With the world shutting down, we’re reaching into our archives and pulling some of our favorite stories from the SwimSwam print edition to share online. If you’d like to read more of this kind of story, you can subscribe to get a print (and digital) version of SwimSwam Magazine here. This story was originally published in the 2016 College Preview edition of SwimSwam Magazine.
Story by Elizabeth Wickham.
Almost all young swimmers dream of going to the Olympic Games. It’s a noble goal, but only a select few become Olympians. College swimming, on the other hand, is a goal that’s attainable for many more aspiring athletes. A few of the benefits of college swimming include: an instant family, lessons of hard work, perseverance, and time management.
Deciding on which school and program to commit to can be one of the biggest and hardest decisions a high school swimmer faces. In an effort to help prepare them for this challenge, I interviewed coaches from the 2016 DI, DII and DIII championship teams, as well as private and public universities from several conferences. Our goal was to discover coaches’ advice for both athletes and their parents.
The questions we asked these coaches included:
- When should student-athletes begin the process?
- What do coaches look for?
- What role do parents have in the recruiting process?
- How has social media changed the process?
- These are a few of the questions coaches discussed to help parents and student-athletes find the right fit.
I truly believe there’s a college for every swimmer. It’s just a matter of finding the right one.
- Head Coach, University of Georgia
- 7X NCAA D1 Women’s Champions
- USA Olympic Coach
“It’s important to me how recruits treat [their] mom and dad—and their commitment to school work. Even the very best swim careers haven’t gone perfectly for four straight years. Seriousness in academics keeps student-athletes happy and a bit more balanced. As an aside, we have had 36 NCAA postgraduate scholarship recipients.
“One piece of advice for parents is to support where our kids want to go. That’s where they’ll succeed. If an athlete wants to go to a certain school, try to make it work. As they get better, their scholarships will improve—even if they didn’t start off with the biggest scholarship. To miss going to a school they really love because of a 10% to 20% difference, that’s a tough thing.
“Swimmers are much more attractive to college coaches if they can do more than one thing, at more than one distance. We’ve had a 400 IMer and 500 freestyler on a sprint relay. If you’re going to be on a team going after a championship, you need to help your team out in three different events and perhaps a relay.
“No matter how good a swimmer is, some people slip through the cracks. Some kids make it known they’re interested in us and that’s fine. We recruit them hard. We want kids who want to be part of our program.
“There are many great swimmers, more than ever, and there are many good programs throughout the country. There’s Division I, II and III, with great coaches in all divisions. Athletes have to be wide open to the opportunities and go where they feel the most comfortable.
“One of my favorite recruiting stories is a young athlete at our camp who didn’t get ‘camper of the week.’ She was so upset at not getting chosen she said, ‘I’m going to make sure they recruit me and give me a scholarship.’ That was when she was 11. She put up the camp picture to use as a motivating force. She said, ‘I’ll show him for not picking me as camper of the week.’ She did get a scholarship with us.
“Remember, If you don’t hear from a program, make sure to get in touch. You can jumpstart the process. Like they say, it’s a jungle out there.”
- Head Coach, Queens University of Charlotte
- Bluegrass Mountain Conference
- 2016, 2015 NCAA DII Men’s and Women’s Champions
“Students and their parents should start the process as early as possible. For example, through the many meets or camps that they travel to and the different campuses they visit, find time to walk the campus, ask questions and keep a journal. At the moment it may not mean much. However, start to develop the sense of what you are looking for—the pros and the cons. I find that student-athletes who walk through the door with an excellent self-awareness of what they have seen and what they feel they would like to experience, have the most productive trips. At this point, the trip can be focused on the details and getting to know the team.
“Also, parents should offer support and not let egos get in the way. Perception is that it’s a badge of honor to send your kid to D1, to a power 5 school. However, sometimes that ends up costing more in the end—both emotionally and financially through transfers or giving up the sport. Parents know their children. Guide them towards a good fit and watch what happens. Yes, I have passed on excellent swimmers because of parents—we can’t want it more than the athlete.
“For students, appreciate the opportunity you have and try to understand the opportunities in the bigger picture. For example, swimming provides or develops structure, discipline, ccompétition, self-motivation, time management, team work, leadership, etc.
“Parents, support and help them recognize how their swimming experience is going to separate them from the average.”
- Head Swimming Coach, Denison University
- North Coast Athletic Conference
- 2016, 2012, 2011 NCAA DIII Men’s National Champions
- 2001 NCAA DIII Women’s National Champions
“Do your homework on each school and program—paying particular attention to both the college’s student culture and the program’s team culture. Student-athletes are seeking a best fit academically, athletically, and socially. While some of these can be measured by reading, you can’t really ‘know’ a college or a swim program until you go visit the campus and spend time with the people there. Parents and student-athletes need to get on the road and see the campuses/programs first hand.
“Finally, be sure that your student connects with the people at the school—namely the team, the coach, the non-swimming peers, and the faculty. My experience has shown me that relationships are the conduit through which a student’s academic and swimming are fed. Students who have a group and/or person with whom they can relate to on a significant level are more likely to be successful and satisfied in college. If the relationships are healthy and vibrant the student will succeed. If they’re stagnant, unhealthy, or non-existent then the student will struggle.
“Social media is playing a bigger and bigger role in the recruiting process. Not only are programs increasingly obligated to use social media outlets to sell their merits, but students are also using it more and more to sell themselves to programs. This hasn’t only increased the volume of contact between programs and students, it’s also increased the speed in which things are communicated and shared. That said, both sides (the program and the student) have to be vigilant about the content of what they’re posting. While a positive item carries a certain amount of gravitas, an errant word or image can devastate a program’s reputation or a student’s character.”
- Head Coach, Fresno State University
- D1, Mountain West Conference
“One of the biggest things that you need to tell student-athletes, they need to put their phones away. I don’t let my athletes use their phones at dinner when we’re on trips. If we have a recruit who’s on their phone the whole time during dinner and isn’t talking, we notice. It’s very hard to recruit a kid who isn’t talking.
“Also, I have stopped recruiting an athlete because of how they treated their parents. How they treat their parents is very telling about how they will treat their coaches. After hearing an athlete yell at her mom on the phone within the first hour of a recruit trip, I thought, “I don’t want an athlete who talks to me like that.” I become a parent figure when the athlete is in college. I’m the enforcer, I’m the one who says no. If they’re doing that to their parents, who they’re supposed to love and cherish, how are they going to treat me?
“I’ve coached for 28 years from Northern Illinois, Ohio State to Fresno State and recruiting has changed immensely. Athletes don’t want to talk on the phone, they want to text. On the positive side, cell phones make it easier to get in touch.
“You can start the recruiting process at any time—the earlier your sophomore and junior the year the better. I don’t believe in recruiting 8th and 9th graders. I know some sports are going that direction, but I don’t think it’s good for the athlete or the teams. We recruit for our team culture and I don’t believe that 8th or 9th graders have become the person they are going to be when they are a senior and ready for college.
“Unfortunately, I think perceptions from the time they were in the 9th and 10th grades come into play. They are influenced by these perceptions and may say, ‘I want to go to a big-time school.’ Or, they say they want to go to an Ivy League school, when they could go to UC Santa Barbara and get an education that is $40k cheaper per year. An education is an education. It’s what you put into it, who you meet. No employer is going to say I’m going to hire you because you went to Santa Barbara rather than Fresno State. It’s important for student-athletes and parents to keep an open mind.”
- Head Coach, Rice University
- D1, Conference USA
“We look for students who fit into our university culture and team culture. We know that they will thrive during their time at Rice University. In essence, our ideal candidates value education and the effort it takes to excel and also have a passion to pursue their swimming dreams to their fullest while in school.
“I really think social media is a fantastic tool. So many young people will follow teams and coaches. It gives programs a chance to communicate frequently with the public. We also will use social media as an evaluation tool with our prospects. Young people post a lot of events and experiences going on in their life and quite honestly that tells a story about who they are and what they value.
“Students should begin the process early; it’s a competitive world out there and many of your peers are being proactive in their search. Most schools have limited financial aid and space available on their teams; coaches also have limited staff and time to flush out prospects when so many are already reaching out. Students that sit back and wait for schools to contact them often will miss out on many opportunities to be considered.
“I think it is great when parents are involved; their guidance and encouragement can be invaluable, but one aspect I find many parents unprepared for is a budget of what they can afford for college. Knowing your financial comfort zone and your financial reach limitations can save a lot of time in the search. Most schools and coaches can give you ball park numbers on financial aid if asked.”
- Head Coach, University of Utah
- D1, PAC-12
“Parents are, of course, the prospect’s best adviser and that is an important role. I think letting their son/daughter know early on in the process what the family’s financial situation is helps clarify what types of programs a swimmer can look at. I enjoy talking to parents in the recruiting process, but we also want the swimmer to drive the communication. This is a major life step in a young person’s development and coaches want to be assured the student can take responsibility for the process themselves and not have the parents run the show entirely.
“Academics are of the utmost importance. We want serious students that are as much focused on their studies and earning a degree as on swimming.
“We talk with club coaches all the time to get a sense of a swimmers physical talent, work-ethic, character, and potential. We also want to make sure their training background is compatible with the type of training we do.
“One piece of advice for student-athletes is don’t be afraid to say no. If you are not interested in a school, just let the coach know as soon as possible.”