SwimSwam Pulse: 62% Don’t Think NCAA Redshirts Help Long Course Performance

SwimSwam Pulse is a recurring feature tracking and analyzing the results of our periodic A3 Performance Polls. You can cast your vote in our newest poll on the SwimSwam homepage, about halfway down the page on the right side.

Our most recent poll asked SwimSwam readers if they think taking a year off from college swimming is beneficial to success in long course:

Question: Do you subscribe to the idea that taking an NCAA redshirt season leads to greater success in the summer?


  • No – 62.3%
  • Yes – 37.7%

We sometimes see college swimmers opt to redshirt a season, or defer their enrollment, heading into the Olympic year to put their full focus on performing in the long course pool.

It’s a lot more common for swimmers who have already established themselves on the international stage to take a year off from the NCAA, with recent examples being Torri Huske and Claire Curzan.

On the men’s side, David Johnston and Jack Aikins are two notable swimmers taking Olympic redshirts this season, both on the precipice of doing damage internationally for the United States.

Huske and Curzan are both multi-time World medalists, while Johnston is coming off making his first major U.S. international team last summer at the 2023 World Championships, and Aikins was on the outside looking at Trials, placing 3rd in the 200 back.

Huske in particular has been having a phenomenal year, hitting lifetime bests and nearing American Records at in-season meets, but whether or not she’d be dropping those type of swims if she was still in the NCAA is up for debate.

History tells us that the established swimmers who take a year off continue to do well in the long course season, and those right on the cusp of breaking through who redshirt don’t find much benefit.

More than 62% of SwimSwam readers align with that takeaway, believing that taking a redshirt season from the NCAA doesn’t lead to greater success in the summer.

It might benefit a swimmer from a nation like Canada, which holds its Olympic Trials meets much earlier than the U.S. or Australia (this year in May, previously one week after Men’s NCAAs), but Americans and Aussies have three months after the NCAA season to dial in before Trials. The U.S. used to hold Trials earlier, but since 2000, they’ve generally been about one month before the Olympics.

Full-time training all year with one or two meets on your mind could also become taxing, putting so much emphasis on performing that when the time comes the nerves get the best of you. Staying in the NCAA keeps you in the team atmosphere, the flow of competition, and then when it’s time to focus on long course, there’s still plenty of runway to do that.

On the flip side, 37.7% of readers think redshirts are beneficial. In addition to the specific long course training and tailor-made schedule athletes get when they take the year off, they usually also don’t continue their academic studies, meaning they can live like a professional and get other benefits such as increased rest and recovery.

Below, vote in our new A3 Performance Pollwhich asks: What would you rather add to the Olympics?

Which would you rather see at the Olympics?

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1 month ago

Female athletes who deferred the freshman year:

Ledecky, Katie: 2015-2016 NCAA Season
Weitzeil, Abbey: 2015-2016 NCAA Season

1 month ago

Hard no to 3 swimmers per nation. This only benefits the big swimming countries that already dominate the medal table.

Hard no to stroke 50s. Schedule is already cluttered.

Remove semi finals for non-freestyle 200 events. Remove the 1500s. Replace mixed medley relay with mixed freestyle. Perfect

Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

I don’t think there should always be the ability for countries to bring 3 athletes, and I can’t think a way for it to be cleanly implemented, but I crave a world where anyone who is top 5 in an event in the world that year can swim it at the Olympics if their country has 3+ swimmers in the top 5 for that event. Logistically, I think that might be a nightmare, but a girl can dream for an Olympics with all the top swimmers present.

Reply to  anonymous
1 month ago

Representing a swimming nation comes with some massive advantages like better facilities and support and relay medals. Basically the only downside is more competitive trials. It’s tough but if you’re not top 3 in your country then you don’t get to go. There’s not a single event in the last 5 years where one country had the top 3 performers of the year so it’s unlikely any podiums would have changed.

Reply to  anonymous
1 month ago

Olympics Last Chance meets turn up.

Reply to  Sub13
1 month ago

The 1500s are a part of the sport, why remove them?

1 month ago

A redshirt season, huh?

Simone Manuel: 2015-2016 NCAA Season

comment image

Last edited 1 month ago by Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 month ago

I want to see 200 medley relays at the Olympics!

Reply to  Meow
1 month ago

You will have to settle for the Short Course World Championships.

Masters Swammer
1 month ago

NCAA student-athletes juggle a lot. There’s the training, travel for NCAA dual meets and championships, living on or near campus, and taking/passing enough courses to remain eligible and to support future career aspirations.

For someone like Torri Huske (engineering student at Stanford), taking time off from school would free up hours and hours in her weekly schedule, allowing more time for rest and recovery. That has to make a big difference for her leading up to the Olympics.

This choice definitely isn’t just about long-course vs. short-course.

1 month ago

I would be curious to see the results if you polled people who took a redshirt year to train long course and see if they thought it was worth it or not.

Last edited 1 month ago by AndyB
Beginner Swimmer at 25
1 month ago

take away the 800m free, 4×1 mixed medley

put in a 4×50 mixed free and, 100im (Breast & Butterfly), 4×200 medley 😈

Last edited 1 month ago by Beginner Swimmer at 25
Go Blue
1 month ago

62% are in denial 38% are not

IU Swammer
Reply to  Go Blue
1 month ago

I guess you missed the part of the article that says the data don’t show a benefit to taking a redshirt.

Reply to  IU Swammer
1 month ago

To be fair those descriptive data are weak to the point of being not useful at all from any scientific perspective. My interpretation of those data is that there is no blanket statement that can be made about the benefit or lack of benefit for individual athletes, who are each unique in their training, current status, and plans. Of course taking the redshirt year could be helpful for some athletes to strategically focus on LCM training with specific goal of trials (and Olympics, if all goes well) in mind – perhaps altering school obligations, training for SCY and/or for specific meets etc. Of course it could not be helpful for others. Also – even if there is potentially a real… Read more »

Reply to  IU Swammer
1 month ago


While Katie Ledecky deferred a year’s entry into Stanford University, Katie Ledecky took a couple of classes at Georgetown University. In essence, Katie Ledecky redshirted her freshman year of college. If Katie Ledecky’s performance at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Austin, TX did not convince you, show me another female swimmer who broke a World Record in the W 800 FR during the month of January in the post supersuit era. Incidentally, Katie Ledecky posted her personal best time in the W 100 FR during the aforementioned meet.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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