Mike's Mailbag: High School vs. Club


By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Every Monday I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com.

Dear Mike,

I have read the March/April issue of Splash from cover to cover and found every article helpful, but I have an important question:

I have a young divisional swimmer who loves his sport, and mom and I have wrapped ourselves up in it as well as serving the past several years as board president and meet director of his past swim team. Last season we changed teams to help him advance his natural talents. His old team was in our school district and is the feeder team to the high school team.

Looking into the future about college and hopes of being spotted by a college for scholarships when our child reaches high school, should he swim for the high school team, or just swim for his present club through his high school years? In our opinion, the high school team has not been as good, and I'm afraid swimming for the high school team would harm him more than help him in attaining a college swimming scholarship.

Please advise.

Swim Dad
Hi Swim Dad,

Thanks for your note. I get many questions from swimmers and parents in similar situations. A swimmer has two team options--one team is "better" than the other---and a choice whether to do both or just one.

You want the best for your swimmer. And to you, "the best" means swimming fast enough for a college scholarship. But what does your swimmer want? Have you asked? If his goal is a college scholarship, you're on the same page. If, however, he wants to be with high school friends or compete at high school states, then talk with him more.

As far as collegiate recruiting is concerned, swimming, thankfully, is a times-based sport. It's easy to compare recruits. Times are a uniform standard of measurement applicable to anyone regardless of team affiliation. Club swimmers may have to send more recruiting inquiries to colleges compared to high schoolers, but this depends on your state. Most college coaches take big club meets like Junior Nationals as seriously, if not more so, than high school states. Times are times.

That said, I relate to your inquiry. I competed on a high school team with many first year swimmers. As a team, we often placed last in our conference. Swimming "club" year-round may have resulted in faster times, but maybe not. I swam high school to compete alongside my best friends.


I swam for the experience. Four months a year to swim high school was worth it for a lifetime of memories. With hindsight, I have no idea if this helped or hindered my overall individual swim career, and I don't care. The memories, friendships, occasional mischief, and fun I had made it a wonderful experience.

But everyone is different. My best friends were on that high school team.

What is gained swimming for this high school team? Fun? Friendships? If it's only to attract recruiters, then no, don't swim high school. Swim coaches, at least the good ones, recruit anywhere there's a meet. If your son swims a 1:46 200 IM, it doesn't matter if he did that at a high school state meet or at a dual meet between clubs. He'll get recruited.

But if this high school team provides other opportunities--fun, friendships, experiences--ask your son what he wants. He's the one on the blocks. Let him determine what team cap he wears.

I'll forever treasure my time on both teams. I leaned on both, grew as a person on both, and swam well on both.

My sophomore year, my team won its first dual meet in years. Everyone swam great. No one swam college-level times, but everyone improved. We beat our rivals. We hugged and cheered and pumped our fists. I stood beside my best friends after months of training together. I will remember that the rest of my life.

My individual times in that meet? I can't even remember.

Let your son make the decision. He knows the coaches, the teams, the teammates, and the situation. He's the one in the arena. If he tries out the team and feels he's not achieving his goals, he can quit. Either decision isn't a lifelong commitment.

Just don't judge a team by its winning or losing, by its championship titles or lack thereof. The best thing to do is look at improvement of each swimmer compared to the previous year. Look up and compare results. That will indicate if swimmers improve or not. My team, though we often "lost," had one of the highest rates of improvement.

But if the swimmers themselves don't improve, be wary. A team doesn't have to win titles to be a great team. A coach doesn't have to wear championship rings to be a great coach. But swimmers, on average, should improve their personal beats. That's your best indication how your son will do.

My high school team, though we often lost, never really "lost." We all dropped time and had the times of our lives doing so.

Hope this helps.