Category Archives: swim parents

Enough Already With Kid Gloves

News For

SWIM  PARENTS

Published by The American Swimming Coaches Association

5101 NW 21 Ave., Suite 200

Fort Lauderdale FL 33309

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chasing squirrels

Enough Already With Kid Gloves

By Christina Hoff Sommers

Purple is replacing red as the color of choice for teachers. Why, you may ask? It seems that educators worry that emphatic red corrections on a homework assignment or test can be stressful, demeaning — even “frightening” for a young person. The principal of Thaddeus Stevens Elementary in Pittsburgh advises teachers to use only “pleasant-feeling tones.”

Major pen manufacturers appear to agree. Robert Silberman, vice president of marketing at Pilot Pen, says teachers “are trying to be positive and reinforcing rather than harsh.” Michael Finn, a spokesperson for Paper Mate, approves: “This is a kinder, more gentle education system.” Which color is best for children? Stephen Ahle, principal at Pacific Rim Elementary in Carlsbad, Calif., offers lavender “because it is a calming color.”

A calmer, gentler grading color? Are schoolchildren really so upset by corrections in primary red? Why have teachers become so careful?

It seems that many adults today regard the children in their care as fragile hothouse flowers who require protection from even the remote possibility of frustration, disappointment or failure. The new solicitude goes far beyond blacklisting red pens. Many schools now discourage or prohibit competitive games such as tag or dodge ball. The rationale: too many hurt feelings. In May 2002, for example, the principal of Franklin Elementary School in Santa Monica, Calif., sent a newsletter to parents informing them that children could no longer play tag during the lunch recess. As she explained, “In this game, there is a ‘victim’ or ‘It,’ which creates a self-esteem issue.”

Is anything OK?

Which games are deemed safe and self-affirming? The National PTA recommends a cooperative alternative to the fiercely competitive “tug of war” called “tug of peace.” Some professionals in physical education advocate activities in which children compete only with themselves, such as juggling, unicycling, pogo sticking, and even “learning to … manipulate wheelchairs with ease.”

But juggling, too, poses risks.

A former member of The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports suggests using silken scarves rather than, say, uncooperative tennis balls that lead to frustration and anxiety. “Scarves,” he points out, “are soft, non-threatening, and float down slowly.”

Is the kind of overprotectiveness these educators counsel really such a bad thing? Sooner or later, children will face stressful situations, disappointments and threats to their self-esteem. Why not shield them from the inevitable as long as possible? The answer is that children need challenge, excitement and competition to flourish. To treat them as combustible bundles of frayed nerves does them no favors.

Anthony Pellegrini, a professor of early childhood education at the University of Minnesota, has done careful studies on playground dynamics. I asked him what he thought of the national movement against games such as tag and dodge ball: “It is ridiculous. Even squirrels play chase.”

Children who are protected from frank criticism written in “harsh” colors are gravely shortchanged. In the global economy that awaits them, young Americans will be competing with other young people from all parts of the world whose teachers do not hesitate to use red pens. What is driving the new solicitude?

Too many educators, parents and camp counselors today are obsessed with boosting the self-esteem of the children in their care. These adults not only refrain from criticizing their young charges when they perform badly, they also take pains to praise them even when they’ve done nothing to deserve it.

But two decades of research have failed to show a significant connection between high self-esteem and achievement, kindness, or good personal relationships. Unmerited self-esteem, on the other hand, is known to be associated with antisocial behavior — even criminality. Nevertheless, most of our national institutions and organizations that deal with children remain fixated on self-esteem.

The Girl Scouts of America recently launched a major campaign “to address the problem of low self-esteem among 8- to 14-year-old girls.” (Never mind that there is no good evidence these girls suffer a self-esteem deficit.) With the help of a $2.65 million grant from Unilever (a major corporation that owns products such as Lipton and Slim Fast), its new program, “Uniquely ME!,” asks girls to contemplate their own “amazing” specialness. Girls are invited to make collages celebrating themselves. They can play a getting-to-know-me game called a “Me-O-Meter.”

Uniquely ridiculous

One normally thinks of the Girl Scouts as an organization that fosters self-reliance and good citizenship. Me-O-Meters? How does that promote self-reliance? And is self-absorption necessarily good for young people?

Yes, say the mental health experts at Girl Scout Research Center. The Uniquely ME! pamphlet tells its young readers, “This booklet is designed to help boost your self-esteem by celebrating YOU and your uniqueness. … Having high self-esteem … can help you lead a more successful life.”

The authors of Uniquely ME! and the executives at Unilever who funded it should take a careful look at an article in the January issue of Scientific American that debunks the self-esteem movement. (“Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth.”) The authors, four prominent academic psychologists, conclude, “We have found little to indicate that indiscriminately promoting self-esteem in today’s children or adults, just for being themselves, offers society any compensatory benefits beyond the seductive pleasure it brings to those engaged in the exercise.”

The good intentions or dedication of the self-esteem educators and Scout leaders are not in question. But their common sense is. With few exceptions, the nation’s children are mentally and emotionally sound. They relish the challenge of high expectations. They can cope with red pens, tug of war and dodge ball. They can handle being “It.”

Reprinted from USA Today.  Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the co-author of One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance.

Swim Parent Newsletter: Swim Practice and Stroke Work

March 28, 2011

News For SWIM  PARENTS

Published by Guy Edson, American Swimming Coaches Association, 5101 NW 21 Ave., Suite 200, Fort Lauderdale FL 33309

The Nature of Stroke Work: Sometimes the Perception is That Not Enough Stroke Work Is Being Done

A sometimes concern among Moms and Dads is whether enough stroke work is being done.  “All they do is swim.  I don’t see any instruction at all,” is a typical refrain.  The purpose of this short article is to explain what to expect from stroke work and to describe the different ways we coaches do stroke work and when we do it.

What to expect from stroke work:  Do you remember teaching your children to tie their shoes?  Some get it sooner, some get it later, some get it when you are not even watching.  Each gets it in their own time regardless of your efforts.  Same deal on stroke work.  We hope to see immediate improvement but it is not always there.  Patience is the key.  Thorndike’s “laws” of learning come into play here:  Is the child ready to learn?  Does the child repeat the skill at the conscious level in order to move the skill from the conscious level to the automatic level?  (Are they even operating at the conscious level during repeats?)  With some children we notice a “delayed reaction” to teaching where they apparently make very little progress at the time and then some time later, sometimes even weeks later, magically get it.  There is trial and error learning going on at the subconscious, level and it may take many repeats for things to suddenly click.  So why do coaches allow swimmers to swim lap after lap with incorrect technique?  Because, the hope is that a seed planted by the coach suddenly blossoms through trial and error learning after many repeats.

Where do those seeds come from?  There are three basic types of stroke work.  The most obvious is formal teaching where the lane or the workout group is stopped from aerobic or race pace swimming conditioning for 10 to 20 minutes and the coach explains a technique, uses a demonstrator, and then will have the athletes attempt the skill, usually one at a time with immediate feedback from the coach.  This type of instruction is commonly used nearly every day with less advanced swimmers (novice), and less frequently with more advanced swimmers.  Early in the season the coach may have the more advanced swimmers involved with formal teaching nearly every day as well.

A second form of stroke work is the stroke drill.  Stroke drills are intended to isolate a part of the stroke so that the swimmer can focus on that particular skill.  Stroke drills are often done as repeats on a low to moderate rest interval so that there is a conditioning effect as well.

The third form of stroke work is the most common – to some coaches it is the most important – and it is the most misunderstood and underappreciated by some observers (parents).  This form of stroke work is the constant reminders coaches give to swimmers either verbally during the short rest periods between swims or visual cues demonstrated by the coach during the swims.  The purpose is to move swimmers from an automatically wrong movement to the consciously correct movement; and if done enough, and given enough time, will effect a change.  Some coaches are “always” doing stroke work of this type, even though it is not always easy to observe from the bleachers.

I meet with parent’s groups regularly and I like to do this little exercise with them:  “Imagine a successful swimmer at whatever level you chose – state level, regional, national, international.  Now, let’s list the factors that contribute to this swimmers success.  Ready go.”  When I do this exercise I get responses such as, “work ethic,” “discipline,” and “commitment” —  these are factors relating to the psychology of the athlete.  We usually get 8, 10, or maybe even 12 factors on the list before we get to…”technique.”  I am not saying that technique is not important – it is – but every Olympic gold medalist has defects in their stroke.  The pursuit of the impossibly perfect stroke is futile.  Yes, stroke work IS important, but I am not sure it is the most important thing for advanced swimmers.  When we observe a coach who doesn’t appear to be doing enough stroke work, step back and look at the larger picture.  Is the child happy and improving?  If so, then life is good.

(If not, then please see the March 14th issue on “How to Talk to Your Coach.”)

 

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick? Or maybe some better advice…”Working Successfully with Swim Parents”

Check out this great webinar by ASCA Technical Director, Guy Edson – “Working Successfully With Swim Parents”

Click HERE for the webinar recording

Click HERE for just the PDF slides

And, some related parent education:

The Praise Craze

Cover of "The Parents We Mean To Be: How ...

Cover via Amazon

News For SWIM  PARENTS

Published by The American Swimming Coaches Association

5101 NW 21 Ave., Suite 200

Fort Lauderdale FL 33309

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The Praise Craze

Children are getting too much flattery and not enough moral instruction.

By Dan Mack

Even at age 12, Chris is a skilled basketball player. He scores at will for his recreational league team — but he doesn’t get many assists, because he’s a ball hog. His teammates sulk during games, waiting for passes that never come. Parents watching from courtside aren’t too pleased, either, except for Chris’s stepfather, Mike, whose pleasure in the boy’s performance is undimmed even when a parent complains to him about Chris’s selfishness. Mike later confides to the father of another player that he’s not going to talk to Chris about trying to be a more generous player. His stepson has a learning disability, Mike says, “and this is the only place where he can shine.”

Mike didn’t know it, but he was providing grist for his interlocutor’s next book. Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist at Harvard’s School of Education and the Kennedy School of Government, recounts the anecdote about Chris’s over solicitous stepfather in “The Parents We Mean to Be.” (“The Parents We Mean to Be,” By Richard Weissbourd, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 241 pages, $25)  It is just one of many illustrative stories that Mr. Weissbourd has gathered over the past two decades. He and his assistants — including two high-school students, who presumably had good rapport with other teenagers — surveyed three Boston-area high schools, conducted focus groups, made “informal observations” of families in cities across the country, and interviewed sports coaches, teachers and mental-health professionals.

What did Mr. Weissbourd’s research tell him? That nowadays “well-intentioned adults undermine children’s moral and emotional development.”  Parents have abandoned the “moral task” of rearing children, he says, and are more concerned about fostering their happiness than their goodness. Therapeutic interaction takes precedence over moral instruction; intimacy is maintained at the cost of authority.

“Blaming peers and popular culture lets adults off the hook,” Mr. Weissbourd writes. “The parent-child relationship is at the center of the development of all the most important moral qualities, including honesty, kindness, loyalty, generosity, a commitment to justice, the capacity to think through moral dilemmas, and the ability to sacrifice for important principles.”

Among the trends that Mr. Weissbourd finds particularly harmful is the fixation of parents on building “self-esteem” (the “praise craze,” as he calls it). A psychologist he talks to tells him that by age 12 some children have been so over praised that they regard compliments as implicit criticism: Empty flattery must be compensating for their lack of talent or be meeting a need for extra encouragement. Other children become “praise sponges,” Mr. Weissbourd says. In either case, he wonders, what’s so great about self-esteem? “Though some violent children have high self-esteem, the self that is being esteemed is immature, incapable of empathy.”

“Children’s moral development is decided by many factors, including not only media and peer influences but their genetic endowment, birth order, gender, and how these different factors interact.”

Excerpt from “The Parents We Mean to Be”

Mr. Weissbourd is also dismayed by many parents who put subtle but unrelenting pressure on their children for academic and extracurricular achievement. He talks to a 16-year-old who says that his parents make an elaborate display of saying that his getting into a “high-status school” is not important to them, that they just want him to learn and be happy. “But then they pay for SAT prep courses and expensive college counselors,” the boy says. “There’s already huge pressure on me to achieve.” Parental hypocrisy and insincerity do not constitute moral guidance.

Mr. Weissbourd rightly identifies the praise craze and the achievement obsession as a reflection of parental status anxiety. It seems that the more successful parents are, the more likely they are to worry about their children’s possible failure to live up to that success. One of the author’s most arresting contentions is that the children of immigrants “fare better than their American-born counterparts” in almost every measure of mental and moral health. American-born parents would have a lot to learn from immigrants, Mr. Weissbourd insists. They are comfortable with imposing authority and discipline, and they are optimistic about their children’s future.

As a psychologist, Mr. Weissbourd is at his best when he analyzes the all too familiar phenomenon of the overzealous sports parent. In a high-school cafeteria, the author sat in on a meeting between about 30 parents and a sports consultant, who was warning them about becoming over involved. A parent raised his hand and made a confession: “I remember my son’s last day playing youth soccer. The game was over, and I remember standing out on the field and thinking to myself: ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ ” The first step toward moral education for kids, Mr. Weissbourd says, is for parents to separate their own needs from their children’s and to start regarding parenthood as an opportunity for their own moral growth.

Good advice. But parental self-awareness is hardly more than a baby step on the path toward producing tomorrow’s productive and caring adults. Mr. Weissbourd identifies some of the more daunting barriers to healthy enculturation — among them the breakdown of the two-parent family and the decay of standards for public and private behavior — but he never really gets beyond superficial solutions to these vexing social problems. Urging pediatricians to encourage fathers to attend their children’s check-ups, or suggesting that ministers “ask noncustodial fathers how many times they have seen their child in the last month,” is unlikely to convert legions of estranged fathers into engaged parents.

The methodology employed in “The Parents We Mean to Be” similarly does not inspire confidence. We hear about Mr. Weissbourd’s interviews and surveys, but the book offers few quantitative results or analyses. Much of the evidence of parental incompetence is anecdotal — even, as with the story of ball-hogging Chris and his stepfather, based on people that Mr. Weissbourd happened to run into. His stories will no doubt resonate with many readers — who among us has not encountered an oppressively sports-minded father or an Ivy League-obsessed mother? — but such vignettes do not add up to a firm sociological thesis.

Mr. Weissbourd also tends to gloss over the institutional failures that have driven many parents to passionate advocacy for their children: the failure of public schools, for example, to uphold high academic and behavioral standards. The influence of the media and celebrity culture on children’s mores and material expectations is also far more profound than Mr. Weissbourd would admit. And just who is ultimately responsible for the excesses of the self-esteem craze — parents or the psychologists and educators whose books parents read for advice?

One effect of parents’ over-involvement in their children’s’ lives has been the demise of those arenas of childhood that were once inviolably the province of children themselves: unsupervised play, neighborhood baseball games and other settings where children first exercised their moral imaginations and were forced to cope independently with their own shortcomings. Parents who lament this turn of events may welcome Lenore Skenazy’s “Free-Range Kids,” which, like Mr. Weissbourd’s book, argues that adults should not always try to protect children from failure. (“Free-Range Kids,” By Lenore Skenazy, Jossey-Bass, 225 pages, $24.95)

Ms. Skenazy, a humor columnist, believes we should give “our children the freedom we had without going nuts with worry.” She lampoons safety-obsessed parents who see a threat-filled world, from metal baseball bats and raw cookie dough to Halloween-candy poisoners and kidnappers. She advises turning off the news, avoiding experts and boycotting baby knee pads “and the rest of the kiddie safety-industrial complex.”

“I really think I’m someone like you: A parent who is afraid of some things (bears, cars) and less afraid of others (subways, strangers). But mostly I’m afraid that I, too, have been swept up in the impossible obsession of our era: total safety for our children every second of every day.”

Excerpt from “Free-Range Kids”

Ms. Skenazy gained a certain national notoriety after she wrote a column about allowing her 9-year-old son to ride the New York City subways by himself. Even parents fed up with our child-coddling culture might blanch at the thought of turning a third-grader loose on public transportation. But Ms. Skenazy will find plenty of supporters for her contention that, in a world where the rights of chickens to roam freely are championed, it’s time to liberate the kids.

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This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal.  Ms. Mack is the author of “The Assault on Parenthood” (Encounter).