What Are College Swim Coaches Looking For?

by SwimSwam 4

November 10th, 2017 College, College Recruiting

Michelle Lombana created College Swimming Guide to help parents like her whose children want to swim in college. Download the summary of NCAA Recruiting Rules and NCAA Calendar for helpful information.

A common question in college recruiting is “What are coaches looking for?” This can vary from coach to coach, but there are many characteristics that are heard frequently.


Let’s face it – coaches want to win.  Their job is to coach swimmers to be fast and to score points. You would be hard pressed to find a coach who isn’t focused on how his team performs at the Conference Championship Meet.

The more likely you are to score points at Conference Champs, the more interested a coach will be.

You need to decide where you want to fit –  at the top of the team, the middle or the bottom. If you’re at the top, the coach will be more interested in recruiting you, but you need to make sure you’ll be able to stay challenged and motivated during practice every day. If you’re in the middle, you have room to improve and can still contribute to the team. If you’re at the bottom, you may not make the travel squad or qualify for Conference Champs your first years on the team. There is no right or wrong answer, each swimmer has to decide what’s right.  


Coaches want a well-balanced team to score in all events and they’ll usually try to recruit freshmen who swim events that the graduating upperclassmen swim. Often a coach will try to make sure each class of recruits covers all events to help increase the depth of the team.

It makes sense – if the fastest breaststrokers are seniors and no new breaststrokers are coming in, the team will be giving up points in breaststroke for a year or more.


Coaches don’t want to worry about a swimmer being ruled academically ineligible so they need to feel confident that a swimmer can earn good grades while in college.

Coaches want to recruit swimmers who can gain admittance to the college as there’s no point in wasting time recruiting a student who is ultimately denied.


Coaches want team members who are good sports. They evaluate this by observing athletes at meets and by talking to current coaches.

There are many swimmers who want to swim in college – it’s very competitive – so a coach usually has many options for swimmers to recruit. If a swimmer doesn’t react well when he loses or doesn’t achieve a best time, it’s a red flag as swimmers should be able to handle disappointment by this age!

Work Ethic

Coaches want athletes with a strong work ethic. As they get serious about a recruit, they will often ask a club coach about work ethic and if the swimmer’s punctual and reliable.

They also ask questions to measure this. Asking what a swimmer is working on this season gives an idea of whether or not he’s trying to improve. If the swimmer replies that he’s putting in extra time in dryland training to get stronger or that he’s working hard on underwaters in practice, it indicates a stronger work ethic than a swimmer who talks mainly about video games and the latest concert he attended.

Interest in the Program

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

Always be prepared for any discussions with coaches, either in person or during phone calls. Learn about the college and the swim program beforehand by looking at the web site. Asking questions will help you learn more about the program and demonstrate that you spent time preparing for the conversation.

It’s a good idea to mention what makes the school a good fit – both academically and in swimming. Mentioning specific traditions or reputations about the school if they’re relevant shows that you spent time researching the school and are truly interested.

Goals and Passion for Swimming

College coaches look for recruits who are goal-oriented and passionate about swimming. Passion is often what drives a strong work ethic and this is exhibited through determination, drive, and mental toughness.

When a coach asks about your goals for the season, he’s making conversation but also trying to assess your passion for the sport and desire to improve. You should have some well thought out goals to share with the coach that shows you aim high, but are also realistic.

College Swimming Guide explores other factors that coaches consider in their multi-part series.

About College Swimming Guide

College Swimming Guide simplifies the process of being recruited to swim in college. Members receive spreadsheets of college and conference championship times in a quick and easy format, a Directory of all college swim programs to make finding the right fit quicker and more accurate, sample emails to coaches, lists of questions to ask coaches, a forum and more. We’ll walk you through the process and let you know what to do and when to do it. Download checklists, NCAA Rules Summary, and NCAA Calendar for more info.

To learn more and to receive the College Swimming Guide Relay, sign up here.

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Swimmers who are aggressive in approaching the program !!! Start early !!!


But how would u know whether u r interested in a given program without visiting/talking with the team and coach? It felt like a draw of the luck often. Even with OVs, the impressions might not be right.

Just Keep Swimmin\'

“How are your grades?” was asked to my son on every recruiting trip he took. The three top 5 teams that he visited asked that question almost immediately. For coaches at Texas, grades were extremely important. Coach Reese in particular looks for smart, polite, team-players who are well mannered and brought up correctly.


Colleges put together packages for swimmers they make offers to. Need-Based aid, academic merit scholarships and athletic scholarships are what usually goes in the package in my experience. SATs and ACTs are what a lot of colleges we’ve worked with use to determine academic merit scholarships. If an athlete is a very good student and has strong scores, they will get more academic money and the package offered will be better. Plus, as a non-revenue sport, college swimming programs are judged by the college, at least in part, on their team GPA. Getting good students in helps in a lot of ways. Be a good swimmer but be a very good student.

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