I'm new to being a sports mom. My fourth- and sixth-grade daughters asked to join a YWCA swim team, and along with that come weekend swim meets. The first time I went to one, I saw all kinds of grown-ups lugging in collapsible lawn chairs. I didn't know that you were supposed to stake out a campsite in the school hallway and run back and forth to the pool, or that you need a special seat-back attachment to watch your kids' races. There was a lot I needed to learn.
Some swim moms carry flash cards with data in tiny fonts. I think they're looking up qualifying times or something. They buy programs and write down their kids' times. I'm too cheap to buy a program. Meanwhile, I'm gesturing to my kids from the stands, "Are you hungry?" They look so skinny as they shake their heads "no" and return their gaze to their teammates in the pool.
Recently, in a high school hallway, I heard another mom talking about her daughter's performance: "She was so terrible I couldn't even watch her!"
Posting about her comment on Facebook, I wrote that I didn't fit in with the swim moms. I'm just grateful my kids are willing to dive into a cold pool and swim.
My Facebook page blew up, with friends weighing in on youth sports and parents. It's not just swim moms, they said. It's any sport. And it's not just parents who put kids down. One friend described her son's baseball coach making a loud, disparaging comment about her son's pitching within earshot of all the parents in the bleachers.
Another Facebook friend, who'd spent a decade coaching youth soccer, said parents were often the biggest obstacle to kids' athletic development.
His name is Raffi Tanachian, and he grew up playing street soccer in Lebanon. He played for the sheer love of the game. There were no grown-ups fussing over the kids — or, worse, yelling at them. When he came to America as a teenager he got some structure, which he said he needed. Eventually, Raffi moved into coaching.
He thinks parents mean well; they want their kids to succeed; most of them are wonderful. But a few over-involved parents can really sour the mood.
"Kids have to be self-driven from Day One, where they just want to play for fun," Tanachian said. "And parents are there to counsel, to guide, to support. But once they get too involved, in crossing boundaries, the kids will just no longer feel that they're playing for themselves, that they're playing for their parents. Some kids can't handle that."
Tanachian's advice: Drop your kids at practice. Don't even watch. This is their time. They need to feel like no one's watching. When it comes to game day, play it cool. Ask them how it went. You can say "good job," but don't overdo it. This is their thing. It's not about you.
Tanachian made me feel better. It's OK that I don't really understand swim meets. My kids do. They can keep track of their own times. I'm the driver and the snack lady who gives them dry towels. I can leave the competition to them.
• Why can some kids handle pressure while others fall apart? Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain the biology behind stress. (New York Times Magazine)
• Are our children under too much pressure to compete? A Dallas Morning News panel talks about how to help children become more resillient. (Dallas Morning News)
• The competing views on competition. A father with an overly competitive son looks at the values and downfalls of making everything a win or lose situation. (New York Times)
• 6 signs your kid is taking competition too far. Winning can be a rewarding experience for kids, but if your child is bragging too much or becoming negative when they lose, it might be time to tone down the competition. (Huffington Post)