How to Find a Good College Swim Team

Contributor, Rick Paine, is an expert on the college recruiting process. He is also the Director of Swimming at American College Connection (ACC). AAC is a SwimSwam Partner. 

It is pretty easy to find a strong swimming school by looking at the rankings, but what about all of the other schools that are not consistently ranked. How do you determine if a school has a good swim program and if it is headed in the right direction?

Here are a few things to look for:

  • Coach’s bio
  • How long has the head coach been at the school?
  • All time top 5 or top 10 times list.
  • Team records
  • Is the team competitive within their conference?

Coach’s Bio

You want to get a sense of the coach’s experience in working with swimmers of your caliber. A young coach with limited experience can certainly develop into a top coach, but it will take time. Sometimes a younger coach will make up for lack of experience with energy and enthusiasm.

It is very important that you get to know the assistant coaches and find out how much responsibility they have in training. Do they have their own training group?

You only get recruited by a coach once, but you will swim for a coach for 4 years so you want to find the best coach and not necessarily the best recruiter.

How long has the head coach been at the school?

There are some coaches who have been at the same school for many years and are getting ready to retire. You will want to ask them that question. Some coaches may just be getting started at a school and they will need about 3-4 years before you can judge their progress. It takes that long for them to get their own recruits in.

All Time Top Times list

This is one of the best ways to determine if a program is headed in the right direction. Check to see how many times are fairly recent (last 4-5 years). If a team has some fast times, but they are from 10-15 years ago you will want to find out why there are no recent swims that make the list.

The same thing is true for team records. They don’t all have to be new, but there certainly should be some that are fairly recent.

Conference results

There are a lot of great teams who never win their conference championships, but it is always nice to swim on a team who is at least competitive at conference. Some teams will just focus on the NCAA championships and not shave and taper their national qualifiers for conference, but most teams go all out for conference.

Only a handful of teams in each division are consistently in the top 10 every year. Many teams drift in and out of the top 10 to 20 and some never make it. Many of the top teams get several top recruits each year while the other teams may get one or two or some years no top recruits.

The top programs consistently start each season with more swimmers closer to national cuts than the next level of programs. The coaches outside of the top 20 have to get their swimmers to realize greater improvements if they are to compete at the national level. For many swimmers these are the best programs to be in.

These are just a few ideas for determining the strength of a college swim program. I hope you will agree that academics come first.

Finding out if you have what it takes to compete in swimming at the college level is easy, and many swimmers do have the potential considering all of the options.  Go to www.ACCrecruits and submit a Free Profile.


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7 years ago

1 – Does the team have or endorse a year-round swimming culture.

7 years ago

2 – Team Culture – Is the team really that focused on swimming, or just having fun (at the cost of swimming/school). And how well would you fit in with the team? It’s really important to get one that matches/accepts your own outlook because that can determine whether you enjoy your time there and succeed. It’s impossible to tell what a team is like for certain without going through the program, but recruits can get some sort of an idea from recruiting trips.

Retired Collegiate Swimmer
7 years ago

As a recent collegiate graduate, I agree with everything this article has to say. When I was being recruited these were all important things I looked for in a swim program. I feel there is one thing left off the list that is very important in choosing a school.

Who else is being recruited.

To me, it was extremely important on who was coming in. I knew the people they already had was a step in the right direction but I wanted to make sure there was going to be other swimmers coming in with similar talent, goals, and expectations. Then, I knew I was going to have that team effort of pushing each other and holding each other… Read more »

7 years ago

3-Is the coach open to working with unique needs you have or are they a one size fits all idea about training. Some coaches don’t individualize at all, when they really should make modifications so that every athlete is getting the best possible training based on their needs.

Remember, when you’re being recruited, each coach and program are selling you the best they have to offer. If you don’t love it when you’re recruited, it’s probably not the school for you. Tough decisions, Good Luck!

7 years ago

No mention of academics, team culture, graduation rate. The biggest mistake I made in pursuing schools was paying too much attention to the swim team. My biggest advice to future division 1 swimmers is to make your initial list of school completely independent of anything having to do with swimming at all. You will not make the Olympics. Your career will not be as a swimmer. Be smart. Once you make your list of schools you think you could be successful in without swimming, then you can consider things like the factors mentioned above

Reply to  Eagleswim
6 years ago

I completely agree. You also need to make sure the major you are pursuing has a good program. Even if the swimming is great – if the academic program is not – the swimmer will be miserable. Atc the end of the day, you probably won’t end up an professional swimmer – so make sure you’re ready to leave the school to be successful in your life’s field of choice. Academics are equally as important as the team.

7 years ago

All great additional suggestions. Keep them coming

7 years ago

Definitely need to consider where you would want to be in college if you weren’t swimming…a lot can happen once you get to college swimming – get injured, loose your passion, or not be fast enough to compete… Make sure the school you choose is right for “life” and beyond…

7 years ago

One may also want to consider academic interests and GPA’s
of teammates (Is school a high priority?), improvement rates of
individual swimmers from freshman through senior years, and what
percentage of swimmers who start as freshmen are still swimming as