In the Winter, I start getting the calls and emails.
“My daughter is 4. She isn’t swimming yet. Can we schedule her for every day in the Summer?”
“My son is on swim team but he’s not progressing as quickly as the other kids in his lane. He’s 8. Can you fix his breaststroke?”
“She needs to make her cuts for regionals and she just isn’t working hard enough.”
The emails are almost constant, sometimes urgent. I get between 1 and 5 per day, which means that in addition to coaching and teaching, I am in the business of telling people no. (I am one person and there is no possible way to meet the demand.)
During the school year, I get the same kinds of requests.
“My daughter has every other Tuesday afternoon, from 4 to 4:45 free, before ice skating but after science club.”
“We’re on our way home from his latest meet, NE Championships. He didn’t get the splits we wanted in the 100 Free. How soon can you see him?”
“She’s got practice 5 days a week, but she could come to you early Sunday morning.”
Parents, as your friend, let me tell you something.
IT’S TOO MUCH!!
Before I continue, I should say that this is not intended as parent shaming. You are all working hard, as we do when we love our kids and want the best for them. I respect and honor that. I do, however, have some observations as someone who cares for, spends time with, and listens to your children.
And I have some recommendations for this Summer.
Let’s admit that Summer is hard.
When my son was in traditional school, and I worked a more traditional job, Summer had to be about camp and filling his days. He needed activities, and I needed to work. So we found things, because we had to. Farm camp and Computer Camp and week after week, he wondered what was next and when his “Summer break” was going to actually begin.
Until we change our systems, most families are in this situation, Paying for camps that are expensive, so we can go to work and earn money to pay for the expensive camps. It’s hot, and we are all tired from the heat, and we are lacking time during what’s billed as a “vacation!”
Often, however, the emails and calls that I get are not about that vicious cycle. More than about the practical reality of inadequate childcare resources in this country, the calls I get are largely because we want our kids to have everything, and to have access to all opportunities.
With swimming, this often translates to parents wanting their kids to reach a certain swim ability or arbitrary benchmark. Some ask me what “Level” I think their child has reached and how we can “Level Up” as quickly as possible.
My answer is generally “Do they love the water and enjoy swimming? Great!”
I don’t assign levels, I don’t believe in them, and I don’t think kids benefit from the labeling that comes with them. And I tell people that.
There is absolutely a practical reality of wanting our kids to be water safe. I understand and honor that. Every child should have the opportunity to learn to swim. (And for that matter, so should every adult!)
But sometimes, I want to tell people “No” because their kids are exhausted. They are playing soccer and learning violin, in addition to their math tutoring, and their book club. They are running cross country every Friday, and singing with the local youth chorus too. When they are done with all of these things, they crave screen time because it’s a form of down time, shutting off their taxed systems for a moment, and just doing nothing.
They do not need to “Level Up” in everything, nor should they.
Should kids learn to swim? Totally.
And it’s okay for them to have swim aspirations. One of the things I do with my students is help them to choose their own goals, to set their own expectations, or at the very least, have a presence in that choosing. I ask them what feels important and significant to them, not to an outside voice telling them what they should value.
Some kids have tangible swimming goals they would like to reach. Maybe it is learning to swim well enough to compete in their first triathlon or passing the deep end test at their favorite camp. Maybe it’s swimming with cousins on a family vacation or being able to tread water for 2 minutes.
Those things aside, they shouldn’t come to swim class after a long day in the sun at tennis camp. They are tired, and they need that lazy time when our brains explore and wander. They need to sit in the backyard, looking at bugs in the grass, or snuggling with their dog.
I’m not the first to write of this phenomenon, and I knew of it before I ever started coaching. But every year, I see it more and more, and I’m alarmed at how we are banishing the fun from all too many childhood activities.
Let your children slow down. Let them learn how to enjoy the water on their own terms.
I’ve yet to have a student that I thought “WOW! This is the next Michael Phelps and we’d better hit it hard because we are Olympics bound! Yahoo!! We need to CRUSH IT EVERY DAY!” Instead I think about fostering a lifelong love of the water, the most restorative and restful place I know.
Sometimes, parents are surprised that I can reach a child who has had a water fear or resistance. And I don’t really think there’s any special secret to my technique. Mostly, it’s about listening to kids, making sure they feel that they have a voice and a degree of authority over their own experience. It’s about helping them to feel agency when so much of their daily school lives is about being subject to the dictates of a curriculum, a classroom, a teacher who has to get way too much done in too short a time. It’s hard to be a kid!
Kids lives are filled with Have-Tos, and we need to make more space for the Want-Tos.
I will never forget the day my own child turned to me, in 5th grade, and said simply, “But when am I supposed to just be a kid?”
This Summer, let your kid be a kid.
Take your kids to the pool or a pond if you can. Play. Splash. Be Silly. Buy a ridiculous rubber floating toy and be goofballs together. Play with the hose. Make a plan to visit every pool you can in your area. Have seahorse races on noodles, and make up water ballet moves.
Don’t make their swim life about accomplishments. Make it about enjoying each other’s company and having fun together.
This will build their love for the water more than anything else, and will remove it from the realm of becoming another pressure-filled experience, something we all have enough of in our lives.
And don’t worry! Just like your child learned to use the toilet, and learned to tie their shoes, and learned to read and write, they will learn to swim. There is no deadline other than the arbitrary ones we impose. Some kids learn at 2, some learn at 7 or 8 or 9 or older. And it’s okay.
Have patience, relish the process, have fun, and enjoy your Summer.