Gary Hall Sr Florida Swim Network
Gary Hall Sr – The Race Club

The Art of Swim Parenting

 

By Gary Hall Sr

Being a swim parent is not easy. If it were, we would likely have 2 million registered USA
Swimming members, rather than half a million. Swim parents have to be unselfish,
dedicated, loving, committed and invested to help their children succeed in the sport. In this
day and age, how many parents will sit on a hot bleacher or in a chlorine filled natatorium or
behind a starting block, timing all weekend, for the pleasure of watching their child swim for
a few minutes? Or how many children today would rather be sitting around for the same
duration in the same environment waiting to race when they could be in their air-
conditioned home in front of their large screen television playing Minecraft or Game of
War?

Those are some of the challenges that face the sport of swimming, as well as every other
sport in America. What about you as a swim parent? What challenges do you face in order to
see your child truly enjoy swimming and derive the most benefit from the sport?
Every swimmer of any age who comes to The Race Club is told the same thing. It is more
important to have fun than it is to win Olympic gold medals. Of course, I always make sure
that when I tell the swimmer this, the parents are standing right behind them. The truth is,
the message is more directed to the parents than it is to the swimmer.
Too often, parents are overzealous in their desire to help their child succeed. While they
only want the very best for their child, their words of advice, criticism or even
encouragement can backfire on them. To a child, these words, no matter how well intended,
are often construed as feeling pressure to succeed. A swimming career should be viewed as a
marathon, not a sprint. If a swimmer feels pressure coming from the parents or coach for
too long a period of time, he or she will often rebel and quit the sport. If not, then
swimming ceases to be fun. Either way, the child loses out.

I learned a great deal about swim parenting from my mother. My father was a solo-
practicing Orthopedic surgeon in the days before cell phones. He was on call 24/7 and could
never leave the house phone. He rarely got to see me swim. My mother drove me all over
the LA basin to workouts and meets and volunteered to time at most of them. She rarely
said much to me, but when she did, it was always positive. Before I would compete, she
would always tell me to ‘have fun’. After each race, whether good or bad, she would put her
arm around me, hug me, and say ‘I love you’. Those were the only words I needed to hear.
As parents, my wife, Mary, and I had six children (3 boys, 3 girls)…all swimmers. Of
course, Mary did most of the driving to meets and workouts. Once, when they were young,
and dabbling in different sports, they started to get hooked on video games. I put my foot
down.

“You are all going to do some sport” I told them. “I don’t care what sport, as long as you
do something.” That was naïve.

“Are you kidding me?”, Mary interrupted, having overheard this conversation. “Do you
think I am going to drive six kids all over this valley to different sports programs? What do
think I am, a taxi driver? No, we have a great swim club nearby. They should all swim.” So
that is what they did.

All six children had different levels of ability and passion for the sport. Mary and I
subscribed to my mother’s philosophy of swim parenting and basically told them to ‘have
fun’ and always ‘I love you’ after each race. They all had various levels of success, but I
believe that they all had fun and, for the most part, look back fondly on their swimming
careers. Swimming taught each of them many valuable life lessons.

My advice to all swim parents is to do the same. When you feel the urge to critique your
child for an obvious mistake, bite your lip and keep your mouth shut. Let the coach coach.
Your role is supportive, emotionally and financially. If you truly want your children to enjoy
swimming and you want to help them succeed, and if you want your children to swim for
life, not just as children (what other sport has an age group for over 100 years of age?), then
simply remember two important sentences, ‘have fun’ and ‘I love you’. Get them to swim
practices and the meets. If they need help in technique and aren’t getting enough of that at
practice or if they need more motivation, bring them to The Race Club. Do those things and
tell them those five magical words. The rest will take care of itself.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.

 

About Gary Hall Sr
Since retiring in 2006 as a physician and moving with his wife Mary, to Islamorada in the Florida Keys, Dr. Gary Hall has now dedicated his life to coaching technique and training methods to children, masters, fitness and health swimmers, triathletes and others at The Race Club Camps. Halls’ record is one of amazing successes. Gary has held 10 world records. In both 1969 and 1970 he was named World Swimmer of the Year. In the 1970 NCAA Championship, he alone scored a record 56 and half points.   He was a leader as Captain of the Indiana University team that in his senior year won it’s 6th straight  NCAA Championship.

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