Ask Swim Mom: New Team vs. Boarding School?

by SwimSwam Partner Content 15

December 09th, 2020 Swim Mom

Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham

Dear Swim Mom,

I am writing to seek your advice. I am totally lost at this time.

My son is a 13-year-old swimmer. He has been swimming for the past four years and is just starting to make progress and really enjoying swimming.

He says he wants to devote himself to becoming a serious competitive swimmer. We live in northern NJ and enrolled him to the nearest swim club. However, I am afraid he doesn’t find the club very challenging and wants to do more. He is currently in 8th grade and going onto high school next year.

In order to help him pursue his ambition, I am not sure what I should do next. The questions I have are:


Should I seek out the best swim club close to us? I’m not even sure what constitutes the best swim club? Most likely the strong clubs will be in quite a distance from us (we are talking at least 1-1.5hr drive from us).


Since he is starting high school, should I look to enroll him in a swimming boarding school? I know the entry into those schools is very competitive and there are cost considerations. But, in general, how are the swim schools regarded? Are they serious about preparing the next competitive swimmers?

Thank you for your guidance!

Lost Mom


Dear Lost Mom,

Have you discussed this with your son? Has he told you that he’s not happy with his current team? Or, are you wanting to make sure he has all the best opportunities and want to scout out other teams on his behalf?

If he’s making progress and is enjoying himself, most likely he’s in a good place currently. Does he have a connection with his coach and does he have friends on his  team? Are there good role models of successful swimmers who are older than him?

A good place to start, if you want to explore other teams, is with USA Swimming’s website. Look at teams with Club Excellence and Club Recognition rankings. In order to earn a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Club Excellence ranking, the club has to meet certain criteria of swimmers making high levels of achievement, among other things.

Next, if it’s a long drive, think about how that time commitment is going to affect your family. Your son will most likely be doing homework during the car rides. Also, it will be a sacrifice for your entire family.

I’m not suggesting not to move to a different team, but perhaps try some teams out before making a decision. Make sure your son really wants to make the change.

As far as boarding schools that specialize in swimming, the only one I’m familiar with is The Bolles School because my daughter’s college coach attended there and I interviewed a former head coach for an article. I’ve also seen the swimmers from The Bolles School arrive at big meets, and it looks like a very exciting and positive atmosphere for serious, hardworking swimmers.

There are more than 150 boarding schools that offer swimming throughout the country. I’m not  knowledgeable about them, but perhaps a SwimSwam reader has more information and advice to share.

What advice do you have for Lost Mom about changing teams and having a longer distance to drive? Do you have information about swimming boarding schools to share?

If you have a question for Ask Swim Mom, please email Elizabeth Wickham 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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2 years ago

Just wanted to say that I’m one of those mums driving over 1hr each way to training 9 times per week!
It’s crazy and the only way it works is because I have a large extended family helping whenever they can. Mornings start at 3:45am and we get home after 8pm.
And friends or family that live close and have a spare bed for a night are a god send.
It’s not easy especially because the better the get the more they train.
However we wouldn’t change it for the world my daughter is so happy getting faster and faster with all her best friends around her.
Have we thought about boarding school? YES! but… Read more »

Lost mom
Reply to  Tamara
2 years ago

Dear Mom from Australia,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think you are right, that we need to make this decision as a family. My son has two younger brothers and his absence will definitely impact his brothers. That said, I also want to do what’s best for my son and swimming is his world, for now at least. I can’t imagine how you start your days at 3:45am! That is some commitment to swimming. Well done!

2 years ago

Dear Lost Mom,

I attended Phillips Academy Andover (Captain, 2x Easterns Champions, 4x New England Champions), and later swam in college. This post is specifically in reference to New England Boarding Schools, mostly referencing the top programs in the league (Phillips Academy Andover, Phillips Exeter Academy, Deerfield, Suffield, Brunswick, Choate, Hopkins).

One thing you should know is that almost all New England Boarding Schools only offer about 3 months of swimming every year: you are required to find another sport for both the Fall and Spring. Most swimmers would usually supplement our swimming by playing water polo in the fall, and either rowing crew or “managing” a team and training with a local club during the spring. That being said,… Read more »

Lost mom
Reply to  NARP
2 years ago

Dear NARP,

Thank you for your insight from your experience. Yes of course I realize that academics is the priority for any independent school. Coupled with swimming, I think a boarding school is the best of both worlds with great emphasis on academics and athletics. I understand that even schools without a year-round swimming program can nurture great swimmers. Thanks for this insight.
Lost mom

2 years ago

I’m not sure how far east/west you live, but a lot of kids in northern Jersey have just came to Empire, a team just over the bridge in New York due to COVID situations. Its a great team that has produced a lot of very successful college swimmers. The coaches are very invested and well liked by all in/around the program.

2 years ago

Hi Lost Mom!
It is so evident that you care about your son and his happiness.
I know how hard it is for a family to think of boarding school. I attended a boarding school for the sole purpose of swimming, although according to athletic association rules, it was for this one class that wasn’t offered at my home school, of course. It was monumental for me to reach the level of success that I wanted and offered better recruiting potential because of the prestigious name.
There may not be a wrong answer in this situation.
And maybe both can work out for him! Two more years with him at home and two years seeing… Read more »

2 years ago

Lost Mom, we are dealing with some similar decisions ourselves. Our swimmer is extremely devoted and has very high goals. Our team is good but doesn’t offer nearly the amount of swim time or attention or challenges that our swimmer needs for the goals at hand. Other teams have expressed lots of interest but it would require lots of driving time or relocating. If your son is serious about getting more then I would recommend starting with additional swimming, either with the team if it’s available – or on his own. If your son doesn’t follow a daily dry land program then that should be looked at also. I did read that your son has been swimming for 4 years… Read more »

2 years ago

Dear Lost Mom,
I went to boarding school (Lawrenceville School in NJ – and also Gold Medal Mel Stewart went to Mercersburg Academy (  which was a regional swimming power at the time (80s). Germantown Academy had a great team as did Peddie (like mentioned above). Both are a little less academic than the top tier schools. Germantown turned out many Olympians over the years (not sure about these days).
I don’t know about Bolles academically. I will give you a story though. I’ve been an alumni interviewer for my school for many years and I interviewed… Read more »

DIIIer (Polar Bear elsewhere)
Reply to  JimS
2 years ago

No self respecting boarding school other than Lawrenceville is located outside of New England 🙂

2 years ago

There are ways for a swimmer to make a practice harder and more challenging even if intervals are not difficult: Swim with perfect technique; never breathe inside the flags; add extra dolphin kicks for every pushoff; or just swim FAST on every repeat. Talk to your coach. If the swimmer is truly excelling beyond all other swimmers on the team, the coach should already know that — and he/she should be able to find ways to challenge the swimmer more. Maybe coach can write an extra workout every week for your swimmer to do on his own. I would try all of these thing before I’d sign up for a 3-hour roundtrip drive every day (or a $40K/yr prep school).

Last edited 2 years ago by swimgeek
2 years ago

Your core group of friends in swimming make any unbearable set tolerable, you do it together. Even though swimming might be seen by outsiders as an individual sport, the training aspect is like a ropes course. You have to do it together, you are all pushing each other. You can swim on any club team, if you don’t mesh with your group, you are not setting yourself up for success. Coach and swimmer relationship is also imperative, open lines of communication.

You do not need a fancy prep school to be a successful swimmer. Academics are of far greater importance. If you have extra money set aside, go for it. I do know Peddie has a day school program… Read more »