you can shoot, then it’s not your fault you didn’t score a point.  In football, if you do your part on the field as a linesman and the quarterback’s passing is off, then it’s not your fault.  There are so many other avenues to place blame and accept the defeat in a form that allows you to continue telling yourself that you played a great game.  In swimming, there are none.  It is all up to them.  They are the ones who either make or break their performance.

This is to me, the most perfect part of the sport.  It makes young athletes look at their performance at practice and reconsider if they are doing everything they can in order to become better.  Swimming encourages young children and young adults to actually look at themselves and re-evaluate themselves.  How wonderful is that?It’s also wonderful to hear from a child that they plan on listening better at practice because they really want to learn more about a specific stroke or race. 


- Leads strong-minded children into their success.
- Upsets them enough to make them take control of their own actions.

In swimming there are no guarantees.  No coach can look at an athlete and say “You know what?  You’re going to become a state record holder”, or “Pack your bags kiddo, ‘cause in four more years I know you’re heading to the Olympics”.  Trust me, after all of the years I’ve placed into this sport, I wish I could do this.  It would make life so much easier for myself, parents, and athletes. 

What a coach can promise is that through hard work, dedication, commitment, perseverance and FAILING, your child can become a person who understands more about themselves than most individuals their age.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that one of the key ingredients to all of my past athletes reaching their potential is failure.  All of them have failed more than they succeeded.  Some failures were large, other were minor.  Most children will fail, learn from their mistakes, and fail again, but with fewer mistakes and so on.  The reducing of failures is their improvement, dedication, and perseverance.  They should be praised for their efforts and encouraged to continue on their quest. 

That’s what a coach does, they encourage young, learning athletes to strive for more and always push themselves.  It is a coach’s job and duty to keep these children understanding why we strive and how great it feels to achieve.

So here’s what I have to say…

Let your child fail.  Don’t encourage “failure,” but understand it.  Understand that failing is a process that is needed in order to succeed.  Encourage your child to step out from their “comfort zone” and challenge themselves to a level that they may not think they can attain.  Why?  Because once they push themselves to that new level, they may realize that they are much faster, stronger, and just plain old better they ever thought they could be.

Parents should…

- Assist the coach in getting all that they can from their young athlete and properly challenging their child.
- Realize that their children are afraid.  It’s nerve-racking to try something new and have so many eyes on you.
- Comfort their children and continually reinforce the fact that “effort” is to be praised and that “failure” is part of the process of becoming great.
- Get their children involved.  Drive them to the swim meet.  Be their biggest cheerleader.  Make sure you love them regardless of what place they take in their events. 
- Reinforce the fact that doing something that they’ve never done before is wonderful and the chance they have been given to challenge themselves is a blessing in disguise.

ASCA encourages coaches and parents to submit articles for publication in the Swim Parent News.  Send submissions to

When Sally Swims Poorly… How Mom and Dad Might Talk To Their Child at a Swim Meet 

By John Leonard 

Swim Meet conversation between parent and athlete can be either highly productive, or highly counter-productive.  Your goal as a parent should be to contribute to a positive swim meet experience for your child.  This is the same goal as shared by the coach and the athlete.  It is important that all three sides of the triangle be working together on meet days, as well as the rest of the swim year.  

As I travel the country talking to parents, and observing swim meets and the effects of individual athletes, a few things stand out for comment.  The inter-relationship of athlete, coach and parent on the days of swim meets is one of the most important.  To discuss this adequately, it is necessary to define the role of each person.  

The athlete attends the meet to attempt to gain or affirm some progress that has been made in their development.  This may take the form of a personal best time, or holding a stroke technique together for an entire race, or executing accurately a particular strategy for  "splitting" the race, or any of a multitude of other possibilities and combinations.  The role of the athlete is the active one.  It is up to them to perform, and the meet day is a selected time to perform the experiment.  

The role of the coach on meet day needs to be thoroughly understood. It is dependent upon how the coach  has presented themselves in the athlete's swimming career.  Primarily, for most coaches, they are the technical resource that a swimmer depends upon to help them improve.  They also serve as a role model, and to a greater or lesser extent, as a motivator, friend, and co-author of the strategy or experiment being performed on that day. 

The parent is the racing "support crew".  The parent makes sure they have all their human needs attended to, and continues their parental function of supervising personal development.  Their love, attention, and caring are key ingredients in creating a successful experience on race day.  

Athlete, technical support, and human support. That's all it takes.  

Now, back to the question of meet conversation. Lots of talk goes on at a meet, and coming and going around the meet. Let's focus on the conversations that go on around a particular swim, and see what can be learned from that item.  

Sally is eleven years old, and she is about to swim the 100 yard freestyle. Sally is a pretty good little swimmer, and has a best time of 1:01.3.  She'd like to go a personal best time in this event at the meet, and she and her coach have been talking all week about how Sally has to concentrate on keeping her stroke long and strong during the last 25 yards of her race.  Sally knows she is supposed to stop and talk to Coach before she swims so she goes over to see her. 

"Hey Kiddo, ready for the big swim?" 

"Coach, I got it all under control, and I'm ready to go fast."

"What do you need to remember on this swim?"

"To keep my stroke long on the last twenty-five." 

"Not just long, but...." 

"long and Strong!" 

"Right!  Have a real good swim.  Now, go get it!" 

Sally blasts off, and gets out in front immediately.  Mom and Dad cheer like crazy.  Sally turns for home, and......     

(Now, at this point let's consider two endings.  We will take a look at each one.) 

Sally turns for home and...... shortens her stroke bit by bit as she gets more and more tired, and struggles to the wall, with a time of 1:01.5. 

Sally is disappointed, and she goes back to her coach choking back tears, and stands there, waiting for her to speak. 

"Well, not quite what we wanted. How did it feel?" 

"It felt awful! I was terrible! I couldn't do anything!" 

"From here, it looked like you were only pushing through to your waist, and towards the end of the race maybe not even that far.  Where should your hand finish?" 

"At my suit line."

"And what did your arms really feel like?" 

"I got all hot and my arms were burning at the end of the race."

"Do you know why that is?  I think you haven't had enough good fast pace work yet.  Next month, we'll work on that, and by the next meet you'll be much better!" 

Sally leaves happy and feeling much less like the Ugly Duckling. Now, she heads to see Mom and Dad.  

Most parents I talk to think that this is a tough time to deal with their children.  It isn't!  (The tough one is next.)  All Mom and Dad have to do in this case, is two simple things:  

First, deal with human things. 

"Are you warm enough, honey?"

"Put on your warm-ups, and your towel"

"Do you need something to drink?"

Then, if all is well, STOP.  Do not get into the race unless the child wants to.  That is not your role. You are there to support.  

But let’s say that Sally comes back and says.... 

"I Stunk!"

Mom and Dad say, "Stunk?  Stunk means you smelled badly.  All that chlorine is kind of nasty, but I wouldn't say you stunk.  What do you really mean?" 

After Sally has a chance to get rid of her emotional response, you should ask, "What did Coach say?" 

Now is a good time to explore this.  What you are trying to do, as a parent, is duplicate the same mind-set the coach is trying to re-instill.  Analyze what went wrong with the experiment.  You don't have the technical expertise to offer the answers that her coach does, but by asking questions that require a technical response, you shift Sally out of the emotional context.  This is nothing more than an experiment that did not turn out the way Sally and her coach wanted it to.  This is perfect swim parenting.  You reinforce the message that the coach is sending. 

If you will simply take care of the human needs, and shift the emotional disappointment to an analytical response, all will be well in Sally's world. 

When Your Child Is Disqualified 

Concern:  I've noticed that when some of our team's swimmers are disqualified the coach does not approach the official to question the call while at other times she confronts the official immediately.  There appears to be favoritism.

Response:  If this is a case of favoritism we certainly do not condone this type of coach behavior.  We recommend a direct, but polite discussion with the coach at a time when everyone has had some time and distance from the situation.

If not favoritism, then the following may explain your coaches behavior:

The coach observed the infraction, was not surprised by the infraction, noted it, and talked with the swimmer about it.  Coaches work with their swimmers every day and know each individual's difficulties with technique and tendency for mistakes.  Coaches continually work with their athletes helping them to improve technique and correct mistakes but the results are rarely instantaneous.  Swimmers take time to improve technique and eliminate mistakes.  Coaches will enter a marginally legal swimmer in an event so that the swimmer gains experience.  If the swimmer is disqualified, the coach uses it as a learning situation for the athlete.

In some sports it is expected that there be a confrontation between coach and official with every call but that has not been our way in swimming. 

When there is a confrontation it is generally over a judgment call made by the official for an infraction that the athlete does not have a history of making, and, in the eyes of the coach, was not a good call.  In this case the coach will usually ask the official for a clarification of the call and the specific rule broken.  The coach will also ask the official if he was in a proper position to make such a call.

Nutrition Between Prelims And Finals

By Dr. Keith Wheeler, Ph.D. and Angeline M. Cameron

Question:  In a preliminary/finals meet, an age group swimmer might finish the last preliminary event at 3 PM and return to the pool at 5 PM to warm up for the finals, which are at 6 PM.  What would be the best nutrition for this swimmer?

Answer:  The best nutrition for this swimmer depends on what the swimmer eats the morning of the competition.  If he or she eats a large breakfast that contains at least  200 to 300 grams of carbohydrate, the swimmer will need mainly water and a small amount of carbohydrate, which can be provided by a fluid replacement and energy drink or fruit juice.

If he or she didn't each a high carbohydrate breakfast, the swimmer will need to eat carbohydrate after the 4 PM event to provide energy for the warm up and finals. The swimmer should eat an amount of carbohydrate, in grams, equal to 75% of his or her body weight within 15 minutes of the completion of the preliminary event and again 1 hour later.  For example, a 100 pound swimmer should eat 75 grams (0.75 x 100 pounds) of carbohydrate by 4:15 PM and another 75 grams of carbohydrate at approximately 5 PM.

Liquid or solid forms of carbohydrate can be eaten: however, liquids are usually better tolerated and are more quickly digested.  The amount of carbohydrate needed in the example above, 75 grams, is provided by 4 apples, 3 bananas, or 3 bagels.

When The Coach Goes To Nationals

Concern:  The coach leaves the team for a whole week just to take one swimmer to nationals.  It is not fair to the team and a poor use of money.

Response:  It is an important milestone in the development of the swimmer, of the coach, and of the team when the first national qualifier is developed.  This swimmer represents the current "peak" of the program. All parts of a program are important but the peak is of special importance because it is a point that all younger developing athletes can look forward to and work towards.  It provides direction in the program.

It is difficult for newer swim parents, especially parents of young age group swimmers, to understand the importance of sending the coach away to nationals at great expense and while all the other swimmers on the team stay at home without their head coach.  The situation is sometimes made worse by the fact that local junior Olympic meets are held at about the same time as nationals.

What are the choices and what are the consequences?

1.  Swimmer attends nationals without coach.  This is not fair to the athlete or to the coach.  The athlete has worked for and deserves the attention and professional guidance of the coach.  The coach also deserves the reward of developing such a fine athlete by being involved in the national experience.  Attending nationals is also a very important educational experience for the coach.   By not sending the coach to nationals with the swimmer the club is also sending a message to the athletes that the club is not interested in elite athletes.

2.  Swimmer and coach stay home.  This cuts the peak of the program and removes incentives for athletes and coach to become the best they can be.  It is the mark of a team that does not include growth as part of its long range goals, or perhaps does not have any goals at all.  It is a program that will always have young and relatively inexperienced coaches because few coaches will be satisfied working in a situation where they cannot grow. 

3.  Swimmer and coach attend nationals with the support and good will of the entire club.  This is the mark of a program that looks to the future, believes in growth, and believes in rewarding the good work by both the athlete and the coach.  When the coach and athlete attend nationals it is a celebration of team success.  The athlete can return home as the hero and "tell the story" of nationals that will inspire the rest of the team.

What then of the younger swimmers who have workouts and possibly a meet to attend while the coach is at nationals?  It is the responsibility of the Board of Directors and coach to 1) educate the families as to the needs of the whole program, and 2) prepare assistant coaches and swimmers for the opportunity to be their best during this time.  These things should not be thought of two weeks before nationals, but should be part of each seasonal plan.

We are hopeful that parents will look at the larger picture.  When the coach goes to nationals it is not just for one swimmer, it is for the whole team… and, it’s for your age group swimmer. 

When Swimmers Return From Camp 

Concern:  “My daughter was able to do a 50 meter freestyle in 32 seconds from a push off in practice while at camp, which is her best time.  Now that she is back home, she can't even do a 32 in a swim meet.”

Response:  A coach we know took two nationally ranked age group swimmers to a USA Swimming elite training camp several years ago.  He told us how amazed he was to observe and time with his own watch these young swimmers perform sets in times they had never done at home.  

Was it better coaching?  The swimmers told him that it was a matter of competition and a matter of pride.  They worked so hard in six workouts over three days that it took them over a week to recover once back home. 

Too often swimmers fall into a niche at home where they EXPECT to out-perform some swimmers and EXPECT to be out-performed by other swimmers.  Going to swim camps gives swimmers a chance to be a star away from home.  Many swimmers will do exceptional things that can take them several weeks or in some cases, a whole season to duplicate at home.  This is not a problem with coaching, it is a problem with what swimmers expect of themselves in a given environment. 

If the swimmer can return home and break out of the EXPECTED, they have learned a great lesson. 

In addition to the above explanation, coaches are concerned that some camps give swimmers times that are not altogether accurate.  Swim camps are businesses and they thrive by bringing swimmers back year after year for positive experiences and by having swimmers spread the good news of their positive experience.  One of the most positive experiences a swimmer can have is going a life time best time.  Parents and coaches should be wary of best times reported during practice swims or "time trials".  Accept only times done in sanctioned swim meets.  

Concern:  My child learned stroke techniques she never learned at home and trained differently than she does at home.  Why doesn't the coach teach this way?

Response:  Keep in mind several things: 

1.  Communicate with the home coach.  Ask about the "new" techniques and training the swimmer learned at camp.  Often times "new" techniques or training are not new at all, but are simply taught with different words.

2.  Swimming performance is not produced by a direct cause and effect relationship.  There are many ways to teach a given technique and there are many techniques that can produce a given result.  Techniques used at camp may simply be a different, though not better, attempt to produce the same result which can be produced at home. 

3.  Children are very impressionable by their temporary new coaches at camps.  As an example, imagine how you, a parent, feels when your child returns home from home practice one day and announces that he is now going to drink three glasses of milk each day because the coach said it is a good idea, even though you have been trying to get your child to do this for years!  Swimmers go to camp and often hear the same things the coach at home has been trying to teach but because it is being said by a new camp coach, it is now important and the child will enthusiastically accept this advice as the best way. 

4.  Just because it is done at camp a certain way, does not mean it is the only way or the best way.  Staff members at camps are often times less experienced and less knowledgeable than your home coach. 

5.  Be open and cooperative with your home coach.  Many coaches do not like swimmers going away to swimming camps because swimmers return home tired, out of synch with the season training plan, and full of "new" ideas that may not be very new or very helpful.  When selecting a camp for your child, ask the coach to help you select a good camp.  There a many very good camps. 

6.  If you have a young and relatively inexperienced coach make sure that you turn your child's experience at camp into a POSITIVE one for the coach and team and not a NEGATIVE one for the coach.  Share thoughts with the coach rather than demand changes based on something experienced at a camp that is perceived as being the right and only way.  Help your coach grow, send your coach to camp!  You can make sure your coach has every opportunity to be up on the latest in technique, training, administration, and sports psychology by sending your coach to the ASCA World Clinic in the fall!

Speaking Up to Grow Up

By Coach Bryan Davis
Your swimmer has a multitude of things that they could improve technically to get just a little faster. You know it, your swimmer knows it and your child’s coach knows it. The coach however knows which techniques are the priorities at any given time. The swimmer should have a pretty good understanding of what they are supposed to be working on. Although, your swimmer will not know what the coach has possibly not brought to the swimmers attention yet. The coach may omit technical corrections if there is a technical focus of high priority at the time. It may be that the swimmer is struggling with another high priority focus, then the coach may feel the need to not overload the swimmer with too many technical corrections.

If there is something specific that your swimmer does not understand, is struggling with or just curious about, you should encourage your swimmer to ask the coach to explain it better or for extra attention in that area. When a parent brings the request straight to the coach outside of the presence of the swimmer, it cuts the responsibility of the swimmer out of the equation. The goal of the coach is to get their swimmers to need the coach as little as possible. This frees up more time for the coach to focus on the finer details of your swimmer as an athlete. If you want to help your swimmer become more self-sufficient, then encourage your child to take the responsibility of approaching the coach personally on all aspects of the sport. If you know your swimmer is apprehensive about this type of interaction with the coach. Please stand there with your swimmer and support them as they speak with the coach. With this approach the swimmer will be practicing the skill of speaking up for oneself. The sooner your child takes the wheel the better.  Remember, youth sports are about personal growth competitively but also for growing up in general, not always just about getting a little faster.


By T.J Liston

Many times senior swimmers get to the end of the season and look for great swims and great time drops due to the “Magic of The Taper.”  Often, swimmers expect these things to materialize because they have in the past, because other swimmers on the team have done well, because it is an important meet, or because they just want it to.  But in reality, the reason why swimmers swim fast is because they have prepared to.  Good performance is preceded by good preparation.  To swim fast, swimmers must train hard and must swim fast in practice.

The coach lays out a season plan before the season even begins.  The season is divided into several different training cycles.  These macro cycles are then divided into smaller mini cycles.  These all add up to a season’s training.  Each mini cycle must be swum with effort and focus or a key part of the swimmer’s training will be missed.  Each cycle is in itself very important and each mini cycle sets up and enhances the next training cycle.  The successful athlete approaches each cycle with great effort and focus realizing that every cycle, indeed every practice, is dependent upon the one before it.

As coaches, we are often able to detect strengths and weaknesses in an individual’s training by how well they are able to hold on to a taper or by their endurance and ability to go from one race to the next with equal success.  To perform well, it is important that early season training is successfully challenged.  To put together smart races and have good splits, the successful athlete will need a strong and focused middle part of the season.  Good fine tuning in later cycles will help the swimmers set up their races correctly and have the necessary speed to race.  Every cycle in a season is important to the success of the next cycle.  Successfully challenging and completing each cycle helps swimmers perform faster and to be able to meet the demands of even more challenging sets at practice.  Swimmers who are able to perform during physically demanding practices, the ones whose repeats hurt, are the swimmers who are preparing for success at the end of the season.

We establish guidelines for what we expect and want at practices for each cycle.  We may make some minor adjustments to intervals and sets, but we don’t make changes to the performance parameters of the cycle’s focus.  Many times we use key individuals as markers to determine the effects of the overall training.  These individuals are the ones that best represent the work offered and the groups’ expectations and abilities.  These swimmers have near perfect attendance and have fulfilled the challenges of the workouts we have given.  These athletes understand that the training curve is well ahead of the performance curve, and that practice efforts from weeks before the championship meet are impacting the swimmer’s ability to race.  The season’s results are dependent on the season’s efforts.  The taper will highlight the work done during the season, and the swimmer whose efforts and attendance have been consistent is usually the swimmer who performs well at the championship meet.

So, before swimmers expect “Taper Magic,” it is important that they put in the work during the early months of training and all the way through the season.  Their attendance needs to be as near to perfect as health allows.  Their efforts and focus have to be 100% every day.  They have to eat, sleep, and hydrate properly throughout the season and all the way through their big meet.  They should not gain weight on their taper.  They should not use up all their extra energy that begins to emerge as they are tapering by staying up late, spending all day playing in the sun, etc..  What they do away from the pool is as important as what is happening at practices.  Rest, rest, and more rest are in order.  Save up that energy.  Save it for racing.  Successful swimming is not magic.  Successful swimming is part of the plan.
“I Went To The Results Board To See How I Did…” 

By John Leonard

It was a great teachable moment.  Out of the mouths of young people come things that “set up” the coach for an opportunity to do some great education.   When an athlete came over to me and started with the sentence at the top of the page, here was my response.

“Really? You didn’t already know how you did?”
“Well, I was sixth the 100 fly and 5th in the 100 back and….”
“ No, really , you didn’t already know how you did?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what did you do incorrectly in the 100 fly and what do you need to do to improve?”
“You said I have to keep my hips up on the back 50 and make sure I keep breathing every second stroke…”
“and so….??”
“and so, THAT is “how you did”. Not the place. The place means nothing. I can take you to plenty of swim meets where you can finish first….and can take you to even more where you’ll finish dead last……where you finish depends on what others have done, not on how you have done…..You need to measure two things…your time versus your best time (which is you against the previous best you) and how you did compared to the assignment I gave you before you headed for the starting blocks. How was your time?”
“Well, I don’t know, I never swam long course before.”
“Of course you haven’t, so now you have a time to measure yourself against…congratulations. And do you need a results board to tell you how you did?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Don’t guess. Know that you don’t. If you go to the blocks with clear goals, you know how you did without anyone else needing to tell you. You can evaluate the race for yourself, and “know how you did”.
“So what is the race for?”
“Two things…first, it’s always easier (and more fun) to swim fast when you are racing someone next to you. And second, as you mature, there is a purpose to “winning races”, but in the developmental stage, it’s a terrible way to evaluate yourself…….racing is stimulation, not measurement of you as an athlete, a learner, a person….anything…..Enjoy the race, but measure against your own best self.”
Please everyone take that lesson to heart and mind.
All the Best, Coach John

When a Child Starts on The Swim Team as a Teenager 

“My 13 Year Old Son Has Just Started Swimming Competitively. What Are His Chances Of Succeeding Having Begun At Relatively Late Age For A Swimmer?”

Answered by: George Block, Aquatic Director of the Northside Independent School District, San Antonio, Texas.
The word “chance” reflects the disparity between possibility and probability. There is a long history of late beginning male swimmers doing very well, from George Breen to Rowdy Gaines, but the “possibility” doesn’t matter. We’re talking about your son.

First of all, he has to have certain basic physical abilities. Can he float with his lungs inflated? Can he streamline and glide when he pushes off the wall? Does he have normal strength and flexibility? Is he in good health?

You also have to find if he has some basic psychological abilities. Is he attentive? Is he a good listener? Does he follow instructions well? Will he persevere?

A little higher up the ladder, I would consider his athletic background, his extracurricular activities and his academic performance.

After this evaluation, the parent needs to work very closely with the child’s coach. The coach can tell you if your son has “talent”. Does he have the “feel” of the water? Does he learn quickly?

Finally, you must look at the team and the environment. Are swimmers performing well on the local level? The state level? Are they doing well at the Junior Nationals? Senior Nationals?

None of those things can explain the short, uncoordinated kids who try out as freshmen in high school and go on to become superstars in college. That is explained by perseverance. Coaches see perseverance beat talent every day. Perseverance in its most tangible form is “being there” and it is what changes the odds from possible to probable.

In swimmers who take up the sport “late”, the effects of training are always more “acute” (short term) than “chronic” (long term). Since your son won’t have the chronic training history of some of his teammates, he will need to train more effectively, have better attendance, and learn more from each competition than they do.

This may seem like a full order, but actually it’s great opportunity. In the long haul, the “process” is more important than “the product”. If your son decides to commit himself to excellence in competitive swimming, he will have taken a major step out of the crowd that seeks only mediocrity. He will be one of the few “committed” in an age of “dilettantes”. He will have to plan, organize and work for long term goals. He will have to arrange for the cooperation of those around him; parents, siblings, coaches, teammates, teachers, and friends. He will also have to measure his own success. Yes, your son can be successful, and, yes it will be difficult…but that is what makes it worth doing.
Lifetime Fitness
Growing recognition that many American children are neither developing sufficient fitness, nor learning appropriate lifetime health habits has caused leading physical educators to re-evaluate their long-time methods and shed the traditional coach/drill sergeant image for an educational approach that gives young students the tools for lifetime fitness. 

Ron Feingold, Ph.D. of Adelphi University in N.Y., and one of the leaders in this movement explains,”To me, what's relevant is what they learn about fitness, and how do they feel about physical activity. The goal should be to get them to enjoy fitness and physical activities and to understand their benefits."

Accordingly, progressive P.E. teachers are exchanging their former emphasis on teaching competitive sports skills and administering competitive fitness tests for an approach that encourages students to adopt "appropriate lifelong exercise behavior," and a healthy appreciation for physical activity.  The proverbial "ounce of prevention" will help children improve their long term health prospects by developing healthy lifestyle habits from an early age. 

The new priority is that kids should know how their bodies work after they've had 12 years of physical education.  As one teacher said:  "It's more important that they understand how to develop strength and cardiovascular fitness, how to train safely, and to have a basic understanding of what happens when you move, than to know how to shoot a basketball."

The changing focus of thinking about youth fitness is also leading to a re-examination of fitness testing methods.  Such competitive tests as the Presidential Physical Fitness Test tended to discourage those children who needed help the most.  Kids who performed poorly were embarrassed both by taking the fitness test and by their results, while better athletes were rewarded for their performances.

That test has now been adjusted to make it an educational process and to focus on personal improvement rather than performance level with rewards and recognition to those making progress from previous tests.  "We want kids to buy into the idea that it's the activity that's important and the performance score is secondary," says Dr. Marilu Meredith, director of youth fitness programs for the Institute of Aerobics Research.  "If we can impart an activity habit - and keep it fun - they'll stay active and they will be fit."

What actions can both parents and age group coaches take to import these ideas into age group swimming?

1) Consciously communicate to kids the importance of aerobic fitness and "healthy hearts" by raising their level of awareness of swimming's aerobic benefits.
2) Be more conscious of the importance of your own role modeling in maintaining good health through personal fitness programs.
3) Balance emphasis on achievement and performance for age groupers with emphasis on the simple values of participation for the long term and communicate swimming as simply the first step in a lifelong fitness habit.
4) Tie in the value of good nutritional habits, not simply for better performance, but for health's sake.

If we adopt a health-related outlook for age group swimming we'll be giving the kids in our programs a form of lifelong health insurance that can't be purchased at any cost.

Good Starts 

It’s clear to anyone observing a swimming meet that some swimmers are much faster off of the blocks.  Differences in starting ability from one swimmer to the next are easy for parents to observe.  Unfortunately, it is one part of the race that is not always mastered equally well by all swimmers.  There are two contributing factors to the success of the start:  learned skill and natural ability.

The simple fact is that not all swimmers are built the same.  Some will always be better starters because they are born with a higher percentage of "fast twitch" fibers making them more explosive and capable of getting off the starting block faster.  It is an hereditary factor and cannot be significantly changed through training.

But start ability is not all heredity as proper mechanics also contribute.  Coaches teach these mechanics several times a week and can help the swimmer make significant improvements over time.  It is important to remember that swimmers learn at different paces.  Despite the best efforts of coaches, some swimmers will take longer to learn a good start than others.

Before judging a swimmer’s ability to get off the block, either as very good or as needing a lot more coaching, look at where and when the swimmer surfaces after the start.  After the starting signal, who gets to the 10 meter mark first?  It’s not always the first swimmer off of the block.  A study done several years ago examined the relative importance of the initial quickness off the block versus the swimmer's ability to enter the water, streamline, kick, and breakout properly.  According to the study, how the swimmer hits the water and what they do in the water are of far greater importance than speed off of the block.  This ability is a complex skill requiring a lot of practice, mixed with the right body type.  Some argue that it is more dependent on body type which is a factor a swimmer cannot control.  The fact is, that because of body type and buoyancy, some swimmers streamline better than other swimmers and with proper kicking an breakout mechanics will surface in front of other less able swimmers.

So what can we make of all this?  Answer:  always look at the larger picture.  Is the swimmer improving and is she or he happy?  That’s the larger, larger picture. Looking at the “smaller larger picture” one needs to consider all aspects of the race including good approaches to the walls, good turns, proper breakouts, good stroke mechanics, proper race management, and a great finish.  It all adds up.  If the swimmer has not yet developed a great start, entry, and break out, there are many other areas of the event we can look to for success.

Supporting Your Children in Swimming 

Parents can help their kids feel that they can reach goals they've set for themselves with effort, perseverance, and just a little patience.  From PARENTS magazine, here are 7 ways to help your youngster do their best.

1. Support their efforts. Listen to your child's dreams, goals, and ideas and help him to work out the steps of those that seem attainable by organizing them into do-able parts.

2. Encourage follow-through. Praise task completion and encourage them to carry on when the initial excitement fades.  Relate your struggles to complete tasks and your satisfaction at having achieved a goal.

3. Offer reinforcement or reward. Give incentive for better efforts, not just accomplishments.  Keep a chart with stars tracking progress and reward the task's completion, not its grade.  Younger children need quicker rewards and briefer tasks.

4. Recognize his success level.  When a child reaches a point of frustration, learning specialists advocate you help him return to a level where he feels successful. Then his enthusiasm will return.

5. Involve others. Tell teachers and coaches that it's more important to you that your child feel successful than to come out on top.  Making your values clear to them can make them more effective in helping your child.

6. Point out effort in others. Make your child aware of how others work hard at their daily activities, so they know they're not alone in trying, overcoming discouragement, meeting challenges, and succeeding.

7. Praise him for trying. Point out how much you appreciate your child's doing something that may be difficult for him.

Applied to schoolwork, swimming, or other pursuits, these devices can help kids develop a "can-do" attitude.
”What Is Swimmer’s Ear?” 

Answered by: Robert T. Scott, M.D.

Most competitive swimmers have been bothered at one time or another by what is known as “swimmer’s ear”. There seems to be many ways of curing the tiresome disease but it often requires a swimmer to stop swimming for a week or two. Swimmer’s ear can reoccur weeks, months or years later for no apparent reason. For some individuals, it becomes a chronic painful inflammation of the skin inside the outer ear canal. There are multiple symptoms of varying intensity. Itching and pain are mild to intense, depending on the degree of inflammation and swelling of the skin. The amount of the discharge (pus), which causes blockage of the air column leading to the eardrum, determines the severity of the interference with hearing. A dull fullness may exist for weeks to months with mild skin inflammation. However, a canal with maximally thickened skin will exert pressure on bone and cartilage, resulting in extreme pain and complete clogging of the air passage. This leads to clogging of the air passages and will result in temporary hearing loss and is a common sign of swimmer’s ear.

To help prevent swimmer’s ear, the ear canal should be kept as dry as possible. This will help maintain the natural protective action of the earwax. A thin mantle of wax prevents maceration (softening) of the skin surface and its acid pH inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungus. Some individuals have very little wax, and just the water that enters the canal from normal bathing of showering becomes trapped and prepares the skin for infection ensuing inflammation. A snug-fitting bathing cap will help prevent the headaches associated with cold water swimming and will also help keep water from washing in and out, taking ear wax with it.

Using comfortable earplugs while swimming will help keep ears dry. A good fit will keep water from washing back and forth through the canal. The constant traffic of water in and out of the canal will remove the protective layer of the ear wax and the more one swims, the more wax is washed out. After a workout most swimmers can clear moisture from their ears by tilting the head and shaking it to the side. Warm hair dryers are also very useful in drying the ears after a swimming session. A warm blast of air will effectively dry out the canal in five to ten minutes and enable the ear wax to reform and do it’s protective job.

If a swimmer loses his earwax easily, then a couple of drops of acidifying eardrops can help prevent the growth of bacteria. Eardrops can be used without a prescription or two drops of household vinegar will also work for most swimmers.

Each case of swimmer’s ear is individual and a physician should supervise treatment. Most swimmers will be required to stop swimming for a few weeks but then again; it depends on the individual. If you can wear a well-fitting earplug that will keep water out and also keep in the drainage from your ears so that it will not infect other swimmers, then I believe it is safe to continue your training. However, if the ear plug itself is causing an irritation by touching irritated skin, then the ear plug is not the answer and some time out of the water may be necessary. A sport minded doctor will usually give you a reasonable answer.

Ben Franklin once commented, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” For swimmers everywhere who hope to avoid swimmer’s ear, his words are quite literally sound advice.

Support Team Travel 

The benefits of team travel for age group swimmers are often talked about in terms of such matters as building responsibility, developing self discipline, and gaining independence from home -- in other words, life skills.  However, let's not forget that our sport is competitive swimming.  Age group swimmers who swim continually within the state or Local Swim Committee area begin to fit into the same type expectations mentioned in the article on camps -- they EXPECT to beat some swimmers while EXPECTING to be beat by others.  Even parents are often overheard stating that they expect their child to lose to a specific swimmer.  More experienced age group swimmers need to travel outside their immediate area and compete with new faces.  They need to learn how to break out of the EXPECTED.

"Quick Energy" 

By Keith B. Wheeler, Ph.D. and Angeline M. Cameron

QUESTION:  Many young swimmers eat powdered Jello at swim meets.  Will this give an athlete "quick energy" for the meet and improve performance?  Are there any true sources of quick energy that can be taken just before a meet?

ANSWER:  No, ingesting powdered sugar (ie Jello) immediately before a swim meet will not supply the body with a quick source of energy and will not improve performance.  In fact, it may reduce performance.  The best way for swimmers to nutritionally prepare for a meet, is to eat a meal or snack that is high in complex carbohydrate, 4 hours before the competition begins.  This meal will help ensure that energy stores in the body, especially those in the liver and circulating blood, are adequate.  Consuming too much simple sugar 15 to 30 minutes before a swim competition may cause blood sugar levels to be reduced, thus reducing performance. 

There is no such thing as a quick energy source that can be taken immediately before a swim competition.  Athletes and parents should be careful about using food sources or products that make this claim.

“Practice is Too Hard!” 

Yes, sometimes some of the things we do are “hard.”  I prefer the word “challenge.”  Part of what we do in practice is to challenge swimmers to extend themselves beyond what they thought they are capable of doing.  We do this with care and in a systematic and progressive manor.  We do not attempt to drive weaker age group swimmers from the sport.  Nor do we attempt to make each swimmer an Olympic swimmer.  I have long term patience for each swimmer’s development. 

How much “challenge” is enough?  The answer depends on the age and level of swimmer.  In our age group program less than 15% of the available time (on a weekly basis) is set aside for “challenge sets.”  (Three 15 minute blocks of time per week.)  We record and track times on these test sets and coach the children to higher levels of performance each week.  For some swimmers with the desire and ability, challenge sets will eventually make up 30 to 40 percent of the available workout time.  It may take some swimmers two or three years to get to that point.

All the facts and figures do not matter to a swimmer who says “It’s too hard.”  This is where helpful support from parents can be of great assistance.  Parents can remind children that some exercises push children into zones of uncomfortableness with good reason.  We do not adapt without some workout overload or stress.  It is a basic principle of training applicable to all ages.  It is also a basic principle of life that sometimes things get uncomfortable and we work a little harder to bring about a change.

With the change in coaching and in coaching styles the practices are indeed very different.  We do far more stroke work now and we also challenge a bit more.  With patience and support I am hopeful that all the children will adapt and eventually enjoy the practice session.  In my 27 years of coaching I have rarely lost children from the program because they did not have fun or felt it was too hard.  Indeed, in the past the most common complaint about my age group programs has been that I did not give enough work and that I was holding swimmers back. (I was guilty of preparing swimmers for the future rather than my own and the parent’s own immediate gratification.)

At the age group developmental level our primary goals are to teach swimming skills, learn good practice habits, expose the children to life skills, set the aerobic conditioning foundation for senior level swimming, introduce competition opportunities, and to have fun.

“Fun” is an interesting word.  One day at age group swim practice I asked 12 very exhausted swimmers aged 10 through 12, “How many of you had fun today?”  This I asked after they had completed their first ever 3000 yard workout in a 75 minute period.  Of course I was expecting none of them to say they had fun.  What I was hoping to do was create a teaching moment where we could talk about the difference between fun and satisfaction.  To my surprise every child wearily raised their hands and said that they had had fun.  When I asked them to explain, they all said they felt that way because they had never done 3000 yards before.  Eventually, three years later, 4 of the 12 swimmer completed 6000 yard in a 90 minute period and the other 8 completed between 4000 and 5000.  All those swimmers are still swimming and still loving the sport because the challenge is the fun and the fun is the challenge.

Success In Athletics 

Many parents wonder what differentiates the great athlete from the average one, and whether their kids have what it takes to be great athletes.  We'll let Dr. Jack Daniels, an exercise physiologist at State University of New York at Cortland, and an influential figure in developing the U.S. Swimming Sports Medicine Program, enlighten us.

"There are really only four ingredients for success in athletics.  One is genetic ability.  Some genetic differences are easy to see (7-foot-plus Kareem Abdul Jabbar's basketball endowments), while others are physiological and internal differences that can't be seen.  In America we have a hard time accepting those differences and we think that everyone who trains hard enough can be a champion. 

The second thing besides genetic ability is intrinsic motivation.  If you have a seven-footer and the coach wants him to play baseball, but he wants to be an artist, you won't get too much basketball out of him. 

The third ingredient is opportunity - providing our athletes with good facilities, good weather, and competition against good athletes. 

The final ingredient is direction.  Direction means a good coach and a good program to follow. 

Direction is the area where parents and coaches really have an opportunity to help the athlete.  With the fragmented nature of our national swimming community, we have to put aside our personal concerns and desires and focus our efforts on helping our athletes attain their potential.  Here is the part age group coaches can play:

* Teaching outstanding biomechanics to build the base for all future swimming successes and fulfillment.  Stroke education in both learn-to-swim, novice, and advanced age group programs must be primary.

* Teaching values that reflect the best of our sport.  Swimmers must be educated in their own careers, positive image building of themselves as athletes and people, and on their part in the national swimming effort.  Values and attitudes again shape the future for our sport.

* Provide the aerobic training base from which science tells us great athletes develop.

* Educate parents, our athletes' primary support system, to the needs of their athletes.  Swimming careers are lifelong pursuits, and parents of young athletes need a vision of the rewards attainable by their youngster.

The high school coach can also contribute by recognizing the needs of both the elite and developing athlete in their programs, and by instilling in their athletes the knowledge that good swimming demands near year-round participation in YMCA, USS, or community programs.  The high school coach also needs to cooperate with the club coach to ensure a coherent individual training and competition schedule for each athlete."

Kids and Two-Career Parents 

The prototypical swimming mother, renowned for devoting herself wholly to her children's swimming careers is nearly an extinct species.  With both parents working in 70% of households, the old swimming mom is now a career mom, with all the stresses and complications that brings.  And that means everybody in the world of age group swimming must adjust - from coaches who will have to be more reasonable in enforcing rules on practice attendance and parents who must plan more thoroughly to arrange kids transportation from school or home to an afternoon practice the demands the sport makes on families who must give up now-precious weekends to attend meets.

Making time for kids, jobs, and the personal needs of every family member is the greatest challenge in the two-career family.  A child who feels neglected by busy parents will feel resentful.  Here are some hints adapted from PARENTS magazine on how to prevent kids from feeling neglected.

It's important for kids to feel they're not competing for attention with their parents' careers.  Dr. James Comer, professor of child psychology at Yale University suggests putting your child's practices, competitions, and special events on your work calendar and trying to plan work requirements around them.  If one parent has a more flexible schedule than the other at particular times, that parent would take on greater responsibility for involvement in swimming activities.  Whenever schedules permit, both parents should attend the kids' activities.  When neither parent is available, make arrangements for the children to call on neighbors or nearby relatives.

Dr. Comer also suggests parents should be willing to receive a call at work from their children at any time.  If an ethos of cooperation and teamwork evolves through honest and open communication of the reasons for both parents working, children will be unlikely to abuse the privilege.  This can also be an opportunity to give children added responsibilities and a meaningful role to play in achieving family goals.  Parents who actively plan for and show a clear interest in their children's activities will find that the kids, in return, respect the needs of their parents.

Above all, Dr.Comer stresses the importance of listening to the children's concerns and being willing to acknowledge the shortcomings of the situation to address the kinds of plans and cooperation needed for all family members to have their needs met.

What the Coach Looks For In a Swim Performance 

There are many things a coach is looking for in a swim performance.  In general, a coach is looking for these four things:  proper attitude, a best time, proper technique, and winning.  Few swimmers achieve all four aspects in a single race.  When they do, that is a job well done -- but it is not a "great job" or and "unbelievable job" or a "fantastic job."  To use those terms can make a performance greater than it really was and therefore make it more difficult to repeat.  We use "mild praise" because we know, and we want everyone else to think and to feel, that there is always room for more improvement.  Doing three of the aspects, or two, or even one is cause for some level of praise.

Proper attitude:  Coaches  look for the "I want to be coached" attitude.  Coaches look for swimmers ready to express themselves about their swim in analytical fashion and then be eager to listen to advice.  Coaches look for athletes to say "I'll try to do better next time."  Sometimes a performance is less than what the athlete was hoping for and the emotional response can be a factor that inhibits looking at the swim objectively and analytically.  I such cases the coach may ask the swimmer to warm down for an extended time or to simply take some quiet time before looking at the race.  When this happens we look for the athlete resolve to make appropriate changes that will lead to a better performance next time.

A Best Time:  A best time usually represents an improvement in endurance, strength, and technique.  It measures the swimmer first against themselves and second against the rest of the world.  Intermediate through more advanced swimmers above the age of 11 should strive to know their best times.

Proper Technique:  How was the start, the strokes, the turns, the pace, the race strategy?

Winning:  Winning means racing with someone and finishing ahead.  In some cases that means winning the event.  However, in every heat there are several races -- there is a race for 1st, there may be a race for 3rd, there may be a race for 5th or even for seventh.  Coaches look for swimmers to be in a race, whether it is for 1st or 7th, and to try their best to "win."

The coach expects to speak with each swimmer before and after each swim.  Parents, please be sure to direct your child to the coach before the event.  When you see your child after the event ask them if they have spoken with the coach about their race and if not, direct them to the coach as soon as possible.  The coach should be the last person to talk to the swimmer before the event and the first to talk to the swimmer after the event.

Before the swim the coach will talk to swimmers about technique, pacing, race strategy, and best times.  Younger aged swimmers and less experienced swimmers will need direct reminders from the coach but as they age and grow in experience the coach will expect more information coming from the swimmer.  Ideally, the coach would like to have the swimmer tell the coach what they plan on doing in their event as a quiz to see how well prepared the swimmer is.  After the event the coach will ask them how they viewed their swim, listen to their responses, and then review the swim as the coach saw it. 

In this process it is important that parents play the role of emotional support -- give warm towels, and hugs, a "good luck, darling" to your swimmer and ask them to check in with the coach before and after their swim.  When the swimmer returns from their post race discussion with the coach it’s appropriate to ask them how they thought their swim was as well as to ask what the coach thought of the swim.  Please leave the race strategies, breathing patterns, stroke, start and turn reminders, time analysis and race analysis to the coach.  Any questions or comments parents have for the coach should be addressed directly with the coach at an appropriate time when the coach is not watching other swims.

What Should My Child Be Eating Before And During His Competition” 

Answered by: Keith B. Wheeler, Ph.D. 
The pre-competition meal is really a “mini nutrition period” that occurs in the 4 or 5 hours before the start of the meet. Unfortunately, many swimmers don’t understand the exact role of the pre-competition meal. It has little effect on increasing muscle glycogen levels. It is foods eaten 3 to 4 days before a meet that help establish glycogen levels in the muscles. By Meet days, glycogen levels are mostly “set” and there is little that one can do to increase them in the hours before competition.

The pre-event meal is important for maintaining the blood glucose and liver glycogen stores, key energy sources used in the early stages of competition. By maintaining blood glucose levels at the start of the meet, the dependency on muscle glycogen will be delayed, and that helps prolong endurance. To avoid stomach upset, nausea or that “stuffed” feeling, consume the meal 3 to 4 hours before the start of the meet. Avoid spicy, fatty, and high fiber foods, too. These are difficult to digest and may cause intestinal distress or nausea later during the meet. You’re child will swim more comfortably when he’s eaten easy-to-digest foods, and his stomach is relatively empty.  Nutrition conscious athletes now avoid traditional food such as the steak dinner, as well as other high fat, high protein foods like hamburgers, French fries, chips and mayonnaise. These foods remain in the stomach too long and slow down the digestion process. Foods that are rich in complex carbohydrates are generally easier to digest and empty from the stomach faster than high-fat, high protein foods. That’s important, because not only do you want to swim on a relatively empty stomach, you also want the foods you eat to be efficiently converted to energy. Cereals, pasta, baked potatoes and muffins are good carbohydrate sources that are easily digested and converted into glucose.

Vegetables and fruit juices are also good pre-vent meal items, as well as some dairy items like low fat yogurt, ice milk and low fat milk.

Swimmers, who prefer a light, non-filling pre-competition meal often, substitute a sport nutrition beverage. EXCEED nutritional beverage is an ideal choice for your pre-competition meal: it’s nutritionally complete and well balanced, so you won’t sacrifice essential nutrients if you use it in place of solid food.

Once your child’s competition is under way, his body still needs fluids and nutrients to sustain physical effort and fight fatigue. Although many coaches and swimmers don’t realize it, dehydration can be a problem in swimming, especially if the air and water temperatures are warm. Remember, sweating is the body’s main mechanism for cooling itself; even though his practice and competition takes place in the water, he can still lose a great deal of body water in the form of sweat.

Additionally, water is also needed to aid digestion and energy production. Dehydration robs his body of the primary means to cool itself and generate energy. Your swimmer should observe good nutritional and hydration habits in the time before he competes. If there are several hours before your child’s event, then he can enjoy a light snack or refreshment if he wishes. But if he’s going to swim right away or his event is an hour or less away, he should be very cautious about what he eats and drinks. In the hour preceding competition, he should drink, fruit juices, and beverages or snacks that contain sugar in any form aren’t appropriate this close to competition. They can trigger a sudden drop in blood glucose (hypoglycemia) with the onset of intense activity. Additionally; drinks that contain high concentrations of sucrose (table sugar) tend to empty from the stomach more slowly than water. You don’t want to start swimming with a stomach full of anything, including liquids.

Once his event is underway, his fluid requirements change. His body loses water in the form of sweat, particularly in the distance events, and it should be replaced. Good nutrition is something that you apply everyday throughout the season…not just the day before the meet.

Key To Goal Setting: Parent Support 

The goal of goal setting with young swimmers is to learn how to set goals.  With 10 and unders it is important that they are successful at achieving the goals that the coach and parents help them set. 

However, part of learning how to set goals, and also a part of growing up, is an occasional failure at achieving a goal.  Failing to meet a goal can have disastrous effects, or, can be part of a healthy growing experience, depending on the support of parents and coach.  While it is probably not a good idea to allow 10 and unders to set goals that they probably cannot reach, with 11 and 12 year olds, one approach is to give them more freedom in selecting goals thus allowing them an occasional "opportunity to fail".

When properly guided, a young person who fails to achieve a goal can learn that success is often built upon failure.  What would be the parent, coach, swimmer relationship for goal setting for 11 - 12's?  For parents this can be a very challenging time.  These young people are beginning to experiment with independence.  You may find that your influence does not have the immediate impact that you are accustomed.  When suggesting goals to your young swimmer, regardless of how appropriate the goals are, you are likely to find some resistance.  However, the emotional support a young swimmer needs at this age from you is as great as ever.  While the swimmer may not want to hear your suggestions for what to do in the pool, they sure need your support for what they are attempting to do, and sometimes fail to do.

Here are some questions you might ask your goal setting young swimmer.

  • Have you and Coach Andersen talked about your goals for the season?
  • What are the goals you have decided on?
  • Did you write them down?
  • What did Coach Andersen say you needed to work on in order to reach your goals?
  • Did you get any closer to your goals today?
The coach begins to take on a more influential role in the swimming development of the young swimmer at this time.  Swimmers sometimes think, eat, breath, sleep, and swim according to the direction of the coach and they may respond better to suggestions made by the coach than those made by you.  For example, you may be trying to improve the nutritional aspects of your young swimmer's breakfast only to find a typical bit of standard 11 and 12 resistance.  However, when the coach suggest the exact same advice to your swimmer he is ready to change his breakfast routine the next day. For this reason, plus the fact that the coach best knows the swimming abilities of your child, the primary influence in goal setting for 11 - 12's is the coach.

The coach acts as a guide, asking your swimmer appropriate questions to help him decide on goals.  When your child has a goal in mind and is convinced he can achieve that goal, coaches (and parents) should accept it as a goal even if it seems too ambitious.

What happens when he fails to meet the goal?  From you, he needs unconditional support and careful guidance.

Let's consider a situation where 12 year old Bobby has a best time of 1:07.5 in the 100 free, a "B" time.  He has several "B" times in other strokes but no "A" times.  His coach feels that a good goal for Bobby would be to make an "A" time in the 100 free, 1:03.19.  However, Bobby has set his own goal of breaking a minute in the 100 free in the final "B" meet of the season.  He knows if he breaks a minute he will qualify for the Junior Olympics and gain a spot on the relay.  Contributing to Bobby's desire to qualify for Junior Olympics this season is the fact that he turns 13 shortly after the meet and he knows it will take a 55.3 to qualify for the next Junior Olympics as a 13 - 14 year old.  Bobby also set three other goals which fall within the coaches expectations so the coach allows Bobby this "opportunity to fail". 

During the season, Bobby makes steady progress as he drops his time in the 100 free to 1:04.0 and he is still hoping to break a minute.  At the final "B" meet he goes a 1:03.0, a new "A" time, and wins the event.  The coach and Bobby's parents are very pleased with his performance.  Bobby, however, is dejected because he did not make his goal of breaking a minute.

Bobby's parents, sitting in the bleachers, observe him speaking with his coach.  His mood does not noticeably change despite his coaches' congratulatory gestures, smiling face, and reassuring words.  Now Bobby is on his way up into the bleachers to visit his parents.  What's important to say to Bobby?

  • First, attend first to Bobby's physical needs, "Are you warm enough?  Please put on your warm ups.  Do you need something to drink?"
  • Then, do not deny him the opportunity to express his disappointment and do not minimize his feelings.  You know it was a best time, and you know it was a good race, but you will not be able to MAKE him feel better by contradicting his feelings. Listen to him.
  • Empathize with Bobby.  Say, "I know how disappointed you must be."
  • Allow Bobby to find the solution to his disappointment.  "Why do you think you didn't make your goal?"  Bobby can respond to this question in one of several different ways and your follow up will be based on that response.  It is hard to generalize a conversation here, but what is important to remember is that through your questions and his responses, you want Bobby to realize that while his goal for breaking a minute is a good goal, his timetable for breaking a minute was too short and there are more things he needs to work on.
  • Support Coach Anderson.  Ask Bobby, "What did Coach Anderson say?"  "That sounds like a good idea, do you think you can do that?"
The desired net result of the parent and athlete relationship in this type of goal setting situation is that the athlete receives support for his feelings and he comes to realize how to adjust his goal setting in order to be more successful next time.  With this result, you'll find your young swimmer better equipped to establish his next set of goals with the knowledge that he has your unconditional support.

Stunned, Shammed, Thankful, and Finally… Helpful 
[Editors note:  a letter from a club’s newsletter]

My Fellow Parents:

The word “ignoramus “ comes to mind, but then I realized I wasn't sure what an ignoramus was.  After consulting Webster’s, I confirmed that I was one.  You see an ignoramus is a person who simply doesn't know.

My wife and girls have been involved with the team for almost two years.  With all their coming and going, I occasionally found myself tagging along, usually reluctantly, timing a race, helping out at the snack bar for a few hours, but not much else.  It wasn't until our last home meet when I offered to help cook at the concession stand and do some prep work Friday night before the meet, that I realized how much of an ignoramus I really was.

I was amazed at how much work went into simply setting up the concession stand, and the shade areas for timers and judges.  That night I got home at 10:30 p.m. After the meet on Sunday, all the stuff that got set up had to come down.  I spent at least 3 more hours helping there as well as all day cooking and selling at the concessions.

That weekend left me stunned, shamed, and thankful all at once.  Stunned because of the tremendous amount of man hours required to put on an event like that. Shamed, because where was I in the past when a dedicated few could have used some help to shoulder the load?  I was also thankful for these people who were fun to work with and who had quietly and diligently served my children those past two years.

Well those of you who were like me, you can't be an ignoramus anymore because I just blew your cover.  Maybe you'd like to come along at our next home meet and pitch in?  There'll be plenty to do and there's a chance we could have some fun doing it.

What is Long Course, What is Short Course? 

“One of our pools is 25 yards wide by 50 meters long.  Why isn't the pool 25 meters by 50 meters or 25 yards by 50 yards?”

For years the "American Standard Short Course" pool has been a 25 yard pool.  Almost all high school pools and most college pools are 25 yards long and most high school and college meets are run as short course meets.  USA Swimming Club teams generally swim short course meets from September through March. 

The international standard is meters.  The Olympics, Pan-American Games, and World Championships are held in 50 meter pools.  In this country, most 50 meter pools are outdoors due to the cost of building an indoor 50 meter pool.  For that reason our long course season is generally from March through August.  As more and more indoor 50 meter pools are being built and as the United States focuses more on international swimming the distinction between the "short course season" and the "long course season" becomes less distinct and more meets are going to the long course standard throughout the year -- with the exception of high school and college swimming which will generally remain short course yards.

At this time (April) many teams are training short course but are preparing to go to long course when the outdoor pool is ready.  Some lucky teams are located in a climate and have access to long course pools all year around.  And some lucky teams have indoor 50 meter water all year around. 

Eventually we all will be at swim meets during the spring and summer that are long course.  This will cause some confusion about times.  The times will be slower because a 50 meter swim is approximately 5 yards longer than a 50 yard swim.  Another factor are turns.  There are less turns in long course swimming and generally, turns are faster than swimming -- we can push off the wall faster than we can swim.  (Although for some of our swimmers who have not yet mastered a turn, the turning process is slower than swimming!) 

Some people attempt to "convert" a short course time to a long course time or visa versa.  The conversion factors are not precise due to differences in turns, strokes, and individual's ability to swim the extra distance at speed.  Conversions can lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointments, or to a false sense of achievement. For those reasons we do not convert times.  We simply say that each swimmer has two sets of best times, one for long course and one for short course.

One Day in The Life of an Age Group Parent 

Guy Edson
(From a 2003 Newsletter)

My wife was off to a continuing ed class.  My 12 year old daughter was at swim practice.  I had the much needed chance to spend a couple extra hours catching up with some work at the office.  That is, until my cell phone buzzed at 5:30.  “Dad, can you come pick me up?”  “What’s wrong?” I asked.  “I got kicked out of swim practice,” she said.  I was stunned!  My daughter is a fairly standard 12 year old, as fully capable of getting into trouble as any other 12 year old – except at swim practice where she is unusually compliant and very coachable.  I decided we would talk about it later and said, “Well, just come home with Coach Rob like you always do and we will talk about it when you get home.”  “Rob said you have to come pick me up now,” she said. 

The pool is 18 miles from my office by way of the most congested interstate in the whole metropolitan area.  The last thing I wanted to do is drive 45 minutes out there and another 45 minutes back.  My building anger focused on Coach Rob.  I thought to myself, “OK, my daughter screwed up but just let her swim.  It’s no big deal. Besides, why do I have to pay the price?  If it really is that bad he should just make her sit out and then bring her home like usual.  After all, that is what I would do.” 

Important note:  I am also a swimming coach and have been for nearly 30 years. Nevertheless, the parent side of me had taken over my thought process and I wanted to blame the coach for the inconvenience I was facing.  “…the inconvenience I was facing.”

Looking for a way out I asked, “What did you do?”  She told me she was three minutes late to practice and he wouldn’t let her in the water.  “Three minutes?  THREE minutes?” I asked.  In my mind I was cursing at the coach.  “How could you be three minutes late to practice?  You get there 45 minutes before practice time!” I said. She told me was doing homework in the locker room and lost track of the time.  “And he kicked Jackie out too,” she said.  I asked, “Jackie was doing homework also?” “No, she was changing her swim suit and we came out together.”

At that point distant memories started coming back and with them rational thinking crept back into my brain.  In my 30 years of coaching, how many times did multiples of 11-12 year old girls emerge from the locker rooms 3 minutes late and how many ridiculous excuses had I heard?  Plenty.  And how many times was it the same group of kids?  All the time.

“If I were to ask Coach Rob if this was the first time you were late, what would he say?” I asked.  I heard a faint “what?”  I repeated, “If I were to ask Coach Rob if this was the first time you were late, what would he say?  Have you been late before?”  “Sometimes.”

And what did I do years ago with those who became chronically late by 3 minutes?  I sent them back to the locker room, and told them to call their parents.  This scene is all too familiar to me.

“OK,” I said, “I’ll be there in 40 to 45 minutes.  I’ll be thinking of the consequences along the way.”  As a last ditch effort for clemency and a play on my fatherly love, I heard my daughter faintly say, “I’m sorry.” 

When I picked her up I was all smiles. And she lighted up right away.  She might have been thinking I was going to be cool about this.  I asked her what homework she was working on in the locker room and she told me it was math.  “You’re pretty good at math, aren’t you?” I asked.  “Get out a piece of paper and pencil and solve this problem:  a man drives a car that gets 15 miles to the gallon.  He has to drive his car 36 miles.  If gas costs $1.79 a gallon, how much did the trip cost him?”  She loves these kinds of problems and started dividing then multiplying and proudly came up with, “Four dollars and twenty nine cents!”  “That sounds correct,” I said.  That’s what it cost me to come pick you up and it’s coming out of your next allowance.”  The rest of the trip home was on the quiet side.

The next day, Coach Rob reported to me that she was on the deck 15 minutes early and ready to go.

Helping Your Young Child Set Goals 

Goal setting for young swimmers is an important process that requires interaction of the parent, coach, and athlete.  It is important to remember that for young swimmers the goal of goal setting is to learn how to set goals.  The progression for learning how to set goals is based upon the age and competitive experience of the swimmer.  In this issue we will look at one approach for introducing goals to 8 through 10 year olds.

There are many approaches to goal setting for younger swimmers.  The following approach is presented because it is a little different from the "normal" routine of coach‑swimmer interaction and one that I personally find more rewarding for the parent‑coach‑athlete relationship.

With younger, inexperienced swimmers, generally ages 8 ‑ 10, goal setting needs to be carefully guided by adults.  The purpose of goal setting with this age is for the young swimmer to learn what a goal is, that to achieve a goal a series of steps toward the goal must be taken, and that some amount of preparation and work is required to meet the goal.  These are very powerful lifelong skills.

I think it is very important that children are successful in achieving goals at this stage.  For this reason, the coach, who best knows the ability of the swimmer, should suggest goals to the parents who, in turn, guide their young swimmer to set goals well within the possibilities described by the coach.  Goals should be objective and based upon time standards or performance standards.  In addition, goals need to be short term goals aiming at completion in 4 to 6 weeks.  A long term goal is a difficult concept for 8 ‑ 10 year olds.

Billy is a 9 year old who has been on the swim team for 18 months.  He has all "B" times except for the 100 IM which he has an unofficial "C" time.  He has been disqualified in his three 100 IM races because he has an illegal breaststroke kick.  His best friend, neighbor, and swimming rival, John, began swimming at the same time as Billy but has achieved "A" times in the breaststroke and freestyle, several "B" times, and was recently moved to a more advanced group.  Billy's ambition is to swim in the same workout group with John.  Billy's dad and John's dad are friends and weekend golf rivals.  Coincidentally, John's dad regularly beats Billy's dad. Billy's dad's goal is to see Billy beat John.

What should Billy's goals be and who should set them?  Billy's goals must not be based upon John.  At this point in time John is a more accomplished swimmer. Perhaps he will always be more accomplished for a variety of reasons which will frustrate Billy if Billy's goal is always to beat John.  On the other hand, maybe John is temporarily bigger and stronger than Billy.  As the boys reach and pass puberty Billy may become the bigger and stronger and more skilled of the two and beating John may not present an adequate challenge.

The coach should suggest several goals for Billy to Billy's parents.  These goals are based upon the coaches' assessment of Billy's ability to improve in the next two months.  One suggested goal might be for Billy to make an "A" time in the 50 free.  Currently, Billy is only 4 tenths of a second from an "A" time.  A second goal might be to swim a legal 100 yard IM.  The coach has been working on Billy's breaststroke kick several times each week and is confident that Billy will have a legal kick in time for the next swim meet.

Why suggest these goals to the parents?  Two reasons:  1)  It is a good way for the parents and coach to communicate on the progress and future expectations for the young swimmer, and 2)  the most important and most influential people in the young swimmer's life are Mom and Dad.  What better source is there in guiding the young swimmer towards setting goals?

How should parents discuss goals with young swimmers?  I think the best way is to ask the young swimmer a series of questions designed to bring him to the goals suggested by the coach.  A conversation may go something like this:

Parent:  "Billy, our team is hosting a meet in six weeks.  Do you have any goals for our meet?"

Billy:  "What's a goal?"

Parent:  "A goal is something you want to do that you have never done before."

Billy:  [without hesitation] "I want to swim in John’s group!"

Parent:  "Someday I think you will.  What does it take to move up to that group?”

Billy:  “Coach says I need an A time.”

Parent:  "Do you know what your best time is?"

Billy:  "No"

Parent:  "Coach says you have 32.2 and that's only 4 tenths of a second from an "A" time which is a 31.8.  Would you like to make an "A" time?

Billy:  "YEA!"

Parent:  "Do you know how short 4 tenths of a second is?"  [Demonstrates with stop watch.]  "Coach says you can knock off those 4 tenths of a second just by streamlining better off the start and turn and by finishing with a long arm and strong kick.  What are you going to work on in practice to help you make your goal?"

Billy:  "I'm going to work on streamlining and finishing with a long arm and strong kick."

Parent:  "Great!  I KNOW you're going to make your goal!  There is a dual meet with Fairport in three weeks.  What do you think you would like to do in the 50 free in that meet?"

Billy:  "An "A" time?"

Parent:  "Right!  Now let's write down your goal."

The next step is for Billy to write down his goal(s) on two pieces of paper.  He should write his current best time, his goal, target date, and things he needs to work on in order to accomplish his goal.

His goal statement may look like this:

My Goal:  31.8 "A" time in the 50 free

When:  February 17 home meet

Best Time:  32.2

Every day in practice:  streamlining and good finishes

Billy should keep one at home in his room where he can look at it every day.  Mom and Dad should ask Billy once every week or so how he is doing on his goal.  The second copy he takes to swim practice to review with the coach.  Then he can keep it in his locker or swim bag and look at it every day before practice.

Of course, it's a wonderful thing if a young swimmer is aware enough of times, both his own and qualifying times, to set his own valid goals in addition to those suggested by the coach.  If a swimmer sets a reachable goal it should be accepted by coach and parents.  Most young swimmers however need the expert guidance of coach and parents to set obtainable goals.  Remember, at this age it is vitally important that swimmers are able to accomplish their goals.

The Marginally Motivated Swimmer 

Guy Edson
ASCA Staff

The other day I was remembering a time when I was a much younger coach and the day I asked a swimmer to leave practice and “not to come back.”  In recalling and thinking about this incident I believe there is a message for parents of older, aged 13 and above, lesser committed swimmers. 

What was this swimmer doing that was so terrible?  Nothing.  He was doing nothing; and that was the problem.  For whatever reason, he simply decided he wasn’t going to do the set I had prescribed and decided he was going to leave practice.

This 13 year old had a dismal attendance record making just a couple of workouts a week and when he did come there was minimal communication with me.  He would arrive seconds before we began the first set and he would immediately leave after the last set.  I only saw the mom one time; the dad, never.  Quite simply, it appeared that he didn’t want to be there.

I thought about the incident throughout that evening and it was the first thing on my mind when I woke up in the next morning.  I hated kicking a swimmer out of practice. I asked myself these questions:

Did I need to permanently dismiss him from the team?

Should I have just let him go without comment at the time or should I have taken the time to find out what was bothering him?

Should I have had a discussion with the parents long before the incident about what my expectations were and to find out what their expectations were?

Before I tackle those questions there are a couple of concepts I would like all parents to consider.  First, one of the primary duties of the coach is to provide adversity for the athletes.  That may sound like an unusual way to describe it but the reality is that a workout is not meant to be easy.  It is meant to be a physical and mental challenge.  Good coaches throw the challenge out there and then attempt to provide the environment where the athlete’s will to meet the challenge is high.  At older ages and upper levels, say 13 and over at sectional and above level, coaches sometimes design entire workouts meant to make the athlete fail – temporarily fail.  At lower levels, right down to novice level swimming, swimmers need to be exposed to sets that are difficult, perhaps so difficult that no one can achieve the set.  Good coaches use these sets to build a desire in the athletes to achieve higher levels of physical and mental toughness.   Good coaches know that being successful requires a combination of challenge and success in the workout environment and that the relative amount of each will change as the swimmer ages.

The second concept has two parts:  the coach’s time and effort; and the athlete’s submissiveness – best described as the athlete’s willingness to release themselves to the coach.  To whom should the coach give their time and effort?  Answer:  to those athletes who give themselves to the coach.  The coach has limited time and energy and the fairest behavior of the coach is focusing on those who are ready to meet the adversity.  Coaches simply do not have time to coddle and convince reluctant swimmers to do work while there are other swimmers willing and ready to go.

Now, back to the questions at hand.  Did I need to dismiss him from the team entirely?  In this case, Yes.  But it should have been discussed with the parent the next day rather than shouted to him across the pool.  Why dismiss him from the team?  He had a poor history of effort, bad attendance, and it was not worth the team’s time to try change his work ethic.  In a case where a swimmer had a history of good effort, and had shown a high degree of coachability – well, this situation wouldn’t have been an issue in the first place.

Should I have let him go without comment at the time?  Yes.  Running a workout where emotions are high is not the time to get into it with an athlete or the parent.  It is better to discuss such things in a different environment at a different time.

Should I have take the time to find out what was bothering him?  No.  That would have been taking time from those in the water who were doing the work and that is where the coach’s focus needs to be.

Long before the incident should I have had a discussion with the parents about “expectations”?   Absolutely Yes.  This was a failure on my part – and the parents.

The bottom lines:  There are adolescent swimmers who are of marginal ability who come to practice for a variety or reasons.  Sometimes it’s friends.  That’s a pretty good reason, but there has to be the willingness to work as well. 

Sometimes it’s Mom and Dad making the child go to practice.  There are good reasons and bad reasons for this.  Good reasons include a sincere desire for the child to be involved in a wholesome activity.  Bad reasons include a parent’s desire for the child to be a champion swimmer and earn a swimming scholarship when the child doesn’t have that talent. 

Whatever the reasons, it is important for parents and swimmers and coaches to discuss their respective expectations with each other.  Frankly, sometimes expectations just do not match up with what’s being offered or what is being done.  And then it is time to think about moving on to another program or another activity.

After Your Child Swims the Event

By Guy Edson
Long Time Age Group Coach 

What’s the proper process immediately following the conclusion of the swimmer’s event?  In this article I am going to talk about the age group swimmer who does not have the same immediate physical need to warm down as a senior swimmer does. 

Many coaches want to be the first person to speak with the young swimmer immediately after their event is swum.  Why?  First, the longer the time between finishing the event and receiving constructive comments, the less the swimmer is going to remember about the swim.  Being lead away by a loving and well meaning parent for treats or hugs or high fives from Grandpa, lessen the opportunity for immediate feedback from the coach.  Secondly, the coach has critical commentary on the quality of the swim which is vital for the learning process and needs to be the first person to review the swim with the swimmer.  If the swimmer hears either overflowing positives, or in some cases, harsh criticism from the parents before he or she visits with the coach it is very possible the swimmer is going to be receiving conflicting messages.  

After an event I first ask my swimmers, "How did you like your swim?"  I want to hear their feelings first.  In some situations, when a swimmer displays excessive anger or crying after a swim I will ask them to warm down first, or to sit quietly in private for a few moments before talking about the swim.  In these cases I am wanting them to learn how to manage their feelings and I prefer they not visit with Mom or Dad yet.   

After listening to them I proceed to analyze the swim in three basic areas.  Was it a best time?  A best time is not the only issue but it is important.  I make a pretty big deal about best times and I want the swimmers to recognize the importance of always trying for best times.  However, I also look at how they swam the race – was it technically correct with proper pace and a good start, good turns, good stroke mechanics and a good finish?  Sometimes a best time is tempered by the fact that the swim wasn’t really a “best swim.”  I also look at the race.  "Winning the race" refers to beating whoever they are close to in the heat.  Sometimes it means winning the heat, sometimes it means winning the event, sometimes it means out touching the swimmer in the next lane for seventh place.  The sport is a competitive sport and the ability to race is important.  If a swimmer is successful at one of the three objectives I tell them they did a good job.  If they are successful at two of the three, that's a better job.  If they are successful at all three, then they did the best they are capable of at that point in time.  I avoid using words like “unbelievable” or “great” preferring to leave them with a sense that they can always improve. 

How can the parent respond?  First, if the child forgets to go directly to the coach, please give them a quick hug and sent them straight to the coach. Afterwards, I think the most important thing is to simply love your child and provide emotional comfort.  Congratulate them.  Console them.  Ask them how they felt about their swim before you tell them anything.  Ask them what the coach said.  But please, don’t add a technical critique, leaving that for the coach.   

There is no doubt that a healthy parent-coach-athlete relationship is vital to the long term success of the athlete.  Stay in touch with the coach, support him or her, and direct your children to the right places at the right times.

My Man Dan...

By Mike McCauley
Head Coach of Premier Aquatics, Houston Area

I drove to the pool that Monday afternoon, and I got a text from one of my swimmers.  “I won’t be at practice today…I’m at the hospital…” 

And as I come to the end of the season, with all my swimmers in prep mode for their various championship meets, it always gets a little tough.  We, coach and athlete, are plagued by the unforeseeable.  What’s going to happen? 

I always get excited during this period because I know that, in the end…succeed to a certain degree or fail big…my kids will be forced to handle the outcome, no matter what.  And how they handle each outcome is what helps to drive their character development and long-term success chances.  Maybe they will be arrogant, maybe they will throw a fit…or maybe, just maybe, each of my athletes will use their various experiences as motivation to become better.  Become better where?  In school, with their parents, in training, in their future jobs…everywhere!  If I can get them to solve a riddle that plagues most, then I get to taste a little success as their coach.  What’s that riddle you ask?  Here it is:  How do you turn success, failure, or hard times, into an empowering situation? 

Back in my car…naturally I called him right away.  No answer.  Dang it!  What’s happened?  I got a text response to my call.  “They think I have diabetes.”  What?!?!  DIABETES?!?!   You can imagine all the things that went flying through my head.  That’s impossible.  It can’t be right.  That’s not fair.  He was just tearing up last Friday’s workout, shook my hand, told me thanks for the workout, and went home…nothing out of the ordinary there.  What’s going to happen?

Now I find it interesting that I asked myself the same question, only now, I suddenly didn’t care about what used to be at the forefront of my mind. Swimming, what?  My priorities shifted quickly, a 180-degree turn to say the least.  My man Dan…what’s going to happen? 

Obviously my role was to relax my swimmers when I drove up to the pool.  I was sure they already knew something.  So I walked in, gathered up my kids, and told them about their teammate.  We had a good workout that day…a tribute to my kids rolling with something unexpected but able to stay focused on the task at hand.  They all wanted to help, but understood that there was nothing at the immediate moment to do for him, except complete a good workout. 

The next morning, I drove down to Texas Children’s Hospital.  On the way down, I called a dear friend of mine, one that could give me some good information on diabetes, then another for directions.  I finally found my swimmer lying in a hospital bed on the 14th floor…room 1435. 

When I walked in, Sudoku book and a goofy pen in hand, I had a plan for my man Dan:  Laugh, talk shop, and then show him that the lessons he learned through swimming were being tested right here, right now. 

I was fortunate enough to sit with his parents and listen as doctors and dieticians delivered a barrage of information.  We all asked questions, trying to wrap our minds around the depth of this unfair diagnosis.  Unfair.  That’s what it was.  If I could, I would have reached into his body and ripped it out…everyone was thinking the same thing.

We talked about the Olympic swimmer Gary Hall, Jr., and how he has diabetes.  We looked through the Regional psych sheet, and talked about Sectionals.  We discussed the lessons of swimming applicable to this scenario.  And then I tried not to look while he gave himself his first injection. 

And yet, through all of this, he was calm, not panicked.  What?  Could this be right?  I watched a little more.  He’s rocked that’s for sure, but he was unbelievably calm.  My mind did a back flip!  Are you kidding me?  Here he is, learning how to cope with an unexpected, life-long disease…yet he’s not crying, he’s not shouting, he’s not blaming anyone, he’s not arguing; He wasn’t looking for a way out; he was looking for a way through!  

I smiled all the way home from the hospital.  What a remarkable young man!  Put through an emotional gauntlet and still, he did not back down.   My man Dan…he solved the riddle!  Right there in that hospital room, under the most unlikely of circumstances, he solved it.  What’s going to happen?  I think I know…and so does he.

Teaching Technique – What We Know, What We Think We Know, and What We Do

By John Leonard

One of the more common questions that parents have,  is when/how the coach teaches the technical aspects of swimming to the athletes. First of all, we know that swimming is a “technique limited” sport. Which means that without good technical strokes, starts and turns, effort and hard work will only carry you a very limited way…..the fact that water becomes more resistant as you go faster, means that perfect technique is rewarded and impaired technique is punished with less speed for more effort.  This is age old wisdom that is accepted by all experienced coaches and athletes.

We think we know, that we can teach good technique. Coaches spend countless hours learning not only WHAT a swimmer should do, but HOW to teach them to do it.  It appears, in non-scientific terms, that when coaches spend time teaching technique, technique improves. We hope that means there is a direct correlation between our teaching and the athletes learning. It’s a reasonable belief.

Our friend Dr. K. Anders Ericsson at Florida State University, is the world’s leading authority on “becoming an expert” in any domain. Part of his research, written about in popular literature, is that it requires 10,000 hours of dedicated practice (which he terms “Purposeful practice”) in order to acquire “expert” status in any domain. Interestingly, if the ordinary swimmer begins practice at age 8 and follows a normal curve of increasing practice hours each year to age 17-18, they will have put in approximately 10,000 hours……which is a nice coincidence with the long held “truth” among coaches that it takes 10 years to “make a swimmer.” Science meets experience right in the middle, and both are validated.

Now “purposeful practice” is time that is focused on specifics and exacting detail in performance. It has constant and realistic and expert feedback from the teacher, and feedback again from the athlete to the teacher.  The entire effort is hard work, not much fun, and mentally focused and exhausting effort. 

Is that what we do in swimming? Not for most of us. When swim coaches teach technique, it is typically “to the team” or a group of the  team, almost never in a sustained 30-60 minute burst of one on one teaching. (essentially a private lesson.) My friend Guy Edson, who edits and distributes this newsletter, describes it as working to “get in the same neighborhood” as a good stroke, with most of his novice swimmers. Not necessarily in the right house, much less in the right chair in the living room….just getting in the neighborhood.  Swim Teams, by their very nature, of being “A TEAM”, do not allow much one on one teaching….or what Dr. Ericsson would call “deliberate, or purposeful practice.”

Of course, years of successful age group swimming would tell us that we’re being successful “somehow”.  Perhaps at certain ages, “getting in the neighborhood” of a great stroke is enough. As the child matures, additional purposeful practice gets the athlete more finely tuned, and eventually, if they are purposeful and studious enough to warrant a lot of one on one attention from a coach, they will have the opportunity to personalize that perfect stroke for them….deliberate and purposeful practice at its best.

To be successful in swimming, we need to not only learn, but also to improve our physical state…training. Both are needed for top performance at all ages. So those 10,000 hours of practice we put in may not all be “purposeful and directed learning”, but many of them qualify as contributing to our eventual expertise.

The question for coaches? How to incorporate more of that deliberate and specific practice to improve strokes? And the question for parents and athletes? How to best apply the “training time” to swim the strokes in the patterns that have been taught by the coaches… they become habit and ingrained skill.

Improving the quality of our practices will improve the speed of our performances.

Developing Swimmers Progressively

We develop our swimmers progressively with great patience.  Winning is not an issue with our younger age groups.  We want swimmers to be their best in their later teen and college age years.  We spend the majority of time with our youngest swimmers developing technique, some time developing endurance, and very little time developing speed.  As swimmers become older and more skilled we increase the amount of endurance work, continue to develop technique, and introduce “race preparation.” Racing preparation means learning how to race more than it means high volumes of quality speed work.  At older ages and higher levels of skill the emphasis is on racing speed and competition while continuing to build long term endurance and continuing to refine technique and race strategy.

On the mental side we want the swimmers to learn to take responsibility for their own performance and to learn the importance and the thrill of meeting challenges straight forward.  We also teach swimmers to; learn to read a pace clock and understand time relationships; learn about setting goals and the relationship between work and achieving goals; learn that everyone on the team contributes to each other's performance; and learn a sense of control in pacing swims, sets, and practices. Control allows for the highest levels of work without counterproductive out of control struggling.  We feel this learned sense of control is applicable to other areas of life as well.


By John Leonard

Last week I was speaking to a young coach who had just taken a new job.

His specific problem was that the coach that was there before he was, had everyone “training hard” and had done a great job of selling that concept. Everyone from 8 and unders to seniors was pounding the yardage daily.

The new coach wanted to spend 6 weeks or so concentrating on skills development, because in the first few days on the job, he noticed that many of the swimmers were deficient in the types of stroke, turn and start skills that would support them as they aged into older swimmers in the program.

He’d laid out that plan to his parent group, including cutting back practices from 2 and one half hours per day to just 90 minutes for the older swimmers and 60 minutes for the middle groups and 45 minutes for the youngest swimmers. This, consistent with today’s best advice to dedicate oneself to “purposeful practice” of new skills if you hoped for optimum learning….shorter periods of intense concentration, with little to interfere with the concentration process.

He immediately faced rebellion.

Moms and a few Dads, called him to complain that important swim meets were coming up and their little darling needed to “train” in order to be successful. Interestingly, more than 70% of the calls came from the parents of  younger children. The coach asked my advice on how to educate the parents on this issue.

Here’s my answer.

“Long practices, with high training volumes will make all swimmers VERY good at what they are doing. Repetition builds habit. Habit stands up beautifully under the pressure of competition…when in fact, nothing else does….as the pain of competition effort  removes all traces of thought from the brain… becomes habit that the swimmer relies upon to get him home to the finish. 

“Unfortunately, if they are practicing poor technique, that will be learned and habituated, just as well as good technique. And poor technique makes you biomechanically inefficient at the time of greatest stress. Hence you struggle more, go slower and your stroke collapses at the end of races. 

“This makes swimming a technique limited sport. Your child will be severely limited by the degree with which they can perform the strokes with good habits, instead of poor habits. 

“Lots of training with poor habits will make a very poor swimmer. A little training with good habits, will result in a good swimmer and one that is “unlimited” in their future. 

“Which one do you want for your child? 

HINT: Get the strokes right FIRST instead of purposefully practicing mistakes.

All the Best for Great Swimming Experiences!

Watching Your Child at Swim Lessons or Swim Practice

By Guy Edson

For many years I watched my daughter swim under the direction of other coaches. I have also watched her at basketball practice and games, and dance, and figure skating.  I know the joy of watching her in these activities.  I also know and understand the overwhelming desire to direct, correct, encourage, and sometimes scold her at practice.  But these are not proper parental behaviors once I have released her into the care of a coach or teacher.  As a parent, I am not to interfere with the practice or attempt to talk to my child during the practice session.

At swim practice coaches want the children’s attention focused on the coach and the tasks at hand.  Occasionally children miss an instruction, or have a goggle problem, or are involved in some other distraction, or are simply playing and having fun – which are all normal behaviors for young children.  Coaches view these little difficulties as opportunities for the children to develop good listening skills, ability to reason, and self discipline.  Sometimes we allow failure on purpose -- a missed instruction leaving the child confused often results in the child learning to pay better attention the next time.  We endeavor to provide an environment for the children to develop these skills.  A well-intentioned and over-enthusiastic mom or dad sometimes has difficulty allowing their child to miss something and wants to interfere.  It’s understandable.

We know it is common in many other youth sports for parents to stand at the sidelines and shout instructions or encouragements and sometimes admonishments to their children.  However, at swim practice coaches ask parents not to signal them to swim faster, or to tell them to try a certain technique, or to offer to fix a goggle problem, or to move away from some other “menacing” swimmer, or even to remind them to listen to the coach.  In fact, just as you would never interrupt a school classroom to talk your child, you should not interrupt a swim practice by attempting to communicate directly with your child. 

What’s wrong with encouraging your child during practice?  There are two issues.   First we want your child to focus on the coach and to learn the skill for their personal satisfaction rather than learning it to please their parents.  Secondly, parental encouragement often gets translated into a command to swim faster and swimming faster may be the exact opposite of what the coach is trying to accomplish.  In most stroke skill development practices we first slow the swimmers down so that they can think through the stroke motions.  Save encouragements and praise for after the practice session!  This is the time when you have your child’s full attention to tell them how proud you are of them.

What’s wrong with shouting or signaling instructions to your children?  When I watched my old daughter play in a basketball league I felt an overwhelming desire to shout instructions to my child and so I understand the feelings that most parents have.  But those instructions might be different from the coach’s instructions and then you end up with a confused child.  Sometimes you might think the child did not hear the coach’s instruction and you want to help.  Most of us do not want to see our own kids make a mistake.  The fact is that children miss instructions all the time.  Part of the learning process is learning how to listen to instructions.  When children learn to rely on a backup they will have more difficulty learning how to listen better the first time.

As parents, many of us want our children protected from discomfort and adversity and we will attempt to create or place them in an environment free from distress.  So, what’s wrong with helping your child fix their goggles during practice time?  Quite simply, we want to encourage the children to become self-reliant and learn to take care of and be responsible for themselves and their own equipment.  Swimming practice is a terrific place to learn these life skills.  Yes, even beginning at age 6 or 7.

If you need to speak to your child regarding a family issue or a transportation issue or to take your child from practice early you are certainly welcome to do so but please approach the coach directly with your request and we will immediately get your child out of the water.  If you need to speak to the coach for other reasons please wait until the end of practice. 

Thanks for bringing your children to swim practice.  Every swim coach I know coaches each child with care for their safety and concern for their social, physical, learning skills, and life skills development.    

Learning To Prepare For The Best 

John Leonard

As I write this in early January in Fort Lauderdale, the air temperature is a “balmy” 42 degrees….well, balmy if you’re from Green Bay, Wisconsin, maybe.  Here in South Florida, that’s a cold wave.  We swim outside, and the water temperature is 75 degrees…..the heaters can’t keep up when the air is this cold.  The wind chill factor, according to Channel 7, is…well, we don’t want to know the wind chill with a nice brisk 20 mile an hour wind coming off theEverglades. 

My phone rings at 5 AM  and a small voice on the other end asks plaintively, “Do we really have swim practice, Coach John?”  Yes, we really do. 

WHY? Is the next question, which I wrestle with myself on the 15 minute drive to the pool….why put teenagers in the water on this cold and nasty morning  when both they and I would prefer to stay snuggled in at home for another hour or hour and a half. 

Now, I KNOW why, but can I express it to my swimmers?  Yes, I’ll try.  Everyone, on the day after the high school state meet, vows that “next year” they will A) make a final, B) Make the meet C) win an event or D) write in your own goal here.

It’s easy to vow to do something the day after, when you are excited, full of the promise of life and get up and go. It’s a lot harder to REMEMBER what you wanted to do in early January when it’s 5 AM and cold outside.  Then it’s a lot harder and a lot easier to rationalize, “it’s just one workout”.

The problem is, when teenagers begin to learn to rationalize, they get really good at it really fast, and pretty soon, the ACTION required to fulfill the commitments to those goals/dreams, falls prey to the rationalization.  And after you rationalize the decision you want to make the first time, it’s so much easier to do it the next time, and the time after that, and pretty soon, the goal is just a dream, because you’re rationalizing yourself into thinking, “I’d like to do that if everything could be perfect for me, and it would never be cold in the morning, or no social events would ever conflict with practice,  and time with my friends always went the way I want it to.“

But things never go perfectly.  The ONLY thing you can successfully predict is that obstacles to your goal WILL come up, and little or nothing will go smoothly.  And that consistency in preparation is the only way to raise the percentages of the chance you will reach your goal.

Read that again….”raise the percentages of the chance…”  Not a guarantee.  If it’s a good goal, there are no guarantees, EXCEPT that if you don’t prepare correctly, according to the plan, you won’t raise your chance of success, you’ll lower it.

So why go to practice at 5 AM in the cold? Because it’s part of the plan, and it raises your chance of success.  But most of all, because you have told yourself that you will commit to doing it.  And if you let yourself down, who won’t you let down?  Prepare for a chance for success.  And feel really good about doing that.

Because not very many people do.   

Gain Weight To Gain Strength 

By Keith B. Wheeler, Ph.D. and Angeline M. Cameron

Should young (9 to 11 years old) male swimmers try to gain weight to gain strength?  If so, what is the best way?

No, young male swimmers in this age range should not be too concerned with increasing their muscle mass to increase strength.  Until they reach puberty, usually between 12 and 15 years of age, young men cannot increase their muscle mass rapidly because of the lack of the male hormone testosterone.  However, studies have shown that with the appropriate weight-training program prepubescent boys can significantly increase their strength, despite the lack of muscle growth.  The primary reason for this is that strength is regulated by factors other than muscle size -- namely, various neurological controls that are influenced by weight training.

For more detailed information on this subject, write to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), Box 81418, Lincoln, NE, 68501, and ask for the position paper titled "Prepubescent Strength Training."  This paper discusses benefits and risks of strength training and gives guidelines for a good program.

Additionally, ASCA sells a book written by  two very well respected sports physiologists and published by Human Kinetics entitled “Strength Training For Young Athletes.”  This book directly address the concerns of parents and coaches regarding strength training for young athletes, dispels the myths, and offers correct advice for properly administering a dryland training program.  The book is available here:

What Motivates The Coach? 

It's obvious that it's the coaches job to motivate the swimmers, but the question has come up as to who or what motivates the coach on a daily basis?
We asked Coach Steve Bultman, ASCA Level 5, what motivates him.  His answer:
"One of our problems has been that lots of good coaches have left the sport for various reasons and loss of motivation is a big part of that.  I've found motivation in various places.  First, I think the swimmers, above all, motivate the coach.  One of the neatest things about our job is working with outstanding young individuals to help them reach their goals.  When you have that kind of relationship, it's highly rewarding.  
"The performance of the team also motivates the coach.  There are days where you just have a great practice and everything goes well, and it's a great feeling.
"Other things also help keep a coach happy and involved with swimming.
Parents who really believe in what you're doing and pitch in and help out where they're needed definitely make the job go better.  I've also found that going to the ASCA Clinic gets your batteries charged and fills you with energy and ideas.
Another way to motive your coach is to give him or her a chance to be an "explorer"; a chance to maintain or improve their creative ability.  Roger Von Oech, author of A Whack on the Side of the Head and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants spoke at the ASCA World Clinic in 1987.  He said:
"I believe that in order to create anything, whether it's an idea for a new swimming project, or a new business, or a new recipe for chicken, or a new fund raising idea, you have to have the materials in which to create.  That means having facts, information, concepts, knowledge, experiences.  Now, I find that a lot of people tend to look for information only in their own area.  I do a lot of work with computer companies and I find computer people spending most of their time talking to other computer people.  I work with bankers and they spend most of their time talking with other financial people.
"I would imagine there is some of the same thing in the swimming community.
That's fine initially.  Talk to your colleagues and peers, that is what this clinic is all about.  Early on, I also encourage you to do this:  put on the hat of the explorer and get outside your box.  Venture off the beaten path and look for ideas in other fields, other sports, and other industries.
Again and again, I've seen people poke around in outside areas, find something and bring it back to their own sport, give it a twist, and come up with something highly innovative.
Too often we expect coaches to be coaches 24 hours a day.  Not only should we allow them time to be explorers, we should actively encourage them to seek activities, hobbies, and professional seminars to help them be better coaches.  (Why not send your coach to a sales seminar?)
In addition to encouraging and financially supporting coaches to attend seminars, coaches appreciate and are motivated by the Board of Director's respect for their well being.  Due to competitive schedules and over lapping seasons coaches often go weeks and sometimes months without a single day off and some coaches rarely take vacations.  This week after seeing University of Florida's highly successful football coach Urban Meyer step aside from his duties as head coach to attend to personal health and wellness issues is a reminder that our coaches need time to renew, re-energize, relax, and recreate.  There is an excellent column by USA Today's Mike Lopresti in today's newspaper regarding Meyer.  You can read that article here:

Fast Food - How To Lift The Guise On Healthier Choices

Reprinted from Mayo Clinic Nutrition Letter with permission of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Rochester, Minnesota 55905

By changing menus and methods of cooking, fast-food restaurants are making it easier for you to eat more healthfully.  But don't be fooled by products that sound healthy.  Here are our suggestions for how you truly can trim calories and fat:

* Be salad savvy -- Avoid the mistake of thinking "salad" is synonymous with "diet food."  Salads can be sneaky about fat and calories.  The taco salads offered at Wendy's and Jack In The Box each deliver 500-plus calories, more than half of which come from fat.  The meat and cheese in chef salads invariably overpower the vegetables to increase fat.  Chicken and seafood salads usually are lower in fat and calories, averaging less than 200 calories.

It's the dressings that provide the crowning touch.  They can add as much as 400 calories to any salad.  Watch out for packaged dressings that contain more than one serving.
The calories and other nutrients are given for a one-half ounce serving, yet some packages hold up to 2.5 ounces.  Ask for reduced or low-calorie salad dressing.

* Choose chicken carefully -- Chicken may be naturally lower in fat than hamburger, but when breaded and fried, it loses its nutritional edge.  At 688 calories and 40 grams of fat, Burger King's Chicken Specialty has 100 more calories and 20 percent more fat than McDonald's Big Mac.  Chicken chunks, strips and "stix" have fewer calories than chicken sandwiches, but still carry a heavy load of fat.

The leanest chicken sandwich we found is Jack In The Box Chicken Fajita Pita for 292 calories and 8 grams of fat -- if you skip the guacamole.
* Be suspicious of specialty sandwiches -- Even non-fried sandwiches made with lean turkey or ham can be deceiving.  Hardee's Turkey Club packs more calories and as much fat as McDonald's Quarter Pounder.  General clues to keep in mind when deciding about this type of sandwich are its size and the amount of cheese, mayonnaise or special sauces.
* Order burgers plain and non-imposing -- You know you're headed for calories and fat if you order a burger billed "jumbo," "ultimate," "double"
or "deluxe."  You may have to search the menu board a bit, but all major franchises offer a plain hamburger for under 300 calories.  At Hardee's and Roy Rogers, the roast beef sandwich is one of the leanest items you can order.

* Don't read too much into the hype about healthier fat -- Switching from animal to vegetable fats is one step to lowered dietary cholesterol and saturated fat.  But it doesn't transform fried foods into healthy options. Large orders of McDonald's french fries (cooked in an animal/vegetable blend) and Hardee's french fries (cooked in vegetable oil) have about 20 grams of total fat.  Hardee's fries have no cholesterol and a bit less saturated fat.  But the key to your heart health is trimming total fat, and all fried fast foods still fail to do that.

* You make the call -- Fast food has come a long way since the days of only burgers, fries and shakes.  More food options can make it easier for you to elude excess fat and calories for speed and convenience.  Nevertheless, it all comes down to what you say when the person at the counter asks, "May I take your order?"
Here are the leanest and fattest fast foods you can eat
We* reviewed products offered at six popular fast-food franchises.  In terms of fat and calories, here are the best and worst choices you can make:
Best Picks
Calories         Fat(grams)
Burger King Chicken Tenders (6 pieces)              204                 10
Hardee's Chicken Stix (6 pieces)                           234
Jack In The Box Chicken Fajita Pita                       292
McDonald's Hamburger                                           257
Roy Rogers Roast Beef Sandwich             317                 10
Wendy's Plain Single                                                350
Worst Picks
Calories         Fat(grams)
Burger King Whopper with Cheese                        711
Hardee's Bacon Cheeseburger                              556
Jack In The Box Ultimate Cheeseburger                942                 69
McDonald's McD.L.T.                                               674
Roy Rogers Bar Burger                                            611
Wendy's Bacon Swiss Burger                                 710
Note:  Calories and fat are based on the most recent printed information provided to us by each company.

Two A Day Swim Practices - When Should the Athlete Start? 

By Paul Blair*, ASCA Level 5
Little Rock Racquet Club

When looking at the possibility of beginning two a day workouts for an athlete it is important to consider three things:

1.  Age
2.  What events the athlete is training for
3.  The goals of the athlete

Over the years some of the top sprinters in the world have not begun swimming until their mid-teens.  With this in mind, two a day practices with some sprint athletes must be handled with great planning and understanding.  Young sprinters can be overwhelmed with the workload of two a day practices and may be chased out of our sport.

On the other hand, distance swimmers who are interested in competing as distance swimmers must start two a day practices as soon as the individual athlete is ready.  The age of 12 for males and maybe younger for some females is our guideline.  Distance swimmers must develop a base level of aerobic conditioning which requires years of training.  Distance swimming and training is an art just like sprinting.

The goals of the athlete are also important in determining the age to start two a day practices.  Normally, swimmers who have the ability to swim fast want to begin two a day training sessions early on in their career.

Over the years,  I have tried different combinations of two a day training.  During the school year I have found the following schedule to be successful:

- Monday, Wednesday, Friday, from 5:00 am to 7:00 am.
- Saturday from 9 - 11 am.
- Afternoon workouts on Monday through Friday from 4 - 6 pm.

This schedule allows us to train at our maximum four days a week and rest the other three days a week.

The best two a day practice schedule is the one that enhances the development of the athlete. 

The athlete needs to have fun and needs to want to achieve success.

*This article is reprinted from the ASCA archives.  Coach Blair passed on in 2006.  He was recognized as one of the great sprint coaches and a great team builder.  He developed John Hargis to an Olympic gold medal and his Arkansas Dolphins swim team won the men’s national team title in 1989.

Fast Food Breakfast Choices 

Warm-ups for the morning session start at 7:00 am, your two children need a breakfast, you're in a strange town, and the only place you can find for breakfast is one of the fast food places.  What to do?

The most important thing to do is avoid fats for two reasons:  1)  Fats have an immediate and dramatic effect on the ability of the circulatory system to carry nutrients, especially oxygen, to muscle cells.  For young people about to participate in a swimming meet this is a definite handicap.  And 2)  As part of developing lifetime habits for long term health, people of all ages should keep their daily fat intake to less than 30 percent of the total calories consumed.

The Mayo Clinic Nutrition Letter offers these tips:*

You don't always have to nix nutrition for speed and convenience.  Fast foods may not make ideal meals, but some do offer healthful carbohydrate and only moderate amounts of fat.  You also can downplay fat excesses by sorting out subtle differences among items.  Consider these points the next time you're grabbing breakfast on the run:

Keep it simple -- The fewer ingredients you order in breakfast sandwiches, the lower the fat, sodium and calories.  Hold the sausage and bacon.

Order it "drier that a biscuit" --  The English muffin is the lowest-fat breakfast food on most quick-service menus.  Order it dry and substitute jelly for the butter; this virtually eliminates fat. When other ingredients are equal, a sandwich made on an English muffin is lower in fat than one on a biscuit.  Croissant sandwiches are highest in fat.  "Croissant" may sound light and airy, but it contains twice the fat of a biscuit and six times the fat of an English muffin.

Choose "cakes" instead of eggs --Pancakes, even with a little butter, offer more energizing carbohydrate and less fat and cholesterol than egg dishes.

Below are three of the lowest-fat breakfast options found by the Mayo Clinic Nutrition Letter:  These meals supply 20 to 30 percent of daily protein for the average adult, about 25 percent of daily calories for the average women, complex carbohydrates, vitamin C, and, in one example, calcium.

1.  McDonald's Hotcakes with butter and syrup, orange juice,coffee:  493 calories,16% of calories from fat.

2.  McDonald's English muffin with butter, orange juice, low-fat milk:  384 calories, 23 % of calories from fat.

3.  Jack in the Box Breakfast Jack (egg, ham and cheese on a hamburger bun), orange juice, coffee:  387 calories, 30 percent of calories from fat.

*Reprinted from Mayo Clinic Nutrition Letter with permission of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Rochester, Minnesota, 55905.

Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities - Coping With Adversity is the Key 

Dr. Scoresby, Ph.D

Nothing in the world will take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  The slogan, “Press on” has evolved and always will solve the problems of the human race.  -Calvin Coolidge

Some parents think they can make sure their child has good self-esteem if they can shelter or protect her from trials, frustration, uncertainties and setbacks.  The opposite is true.  Their continual attempts to make their child happy and to protect her from every potential unpleasantness will most likely undermine her self-esteem. Allowing your child room to grow, make mistakes, deal with defeat and overcome problems is essential in the development of healthy self-esteem.  You cannot bestow self-esteem, but you can help your child develop it by:

  • Helping your child set goals
  • Encouraging your child to challenge himself and improve his talents
  • Giving your child chores and responsibilities appropriate to his age and ability
  • Teaching your child that he is responsible for his own happiness and accomplishments
  • Providing academic and psychological support
By allowing your child a controlled amount of frustration, you’re showing confidence in her.  Of course, this doesn’t mean you should leave her to deal with a hopeless situation alone.  There are certainly times she will need your assistance.  You can continue to be concerned and involved while encouraging independence.

Strategies to Promote Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem

In School

If you believe your child lacks self-esteem and/or self-confidence because of problems he is having at school, talk to his teacher.  If he is having difficulty academically, perhaps the teacher can suggest ways to give him opportunities to improve his self-confidence.  For example, he could be encouraged to work on projects that will utilize his talents.  School achievement is very important in the development of self-confidence.

At Home

1.  Create and environment in your home that encourages the development of self-esteem.  According to Dr. Ida Greene, an expert on developing self-esteem, the ingredients of such a home are:

  • Express love
  • Encourage goal-setting
  • Communicate honestly
  • Encourage independence
  • Define your family’s values
  • Create security and stability
  • Establish reasonable standards
  • Be consistent in your discipline
  • Create opportunities for success
  • Express faith in your child’s abilities
  • Praise your child’s accomplishments
  • Require age-appropriate responsibility
  • Provide emotional and academic support
If these ingredients are present in your home, your child will feel more secure, will like and respect herself, and will consider herself to be worthwhile and competent.

2.  If your child’s poor self-esteem is chronic, she is probably suffering from emotional problems.  The reasons for these problems need to be examined in counseling or psychotherapy.  According to Greene, “Serious self-esteem deficits will not disappear of their own accord.  The child who dislikes herself and feels “bad” will most likely continue to feel this way throughout her life unless she receives help from a mental health professional.”  Academic success will not provide her much enjoyment or satisfaction.  If you get help for her before her bad feelings become permanent you will give her a brighter future.

*Dr. Scoresby holds a Ph.D from the University of Minnesota in Counseling Psychology and is the author of many books, including Teaching Moral Development, Focus on the Children and Something Greater than Ourselves: The Exercise of Extraordinary Leadership.  He is the director of Knowledge GainAccelerated Learning Center and president of A. Lynn Scoresby & Associates, a leadership development firm.

Eating on the Road 

By Linda Houtkooper, Ph.D., R.D.   Linda is a Food Nutrition Specialist at the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Arizona.  She was once the author of a question/answer column in Swimming World magazine and she gave a presentation on nutrition at the ASCA World Clinic.

What should swimmers eat when swim meet or vacation takes them on the road?  Should the foods for best performance be sacrificed for popular, convenient, fatty foods or is there something else they can eat?

Swimming success depends on ability, top-notch training, coaching, and good nutrition.  Proper nutrition for swimmers includes foods that provide all essential nutrients in the proper amounts for good health and performance.

Nutrition-conscious swimmers know that they need high carbohydrate, low fat foods to perform their best.  The best diet for training and performance is the VIM diet.

V= Variety of wholesome foods that provide the proper amount of nutrients to maintain desirable levels of body water, lean body mass, and fat.  These foods will also maintain good health.

I= Eat foods that are individualized.  Foods should reflect personal like.  They should also make it possible to follow religious food preferences.  Avoid foods that cause allergic reactions, and those the body can’t tolerate.  Only use nutritional supplements recommended by your doctor or registered dietician.

M= Eat moderate amounts of foods that are high in fat, sugar, or sodium.

Use the suggestions below to maintain your top-notch VIM diet “on the road.”


Order pancakes, French toast, muffins, toast, or cereal, and fruit or fruit juices.  These foods are all higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat than the traditional egg and bacon breakfasts.  Request that toast, pancakes, or muffins be served without butter or margarine.  Use syrup or jam to keep carbohydrate high and fat to a low. Choose low fat dairy products, milk, hot chocolate, etc.  Fresh fruit may be expensive or difficult to find.  Carry fresh and/or dried fruits with you.  Cold cereal can be a good breakfast or snack; carry boxes in the car or on the bus.  Keep milk in a cooler or purchase it at convenience stores.


Remember that most of the fat in sandwiches is found in the spread.  Prepare or order your sandwiches without the “mayo,” “special sauce,” or butter.  Use ketchup or mustard instead.  Peanut butter and jelly is a favorite and easy to make, but remember that peanut butter is high in fat.  Use whole grain bread and spread more jelly, while using a small amount of peanut butter. Avoid all fried foods at fast food places.  Salad bars can be lifesavers, but watch the dressings, olives, fried croutons, nuts, and seeds; or you could end up with more fat than any super burger could hope to hold!  Use low fat luncheon meats such as skinless poultry and lean meats. Low fat bologna can be found in the stores, but read labels carefully.  Baked potatoes should be ordered with butter and sauces “on the side.”  Add just enough to moisten the carbohydrate-rich potato.  Soups and crackers can be good low fat meals; avoid cream soups.  Fruit juices and low fat milk are more nutritious choices than soda pop.


Go to restaurants that offer high-carbohydrate foods such as pasta, baked potatoes, rice, breads, vegetables, salad bars, and fruits.  Eat thick crust pizzas with low fat toppings such as green peppers, mushrooms, Canadian bacon, and onions.  Avoid fatty meats, extra cheese, and olives.  Eat breads without butter or margarine.  Use jelly instead.  Ask for salads with dressing “on the side” so you can add minimal amounts yourself. 


Eat whole grain bread, muffins, fruit, fruit breads, low fat crackers, pretzels, unbuttered popcorn, oatmeal raisin cookies, fig bars, animal crackers, fruit juice, breakfast cereal, canned meal replacements, and dried and fresh fruits.

Swim Meet Basics For Parents

Ideas to help you and your child be better prepared and “happier” at Swim Meets
By John Leonard, ASCA Director

1.  Be on time.  On time means 15 minutes before warmup begins.

2.   Know the seating arrangements.  Bring folding chairs to most outdoor pools.  Bring drinks and snacks as appropriate.  Sit with your child if that’s the team “thing.” Sit in the stands if that’s the way the team does it.  Let the swimmers be with the swimmers.  They don’t want to be with you in most cases.  They want to be with their friends.

3.   Encourage your child to get immediately to the coach for warmup.  (See following article about warmup.)

4.   Be a parent.  Help them keep track of heats, events, etc.  But remember that the main idea is to teach them to handle the environment of a swim meet themselves.  This helps them “grow up.”  It’s never too early....

5.  Cheer for other people’s children on the team. Don’t embarrass your own by standing behind their blocks screaming. Let other parents scream for your child.

6.  Let the coach coach.  Unless you’re the coach.  Then let someone else coach your child. So you can parent.

7.  Sometimes a child will “miss an event”. This happens, it’s a learning experience.  Don’t freak out.  Don’t handhold them to the next event.  Expect responsibility.  If they can’t handle it, maybe they are too young to be there.  Let them rely on teammates for help.

8.  Sometimes a swimmer will false start and DQ a relay. Similarly, it’s a learning experience.  Don’t freak out.  The appropriate response by the swimmer to their teammates?  “Sorry guys.”  Everyone does it.  Everyone needs to forgive.  See, “Everyone Does It.” Reread that.  Twice.

9.  Sometimes a swimmer DQ’s for swimming an event incorrectly.  Do not address the official.  Ask the coach what they did wrong.  Make sure the swimmer understands how to do it correctly.  End of story.  It IS NOT a big deal. Learn from it.

10.  The child should have a goal for every swim.  Sometimes a time, sometimes a technique. Ask what their goal is.  Don’t help set it.  That’s for the coach and swimmer.

11.  The coach will likely speak to your child before and after the event.  The “before” is to remind them of their goals and needs, and the “after” is to review the successes and weak spots of the swim. Great feedback is great coaching.

12.  Make sure they drink in hot weather.  Drink in all weather.  Water, Gatorade, etc.  NO SUGAR.  NO CANDY.  NO SUGAR,  NO CANDY.

13.  If you have questions, ask the Coach.  Try to do it when the Coach is not doing 12 other things.  Get real answers.  Asking another parent may not get you the right answer.

14.  When the meet is over, the meet is over. Forget it on the way home.  Help the swimmer remember the lessons for the next time, but don’t dwell on the meet. Meet over....move!

15.  Most coaches will say “it’s not about winning, it’s about improvement.”  Know what is being improved, and measure it and help your child focus on the process and not “just” the result.  What does it take to go faster?

16.  Keep it light.  Have a sense of humor.  An age group swim meet, taken at face value, is a pretty silly thing.....don’t overplay the “importance” of it’s just an opportunity to test what you’ve been learning in practice. We repeat experiences that are enjoyable and avoid experiences that are not.

There are thousands of other ideas to add to this list. This is “just the basics”. Add to your own list.

And now, to the concept of  WARMUP.

What is Warmup?

Warmup is what happens before a competition. Its purpose is several:


1.  Literally warm and lubricate the muscles for “action”.

2.  Increase the heart rate in preparation for race action.

3.  Getting in touch with your feel for the water and ability to swim the strokes correctly.


1.  Get into focus. We’re at a swim meet to compete.

2.  Get rid of distractions.

3.  Focus on process and good technical swimming.

4.  Prepare to Race.

Most warmups at most meets are crowded and appear chaotic.

Typically the coach will put all swimmers in one or two lanes, together.

The swimmers will do an easy swim. (“easy 500 free”)

Then some gentle kicking. (“10 x 25 free kick on 30 seconds”)

Then some drills....(“200 IM Drill”)

Then a “start your heart” set...(“8 x 50 free, descend 1-4, 5-8”)

Then some pace work relating to the specific event....

And a little more easy swimming.

Warmups can vary from Senior Swimmers who take an hour or more, to eight and unders, who can warmup in 20 minutes in some cases.  In every case, it’s important to be ON TIME. Typically an hour before the meet.  This allows time for the physical and the mental work to be done.  The coach will commonly hold a short meeting to make sure all swimmers are accounted for, organized, know their events, and get last minute reminders.

Being LATE to warmup means  your child will be inadequately prepared for their competition.  Not a good thing.  You ask them and the coach asks them, to work hard to learn in practice every day.  Then the day of  the meet, you do things incorrectly.  What does that teach the child?

Be On Time, Do Things Correctly.  Have a Great Meet!

Competition and Children 

Here are some thoughts on competition and children from Rainer Martens, founder of modern sports psychology.  Martens, Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois, founded the American Coaching Effectiveness Program, and is one of the leading authorities on children in sports.

The Early Years

According to Martens: “Competitive sports evolve out of the process of social evaluation.”  Children begin competing with each other from a very young age, but focus mainly on their own efforts.  Each can happily claim to have “won,” simply meaning they have done something well and are satisfied.  These games are very healthy growth experiences because there are no “losers.”  At 5 and 6 years of age they begin to compare their efforts with others.  In other words, they learn to keep score. Martens says this process of competing and comparing is part of what helps kids “find out what they can and should be.”

Problems emerge when winner/loser comparisons overshadow the importance of competing with oneself to do things better than they have been done before.  At this point, competition stops building character and confidence and begins to tear it down.

Can Competitiveness Be Taught?

All coaches are familiar with the idea that some youngsters thrive on competition, while others shrink from it, but Martens thinks that in the right environment, children can learn competitiveness by being taught to concentrate on mastering specific techniques.  This not only improves the mechanical aspects of performance, but is also the best way to reduce competitive stress.  “If people focus on mastering specific acts they can learn to control their performance.” On the other hand, the thing over which a young swimmer has the least control – how fast competitors swim – is the greatest source of anxiety in competition.

Martens advice to coaches and parents of young athletes is to concentrate on how to improve performance rather than on what happens if the child wins or loses. “Focusing on smaller, more solvable technical challenges increases physical efficiency, and reduces anxiety and stress,” Martens says.  “This increased the number of potential winners because skill instead of the final score has become the immediate objective.”

Every Child Is A Winner

In this scenario, an age group swimmer’s final instructions before a race would focus on successfully doing something he or she previously had difficulty with – keeping the hips up on the last half of a butterfly race; or pressing through to the hips in the freestyle stroke -- rather than on “beating that kid in lane 5.”  After the race, the child could then be congratulated on his or her technique improvement, no matter where he or she placed.  In this way, a race with 30 contestants could potentially yield 30 winners rather than 1 winner and 29 “losers.”  This gives life to the credo “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game that counts.”

Martens thinks the competitive climate for youth athletics is steadily improving as more youth coaches learn to teach mastery of sports skills, and understand why it is advantageous to do so.  “At the recreational level there is more and better, more useful and pleasant competition going on than ever before.”

Thoughts on Age Group Development

We do not need to give all the available meets, awards, training time, or even training techniques to all levels and all ages of swimmers.  Life is progressive.  We cannot drive until we are sixteen, we cannot vote until we are 18.  Just because we have seniors swimming at prelim and final meets doesn't mean that age group swimmers need to also.  Age group swimmers do not need the same kind of awards which seniors receive.  Our system gives too much too soon and sets up for a serious problem because every level looks the same.  Let the swimmers grow through the sport rather than giving it to them.  Let them experience racing, winning, and losing but they do not need twelve solid years of these things to become effective prelims-finals swimmers.

Peter Malone
ASCA Level 5

K.C. Blazers

Sometimes young swimmers perform exceptionally well quite simply because they are "big for their age" and, or, they are capable of working harder.  They do not need to depend on technique and they may, or may not have better technique than slower swimmers.  If we could go back and get a physical description of all the 10 and under swimmers who were nationally ranked, I think we would find that these young athletes were all more physically developed than the average 10 and under.  

Most of these children will not continue dominating their age group into the senior years as other swimmers catch up in size and ability to work.  Unfortunately they may not have developed the quality of skills other swimmers have.  Too often the result is a young senior swimmer who becomes frustrated at losing when he had been so used to winning.

There are two important points for parents to keep in mind:

1.  Skills need to be the basis of an age group program, not distance.

2.  It is a mistake to seek a distance oriented age group program to place your child in so that he can keep up with other faster swimmers.

Age group swimmers should concentrate on fundamentals and not senior oriented yardage so that they can learn correctly.  There is a proper time and place for athletes to take part in a serious training program but it is not for our younger swimmers.  We must accept the fact that we are not dealing with miniature adults. 

Jim Lutz
ASCA Level 5

The Ten Commandments For Parents Of Athletic Children 

Reprinted from The Young Athlete by Bill Burgess

1-      Make sure your child knows that win or lose, scared or heroic, you love him, appreciate his efforts, and are not disappointed in him. This will allow him to do his best without a fear of failure. Be the person in his life he can look to for constant positive enforcement.

2-      Try your best to be completely honest about your child’s athletic ability, his competitive attitude, his sportsmanship, and his actual skill level.

3-      Be helpful but don’t coach him on the way to the pool or on the way to the pool or on the way back or at breakfast, and so on. It’s tough not to, but it’s a lot tougher for the child to be inundated with advice, pep talks and often critical instruction.

4-      teach him to enjoy the thrill of competition, to be “out there trying”, to be working to improve his swimming skills and attitudes. Help him to develop the feel for competing, for trying hard, for having fun.

5- Try not to re-live your athletic life through your child in a way that creates pressure; you lost as well as won. You were frightened, you blacked off at times, you were not always heroic. Don’t pressure your child because of your pride.  Athletic children need their parents so you must not withdraw. Just remember there is a thinking, feeling, sensitive free spirit out there in that uniform who needs a lot of understanding, especially when his word turns bad. If he is comfortable with you win or lose; he’s on his way to maximum achievement and enjoyment.

6-      Don’t compete with the coach. If the coach becomes an authority figure, it will run from enchantment to disenchantment…with your athlete.

7-      Don’t compare the skill, courage, or attitudes of your child with other members of the team, at least within his hearing.

8-      Get t know the coach so that you can be assured that his philosophy, attitudes, ethics and knowledge are such that you are happy to have your child under his leadership.

9-       Always remember that children tend to exaggerate both when praised and when criticized. Temper your reaction and investigate before over-reacting.

10-  Make a point of understanding courage, and the fact that it is relative. Some of us can climb mountains, and are afraid to fight, but turn to jelly if a bee approaches. Everyone is frightened in certain areas. Explain that courage is not the absence of fear, but a means of doing something in spite of fear of discomfort.

The job of the parent of an athletic child is a tough one, and it takes a lot of effort to do it well. It is worth all the effort when you hear your child say, “My parents really helped and I was lucky in this respect

Common Purpose – Board and Staff 

Perhaps the single most important aspect in establishing and maintaining a long term relationship between coach and program is the development of a common purpose shared by the Board, members, and staff.

There are two parts to this common purpose.  One is called the VISION of the club.  The other is call a club's CENTRAL THEME.

A central theme is a short expression which sums up the essence of the program.  For example, Chevrolet uses   "Heartbeat of America".  Ford Motor Company uses "Quality is Job 1".  Campbell's uses  "Soup is good food."  And General Electric uses "We bring good things to life".  (Remember when it used to be "Progress is our most important product"?)  We know these central themes because we hear them on tv and radio, and read them in magazines and on the packaging of the products.

Can you think of your club's central theme?  Chances are, your club does not have an explicit central theme.  If there is one, you would see it on swim caps, on bulletin boards, in your meet programs, in the newsletter, on team stationary, etc.

In the absence of an explicit central theme there may be an unwritten central theme.  It may be something that is a feeling shared by many of the members, Board members, and staff although it is not explicitly stated.  Oftentimes an unwritten central theme is of a negative nature.

It is important to control the central theme by making it explicit and positive.  Let it serve as a rallying point for all members of the club and let it tell the world what your club stands for.

A VISION is a statement of what the club expects to be in the long term, say, 5 to 10 years.  A vision is stated in the present tense, for example, "The Hometown Swim Club is the finest youth organization in the county", or "The Grandview Swim Club is the top senior team in the Region", or "The Metropolitan Swim Team develops the finest age group swimmers in the state."

A vision statement is important because it gives a sense of direction for all of the team's operations. 

The vision statement cannot stand alone, it must be part of a larger plan which includes 1) a mission statement of how the club expects to achieve its vision, 2) two year objectives, 3) six month strategies, and 4) monthly tactics.   Identification of, completion of, and reporting of objectives, strategies, and tactics are the responsibility of the CEO type coach and Board of Directors.  Like the central theme, the vision statement must be promoted to all members of the club and community.

Coaches who are interested in their long term future with a program must be a leader in the planning process along with the Board of Directors.  Good coaches will stay with a program that engages in  progressive long range planning that matches their career objectives and coaching philosophy.

During the planning process the desires and philosophy of both coach and parents are expressed in such a way that there is an understanding and agreement on the direction for the program.  This is a big step in ensuring the tenure of your good coach.

What does all this have to do with your young swimmer? 

Two things.  First, stability.  It's tough on young swimmers to go through coaching changes.  Sometimes it cannot be avoided and it can be used as a growing experience for the child.  However, young athletes experiencing fewer coaching changes usually have a happier and more productive young swimming life.  Secondly, an explicit vision and central theme tell you the direction the program is taking your child.

What can you do?

If you do not know what the central theme and vision of the club are talk to the coach and talk to board members.  Encourage the leaders of the program to initiate a process for identifying and promoting these important hallmarks of a healthy club.

If your club needs help in these areas ASCA has extensive experience facilitating a long range planning process with the club.  For information contact John Leonard or Guy Edson at 1‑800‑356‑2722.  USA Swimming also has highly qualified representatives who can facilitate a long range planning process with your club.  Contact USA Swimming at 719-866-4578.

Coffee and Caffeine 

By Keith B. Wheeler, Ph.D. and Angeline M. Cameron

Q:  Will a cup of caffeinated coffee enhance athletic performance?  Does caffeine have any undesirable side affects?  Why do so many people drink coffee?

A:  No, consuming one cup of caffeinated coffee will not enhance athletic performance.  Some studies have suggested that caffeine will enhance performance under certain circumstances (ie, short-term high-intensity or long-term moderate-intensity exercise).  However, most studies have demonstrated no effect of caffeine on endurance and performance.  In the studies that suggest an effect, the caffeine consumption usually exceeded 400 mg before exercise.  To get this level of caffeine, you would have to consume approximately 4 cups (5 oz) of caffeinated coffee, 12 cups (5 oz) of tea, or 3 quarts of cola.

Consuming caffeine can have some undesirable side effects, including increased heart rate, digestive secretions, breathing rate, and urine output.  Caffeine also affects the central nervous system by increasing restlessness.  Other side effects include headaches, irritability, insomnia, diarrhea, hyperactivity, and depression. Keep in mind also that caffeine is recognized as a stimulant by the International Olympic Committee, and if present in excessive amounts is considered a banned substance. 

Most people drink coffee because they like the taste, and it is a socially acceptable ritual.

Carbohydrate Loading 

By Keith B. Wheeler, Ph.D. and Angeline M. Cameron

Question:  What exactly is carbohydrate loading?  Is it appropriate for age group swimmers?

Answer:  Carbohydrate loading refers to the process by which the carbohydrate (glycogen) stores in an athlete's active muscles are increased significantly above normal levels.  This loading of carbohydrate in the muscles is accomplished through a combination of training and diet manipulation.

Specific techniques for carbohydrate loading have changed since the method was developed in Sweden.  The original program consisted of 7 days of dietary management, beginning with exhaustive exercise bouts on the 1st day, followed by 3 days of extremely low carbohydrate consumption.  The next 3 days consisted of an extremely high carbohydrate intake that caused the muscles to super increase their carbohydrate stores.  In some people, this regimen produced nausea, fatigue, and diarrhea.  Therefore, less drastic carbohydrate loading regimens were developed and are currently recommended.

Although, when done properly, it does increase muscle-glycogen stores above normal levels, carbohydrate loading is most useful for athletes who are preparing for endurance events such as triathons, marathons, cycling races, or open water long distance swimming.  It should be done only a few times in a year.  A nutritional concern that is more important to an age-group swimmer than carbohydrate loading is consuming enough carbohydrate on a daily basis.  Age-group swimmers should get at least 60% of their daily calories from carbohydrate, which will maintain their muscle glycogen at levels that will support their training.

The Purpose of Travel Meets for Swim Teams 

Many parents do not understand why coaches want athletes to travel to “away” meets, sometimes including overnight meets. There are several reasons, but one very large performance reason. Let me explain.

The key is to watch what your child does when they attend a local swim meet. The first thing they do, is go and get a… heat sheet… right? And then they scour the heat sheet for their own names and their position relative to their competitors.  Because… they know who their competitors are… they see them meet after meet, after meet. And what goes on in our swimmer’s head (let’s call her Betsy) when she does the heat sheet scour…???

“Well, lets see. Suzie’s here, Mary is here, oh my gosh, Sarah is here, I can’t stand that girl… and she always beats me… and here’s Kelly, seeded below me, why would she put in that slow time? She usually beats me, so let’s see, I’ll be… fifth.”

Now, an hour or two later, and our heroine dives in the pool in the 100 free. With brilliant coaching and an even more impressive gene selection from Mom and Dad, she executes a perfect racing dive and streaks to the 25 turn wall, where she turns first, then sneaks a quick peek… “wow! I’m ahead.” Then pushes on towards the fifty wall… amazingly, our Betsy is still on the lead. Now, off the 50 wall, she is so amazed by her own performance she takes a slightly longer look at her no-longer-so-commanding lead, so she can reassure herself that she is still “out there.” By the 75 wall, her lead has shrunk to inches, as the other swimmers realize that the established pecking order is being disrupted and swim harder. Betsy, now wondering exactly what she will say to all these acquaintances of hers once she has beaten them, and “will they still like me anyway?,” begins to lose focus and slide back into her accustomed place in the pack. By the end of the race, she has creatively found a way to slide all the way back to 5th. She gets out happy to have led for awhile; she has that to talk about, but is happier that the natural order of finish in the kingdom of pre-adolescent girls has not been disrupted. In other words, she is comfortable once again.

Mom and Dad say, “dang, if only she was getting a little better coaching, she’d be beating all those girls.” Coach says, “doggone, with all those sprint genes from mom and dad, it’s hard to get her to finish a race big.”

And Betsy says “that wasn’t so bad, sort of fun, really. Now, where is Suzie, I really ought to go congratulate her.”

Now, after some of this, the smart coach will say to the parent group, “parent group, it is time to go to an out-of-town meet.”
“A what?”
“A meet out-of-town. You know, we get a bus, the kids all travel together, and we go as a team to another area and swim in a meet.”
“Isn’t that expensive?”
“Well, it will be about $20 a child for the bus, another $25 a child for Saturday night in a hotel, and maybe $50 for food, so all in all, just about a hundred dollars.”
“A hundred dollars! Heck, Betsy can’t beat the other girls here in our local area, what does she need to go to a meet like that for?”

Now the coach needs to know the answer… and here it is…

When Betsy swims against people she knows, she has pre-ordained expectations. And she finds ways to make those expectations come true. What she needs, is a chance for a breakthrough performance, to let her believe some new things about herself. So how does a travel meet do that?

Betsy reads the heat sheet… “yup, here I am, Betsy Worangle, 100 free, at 57.89, just a little slower than my best time… yep, I’m in here.” And then what?

She doesn’t know another name in the program. She has no idea where she fits in. So she does what? She just goes out and swims as fast as she can… no pre-conceived notions to live up to… just swim fast. Lo and behold, 56.44, 2nd place.

56.44 would have won at home. But Betsy could not get that out of herself when she had social and athletic expectations to live down to in the meet at home. On the road, she can just “go for it.” And she does. The tremendous advantages of swimming where you don’t know anyone.