Ask Swim Mom: Does My Son Need to Swim Club to Swim in College?

by SwimSwam Contributors 10

March 19th, 2020 Swim Mom

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

Dear Swim Mom,

My son has been club swimming for eight years. Even writing that seems daunting. He is a great high school swimmer, he holds his own as an age-grouper, and wants to swim at the private liberal arts college (SCIAC/NCAA DIII) down the street from our home. He had an unofficial visit last year as a sophomore.

As a junior, he’s burnt out! He is somewhat excited about his high school season, enjoys the opportunity to lead the younger swimmers, and would like to be captain (that might be a long shot as a junior). When it comes to club, however, he complains about the monotony and the exhausting sets.

We are so close to the finish line. And I know his future self would regret quitting club swimming. The $10,000 question is, how important is club swim to college recruiters?

Since it is now March of his junior year, I was going to have my son call the college coach for his preferences regarding the kind of preparation our son would need to make the college team. As a mom, I was hoping to get a pointer or two with how to navigate our son’s growing dislike for club. He turns 18 in December. Should we encourage him to push through? Will it do more harm than good to quit club?

Thanks for any advice.


Mom of Burnt Out Swimmer


Dear Mom of Burnt Out Swimmer,

Fortunately (or unfortunately) your son will most likely be getting a break from the pool for a month or two due to the Coronavirus. I do agree that it’s a good idea for your son to talk to the college coach. He will have firsthand knowledge of what is expected to make the team.

I asked my son for his advice, since he went through a similar experience of getting burnt out on swimming. He decided not to swim in college and quit competing and going to most club practices during his junior year of high school. Here’s what he had to say:

“If he’s burnt out by swimming club, he may not like swimming in college. The sets only get longer; the time commitment (in and out of the water) only increases.

“Personally, I have mixed feelings about quitting swimming my senior year of high school. It felt good to assert my independence, since I didn’t feel like the decision to swim was my own anymore. It really helped my mental health to feel that my life and decisions about my time were mine and made for my own reasons. Then again, college admissions is a game, and you have to play every card you’ve got if you want to win. I regret not leveraging swimming to get into the best school I could have possibly gotten into. But then—would I have been fast enough that swimming could have made a difference? With my chronic health issues of allergies and asthma and without trying, it’s impossible to know.

“Here’s the question: How likely is he to get into his dream school as a non-athlete? If he can, is he looking for some help from the school with tuition?

“If he knows he can get in without swimming and cost isn’t an issue, I imagine a DIII school would let him red-shirt after skipping a year of club. If swimming has the potential to tip him over the edge from a maybe to a yes, it would be foolish to quit club. Swimming is a year-round sport. Period.”

I also want to add that my son believes that college coaches might question taking on a swimmer if that swimmer didn’t want to swim club. After reading my son’s perspective, I realize that he was swimming in high school to please us. They need to swim because they love it, not for our approval. Looking back, I wish we were more supportive of his other interests and showed as much enthusiasm to those activities as we did to swimming.

I hope you find my son’s comments helpful and that your son regains his passion for swimming.

What advice do you have for Mom of Burnt Out Swimmer? 

If you have a question for Elizabeth Wickham, please email her at [email protected]

Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.

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1 year ago

Consider this: How “good” a swimmer would your child be without club swimming and all that he has learned, how fit he has become, how much experience he has gained?

Club is where this was instilled. Club is where the training base comes from, the meet experience, goal setting, etc.

High school is fun. Practices and meets tend to be easier, shorter and lots of peer recognition. All very cool stuff.

Ask your high school coach how many high school only swimmers were recruited by the college and how many completed all 4 years?

Pragmatic Coach
Reply to  Swimcoach
1 year ago

Swimming should have been fun the whole time. I swam club starting at age 7. Sister was a Junior Nationals swimmer, holds lots of school records still, my other sister swam, mom was an official, dad was lead timer, mom was on the club board.
My top swimming sister received plenty off offers and turned them down. She was burnt out.
I watched all that happen. Now I coach our old high school and I remember that.

Frankly, while I love to compete and win, we lose sight of the whole point of the sport in a pursuit of being the best.

My advice os to let the kid make his own informed decision. How badly… Read more »

Bo Knows
1 year ago

My oldest son had a rough jr year. It started with shoulder injury, then he had appendicitis, followed by a staff infection. By the time he recovered from the infection, he was over trying to get back in shape and catch up to the other swimmers on his club team, so he quit. He didn’t return the following year, and he only swam high school. However, he was still receiving interest from some small D3 schools, and ultimately signed on to swim at one of them. I can tell you he found the practices to be easier than his club team, while the dry land was much harder. The key for my son was his times fit well on the… Read more »

olde coach
1 year ago

It really depends on the HS program. I have had and seen many High School only swimmers recruited and gone on to have very successful college careers at the Div III as well as mid major Div I level. A lot depends on their make up and physical size is a huge factor. Some college coaches are excited to recruit potential as well as “a project”. Bottom line…… is up to the swimmer to do their research and try to find a compatible match.

1 year ago

The short answer: Club swim is not required for college swim. We personally know many athletes that do not swim club who go on to swim in college. There are clubs that are toxic, not-competitive, or just a poor fit. Year-round swimming is a grind and a break may be necessary. Just communicate with the potential college coach and find the right fit.

1 year ago

“And I know his future self would regret quitting club swimming.” How do you know this? It is your son’s call to make and if he regrets it in the future, he regrets it in the future. It is not mom’s decision. You can not protect your kid from making decisions he regrets. Maybe he will be happy with the decision down the road. BTW, D3 usually doesn’t care about much of anything, including club swimming.

1 year ago

I quit club swimming just before my Junior year of High School, mainly so I could play water polo (which I wasn’t very good at, but enjoyed being part of an actual “team”). I’ll say that nearly two decades removed, I regret that decision. Most likely I could have swam at my college (a D1 school, but with a pretty open walk-on opportunity for good swimmers) and possibly had that experience as well. Surprisingly, I still posted faster times each year (Junior and Senior) but I believe I peaked early because I didn’t feel like pushing myself hard enough to breakthrough to next level type times.

No one “needs” club swimming to be a decent High School swimmer, once you… Read more »

1 year ago

For what its worth as a high school coach for nearly 30 years I’ve had a few kids go on to swim in college. Club kids and high school only kids. Who have done the best? The high school only kids. Many of the club kids peaked in H.S. Currently I have a swimmer who is in his junior year of college. He joined as a walk on after swimming high school only. He is now the #1 sprinter on his team. I wish I could say it was my excellent coaching, but he’s a physical specimen who just needed a coach willing to take a chance. You can bet his coach is glad he did.

Lauri Arrowsmith
1 year ago

My daughter quit club swimming her junior year of high school and put all of her effort into her high school team. She just completed a very successful freshman year at a DIII school. It depends on the school, the coach and the desire to work hard.