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How can I get recruited to swim in college? What questions should I ask a college swim coach?--Mike D, Grapevine, Texas
Response from Dan H.,
Swim Dad, Masters Swimmer
I think you should focus on learning how the coach runs his team. You really want to know if the team is a good fit for you. Ask what is expected of you as an athlete. What does it take to travel with the team? How does the team support an incoming freshman? What equipment will the team furnish? How does the coach and program support your academic needs and goals? What would it take to earn scholarship money?
There are a few items important to consider when deciding where to go to college and potentially swimming. First you should think about why you want to swim in college. Is it because you love swimming and want to continue the sport past high school? Is it because you hope to earn a scholarship? Do you have a few colleges in mind and hope to make the swim team? Do you want to become an elite swimmer? Those are just of a few of the typical reasons people want to swim in college. If your interest is a scholarship, you should understand that Division 1 schools only have 9.9 scholarships to offer for men and 14 for women. Division 2 schools can offer 8.1 for both men and women. Division 3 schools do not offer any athletic scholarships. Unlike football and basketball, most swimming scholarships are allocated in fractions. A men’s team might have 24 swimmers (and divers) splitting 9.9 scholarships. It is likely that some of the athletes have no scholarship at all (“walk ons”).
Competition for scholarships is very high, so your chances of earning one are limited unless you are already very fast. Remember too that scholarships are annual – and the amount of a scholarship might change from year to year if you are fortunate enough to earn one. You might start as a walk on and earn a partial scholarship after you have proven yourself. Or you might be asked to give up part of a scholarship so the team can recruit another athlete they want very much.
Regardless of the reason, you should be proactive to get attention from coaches. If you are very fast they may find you. But if you are simply a state qualifier, rather than a state champion, you will need to get on their radar. The first thing is to be realistic. If your best time in 50 free is 22.5 it is highly unlikely Auburn or Cal will pay any attention to you. Most college team websites show how fast their team is so you can see relatively easily if your times match up to a team.
The next thing to do is visit the college’s athletic website and look for a “prospective athlete” registration form. Complete the form and send it in however they ask you to. A good time to do this is at the beginning of your junior year. You might also send an email to the head coach and assistant coach telling them you completed the form and are interested in swimming for them. If you are not fast, do not be surprised if they barely acknowledge you. If you know someone on the team – ask them to mention you to the coach. They might then follow you with a bit more attention than they might otherwise.
If your high school coach or club coach knows the coaches of schools you are interested they can be a big help. Your coaches could vouch for your work ethic and give the college coach a reason to believe you are a good bet.
You should send another note to the coach after your season – to tell them how well you did. Tell them how much you improved from the prior year and what you think led to your improvements. Hopefully you have their attention and will follow your swimming through your senior year.
If you are a good student and a good swimmer – that can help with some schools. The NCAA measures academic progress for all athletes and some coaches may be motivated to keep some kids on their roster that raise the overall GPA. Some colleges, especially those with high academic requirements, will require you to be accepted to the college before they will have a serious conversation with you.
Finally, the NCAA has specific rules on when coaches can contact athletes. I encourage you to visit the NCAA website and read the sections on recruiting and eligibility. If you intend to swim in college at any level, you would do well to become familiar with these rules. NCAA recruiting guidelines.