Many aspects of parenting are pretty tricky, often involving complicated balancing acts. For example, a lot of moms and dads struggle with pushing their children hard enough that they do their best while not putting too much pressure on.
Obviously, kids need encouragement to keep working at things. But too much pressure contributes to problems with motivation, self-esteem, healthy attitudes toward success and failure, enjoyment of activities, and more. Also, too much emphasis on winning fosters over-competitiveness that may lead to poor sportsmanship and relationships, as well as a tendency for a kid to put too much pressure on him or herself, leading to unhealthy, unrealistic expectations and perfectionism.
Below are some key signs that your kid is taking swim competition too seriously. Don’t start beating yourself up if you notice them. Whether or not you’ve gone a little overboard emphasizing the competitive aspects of the sport, you’ve been doing what you think is best, and it’s a misstep many parents make out of the genuine desire to see their children succeed.
But also, the excessive focus on competition doesn’t necessarily come from you. A swim coach or teammates may be putting the pressure on, or your son or daughter may simply have fallen into it naturally out of a desire to excel. Make the effort to examine the messages you send.
It’s not a matter of assigning blame, but of adjusting your child’s attitude to become healthier and more sustainable.
7 Signs of Over-Emphasis on Competition in Swim
- Your child is bragging a lot. It’s normal to enjoy your own success, but bragging about it makes others feel bad and makes the braggart hard to be around. Point out positives besides the victories themselves (like the hard work that contributed to them), and include praise of others, like teammates, coaches, and competitors. Demonstrate that there’s value in more than just the win, and that other people deserve recognition as well.
- Your kid gets negative about him or herself. If your kid is beating him or herself up constantly, being too self-critical, or dwelling on losses and perceived failures, it’s an issue. Sports like swimming are supposed to build people up, not make them feel down. Praise strong efforts and various aspects of performance, and encourage pursuit of activities that don’t involve competition in addition to swimming.
- Your child takes loss too hard. This is similar to number 2. Sometimes, kids throw tantrums or get angry after a loss, or they might start making lots of excuses or blaming others for their lack of a win. Good sportsmanship and a healthy attitude require learning how to lose gracefully. Talk about the aspects of swimming that matter more than winning, be positive after losses, and don’t offer excessive praise for victories themselves.
- Your kid acts out around swimming. Often, kids getting too wrapped up in the competitive aspects of a sport start to misbehave, argue, have tantrums, and otherwise act out when it’s time for practice or a meet. They’re reacting to the stress they feel and associate with the activity. Have discussions about what’s going on and use the advice in all these entries to help create a healthier attitude toward competition.
- Your child is lying or cheating. When kids start lying or cheating to make themselves look better, it means the competition itself is being prioritized over everything else—including good sportsmanship, honesty, and relationships. Some sort of negative consequences are in order for the short term. But for the long term, again, it’s about shifting the focus away from winning and onto more meaningful aspects of swimming and competing.
- Your kid disrespects other swimmers. Trash-talking, nonconstructive criticism, and other disrespect should never be tolerated. Whether it’s aimed at competitors from other teams or even teammates, it’s another sign that the competition itself is being prioritized over the sport and the positive lessons it teaches. Call it out, consider introducing negative consequences, and consistently emphasize what’s really important.
- Your child is giving too much time to swim. If your son or daughter is overdoing it with practicing or working out, it’s physically, mentally, and emotionally dangerous. Also, other activities—including schoolwork, hobbies, socializing, and more—may be neglected. Kids too focused on competition and winning often can’t find a good balance in their lives. Instate limits as needed and support your child in doing other, non-swim-related things.