A couple years back, I posted a blog answering the question I am most frequently asked by readers:
"How do I become a college swim coach?"
I'm happy to answer because five years ago I was wondering the same thing. I had graduated from college and made some fumbling attempts at breaking into the college ranks. I knew I wanted to do it, but I was clueless. Before we get into the how, let's define a couple barriers.
College swim coaching, like many other professions, is not a meritocracy. If you want to make it in this profession, you need to get over it fast. Looking from the outside, you will see somebody who has the job you want and very likely doesn't care about what they are doing, doesn't know what they are doing or a combination of both. College swimming jobs are extremely hard to get, but they are also extremely hard to lose.
Next, I might as well address the issue no one wants to talk about: gender. There are unofficial gender quotas for college swimming coaching positions. You might infer that I mean that there are certain "women only" positions in college swimming. It's more complex than that. Most of the coaches in the college ranks are men, and you better believe it's an old boys club. The challenges are different for young men and women getting started in the profession. When you're a man, you will encounter many entry level positions that you may be told in a whisper that "you need not apply". Again, get over it fast. If you are a female you may have a relatively easier time (although this is somewhat demographic dependent as well, depending on age/athletic experience; in other words way more than I have time for) getting a job. However, when you do you might find yourself feeling a little bit like Peggy Olson from Mad Men.
Depressed yet? Don't be- what I presented was the worst I have seen. Your experience could be much better. Coaching in college is a blast: the meets are fun, the schedule is slightly more humane than club and it's very rewarding. So what can you do to bust through?
1. Network like crazy with people already coaching in college. The number one thing you will have working against you when you apply for a college job is the fact that you have never coached in college. This is a paradox. Someday, you will laugh about the fact that someone thought it was so different. Until then, you need as many people to vouch for you as possible. Is there a college team near where you live? Do they need a volunteer? Are there local meets where college coaches are on deck and you can talk with them? Do you have a friend of a friend who coaches in college? Do whatever it takes and never stop- the college swim coaching world is extremely small (<1000 people employed full time).
2. If and when you make it onto a college pool deck for free, make the most of your time there. Take whatever responsibility you can get and do well. Many coaches won't give much for their assistants to do, but they certainly need help. Find out what they need and do it, even if you feel that it's menial and beneath you. The more things you do, and do well, the more valuable you will seem and the more you will get to do. When you apply for a payed job, you can tout your experience doing any number of things.
3. The utmost of those responsibilities is on campus recruiting. Volunteer coaches are prohibited from doing off campus recruiting, but again, recruiting experience will be one of the biggest things people will look for as you move on. On campus recruiting is a chance for you to get your feet wet in probably the most important task in college swimming. You read that right: it is definitely more important than your ability to coach. If that bothers you, say it with me a third time: GET OVER IT FAST.
4. Enjoy the fact that you are living in 2012. You can spend all day on swimming websites, on swimming message boards, and reading swimming blogs. Don't listen to anyone who tells you this is a waste of time. You need to soak up swimming knowledge like a sponge. The college coaching profession as a whole hasn't grasped it yet, but they desperately need young, knowledgeable people who live and breath the sport. It's probably the only way it's going to survive (again, for another blog).
If you have a question about what to do, just ask in the comment section and I'll be happy to help.