(I am happy to have you share this parent article with your team if you wish)
The Sibling Trap by Ryan Woodruff
Swimming is a wonderful sport for families with multiple kids because each kid can participate at his her own level, often at the same time or place. I suspect that every club team has those “swim families” — the ones who never stop smelling like chlorine and whose car has a sticker that says “Swim Taxi.” Having siblings that swim can be awesome. But it also presents a few traps to watch out for:
- The Older Kid Comparison Trap. When the older or oldest sibling is really good, a lower performing sibling can feel like they can just never live up to that example.
- The Younger Kid Comparison Trap. Same idea in reverse. Sometimes the younger kid is more skilled and then progresses beyond the level of his or her older sibling. This can be very discouraging for the older kid, as sometimes his or her identity can be wrapped up in being older/bigger/stronger/better than the younger sibling.
- The Same Stroke Trap. It is possible that siblings might have similar strengths, whether that is because of similar body build, being coached by the same instructor when they first learned, or just the power of example. Swimmers, parents, and coaches can all fall into the trap of thinking "Swimmer A was good at breaststroke, so his younger brother will be too!" The trouble with this thinking is that it can limit swimmer’s opportunities to excel and hamper growth-focused mentality.
The following tips will help you avoid these Sibling Traps (or other non-sibling comparison traps of a similar nature).
Keep an eye out for these potholes while driving your Swim Taxi and your ride will be a smoother one. Happy Mother's Day to all the swim moms out there!
- Emphasize having swimmers setting their own goals based on personal improvement and technical skill.
- Help your swimmer develop an identity that isn’t just “swimmer.” Have him do other activities or sports (variety is important!) and avoid introducing your kid as “the swimmer.”
- Avoid saying “you are faster/slower than your brother/sister was at age X." Kids will progress at different speeds, even if they are siblings. One may be an early bloomer and be bigger/stronger than her peers early on, while the other may not hit her physical stride until later on. Comparison implies that one is behind or ahead of the other. No two trajectories are the same and there are many paths to success.
- Encourage your children to develop all four strokes. You will be amazed how their perceived strengths will change over time.
- Be careful about creating mental models of your children. I can't tell you how many times I have heard a parent say something like “swimmer #1 is so driven and serious, I know he will be successful, but my swimmer #2 is just here for the social aspect and to have fun.” While there may be some truth to those concepts, don’t set the models in concrete or you risk “type-casting” your kids in a way that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.