It is unnerving for a parent to hear their children constantly grumble or make qualms about having to attend training. It is especially uncomfortable when your very own star swimmer acts as if the sport is no longer valuable to them. Although losing interest in a sport is not a foreign occurrence in the world of swimming, the parent’s internal battle whether or not to let their kids quit is no light matter. It actually runs deep—a depth in which the core lies in a parent’s unfamiliarity and self-doubt, simplified by a question: “Am I raising a quitter?”
In 2018, Julie Power from The Sydney Morning Herald explained in an article that three out of four children in Australia quit swimming classes by the early age of eight. There may be various valid reasons for quitting; however, pulling out from swimming classes at such a young age tends to result in undeveloped survival skills in the water.
Unlike other extra-curricular activities, swimming is a necessary life skill that is useful for many other activities outside of the pool. Having a good grasp of swimming basics frees the individual from fearing the ocean and the many leisure activities linked to it such as snorkeling, surfing, and cruising on a boat. Typically, one who has properly developed this life skill can tread water for at least two minutes, as well as swim 25 to 50 meters of freestyle, backstroke, and/or survival strokes.
Unfortunately, there still remains a constant percentage of children—both young and old—that are quitting swimming lessons. The reasons for such vary.
What goes on in your child’s mind:
I want to quit because…
For many children, swimming classes are squeezed in as an extracurricular activity complementing their holistic development. Academics is usually given top priority while engaging in swimming classes and other hobbies depend on how much free time they have left. Thus, many children quit because they are overbooked and tired. Instead of playing, they feel burdened with work as if swimming were another school subject.
My coach is mean
Older children that are training competitively are closely tied with their coach. Their coach’s influence is big since they are placed under the coach’s authority for 20+ hours a week. Unfortunately there are cases when the coach is “too strict,” meaning they expect the children to put swimming on top of every other responsibility, so much so that they would sacrifice other priorities like school functions or family dinners for the sport.
Some children quit because their performance is over-scrutinized. When parents or coaches are constantly impatient with them by expecting them to learn or master a new skill in the bat of an eye, the swimmer feels stressed, exhausted, and even bullied. Being over-scrutinized takes away their control and ownership over their responsibilities and achievements.
How to help your child:
When young children express dislike over an activity or sport, parents should aim to observe and understand what might be causing their disinterest. Sometimes exhaustion, over-scrutiny, and feeling bullied aren’t the main cause for a youngster’s request to pull out; instead, it may be due to more simple reasons like “the class is at the same time slot as my favorite TV show.” On the other hand, sometimes they just feel unsure about the activity.
According to David Elkind, Ph.D. (professor of child development at Tufts University, and author of The Hurried Child), children ages 9 and below don’t have a clear sense yet of the kinds of activities that they’ll actually like. Additionally, Little Otters Swim School in North Carolina have explained that toddlers aren’t capable yet of thinking through situations past its immediate gratification. Consequently, parents have a crucial role in making a decision for their swimming for toddlers and babies. On the other hand, the best way to get through older children is by communicating and working towards a solution together.
Helping toddlers and babies:
Toddlers and babies feel better about being in the pool (and staying in the class) when they see other children enjoying it too. In fact, your little swimmer is a curious observer. Therefore make sure to healthily cater to their curiosity so that they would build familiarity over the activity since familiarity aids comfort.
Helping older children:
Guide your children from fickle-mindedness by involving them in the decision-making process when choosing which activity to try next or to keep doing. Avoid making the decisions for them so that they won’t feel forced and discouraged. In fact, one of the best ways to keep a child interested in a sport is when they actually have their own understanding and opinion of why they are doing what they’re doing. In other words, they need to have responsibility over what they are engaging themselves in and they need to understand this responsibility; but as children, they cannot do this on their own. They need parental guidance and wisdom. Therefore, when expressing desires to quit swimming, don’t just say “You can’t!” Instead, have dinner with them and ask why. Perhaps that are feeling overworked, or bullied, or over-scrutinized. If so, let them take a break if they are burnt out. Speak with their coach (or find a different coach if possible) if they feel bullied. And lastly, guard yourself from burdening your child with unreasonable expectations. After all, “best times” isn’t the end-all for swimming.
Aside from the unquestionable fact that swimming is an important life skill, it is also a resource for child development. Swimming builds character, athleticism, discipline, and a lot more values that aids a better lifestyle.
Thus, when you find yourself pondering “am I raising a quitter?” because you spent the last 3 weeks enduring your child’s endless yapping about swimming classes, first take a deep breath and think: How can I help my child? What does he need? – If you start from here, then it may pave a clearer path to solving the deeper problem rather than just letting your child quit over what is seemingly a mindless whim.