I recently had the opportunity to ask some questions of a group of swimmers – Jacob, Olivia, Elena, Stephen, Smith, Rhys and Alex – who are beginning their freshman year swimming in college for Division I, Division II and Division III schools. The result is great tips and solid advice to share with high school students who are in the middle of the recruiting process.
How Many Official Visits Did You Take?
Most of these swimmers took three official visits – in fact, four of the six did. The others took one, two and four visits.
What Did You Learn From Your Official Visits?
Official visits provide the opportunity to learn about the feel of the school and how well swimmers fit in with the team. Jacob said, “It was really helpful to get a feel for the campus and team beyond the imagery provided in school-sponsored leaflets. Every school has a unique set of people and so actually getting your feet on the ground is helpful to understand your fit.”
Olivia suggested that swimmers look at how they feel “being comfortable being far away from home, the people on your team are who you’re going to be with for four years.” She said that these factors are important and “money (offer wise) shouldn’t dictate where you end up.”
Alex said she learned about “the atmosphere of the school and the teams, what each school values, and the coaching style.”
Stephen looked at the team atmosphere, practices, and relationships to determine where he fit best and Rhys summed it up by saying, “It has to feel right.”
Elena recommended that swimmers “always be comfortable and yourself on the trips. It’s easier to find what you’re more accommodated to when you’re open minded. Doing a little research on the college before your trip will also give you a better idea of what you’re about to experience, and it could spark some important questions you may want to ask. Do not be afraid to make friends and talk to the swimmers, even if you don’t end up going to the school you’ll have some awesome friendships and connections in the swimming world.”
Common advice for athletes is to select a school where you will be happy even if they don’t participate in their sport the entire four years. Smith described this by saying, “You need to pick a school that you can thrive at on the off chance you can’t swim anymore. I know that if I have a career ending injury or I am unable to swim, I can still enjoy [the school I chose] and do exactly what I want to do without swimming.”
What were the most important features of the college you chose, such as division, conference, coaches, teammates, majors, minors, etc.?
Most of the swimmers listed coaching staff, teammates, academic reputation, majors and minors and team dynamics as the most important features. Olivia also considered whether or not the school had both a men’s and women’s team and the school mascot. Stephen mentioned that the division and conference were important to him.
Elena said, “Going to a Division 1 school was very important to me, however keeping your options open can lead you to a school you never thought you’d enjoy. I wanted a team that rallied around each other, personally I am most successful when I am surrounded by team mates who want to be great like me. A family atmosphere was really important in my choosing process. I also looked for a confident and welcoming coach. I liked knowing that the coach had faith in the team but was also concerned for the well-being of the swimmers.”
Another important factor is where a swimmer fits on the team – the fastest who travels and participates in the Conference Championship meet, the slowest with room to improve over the four years or somewhere in the middle. Smith explained this by saying, “Since I’m swimming I wanted to be a lesser among the better. I didn’t want to go into a school being the fastest, I wanted a program where I’d need to work to be at the top and a program that would push me to my fullest potential.”
How Important Was Academic Major In Your Choice Of School?
Jacob is majoring in Computer Science and Engineering and the academic reputation in his major was very important to him.
Olivia is undecided on major and it didn’t factor into her college decision.
Alex wanted to be sure she “had options and good departments in a multitude of majors” since she’s entering college with an undecided major.
Stephen plans to major in Sports Management so he looked for a school that offered this.
Rhys said it was very important that his school have an engineering major.
Elena considered the majors offered when selecting a school and said, “My current major is exercise science, I want to be a physical therapist. However, I like to explore my interests. My major may stick or it could change. It was not a major factor in choosing a school.”
Smith is majoring in business management and the school he chose is in a large city with many financial institutions which offer internship and career opportunities. The opportunities and the reputation of the school were both very important to him.
Did the Size of the School Factor Into Your Decision?
Jacob said that “Size was less important than academic reputation and research for me.”
Olivia was looking for a small school while Stephen didn’t consider size at all and Rhys considered it, but it wasn’t a major factor.
Elena said, “I did not want to feel overwhelmed or lost, but I wanted the school to be big enough to be diversified. I wanted to have 25,000+ students. I think it’s important to step out of the box and meet all kinds of people.” Alex was also looking for a midsize or bigger school.
Smith also considered size to be an important factor and mentioned, “I didn’t want to be in a class with 500+ students where the teacher couldn’t focus one on one with me. Most of my classes are expected to range from 12-30 students which I like better.”
When Did You Begin Researching College Swim Programs?
Jacob and Alex began researching college swim programs in their sophomore year and the other five swimmers all began the research in their junior year.
What Advice Would You Give To Rising Seniors With Regard To Recruiting?
Jacob advised that“The coaches want you as much as you want them. If you’re in a good position to swim on a team, then the coach is going to want to recruit you as much as you are going to want admission to the school.”
Olivia recommends that swimmers “keep ALL your options open” while Rhys said to “choose the school that feels right.”
Stephen suggests that swimmers “take the maximum number of trips.”
Alex’s advice is to “Really think about the pros and cons, where you would be happy and get what you need academically.”
Elena said, “This is such an exciting time in a swimmer’s life, it’s what we all worked so hard for. Have fun with the process and don’t be afraid to fall in love with a school. Be aware of what you really enjoy and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the team/school.”
Michelle Lombana is committed to helping parents like her whose children want to swim in college. When she’s not compiling top swim times, she can be found at www.collegeswimmingguide.com.
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A common question during the topic of college recruiting in any sport is “What are coaches looking for?” This can vary from sport to sport and even from coach to coach, but there are many characteristics that are heard frequently. This multi-part series explores some of the more common qualities that coaches are looking for when recruiting swimmers. In Part 1, we covered Speed, Events, and Academics and in Part 2, we discussed Sportsmanship, Being Coachable and Team Spirit.
Coaches want athletes with a strong work ethic and they assess this in different ways. As they get serious about a recruit, they will often ask a club coach about factors such as work ethic and if the swimmer is punctual and reliable.
They will also ask questions to measure this. Asking what a swimmer is working on this season gives an idea of whether or not they are trying to improve. If the swimmer replies that they are putting in extra time in dry land training trying to get stronger or that they have been working hard on their underwaters in practice, it indicates a stronger work ethic than a swimmer who talks mainly about video games and the latest concert he attended.
Athletes who persevere are more appealing to coaches as they will not give up if they hit a stumbling block. Also, swimmers with a strong work ethic often help to motivate their teammates as well, thus improving the performance of the entire team.
Coaches want athletes who have the potential to improve during college and who will remain dedicated to swimming. The desire to improve often translates to a strong work ethic as swimmers are trying to improve upon their best times, beat the practice intervals and reach their highest potential.
Swimmers should always remember that their social media posts reveal a lot about their work ethic as well. If they are tweeting to complain about early morning workouts or about Saturday morning practice after a big Friday night out, a coach may be wary about how they will feel about morning practices in college. On the other hand, coaches do realize that they are teenagers and they don’t expect them to tweet that they cannot wait for 5:00 am practice!
It is important for parents to be supportive through the recruiting process but coaches want to hear from the swimmers themselves. Coaches need to be sure they can relate to the swimmer on a daily basis if they attend their school and they can’t assess this if parents dominate the conversation.
It’s important for your child to tell their parents about conversations with coaches and definitely to consult with them in any discussions about offers or commitments to particular programs. However, it is not appropriate for parents to call or email coaches to ask questions or discuss their swimmer. Your child will be on her own in a few short months when she leaves for college so this is a good time to practice.
If a coach is recruiting at a swim meet and asks to meet the parents or if you are on a college tour, it is perfectly fine to meet the coach but let your swimmer do the talking. On one college tour, my son and I met with the coach and my son had a list of questions. After they were done, the coach turned to me and asked if I had any questions.
Coaches do evaluate parents by observation on college visits and at swim meets or through conversations with potential recruits. If parents exhibit poor values, coaches may assume that the student has the same values, likewise they may assume that students have similar strengths as their parents.
At meets where college coaches recruit (Senior Sectionals, Junior Nationals, Futures, etc), the coaches typically sit in the stands and observe the meet and they may have on apparel identifying their school, but not necessarily. They will listen to conversations in the stands among parents. Are they complaining that their child wasn’t on the relay? Are they criticizing the coach or other swimmers? Are they talking about the recruiting process and their child’s top choice school? Are they cheering for their swimmer and his teammates?
I was at a meet a few years ago near a dad who cheered loudly for his son and thought very highly of his son’s swimming ability. He expected his son to win the heat easily so when they were on the blocks, he loudly proclaimed “this is going to be a blood bath”. It was quite offensive to parents nearby, some of whom had sons in the same heat. If a college coach had been in the stands, I suspect the dad’s comment would have taken the boy’s name off any prospective recruit lists!
A leader is not always the best athlete on the team, but they are very important to the success of a team. Coaches like to recruit athletes who show leadership potential as they are good role models for their teammates. Not everyone will be a team captain, but other swimmers can also help motivate and uplift the rest of the team.
Coaches will assess leadership potential during conversations with swimmers and by looking at their extra curricular activities. If a swimmer held leadership roles in other organizations or was a captain of his swim team, he will typically be a leader in college. In conversations with potential recruits, coaches will pay attention to traits such as dedication to swimming, positive attitude, emphasis on team performance, and strong communication skills.
There are so many factors for coaches to consider when recruiting swimmers. In Part 1, we covered Speed, Events, and Academics and in Part 2, we discussed Sportsmanship, Being Coachable and Team Spirit. In future articles from the series, we will discuss more qualities that coaches consider to be important.
Michelle Lombana is committed to helping parents like her whose children want to swim in college. When she’s not working on Conference Championship Meet spreadsheets, she can be found at www.collegeswimmingguide.com.