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Shepherding vs. Engineering: Supporting Young Swimmers



The fundamental goal of parenting is to create a positive, supportive environment for their child, nurturing their potential and encouraging their growth. Especially in competitive arenas like swimming, the line between shepherding and engineering can often become blurry. Understanding the distinction is necessary to ensure your child's success, happiness, and long-term passion for the sport.


Shepherding a child's future involves providing guidance, tools, resources, and opportunities, then stepping back and letting them navigate their path. On the other hand, engineering a child's future may involve more directive action, often dictating specific goals, behaviors, or outcomes. It is essential to find a balance.


Encourage Autonomy and Self-Direction

Autonomy is crucial to long-term motivation. Self-direction means children must feel they are swimming because they love the sport, not just because you want them to. Motivate them to make decisions, set personal goals, and take responsibility for their progress. Autonomy develops resilience, initiative, and self-confidence, fostering a healthier relationship with the sport.


Provide Supportive Guidance

As parents, your role should primarily be one of guidance and support. Guiding means helping your child navigate challenges, teaching them to manage time effectively, promoting a growth mindset, and offering to listen when things get tough. Pushing too hard or setting rigid expectations can lead to burnout or loss of passion.


Cultivate a Balanced Life

Swimming should not be the only defining aspect of your child’s life. It is essential that they also focus on education, engage in other interests, and spend time with friends. Encouraging a well-rounded lifestyle not only holds a balanced perspective but also ensures they have a healthy outlet if they face setbacks in swimming.


Foster a Healthy Attitude Towards Competition

Competition is distinct in any sport, and swimming is no exception. However, it is essential to focus more on personal progress than winning. Teach your child to view competition as an opportunity to learn and grow, celebrate improvements, and enjoy the process rather than just the outcome.


Embrace Failure

Setbacks are inevitable in any journey. It is necessary to teach children that failure is not a reflection of their worth but an opportunity to learn and grow. They should understand that even the best swimmers face challenges and that perseverance is critical for success.


Respect Their Decisions

Lastly, remember that it is their swimming career. They must ultimately decide the level of commitment, the goals they set, and the path they wish to follow. Even if you disagree, you must respect their choices and provide unconditional support.


The role of a parent is to serve as a guide and mentor for your young swimmer, helping them navigate the challenges of the sport while allowing them to forge their path. By shepherding rather than engineering, you will nurture a potentially successful swimmer and a resilient, balanced, and self-confident individual.


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