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.


SwimSwam is an ad partner with ACC.  Go here and learn more about ACC and their team of college swimming experts. 

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7 years ago

DM swim had great insight into a D-1 school that had so many freshmen quit. The reason you should be asking is why??? That was my daughters school, and signing with one coach in the spring only to have the school let him go. The coach they brought in was honestly a bully and 60% of the team quit. Four freshman stayed. You can never anticipate how things will go.

7 years ago


7 years ago

Maybe slightly off topic, but my daughter is getting communication from several schools, mostly DII and DIII, but a smaller DI has contacted her. We toured the campus, met the coaches, etc. Her times definitely fit favorably at this school, they stress academics and they have her intended program of study.

My question, what are the chances, since they did contact her and meet with her, that it could turn into an offer? They mentioned an official visit this fall, and for her to come to a meet they have in our area. Is this considered “strong interest”? I just am curious if she should get her hopes up.

Rick Paine
Reply to  KB
7 years ago

Hi KB, having a D-I coach express this much interest is very positive, but it does not always translate into a scholarship offer. There are coaches who spend $1000 to bring a recruit on an official visit with no intention of offer a scholarship.
We recommend to all of the swimmers we work with to ask about scholarship before they commit to a visit. There is no reason to test drive that new car if you don’t know you can afford it. Search SwimSwam for an article I wrote titled “Never Assume”. It will help you.

Reply to  Rick Paine
7 years ago

Thanks for the reply. I found the article and it helped. As the the offer, we will wait for July 1 and see if they call. She is still on the email list, so hopefully that’s a good sign. Do coaches usually call on the 1st, or might it be a few days after?

When we met, we had the scholarship talk, and it was the basic “we base it on how we think you will score at conference champs”. But it was a good talk first with the assistant, then The head coach stopped in. It’s a small team, with 14 or so returning, and from what I’ve found, only 3 commits for this year. We have seen the… Read more »

7 years ago

I would stress that looking at how many freshman return as sophomores and if you aren’t going to be the top swimmer on the team, look to see how non-stars are treated by the coaching staff. I visited a major D1 program on a recruiting trip and all of the freshman I met were really upbeat and said the team was great. By the end of the season though, about 70% of them had quit (they had a freshman class of 15-20). Recruiting trips are in the early fall so freshman (who you will likely be hosting you for at least part of your trip) are still fresh and actually don’t know much about the program still. Ask a sophomore… Read more »

Rick Paine
Reply to  dmswim
7 years ago

Great advice DMSWIM, it can be tough to decipher why some swimmers leave and many of the stories you hear take with a grain of salt. This is the main reason that we stay with our swimmers until the finish college so we can help them transfer if need be.
We average about 4 swimmers a year who want to transfer; however this year has been an anomaly with 12 kids transferring.

7 years ago

As a current Division One swimmer, in my opinion, the numbers are important but it is the team atmosphere that makes or breaks a college decision. Just keep in mind that you will be spending a majority of your time with your teammates and being able to fit in with them and get along with them makes the experience so much more enjoyable!

Don’t sacrifice your education because of swimming. Make sure you chose a school that has the academic programs you are interested in and try to find out how the swim program balances academics and swimming. This is a good topic to talk to current team members about! They can give you the best perspective because they… Read more »

7 years ago

4 – See between the smoke and mirrors on an official visit. Some teams are really great at showing a recruit a good time while they are on campus. But “observe” more – how do the coach and athletes actually interact, is there time for studying, etc. Do they really go to an event every weekend? Is the interaction between coach and athlete natural, awkward, forced? You can tell a lot more if you watch body language and eyes.

5 – Does the coach care about your academic and career goals? Let’s be honest everyone is not going pro/to the Olympics. A coach will always be invested in making you faster, but how do they work with their athletes on… Read more »

Charlie Johnson
9 years ago

Look at the team’s schedule to see how many overnight or possibly longer trips they usually take. It might sound cool to be on a team that has five or more long weekend trips during the season, but understand that kind of schedule may not work with all majors or will require greater academic discipline than you may have, especially as a freshman when you are adjusting to the demands of college life and professors. A team that travels less or tends to stay close enough to not require many days out of class may be better suited to you.

Check out how many swimmers are on the team. Some schools let a coach carry 30+ swimmers, but only 15-20… Read more »

9 years ago

This article was only intended to offer suggestions for find out how strong a college swim team is. I agree that there is much more to it than just times and numbers. It is hard to tell just how many swimmers transfer each year. Our policy is to stay with the kids and parents until the kids complete college so we help our swimmers transfer if that is the right thing for them. We work with approximately 85 seniors every year and on average 3 of them will seek help in transferring.
College coaches usually will release an unhappy swimmer. Once release the swimmer will them be eligible the next year at most schools unless the school is within… Read more »