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.

Work Ethic

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!


Supportive Parents

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.



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