How to Raise a Collegiate Swimmer – Advice from Salome Wallace El
Salome Wallace El taught her children how to swim at an early age. Although she did not swim competitively, she raised two successful swimmers – one of whom earned an athletic scholarship for diving that covered 75% of his tuition to UMBC. We know that many Black Kids Swim readers want to know what it takes to equip their children with the skills necessary to earn college scholarships so we sat down with Salome to get her expert Swim Mom advice.
Black Kids Swim: What does it take to raise a collegiate swimmer?
Salome Wallace El: Kids can get scholarships – it is possible. And, it is a lot of work. Going to all of the weekday practices and weekend meets – all of the running around we do as parents can really pay off. I started to see the payoff when Elijah got into high school. I began to see the type of adults these kids were growing into. Swimming works the entire body and mind. I saw the whole picture and the benefits as the swim kids grew up. I strongly encourage families to get their kids involved in year round swimming.
BKS: Tell us about Elijah! He’s making a name for himself as a diver.
SWE: Elijah started swimming and diving with the McDonough Eagles swim team and the Central Maryland swim league. He loved diving more than swimming so he made the decision to focus on diving in middle school. He began working with the Retriever Dive Club (UMBCs club team) in 2009 when the club was founded. His first summer diving he won several competitions and he has not looked back since.
BKS: How has Elijah benefited from swimming and diving competitively?
SWE: Elijah is very serious about what he puts into his body. I remember for his 9th birthday he refused to eat his birthday cake. He told me “No, I have to ask my coach first” so I had to ask his coach to tell him to please enjoy a piece of his birthday cake! And even to this day, at 19 years old, he is very dedicated and conscious about what he puts into his body because he understands how diet can effect his performance and his craft. He is very serious about his craft. He is completely focused on diving performance. And his concern with his health gives me peace of mind about drugs, alcohol and smoking. I know he won’t do anything that could damage his body or lessen his ability to dive. I love what the sport has done for my son. The year round dedication it has instilled in both of my children. They have the ability to focus, pay attention, and quickly grasp concepts. Elijah goes to bed at 9:30pm without fail even as a college freshman! He is committed to getting his 8 hours of sleep. And that keeps him out of trouble too.
BKS: What can swim parents do to support their children?
SWE: Swimming and diving are grueling sports. Our kids need parental support. Pay attention to your kid. If they seem tired, if they need a break – honor that. Especially during long course training in the summer. When my kids needed a break I would tell them that they didn’t have to go to every meet. I would find ways to let them have fun while still honoring their commitments. Balance fun with following through – it’s important to find a balance. Let them know that it’s OK to need a break every now and then. Especially when they are very young. If you as a parent notice that they are complaining (“it’s too much, I’m tired”) about going to meets and practices that’s when you can pull back and allow them to have some fun. Because you don’t want them to burn out. You don’t want them to totally quit in high school because they’ve lost that passion for the sport. Help them find a balance. Maybe allow them to try a different sport or passion during the summer. Just doing something different to allow them to experience something else. And that helps the child know that swimming doesn’t totally control them, that they have control of what they do and they can find a happy balance.
BKS: What’s your #1 rule as a swim mom?
SWE: Enjoy each moment and each meet with your kid and give them lots of hugs and kisses. Show your kids love and encouragement. Don’t become a ‘helicopter parent’ yelling at your kid to do better. We’ve all seen those types of parents. This is about them enjoying each meet and each experience and doing their best. This is about them finishing the race and having fun. Because eventually they’ll grow up and become young adults and you won’t be able to make every meet anymore.
Our kids are real competitive little people! Sometimes they can seem so hard, but they need our hugs and kisses. Just encourage your kids with love. Encourage them to do their best no matter what. As long as they are improving on their times and their skills that’s all that matters. It’s not about them coming in first or second place because as parents they are always going to be first in our hearts. Hug them, kiss them, tell them great job no matter what place they come in.
They are going to be down on themselves, so you have to take their mind off of the negative and help them see the positives too. If they didn’t place maybe they dropped time, and if they continue to work hard it will eventually pay off.
Now that Elijah is in college – how has your role as ‘Swim Mom’ changed?
When Elijah was younger I was at every practice, every meet, everything. But now that he’s in college i’m not afforded that privilege. I worry about that, I worry that he doesn’t feel supported if I’m not there. But he told me not to worry, that he feels me with him in spirit. He said “Mom, no matter what I’m always going to represent.” But I do miss being physically there for everything. We text about the meets but it’s just not the same.
What advice can you give to other swim parents?
Parents need balance too – we need to find our own passions. We get lost in trying to help our kids find their passion. At first we can’ t wait for them to graduate from high school and then when that day comes you’re like ‘time flies’. And then our children go off to college and we’re stuck because we’re used to being swim moms and dads and that’s our badge of honor. Being swim parents. We enjoy making sure our kids have what they need to get ahead. But parents need to find their own passion. You have to find something to fill that void when there’s no more swim meets to go to. You don’t want to be chasing college swim meets because they are all over the country. So I’ve found something that I’m passionate about, and my kids encouraged me to do it. I’ll be moving to Vietnam to teach in the American school. My kids said ‘mom, we’re living our dreams and it’s time for you to follow yours.’
During her interview it became clear that Salome is a loving and supportive mom. She says that her kids made her a better parent and teacher. Seeing her children chase their dreams encouraged her to do the same. We wish Salome the best as she embarks on a new teaching career at the American School in Vietnam!
Don’t miss Elijah January 9th at UMBC’s Retriever Athletic Center when UMBC faces Howard University for a swim and dive meet.