The College Club Swimming Option Part II

College Club Swimming

College Club Swimming, which is backed by U.S. Masters Swimming, has been offering more and more athletes the opportunity to continue participating in the sport they love.  In this two-part series, Swimming World explores some personal perspectives from swimmers pursuing their aquatic passion while enjoying a college experience unencumbered by the demands of a varsity athlete. This installment is the second of a two-part series in which students share personal perspectives on college club swimming. See Part 1 in the June issue of Swimming World (pages 34-36).

Greg Earhart serves as executive director for the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. Prior to that, he directed the men’s program at NCAA D-III Carthage College and served as a coach at Minnesota, Indiana and Arizona State University. From his vantage point, he also has observed the growth of college club swimming.

“We all know that swimming has a lot of benefits and that college swimming is very competitive even at the Division III level. On a lot of campuses, college club swimming can provide an alternative for those who want a less competitive environment. At the end of the day, if we have more people swimming, that’s a good thing at all levels,” he says.

OTHER VOICES

“There are huge benefits to college club swimming at Miami compared to D-I swimming, such as practice, meet flexibility and reduction in time commitment. We host five practices per week and arrange eight meets per academic year within and across state boundary lines. There is no enforced attendance policy, but the majority of our competitive swimmers attend each practice and each meet. The club environment provides novice and elite swimmers the chance to continue developing and competing well past their high school years.

“Our organizational structure is student-led from top to bottom. Our team has an executive board with similar roles and functions like those found in a company. By assuming club operation responsibilities, elected swimmers grow in leadership, communication and teamwork abilities. Both elected and non-elected swimmers are allowed to coach practices, which significantly increases participation and turnout.

“The largest barrier to participation is syncing class with practice schedules. Many students have evening classes M/W/F or T/TH that interfere with practice times. Most weekly practices are from 7 to 8:30 p.m., which can be unmotivating after a hard day of classes. Fortunately, the length of season, fees and travel to meets are non-issues, thanks to the University of Miami’s commitment to generously providing resources for extracurricular organizations.

“Our team submits budget requests to the student activity fee allocation committee (SAFAC) and federation of club sports (FCS) for funds that help us pay for everything from travel to training equipment. We are also fortunate to freely rent our pool space for practices and competition. Additionally, we set ambitious fundraising goals. This past fall, we raised $3,000 from a swim-a-thon event. As a result, we have expendable income to meet all of our needs. However, based on my conversations with club presidents who have cited financial strain as a meet participation deterrent, I suspect our situation is unique.

“To recruit and retain swimmers, we attend university organization fairs to advertise our club and collect sign-ups. Swimmers are required to join our organization page on OrgSync and our Facebook club pages to stay informed on upcoming events and practices. Throughout the semester, we also host many social events. This semester, we had a joint social event with the Triathlon Club, and in March, we attended a baseball game as a team.”Ben Smith (Club president at University of Miami)


“College club swimming has been a big part of my college experience. Our team ranges from about 140 to 200 students—depending on the semester/year—and is entirely student-run. We do have a coach that works with the housing/student life department, but he works in conjunction with other coaches who are typically either recent UVA graduates or graduate students. We have an executive committee comprised of undergraduate students that helps club swimming run smoothly. We do not have a team handbook, but typically host an interest meeting where we go over the basics about the team.

“We have Sunday-Thursday evening practices with others on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Practices and meets are OPTIONAL. This approach allows members to truly participate at a level of their choosing. We tend to have lots of swimmers who swam year-round throughout middle school and high school, and either chose not to swim in college or rejected offers to attend solely for academic reasons. Optional practices/meets allow us to put school first when we need to, without fear of retribution or punishments. The ability to pick events at meets is definitely a plus. It eliminates the dread of having to swim an event for which you don’t feel prepared, and makes meet environments a lot more relaxed and fun.

“We also have several former varsity swimmers who decided that the school program was either too rigorous or not what they had envisioned. Club swimming offers them a place to remain competitive, but in a less rigid environment. We also have social swimmers who come to practice occasionally, but are primarily involved in the events we host off the pool deck. Those include pasta dinners, trips to an amusement park, horse races, karaoke nights, a corn maze in the fall and even our own ‘swim informal’ in the winter. I think these activities are what really help the 200-person team to feel so close. Sometimes practice only allows you to interact with those in your lane, but the social events let you know others in a different context.

“The environment at the 2018 Club Nationals at the 1996 Olympic Trials pool in Atlanta was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. The heats were FAST. Everyone was cheering with so much enthusiasm, especially in finals. It reminded me of a high school state meet, something I never thought I would experience again after my senior year. I’m thankful that I was able to attend and contribute to our second-place overall finish.

“The most impactful thing about club swimming has been the people. I have literally met my entire friend group through club swimming, and we are truly a huge family. The upperclassmen were so welcoming, and everyone made sure that all members found their places on this team—whatever that was. The team is what makes me want to go to practice every week and has been a huge motivation for my progress both in and out of the water.” – Cristina Muncy (University of Virginia swimmer)


“The reason I joined club swimming was to get a second chance. I started swimming when I was just 5 years old. Once I started, I never went more than a few weeks without practicing. I quit swimming my senior year of high school because of head coach issues and a desire to focus more on school. I subsequently realized that all the work I had put into swimming was wasted. I went a full year without even jumping in the pool. As a result, I declined offers to swim in college. At that point, I accepted that I would never swim in a meet again and feel the emotion of swimming my last race.

“However, club swimming called to me at NSU. I took a chance, put the past behind me and went to the first practice. I stayed with club because I realized people didn’t judge me for my past. Many like me joined for one last chance. I’m still holding on because I want to swim that last race, cry my eyes out and eat a whole pizza when I finish!” – Adam Sumioka (Nova Southeastern University swimmer)


“Our team, which started in the fall of 2014, currently consists of 90 members and has no designated coach. Instead, we have an officer position called “performance trainer” who prepares practice sets, hosts technique clinics and helps with swimming questions. A group of advanced swimmers also help when the performance trainer is not present. The team seems to enjoy the less-pressured environment.

“That said, team emphasis has shifted recently from a heavy social agenda to working harder in the water. While we retain a social component, after a meet our swimmers often prefer to stay at the hotel and go to bed early instead of going out to party. Socially, we have focused on small events throughout the semester such as a catered Olive Garden carb-loading dinner. In the past we have had a formal with food, games and dancing in a rented brewery. We’ve also gone ice skating, and we now do community service together as a team. This semester, we are also participating in multiple intramural events.

“From a competitive standpoint, we participate in about four to five meets per semester. In the fall, we host an invitational meet and one or two dual meets, and we travel to one away meet. In the spring, we go to schools throughout the Southeast.” – Sam McManus (Club president, Auburn University)


“I was a high school and club swimmer who could have walked on to a D-III program, but I chose UGA instead. I definitely didn’t have an Olympic Trials cut for the NCAA team and was afraid of the college workload on top of collegiate swimming. I looked at the UGA club team before I started classes freshman year and almost immediately found it was a perfect fit. Swimmers, I realized, are my people. We knew what it felt like to swim six days a week, three hours a day and reveled in the ability to choose for ourselves how much we wanted to swim, what intervals we chose to keep—and practice in the evenings when I usually swim best!

“At UGA, we had A, B and C lanes where one could pick and choose the practices. This meant that people with little to no swimming experience could swim on their own intervals. We even had someone run the C lane and give stroke coaching. Judging others was out because everyone’s face was in the water.

“I can’t stress how important it was to go back to the pool on my own terms. My junior year of high school, I was swimming at an elite level and almost had a nervous breakdown because of undiagnosed anxiety, schoolwork and a desire to swim better so as not to let my coach down. In college, the stakes were low and the pressure was off—and I liked swimming and even racing again. We had several members, including a close friend of mine, who transferred to Georgia after swimming at the collegiate level elsewhere. She would sometimes simply grab a lane and kick all practice. She was finally swimming again on her own terms.

“I would be lying if I said the swimming was the best part of the club experience. So many of the club swimmers and I had an instant connection, and they helped stave off the freshman-year homesickness. I went to swim club tailgates, travel trips and socials. We went out of our way to create dry events so that we could engage everyone we could. We didn’t want a party atmosphere to dissuade people from joining, which was sometimes perceived as a barrier. As I got older, we officers took younger swimmers under our wings and made sure that their experiences were as welcoming and comfortable as ours. I pretty much stopped drinking my senior year just in case I was needed to drive—my friends and I were dubbed the Swim Moms.

“I met two of my bridesmaids and my husband through the swim club! Meeting him that way meant I never felt insecure about my body or him seeing me without makeup. He had already seen me in a cap, goggles and a one-piece, looking like an alien. Nor did I have to shave my legs half as much; he was used to a shave and taper! After finishing grad school, we hope to join a Masters team nearby—we miss the community.” – Melissa DeVelvis (Former club swimmer, University of Georgia)


“I was swimming NCAA as a freshman at Nova Southeastern when I lost my passion for the sport. The following year, I worked toward building a swim club at NSU. By my junior year, we had launched the school’s first-ever club sports program, and I regained my passion.

“As someone who has worked with two swim clubs (NSU and the University of North Texas), I believe leadership needs to be in place for more than one year. As president, it takes at least that long to fully grasp the nuance of the job. Teams with good leaders in their roles for two and three years function more smoothly than those transitioning more frequently.

“I like that most clubs have a fee that most students find reasonable. If you’re an athlete coming from a club team, you were likely required to pay monthly dues that were probably the same price as a full year with college club swimming.

“Many people love traveling as long as there are no extra fees. Team travel can be a good recruitment tool as can the realization that club swimming is a great way for freshmen or transfers to establish friendships.” – Parker Sheppard (Club president, Nova Southeastern; graduate assistant for aquatics and club swimmer, University of North Texas)

 


Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach whose Collegiate School (Richmond, Va.) teams won nine state high school championships. A member of that school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, he is also a recipient of NISCA’s Outstanding Service Award. This article first appeared in the June issue of Swimming World Magazine as the first of two parts. Part two will also be reprinted on SwimmingWorld.com in July. 

3 comments

    • Melissa DeVelvis

      Becca Postoll oh yeah hey that’s me