What I wish I Had Known Before Swimming In College

Swimming in college is a full-time job. When making the decision of whether or not you want to pursue your swimming career, you need to make sure you are 100% committed to what you are about to get yourself into. Being a student-athlete is extremely difficult at times. It can be hard balancing school and athletics as well as being away from home. But if you are motivated and have a passion for the sport you will figure out how to do it.  When making the choice on whether or not you want to swim in college, it’s important to be aware of somethings. These are things I wish I would have known some of these things when making the decision to swim at a collegiate level.

  • You Won’t be able to come home often.

Being collegiate swimmer you are constantly busy. If you don’t have practice on the weekends, then you are traveling for a swim meet. If you aren’t traveling, then you probably have a home meet. If you don’t have a meet or practice, then you are probably doing volunteering. If you aren’t volunteering you are probably trying to get homework done, or catch up on some sleep. Between all of that you won’t get a true free weekend until off-season hits in the spring.

  • Holiday Breaks are cut short.

For Thanksgiving, you get just a few days if even.  You get to eat some turkey, and before you know it, your back in the pool. Most  normal college students get a few weeks off for winter break, but not collegiate swimmers.  Winter training is a crucial part of the season.  It’s a time where a lot of teams go on training trips, so they are able to train somewhere warm.  Although it seems great to travel somewhere warm, at times its hard not to be with your family. Especially during the holidays.

  • Grades and Attendance.

Most collegiate coaches are very strict on grades.  It’s extremely important to stay on top of your studies and if you can, get ahead. If you aren’t prepared to maintain good grades, maybe rethink swimming. You are now on a team, and that means a team GPA. And if you thought that you could get away with skipping classes? You’re wrong. A lot of professors now take attendance.

  • The Amount of training. 

You are no longer looking at high school or club swimming.  You are looking at college swimming.  Jumping from high school or club to college swimming is somewhat terrifying.  Your body isn’t used to the type of training, so for some people it can take awhile to adjust. You will have doubles, weight training, dry-land, and more swimming for 20 hours plus a week. It can be brutal especially never experiencing that much before.  But it does get easier, and you do get used to it.

Most importantly….

  • Do it because you want to.

Swimming in college isn’t a joke. You are considering being a student-athlete.  It’s important that you choose to swim at this level because you want to.  You have to be 100% dedicated.  Don’t just do it because your parents want you to, or just for the scholarship money. Do it because you love swimming. Do it because you are passionate about the sport.

If you are passionate about the sport, and you are doing it for yourself,  you will be successful in college swimming.

Swimming at a collegiate level has been some of the best times of my life.  Swimming in at this level is a learning experience.  I have developed skills that will be useful in my future.  I have also had the opportunity to travel around the United States and meet several people. You learn a lot about yourself as well as who you want to be. I am very lucky to be part of a team. I have met some of my best friends through this sport. Eventually, you get to the point when you don’t just swim for yourself, you swim for your team.


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Former Big 10 swimmer
4 years ago

I’d add a couple other things as well:

1. Your goals and your team/coaches goals may not align. So you might have to adjust your expectations (in terms of success, goals, etc). If the coach wants to turn you into a sprint specialist because he needs relay points then that’s what will happen. Same if he decides not to rest you because he needs wins. Your only recourse if you don’t agree is to transfer which comes with its own costs (lost eligibility, scholarship amount, etc).

2. Pick the school and not the coach. Coaches come and go suddenly (for me, the coach who signed me was not the coach when I got there) and programs come and go.… Read more »

NM Coach
Reply to  Former Big 10 swimmer
4 years ago

To piggyback on #2 above: One thing that I tell swimmers during the recruiting process is NOT to get attached to the assistant coach that’s recruiting them. They get so discouraged when the coach that recruits them takes a job elsewhere. They don’t realize that the best assistants usually want to be a Head Coach some day, so taking a better job that gets them closer to that goal is understandable.

Swim Dad
Reply to  Former Big 10 swimmer
4 years ago

My son was/is an IMer and off stroke specialist with breast being his #1 stroke for many years. First day at college, the coach asked that he move to the backstroke as they had less depth in that stroke (especially 200). Dropped 7-seconds in 2-back his freshman year. He welcomed the new experience.

Elizabeth Corso
Reply to  Former Big 10 swimmer
4 years ago

Very true

4 years ago

Beware – Coaches are fickle and can cut you loose for just about any reason. As hard as that is, stay put and keep the scholarship money as that can not be taken away!

Reply to  exswimmer
4 years ago

With all due respect, coaches aren’t cutting people “for just about any reason”….

Reply to  exswimmer
4 years ago

First, coaches cannot cut you during the year you have scholarship for any reason as long as you are in good academic standing. Second, scholarship is for one year (except in Big 10, where it is for 4 years), so it can be taken away from you after each year for any reasons.

Reply to  PsychoDad
4 years ago

if you violate team or NCAA rules you can definitely be cut…

Steve W
4 years ago

All good advice – except that in my case (and I suspect this is true for many others) – club training (at least in the summer, when we did doubles five days a week plus one session on Saturday unless we had a meet) was just as tough as college training.

Reply to  Steve W
4 years ago

Same here. I trained more than 20 hours per week in high school, so college was actually a little less. I did do more intense weight workouts in college, and the atmosphere and competitiveness of the college environment was more draining on me than club was. Also, club was much more general aerobic high yardage training, while college was more specialized. I would also advise new college swimmers to be open to new training. Coming from a moderately high yardage program, at first I freaked out when our morning workouts in college were only 4,000 yards instead of the 6-7,000 I was used to. I didn’t think I would be able to put together a good 400 IM with that… Read more »

4 years ago

Show up in shape! Signing your NLI does not excuse you until the Fall.

4 years ago

Develop good eating habits! Your parents aren’t there to make you a healthy dinner every night. Hard training isn’t an excuse to always eat pizza, french fries and ice cream from the cafeteria.

4 years ago

Great article. I was definitely not prepared or knew what to expect when I went. If your club “doesn’t believe in early morning workouts” or goes easy on you during dryland to prevent injuries. Get ready to adjust to mornings every day and more intense dryland training. You can’t just skip a workout for a “break.” You better have a darn good excuse for missing workout.

Good job to clubs who see this coming and prepare swimmers for it early. The high school workload makes it tough on these swimmers and clubs to prepare them though. When a kid has 4 AP classes and has to participate in other extracurriculars to get into their dream school, how do they have… Read more »

4 years ago

Make sure you research the coaches and team well. Talk to some swimmers that graduated from the program if possible and find out how the team treats everyone. Many coaches have a “recruiting personality” that is like 180 degrees from their coaching personality. Many college coaches are down right abusive to the athletes. Make sure you know what you are getting in to. Do not rely on the athletes that are currently in the program. Talk to people that are done with the program to find out what things are really like. The people you will swim with are under strict orders and penalty to make sure that potential recruits are not scared off.

Reply to  buckeye499
4 years ago

Make sure they do not donate any money to the program though. If they do, they are considered boosters and talking to them may be an NCAA violation.

4 years ago

Another good thing to know before swimming varsity in college is the option of collegiate club swimming too. Club nationals was two weeks ago but I didn’t see any news about it anywhere for high schoolers.

About Olivia McLain

Olivia McLain

My name is Olivia McLain and I was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri.  I am currently a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where I am also on the UNO Women's Swim Team. I specialize in the 100 butterfly, 100 freestyle, and now that its allowed …

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