The triangle of success
A great way to understand how you can maximise your child’s sporting experience is to use the ‘triangle of success’. Children will gain most from a balanced focus on all three points of the triangle.
The performance focus is easy to understand. Everybody loves to win, but we understand only one person can touch the wall first. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about performance. Beating a personal best (PB) time is a great way to focus on self-referenced performance improvements.
PBs give kids a lot of satisfaction and a great sense of achievement. However, PBs are not everyday occurrences for most kids. A better performance focus is on process. Process focus is all about how you swim the race. This is as simple as a race plan, for example ‘explode off the gun, keep your stroke long, kick hard to the wall’. The reason this focus is so fantastic for performance is that it is completely controllable. The child knows they can execute, it gives them the best chance of achieving a PB, and praise can be given when the process is achieved regardless of the time or place result. It is also okay to talk about race outcomes with your child as this gives you an opportunity to teach sportsmanship no matter what place they achieve. Parents should never show disappointment over a race performance. You can always talk about effort, sportsmanship, process, and also ask about what the coach had to say.
Coaches will usually give a child some practical feedback on racing. This feedback brings us to the second point of the triangle – development. Technical improvement in both stroke technique and race strategy is critical to developing performance. As a parent, be interested in this area.
Ask your child what they are working on, or what feedback they got from the coach. For example, a coach may be working on lengthening a short and choppy stroke. The child may race a slow time, but really lengthened their stroke. Therefore there should be celebration and interest in this achievement. The development point of the triangle gives your child an opportunity to show expertise to you. If you are interested, they can demonstrate knowledge of many different technical aspects of swimming. Being the expert on their sport will really make kids feel good about it.
And ‘feeling good’ is a large part of the third point in the triangle – experience. It has to be fun to keep children interested and coming back. If we only ever focus on performance and development, it doesn’t take long for swimming to become ‘work’. So make sure you balance your interest and questions to include - who they made friends with, what funny things happened, and how much fun it all was. With these three areas of focus, your child will have a solid foundation for a long and happy involvement with the sport of swimming.
Part of the process of learning to be a swimmer is learning to trust the coach. For a child to be able to achieve this, as parents, you must be able to let go, and hand your child’s swimming development over to the coach. Sometimes this is hard to do. Common worries parents might have include:
- the coach may not have enough time to fully pay attention to my child’s development
- the coach may not understand my child and their needs
- the coach has missed something that I can fix.
All coaches recognise that they are coaching the development of a whole person, not just a swimmer. They understand that children learn through working things out on their own. If you, as a parent, try to rush the technical development of your child, they may miss out on enjoying the fun side of the experience. It will become obvious to the child that the triangle is unbalanced and that your main focus is on performance. If you have any concerns about your child’s development, raise your concerns with the Coach in the first instance.
The PB error
Many parents believe that if they only speak about PBs then they are safely keeping pressure off their child. But if we think about it – a PB by definition is something the child has never done before. So even though it is self-referenced it can still carry a considerable amount of pressure. So don’t expect them all the time. However, PBs are fantastic goals when equally balanced with a focus on fun, and skill development. They are all the more enjoyable when they don’t happen every day.
In summary, children enjoy challenge in a supportive, fun environment. Keep the triangle balanced and enjoy what swimming has to offer to you and most importantly, your child.
Good questions to ask
- What were you working on today?
- Did you have fun?
- Did you try hard?
- How did you go?
- What did your coach think?