By Jasen Pratt
Dear Parents of Youth Athletes,
Let me introduce myself. My name is Jasen Pratt, I was a competitive swimmer growing up, I swam onto the National Swim Team at 16, became a swim coach after my career ended and have been a swim coach for the better part of 23 years. I am no longer coaching full-time as the last 12 years I have been the GM for a large swim club in Calgary called Cascade Swim Club. Together, with my wife Jacqueline who was also a competitive swimmer and still coaches full-time, we have four children ranging from 17 to 21 and all of them have followed in our aquatic footsteps.
My oldest daughter Taryn is 21. She doesn’t compete anymore, but used to swim competitively and won National Championships for her age group. My second daughter, Halle is 19. She is on the National artistic swim team (used to be called synchronized swimming). Halle just competed in the Pan Am Games, won artistic swimming overall team gold and a ticket to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Finally, we have 17-year-old twin boys, Cole and Kian. Kian competes at the National and Senior National level and will be at next year’s Olympic level trials, while Cole is on both the Junior and National Swim Teams.
Today, I want to share my experience with you about how best to help your youth athlete as a parent because, despite my athletic and professional coaching background, first and foremost I am a dad just like all of you other parents who put your children into sport. As a parent, probably like some of you, I’ve made a tonne of mistakes here’s a little example of one of my own and what NOT to do.
Back when my oldest daughter was swimming, I was an assistant coach and filled in on deck whenever they needed help. I remember making a freestyle stroke correction with my daughter thinking I was helping out, when in fact the correction I made was counterproductive to what they had already been working on.
Yes me, a professional coach with a swimming background making a decision that was not in the best interest of the swimmer. I did not know what the coaches had already put in place. I made a mistake. It is not unusual to hear from some of our young swimmers, “my mom told me I should do it this way”. As a coach with experience and as a parent who has been there I understand the sentiment. We all want to see our children excel in whatever they do but with almost no exceptions this type of parental direction typically backfires – especially in the long-run.
Yes, it happened to be my daughter, but that was the last time I ever did something like that without first going to talk to the coach and making sure everyone was on the same page.
So, my best advice to other parents of young swimmers is to find a quality program, and once you’ve found it, your best way of supporting is to get your kids to the pool or practice on time and support them by supporting their coach, being patient and trusting the process. Guide your dinnertime conversations with questions like “What was your favourite race today?” Let your children lead the “swimming” conversation, and you might just find they do not feel like talking about swimming at all! When your child’s sport becomes “all-consuming” this can be a turning point and lead them to dislike their sport altogether.
Speaking now with my GM hat, we have so many parents who unfortunately, with what they, I am sure, feel are their own kids best interests at heart, get in the way of their child’s success, when at the end of the day, 100% of their success is ultimately up to your kids. They have to choose if this is what they want to do. You cannot force that on any of them. All you need to do is get them to practice, and look after their well-being as a person – not as a swimmer, not as a hockey player, not as a soccer player, not as a karateka or any other type of athlete – that is the job of your coach.
It’s hard sometimes for me as a parent to separate from my GM role because I’ve lived it for so long. But now back to being a parent.
My wife and I are incredibly proud of our children. What they’ve done, in some ways is unbelievable and yet I believe it’s out there for everyone to try and chase. Please understand that it is that “chase”, that journey that is the most important thing. High-performance sport (Olympic Games, World Championships, NHL, MLS, NBA, MLB) will not be the end result for the majority but that road to high performance is out there for everyone. That “road”, no matter how long they journey on it (but the longer the better!) will ingrain in them so many life skills that will transfer over into all the other aspects of their lives.
My kids have done a great job chasing it and I think they have earned to be in the place they are in sport based on all the work leading up to it. As a parent with experience competing and coaching youth athletes at an elite level, I do have an advantage if you want to call it that. But I am no different than any other parent when it comes to wanting my kids to achieve all they can in sport and life.
So remember, as a parent on the sidelines, get your kids to the pool and support them first and foremost as young developing people and then as athletes. Support their coach and the coach’s decisions and show patience with the individual journey your athlete has embarked upon. And trust me, that is enough. I hope my experience will help you with your swimming or sport journey.
Good luck to you all,
Jasen Pratt, ChPC