What type of swim parent are you?

Editor’s note: Alan Tapley is the parent of two female swimmers, ages 12 and 14. Over the past eight years he has been with them at hundreds of meets and practices. He has had countless conversations with swimmers about what they would like the public to know about their pursuit of this grueling sport.

The Tiger Parent. Your world is your young swimmer, and the only thing that matters is making sure that everything is as it needs to be for their ultimate success. When your swimmer is on deck you are fixing the hood on their swim parka to keep them warm, forcing them to eat a nutritional bar for energy, and holding their water bottle making sure they stay hydrated. When they race, you’re the loudest in the building, know all their best times, you videotape every swim, and you stand directly in front of the sign that says, “please don’t stand here.” Making friends is optional, which is good, because you are often misunderstood. The other parents think you complain a little too much, email the coach a little too often, and volunteer for a seat on the board with your own agenda in mind, all for the ultimate success of your kid. And the Tiger Parent doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

The Passive Aggressive Tiger Parent. Your world is your young swimmer as well, but you can’t stand being labeled a Tiger Parent, so you pretend not to care as you casually get the splits of your kid’s swim race. You volunteer to time lane six, so you can make sure to talk to your kid before their big race. You stuff their swim bag with water, nutritional bars, and their swim parka, but then talk to parents most of the time while hoping your kid is self-sufficient. You prefer choosing the events for your kid, but you rarely yell, and you never videotape. Despite acting indifferent, if your kid were to ever need to replace a torn swim cap, some broken goggles, or know which heat they were in, you magically appear in plenty of time.

The Busy Parent. Every practice or meet they are on their laptop, or their cell phone. Or maybe it’s the parent with the energetic toddler as well as their older, swimming sibling. They are there to provide support, but mostly to provide transportation. Their swimmer is independent because they need to be. The parent does their best to catch a race or two, but usually misses it as they don’t even bother to buy a program. Which is fine, because they know very little about the sport anyway. They’re too busy to volunteer, or socialize. Others judge them a bit for not volunteering more, or socializing more, but they aren’t resentful. After all, their swimmer kid poses no threat, and they’re not avoiding responsibility. They just prioritize differently.

The Mother Hen. Every team has one. This parent volunteers at every meet, not only taking their shift, but probably filling in for someone else when needed as well. She highlights all the swimmers on the team from the program, cheers for them all, and probably records their times in pen. The fundraisers are at her house, were her idea, and she provided food and drink just because. The Mother Hen probably has had multiple swimmers on the team over the years, all talented, a reason for such a strong commitment. She drives more than her needed share in the carpool, smiles and laughs throughout most of the meet, and makes most of the other parents look bad as we pretend not to hear the announcement for more meet volunteers, as the Mother Hen heads to the pool deck to help out.

The Clueless. The busy parent simply doesn’t have time to get involved. The clueless parent just stays out of it by choice. They drop their kids off at practice and meets, but don’t stick around to watch or socialize. They don’t know the rules, they don’t know the volunteer job, and they support their swimmer from afar. They seem happy to pay the swim fees and are glad their swimmer is staying in shape and socializing with friends, but it ends there. Usually, their swimmer is just hoping to make high school state someday. A nice goal, and it keeps the clueless parent from having to deal with big travel meets, hotels, or college swim plans. While the other swim parents hold grudges when one doesn’t do their share, this doesn’t apply to the clueless parent, because they never expected that parent to show in the first place.

The Pro. The parent of a senior swimmer, they have seen and done it all. They know every job, have been to every meet, and spent years on the board. Now their swimmer is older, drives themselves to practice and meets, and you only see that parent at the occasional big meet or once a season team picnic. They will step in if needed, but they generally get a free pass. And they’ve earned it.


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