My 7 year old is a competitive swimmer, but she is also a very intense and literal child (like most kids are). Last night at practice she found out that one of her good friends had been moved up to the next training group. The first words out of her mouth were something to the effect of “that's not fair, SuzieQ (not her real name, obviously) is only 7 and you need to be 8 to go to the next group.”
As coaches, we know that when it comes to training, a child's age is merely a guideline, not a hard fast rule like it can be in competition. As parents, it is often hard to grasp the concept (because as parents our children are the best no matter what). And for a very literal young athlete, it just isn't fair.
While we were sitting there waiting for my 10 year old to finish her practice, Miss N again asked me about SuzieQ moving up. I told her that if she needed more explanation or had questions about her own placement, that she really needed to go talk to the head coach. She agreed but asked if I would go with her. I said no. If she wanted answers, she had to go get them herself.
Was I being a non-caring, mean Mom? Nope. I am a firm believer in kids taking ownership of their own successes whether it being in school, sports or other activities. Kids need to learn to communicate effectively with their teachers, coaches and other authority figures in life.
MissN must have really wanted that answer because she walked over to the other side of the pool to talk to her coach – without me. He explained to her that the number 8 is just a guideline and that SuzieQ had shown the coaches that she really was ready to move up. He also encouraged MissN to keep working hard so that come September when they make the placements for next year she would be ready for that next group.
I feel that the explanation her coach gave her was much more powerful than anything I could have said. And, rather than feeling like something was unfair, she now had clearly defined expectations that she could work toward.
As a gymnastics coach, I much prefer it when one of my athletes comes to me directly with a concern, challenge or question. It allows the two of us to build each others' trust and respect and nothing gets lost in translation (ie, parental emotions).
That doesn't mean parents should be left out of the loop. Parents play an equally important role in their child's development as a happy, healthy athlete. My point is that giving children the confidence to communicate with their coaches directly will ultimately empower them to become their own advocates, strengthen the coach-athlete relationship, and make them more independent young adults in the process.