When I was an age group swimmer, days off were not an option. I remember my coach getting upset that I had to scratch finals one night at our big meet so I could go to a father-daughter dance at my school. My mom stuck up for me and he conceded, but he gave her the silent treatment for a solid week after.

Right before the summer season my own daughter, now 10, moved up to the next group and practice is now offered to her 6 days a week. It’s a lot for a 10 year old. But she’s enthusiastic, and wants to make every practice. She’s not quite at a point where she knows how to advocate for herself if her body or mind feels too tired to go.

She loves swimming so much at this age, and I want to make sure that love doesn’t fade so she sticks with it. This means that sometimes, I have to say no to practice on her behalf.

When she moved, I had to have a “sit-down” talk with her about learning to listen to her own body. We talked about how even if I was required to be on deck coaching, if she needed a break she needed to speak up and let me know. Kids are like energizer bunnies, they’ll just keep going until someone else cried uncle for them. I explained to her that 6 practices a week was a lot for someone her age, and it was okay to be honest with me and tell me she needed a break and that coach would understand.

She’s gotten pretty good about this, so I feel confident most days I’m not pushing her over her limit. She did her first short course meet of the season this past weekend which meant no weekend sleep in days, and Monday was a struggle for all of us. She got in the car after school and was so tired and mopey that when she asked me if she could take a day off this week, I was actually proud of her. Part of being an athlete is listening to your own body, and I think she’s slowly getting the hang of that.

But she doesn’t always get it right. Just a few weeks ago, I was up early on a Saturday (thanks to my senior dog and her senior bladder) having coffee on the couch, and she came stumbling out of her bedroom with bags under her eyes and a far off “I’m not really awake yet look”. I told her good morning and knowing that we had about 30 min before we had to leave for Saturday practice I tried to get her moving on breakfast. When I asked her what she wanted to eat – I kid you not, she could barely form a sentence. She was groggy, and couldn’t really understand why I was asking her such difficult questions (about breakfast) so early in the morning. I knew from her behavior she needed a break, so I put my mom foot down and told her we were taking the day off, no other option offered. She would have gone had I not intervened, but she didn’t fight me…

Scales of Swimming Tiredness by My Daughter

So how can you tell if your swimmer really needs a break? It’s hard sometimes, kids want to please their parents and they get the misconception that if they don’t go they’ll disappoint you or their coach. Here are some signs I look for in my own kids that give me clues it’s time for me to step in:

  • They have physical symptoms of fatigue. Adults aren’t the only ones that get bags under their eyes! My daughter gets really noticeable dark circles, drags her feet when she walks, and has this look on her face like she’ll burst into tears at any moment, even when she insists she’s okay.
  • They drop subtle hints. If you ask your child how their day at school was and you get, “It was just a really long day” or “It feels like the day went on forever” – it could be a red flag. My younger daughter sometimes asks me how many more days in the week before the weekend, and I can tell she’s running on empty. Another tell-tale sign is if I ask them what they’d like to do this weekend and I get, “I don’t know, maybe just play at home and watch movies”.
  • They flat out tell you they’ve had enough. I get this one wrong a lot as a parent. Sometimes when our kids tell us bluntly how they feel, we can misread it as complaining and tell them “you’ll be fine”. I’m guilty of this. If I hear, “I just don’t feel like going tonight” my first thought is, “Me either kid but I’m going anyway!” It can be hard because we want our kids to push themselves and learn resilience, and sometimes they are just being whiny and they’re fine. But especially as my kids get older, it gets a little easier to tell when they are acting out of character so I try to stick to my promise that if she needs a break, I honor the fact that I told her it was okay to take one.

We all want the best for our kids so it can be hard to recognize when you or your child has lost perspective. I definitely have crazy swim mom moments that I have to internalize and not project onto my child. The reality is, if your athlete is tired, it sucks a lot of fun out of practice and fun is SO important, especially if you’re swimmer is 12 and under. Fun is what makes them come back, and stay swimmers for life.

How do you deal with your tired swimmers? Please share your stories and comments below!