The past few weeks, I’ve been focusing on the college experience — how to prepare for the increased yardage, how to “try on” different campuses and colleges, and even trying to raise awareness that college and age group participation is linked.
Today, I want to give potential NCAA swimmers a small list of questions to ask coaches, when considering college swimming. This list isn’t comprehensive, but more of a starter list. It’s important for age group swimmers and high school juniors and seniors to talk to their families and coaches to come up with their own questions to ask.
So, you’re looking at swimming in college. You’re fast enough. You’ve looked up times online, you’ve spoken to coaches, and you’re having a tough time choosing between several different swim teams.
Time to ask questions.
Asking questions is part of the process that I just don’t think very many high schoolers do these days. I certainly didn’t. I just didn’t know what questions to ask. So, having gone through that process before (admittedly, a while ago), here are a few questions to ask. Keep in mind, please, that you’ve already figured out most logistics, finances, etc. These questions are geared more to just get a sense of what the team is like, what your lifestyle will be like as an incoming freshman, and maybe a few questions you otherwise would forget to ask (but could still be important to know).
1. “Can you show me an example of a standard afternoon workout?”
This might be the most important part of getting to know a swim team. That’s the beauty of swimming: There’s no lying on paper. Workouts are what workouts are; you’ll be able to tell exactly where you can fit in. Is that workout 8,000 yards of distance freestyle? Is it 4,000 yards of sprint work? Does it look imaginative, creative? Is it something you can even do?
2. “How many hours a week does the team train?”
There are rules limiting the hours an NCAA swim team can practice, so likely, the answer will be that maximum. But it’s still a question to ask.
3. "How big will be the incoming freshman class?”
In other words, get the stats. If there are 30 incoming freshmen, well, you know that some swimmers might not necessarily make the travel or championship team. Also, do you want to be part of a 2-person freshman class? You may be, if you don’t ask.
4. “Does everyone travel to away meets?”
It’s important to know if a swim team has more people on its roster than championship or travel teams can allow.
5. “Can I see a typical practice calendar?”
Self-explanatory. Helpful to know if the team swims at 5am or 7am; if the team has some mornings off, or no mornings off.
6. “Where do the freshman swimmers typically live?”
In other words, get to see the campus a bit. See where swimmers usually live. It helps to imagine what your life will be like, should you attend.
7. “Do you take a training trip? What time of year? Where do you usually go?”
I missed Christmas with my family three years in a row because I was on a training trip. I would do it all over again, but it’s still important information when you’re in high school.
8. “Do the men and women teams train together or separately? What about swim meets — do the teams attend the same meets?”
Not a big, huge question, but something to know. Some teams do train together. Other teams train separately. Some do both.
9. “Does the team have an endowment? Is the team talking about starting one? Has there ever been talk of cutting the program?”
It’s hard to predict if a swim team will be cut in the coming years, but it is important to know if your future swim team has taken concrete steps to try and prevent it from happening. Some teams have started endowments to self-fund the programs; ask, question, and take this seriously. Look at the athletic program as a whole: Does the program offer many sports, or just a few? Have other sports been cut in the past?
10. “What does the team do for fun?”
The college team I swam for played ultimate frisbee on the beach before every workout when it was warmer — and it was a blast. Other teams have their own ways to unwind. I’d ask, just to get a sense of the kind of camaraderie and togetherness teams have.
There are so many other questions, even more important questions, to ask, but these questions can help swimmers get a basic sense of a team’s chemistry, dynamic, and what an incoming freshman lifestyle would be like.
And a bonus question:
“Do you taper?”
Some don’t. Beware, swimmers. Some don’t…