Since we moved to California in August of 2011, my kids have participated in year-round swim team. It has been a wonderful experience. We’ve connected with other families and developed life-long friendships. We’ve also learned many life lessons along the way – but that is fodder for another post.
Today, I would like to focus on burnout. Most of us are familiar with feeling burned out. What you might not know is that young athletes are capable of getting burned out, too.
My daughter had always LOVED swimming! She eagerly attended practice and always worked hard. My son had been more of a roller coaster, initially complaining and dragging his feet, then going without protest, and then complaining once again.
We had a break over the winter holiday a few months ago and when we tried to resume our regular schedule in January, my son was vehemently opposed (more so than before). Much to our surprise, my daughter had also voiced her desire to stop swimming as well.
I was shocked. I had never considered myself a “soccer mom”. I had observed parents frantically running their child from one sports practice to another. I had witnessed parents screaming at their child, “Hurry up and get changed! You’ll have to eat dinner in the car. We have to get you across town for soccer!” I had heard them lament about the cost of hotels and fuel required to attend swim meets in Sacramento.
This was not us. We only did one sport. We took frequent breaks for family vacations aboard or weekend getaways to visit grandparents. We had never pushed them to compete.
We have had the opportunity to attend practice up to 6 days a week. However, we go to practice only 3x/week on the average. While competition is a part of our experience, we only occasionally compete in a swim meet (one in winter and two-three in summer) and only if the kids are interested.
How was I now dealing with child burnout?
Give it Up or Plow Forward?
We (their father and I) had always insisted the kids need to take part in a sport for exercise and general health / fitness. Yet they didn’t have an interest in another team sport. They both had expressed willingness to cycle / run with me as well as try parkour, resistance training, and/or aerobics, however.
We had invested so much time and energy into swimming. I felt compelled to continue. It had become a constant fight and major energy drain for me, however. When my daughter gave up Taekwondo years ago, I was really sad. Just as I was when she gave up dance for TKD (her brother was just a toddler then). Perhaps it was my hang up?
We had several family meetings discussing the issue trying to determine the root cause of the sudden disinterest. I even posted my frustration on Facebook and elicited help from my readers as well as friends and family. Here is a small snapshot of the responses I received:
- I think it is important for the kid to want to participate and have fun doing so. If it is just a chore they are likely to only put in the very minimal amount of effort required. Not to mention that but it could just give them a general distaste for physical activity in general. I agree with requiring them to find an alternate form of physical activity. Perhaps if they really want to cycle or run with you try that. Just ensure that they understand that if the don’t maintain the commitment to running or cycling with you that you expect them to find a different activity
- I’ve seen far too many articles about kids who specialize and their burnout levels and injury levels. I’d much rather have a child who had a high activity level all throughout life in a variety of things unless they clearly gained a deep desire for a particular sport. Honestly, it’s much nicer to have that variety. It gives them a better love for life, a higher fitness level (because of the variety of muscles used).
- The experience, skill, coordination, fitness level … all will not be lost. As a former competitive coach, I highly recommend letting them switch. I don’t feel kids needs to arrive at a high level in any sport at all. Rather, they merely need to be active.
- Remember the reason you’ve all chosen this path? Are you willing to trust your children to take control, be responsible for their lives. Have you thought of why so many traditional-raised/educated school kids are viewed as disrespectful, out-of-control, unacceptably acted out in adult’s view? They don’t get to choose most of the time what they do. They lack “control” of their lives–no matter what age they are. Their voices are not heard. Their opinions don’t count. They lack respect from most adults in their lives.
Talk with Your Coach
At this same time, we also had a long talk with coach. He shared that at this age – as qualifying times begin to get harder and as kids have access to other sports through their schools – it is common that kids lose interest in swimming. He also stated that one of the biggest motivators is taking part in swim meets and really looking at your progress as an individual. As we don’t compete as regularly as most, we don’t have those little goals and milestones to celebrate.
Additionally, their skills and endurance have improved a great deal over the years and they’ve been swimming with the advanced group since September. Practice is longer and more intense. Coach thereby suggested allowing the kids to choose what practice time they wanted to attend – perhaps even swimming a couple times a week with the advanced group and a couple times with the intermediate group.
I took to heart the advice and experience that was shared with me and it really helped to open a dialogue with the kids. What we discovered really surprised us.
Really Listen to Your Child
My daughter was not interested in moving back to the intermediate level but she missed her friends. Those she most enjoyed swimming with were not attending the advanced group practice. Some were no longer swimming at all. My son shared that the advanced group was just too much for him. He stated that he would continue swimming if he could return to the intermediate level.
As the intermediate level practice and advanced level practice were at different times, I had been pushing my son to swim with the advanced group so that we wouldn’t have to be at the pool all evening. Though he was quite capable of swimming at the advanced level, he too, preferred swimming with his friends and “having fun” during practice.
Our team had also experienced a number of seasoned swimmers leaving the sport that winter season for a variety of reasons. We were in essence rebuilding and the kids agreed that it just didn’t have the same “feeling”.
Find a Compromise
Talking it over as a family and really listening to what the kids had to say was the key to finding a solution. As parents, we had to be willing to let them walk away and try something new. The kids realized that they couldn’t just veg out all day. Physical activity was equally important as academics and family bonding. We thereby compromised.
They agreed that they both wanted to continue swimming. Geneva wanted to stick with the advanced group. After talking with coach, she was inspired to take part in more swim meets and asked us to assure we could make this happen.
Jeffrey wanted to return to the intermediate group. He agreed he would occasionally swim with the advanced group if we had a schedule conflict (a couple times a month).
Because I was willing to listen and find a compromise, the kids are still swimming. Their enthusiasm for the sport has returned. When the summer season began in May, they both returned to the advanced swim group.