When I was an age group swimmer, my mom faithfully sat in the stands for two hours every night, minding her own business, quiet as a church mouse grading school papers or chatting with other parents. She didn’t even dare look in the direction of my coach let alone think about stepping foot on the pool deck. It was an unspoken rule that if you, as a parent, marched down on deck to talk to the coach you would be met with cranky resistance. It wasn’t because my coach was a mean guy or some sort of egomaniac, it’s just that the pool deck was his turf and his time with your swimmer. If you needed to talk to him about something, you scheduled time outside of practice hours.

I didn’t realize how much this “protocol” was ingrained in me until I became a swim parent myself and I saw parents on the pool deck, approaching the coach about their swimmers DURING PRACTICE. I was honestly (and maybe shamefully depending on your opinion) shocked and appalled. Don’t they know that’s a no-no?

I thought maybe this aggressive approach to being an involved swim parent was a product of our environment. We lived in Florida so there really wasn’t a distinction between the pool deck and the “stands”. Everyone was all on one level – literally. I could see how this would tempt parents into chatting with the coaches and getting into conversations about their swimmers at what I would consider an inopportune time. Sure enough when we moved away from Florida and back to an indoor pool/more traditional natatorium setup, I saw less of this.

At our team pool, we go so far as to hang signs up saying that parents are not allowed on deck (these sometimes go ignored).

So why do teams have this rule? What is the big deal if a parent comes on deck to chat with a coach? Is this ever okay or should the old school mindset I grew up with be preserved?

This is all my personal opinion based on experience as a swimmer, parent, and coach and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but here are my thoughts. As always, feel free to comment and disagree!

The case for No:

  1. Safety. It may seem like the more adults on the pool deck, the better. But let me give an example. A few weeks ago we were in the middle of our evening practice and had a pool full of kids age 5-12 in the water. All of a sudden, the power to the whole building went out, leaving young kids (some panicked) in the water in the dark. Think of what would have happened if the parents had access to the pool deck or were all sitting close enough to rush in and “help”? In that situation, every parent is going to go into fight or flight mode for their own child. How would we have ensured, as coaches, that all kids were out in a timely manner? Because it was strictly coaches on deck, our head coach quickly whistled for everyone to be quiet, not panic, and swim to the closest wall to calmly get out and follow the lights of the coaches’ phones’ out to the hallway. All of the coaches were on deck paying attention with no distractions. We knew exactly which swimmers were in the water and when they were all safely out. The kid to parent ratio works both ways – too many can be just as bad as too few.
  2. It’s a distraction. Along this same line, having a parent on deck trying to have a conversation during practice not only distracts the coach from attending to the other swimmers in his/her lane, but also distracts the kids. If I saw a parent come on deck at my age group practice, I wondered what could be so bad/important that Mr. or Mrs. X needed to speak with the coach RIGHT NOW. Kids are curious, they will want to know why you’re there.
  3. It may embarrass your swimmer. Maybe you need to talk to the coach about a sensitive topic that your swimmer may not want anyone else to hear. And even if it’s not a sensitive topic, if you have a pre-teen or teenager your VERY EXISTENCE may be embarrassing.
  4. You may not have the coach’s full attention. Chances are if you ambush a coach in the middle of practice, or even right before when they are trying to wrangle the swimmers, your message won’t be fully heard. The coach may be half listening not because they don’t value your swimmer and the issue you want to discuss, but because they are in the middle of managing a large group of young swimmers and that demands their full attention. If you have an issue that requires their full attention, schedule time outside of practice to have that conversation.

When it’s probably okay:

  1. If it will take less than a minute. Is your swimmer taking the SAT on Saturday morning? Do they have a doctor’s appointment that will make them 30 minutes late for practice? Go ahead and let the coach know either right before or right after practice. Use the one minute rule to gauge. If you can state your business in 60 seconds or less, it’s okay. Of course you can always go with the ever popular “lean over the railing and shout” method too…
  2. If you’re a parent volunteer. Whether it’s practice or a meet, if you’re a parent volunteer it’s okay to go on deck to coordinate with the coaching staff. Sometimes information about when food or other supplies need to be delivered are time-sensitive and warrant a conversation during practice. If you are taking the time to do the good deed of volunteering to help out the team, then the coach will make time to discuss the event/meet setup with you. If you aren’t volunteering during a meet however, it’s best to stay in the stands and let your swimmer come to you.
  3. If your swimmer forgot their googles for the 4th time this week. Did your swimmer leave their equipment bag in the car? Need to deliver some replacement googles? Go ahead down and drop them off. Seriously though, if your swimmer forgot their goggles 4 days in a row, make them swim without googles. #learnthehardway
  4. If you’ve tried everything else and don’t get a response from the coach. It happens to all of us – we miss an email or forget to call someone back. If you’ve tried contacting the coach by phone or email and aren’t getting anywhere – it’s okay to go on deck to mention you’ve been trying to get in touch. It’s still best to do this right before or after practice – if you go in the middle of a busy set the coach may be distracted and forget you talked.

Of course, if there is an emergency by all means storm the pool deck and let it be known. Otherwise, I think these are some good guidelines to go by. I think there is a happy medium between don’t even look my way while I’m coaching and feel free to hang out on deck while your swimmer practices. Ultimately as a parent you want what’s best for your swimmer, so hopefully these guidelines will help out when deciding how to approach conversation with your swimmer’s coach.

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