As a parent it is tricky and we each have to decide how much (if at all) to push our children, or where to rein them in or stop ourselves. In this example we are talking about sport but I am sure it could be applied to a million things. I think parents are all different in their approaches but we also need to be careful to make sure we really are doing things for the right reasons. Is it that our child really has so much potential and talent we want them to achieve what they are capable of – or do we have some regrets ourselves – things we wish we had worked harder on?!
Why I am not a Pushy Parent when it comes to Sport
I guess for me it is easy to decide which approach to go down as I grew up with seeing the parent pushing to the extreme. In our family it was Judo and this requires opponents to compete in weight categories and this can mean a really strict diet to fight in the lightest categories. There really is something about a grown man threatening to punch a small child over a cheese biscuit that screams that this just is not right.
We have also seen some really pushy parents during our time running. Whilst I questioned whether Parkrun is suitable for children there are others being harsh on their four year olds (not fast enough, not the right posture etc) and to the other end teens doing incredible speeds that you never hear praise for – just more pushing!
Our Son’s Swimming Journey
Swimming is a very important life skill and not just a sport. Our older two boys started having lessons around 9 years ago. It seemed to be the “done” thing to have extra lessons and no longer rely on the school – it made sense after all our town is prone to flooding. I remember how hard it was trying to keep their two young brothers entertained whilst they swam and one day our third born son asked when he could start swimming too.
His first Swimming Lessons
As it turned out he was exactly the right age to have lessons without me (and I couldn’t do them with him as there was no-one to have his younger brother). This age was 2 years and 9 months and he was an absolute natural. People always commented on his age when they saw him swim and I honestly couldn’t believe how good he was. It made me feel bad that I did not start lessons earlier with the older two (who were also very good swimmers, one went on to become a lifeguard and the other trialled swimming club – but I think some of the other parents were too pushy for him and he found it boring).
The Broken Arm Set Back
Unfortunately when our third born was four years old he fell off a small brick wall and broke his arm – this set him back quite a bit because not only couldn’t he swim for a long while but younger children started moving further up the groups than he was. When our local pool was knocked down and relocated they weren’t very forthcoming with what was happening with lessons – and so he stopped swimming.
Back to Swimming
In the meantime his younger brother was still having lessons (which had been built up from one-to-ones) and our third son started having them again, and then stopped, and then started again. No matter what he kept coming back to this love of swimming! He was the first in our family (and still only so far) to compete in a triathlon! He finished all the stages at the pool he was on and had to decide what to do next. He moved to another pool and did higher up lessons until one day a space became available for him in swimming academy.
Joining Swimming Club
Within six months he got invited to join the Swimming Club and this felt such an honour. It was quite an expense and that was just for his memberships and monthly fees – but as I said he was so good at so we felt it worth investing in. We stopped his English and Maths tuition (by this time we knew it was only another six months’ time until he was back into a school, a super-selective one at that) in order to help with some of the costs
It started with only swimming an hour a week and that first session was so hard, he ended up getting out early crying. They were so kind to him and bought him a Slushie and told him how well he had done. When he returned he was fine and coped with it ever since.
Progressing at Swimming Club
Soon he was telling me all the kit I needed to buy (which again mounted to quite a lot) and I can’t remember how it all creeped up but the hours increased as he moved up a group, and then another and suddenly he was swimming 5 times a week (and still running Parkrun). He never got a lie in as he had now started at his new school and swam for 4 of the 5 nights after school and Sunday morning. He felt like it was taking over his whole life.
Soon he had competed in a Gala and had taken part in the Club Championships (or blocks or whatever they were). There was an app to download and things to get your head around how it all works – but we were getting there. You swim according to your record time but you compete in your age – so you can beat someone in the pool but they could have come first in their race depending on age.
He was doing well and really listening in training, but he was still new to it and not as fast as his age group. I kept telling him this would come in time and I am sure he is used to being really good at everything he does. But he wanted to quit.
The Beginning of the End of Swimming Club
Being a good lad, and also knowing how much we had spent, he was willing to come going until his annual sub to Swim England ran out (which I believed was in the New Year). I was hoping in that time he would make enough progress to want to carry on – to carry him through to the swimming competition at school. I can imagine that many of the children at that school are particularly talented so wanted him to have his thing. But the new school hours (after being home educated) were probably also having an effect on him – as well as the fact that he really wanted to try new things: Rugby is every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and that is before any matches, he could fit it in but it would possibly be very tiring.
But then it happened. After a very tiring first full week of school and a Parkrun he competed in his first 100m Fly. This really didn’t mean a lot to me at the time but I have since read up on just how difficult this actually is (I can’t even swim properly never mind do Butterfly). A child told him that he had been disqualified and this made him cry. I am pretty sure that more than anything this was from pure exhaustion, but he just wanted to leave. I am a REALLY emotional person and seeing him upset brought tears to my eyes. We left immediately and the same kind lady who had brought him his slushie on that first time at club came running out – he HADN’T been disqualified.
He stayed for his medals but he still felt he came last (he was actually last but one in one race). I can actually see the face of one of the younger boys he competed against sniggering in my photo! But that wasn’t the reason. Again I reassured him that actually you will fail at things in life but it just means he needed to practice more.
The End of Swimming Club
I received an e-mail that seemed to be the whole squad (now I am not even sure if it was or not) but it talked about the importance of being disqualified and it actually being important to ensure the children learn. I was 100% on board with what was said. But then it went on to say that parents needed to keep control of their emotions and be strong. Personally I do not see crying as a weakness and was furious – especially as I felt that this e-mail was about me crying and had gone round to everyone. But I let it go.
That night there was a school open evening at the place where the swimming lesson was held and so took our youngest son for a look around. When I came back at the end of the swimming lesson the teacher was talking to our son alone. One of the other parents told me that our son was the only one who hadn’t been told off that lesson and so I assumed she was praising him. It wasn’t until we left that I discovered that she had said that it was not on to cry and make me cry!
The New Swimming
Since then our son has unfortunately left swimming club over this matter. I am rather upset because I feel that he could have been really good at it, and that his coach is very good. But mental health comes first. The boys have been affected by witnessing a man who had jumped off a motorway bridge dying as emergency services tried to save him; and well generally suicide and depression in men scares me. Two men I have had the pleasure of knowing have taken their lives this year alone – and both were such amazing people (as are all people I know).
Now he just has a swimming lesson once a week and a card which means he can use the pool there for free (when available) at other times. He is much happier and is enjoying Rugby. I would say we are enjoying the extra free time not having to taxi him to all the lessons but currently there’s always been something else on to fill the time!