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 previous parts we discussed:

Part 1: Speed, Events and Academics

Part 2: Sportsmanship, Being Coachable and Team Spirit

Part 3:  Work Ethic, Supportive Parents and Leadership


Coaches are looking for swimmers who will represent the team and the university well both in and out of the pool. This can be a hard quality to measure as prospective athletes usually know when they are being evaluated. However, coaches will ask club coaches about athletes they are recruiting and they sometimes see them at competitions. It is a small world in swimming and often someone knows someone who knows someone…..

The way a swimmer presents himself tells a lot about his character. Does he treat all of his teammates kindly or only the fastest swimmers? Does he clean up the trash in the team area after a meet? Does he look his coach in the eye and listen to him when he is speaking to him? Does he skip laps during practice or warm ups?

Social media is another area where coaches get an idea about an athlete’s character so remind your swimmer to be careful what they post and who they follow. If a potential recruit posts rude or derogatory remarks about a friend or teammate, it reflects poorly on him. If he posts “happy birthday, Mom” or “congrats” to the school soccer team, a coach will feel much more favorable toward him.

There is a saying “your character is who you are when you think no one is watching”. However, in the days of social media, almost everyone is connected in some way and often your reputation can precede you. Coaches are looking for athletes who are mature and who will respond to their coaching – strong character can be a good indicator of this.

Interest in the Program

College coaches want to spend their time and energy recruiting swimmers who are likely to attend their school so they will ask questions to assess the level of interest in a potential recruit. Reaching out to contact the coaches at schools that interest your swimmer is the first step in indicating that interest.

Always be prepared for any discussions with coaches, either on official or unofficial visits or during phone calls. Learn about the college and the swim program beforehand by looking at the web site. Asking questions will help your swimmer learn more about the program and demonstrate that she spent time preparing for the conversation.  (Lists of questions to ask college coaches are available to College Swimming Guide members.)

The coach may ask about academics and possible areas of study. Your swimmer should have looked at their academic offerings enough to know whether a school offers majors that interest him. It is perfectly acceptable for a swimmer to say he is undecided and is looking for a school with a wide variety of programs to study since many incoming freshmen don’t know what they want to study.

If a coach asks what other schools are recruiting your swimmer, it is fine for him to mention the schools but he shouldn’t rave about another school or program. He should make it clear that he is extremely interested in the coach and program he is talking to at that moment.

It is a good idea for the swimmer to mention what makes the school a good fit – both academically and in swimming. Some coaches will ask this question directly, but the swimmer can bring it up if the coach doesn’t ask. Mentioning specific traditions or reputations about the school if they are relevant shows that they have spent time researching the school and are truly interested.

Time Management

Swimmers have grueling schedules and it is just as demanding in college so coaches want to know that the athlete can manage his time.

Coaches want to see athletes who earn good grades, join clubs in school, volunteer in community service, and who show that they put 100-percent effort into everything they do. During conversations with coaches, they will often ask about a student’s interests outside of swimming. This question serves multiple purposes – to get to know the swimmer better, to find out if they are a good fit personality-wise for the team and to gauge whether or not they use their time wisely.

An indication of how swimmers use their time can be gleaned from social media usage as well. Many coaches follow prospective recruits and they will notice if the student is tweeting 50 times a day or their snap chat story goes on forever.

Coaches don’t want to recruit a swimmer who will miss practice to study or who can’t maintain good grades because he can’t manage his time and handle academics and swimming.


There are so many factors for coaches to consider when recruiting swimmers. In previous parts we discussed:

Part 1: Speed, Events and Academics

Part 2: Sportsmanship, Being Coachable and Team Spirit

Part 3:  Work Ethic, Supportive Parents and Leadership

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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