Monday, May 7, 2012

How to Become a (paid) College Swim Coach (2.0)

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.


  1. Would you say it's okay to get as many people to vouch for you as possible at each position - or is that overload?

    Also say you have some bigger contacts that you know that would vouch for you - is it better to save those for your dream job or to try and use them as many times as they're willing?

    What's the proper etiquette?

  2. Josh! I need to call you. In my opinion don't save up- if you decide you want something you have to throw everything you have at it. Just ask people if they want to help- it never hurts.

  3. Great post. I have to say I have applied for a couple of assistant positions in the past and I have been pretty mystified about what it would take to stand out well enough to even get an interview. As a coach with experience at several levels and having the experience of starting a club from scratch, it was hard to swallow that I could easily be considered as having less "vital experience" than a 22 year old GA who spent a semester on deck making coffee runs for the staff. I wouldn't really know how to sell myself on paper even though I am pretty sure if I landed an interview I would at least have a chance. Getting a chance to talk face-to-face is the hard part.

    Chris, I feel you have offered pretty solid advice for how to get yourself to stand out. Do you feel the blog helped you to get the job at Georgia Tech? I have never mentioned the blog on a resume... but then, the content of your blog wanders less into juvenile humor than mine. :)

  4. Shawn,

    I have the swimbrief and floswimming on my resume. I'm not sure how much it does in that form. But floswimming is probably the reason I got the job here- it gave me the right contacts to leverage and get an interview here. Being on the internet is an asset IMO and this will only grow as the older coaches who don't use it retire (sorry Frank Busch).

    Everyone in the world uses shortcut heuristics to come to decisions. For college coaching, the most frequent one is "college coaching experience" even though this is pretty meaningless. If someone is looking at 50 names and this allows them to disqualify 25 off the bat they will probably do it.

  5. I know "payed" is a legit word but I've never actually seen someone use it. I've always seen it as "paid".

    About the blog though, very true. It's all about who you know when first getting into college swimming. I coached college for 4 years. I was lucky enough to get a job for the team that I had just graduated from. My coach liked me enough and I guess saw enough potential in me to convince our President that he needed another assistant coach.

  6. Oops- I have some quirks in my English. I get confused between languages. Fixed

  7. Very good post! I have thought about college coaching a couple of times but have always stoped short partly because of the things you have mentioned. My club team in every place would have killed the local college but that doesn't seem to matter getting your foot in the door. It is also the fact that less coaching is involved, not that college coaches can't coach. Recruiting and fundraising seem to be the two biggest parts.

    1. Disgruntled College CoachMay 8, 2012 at 9:44 AM

      Corey, so you have never coached college? Yet you say there is less coaching involved. I would argue that there is just as much(if not more) in addition to the recruiting and fundraising aforementioned.

      Don't knock it till you try it.

    2. I agree. College coaching is a lot more individualized. I spent more time on deck with coaching my old college team than I do with the club team I coach for now. Because of the individualization, more prep time is needed. Also, due to pool space limitations (at my school at least) we had to schedule several different practice times just to accomodate everyone. The recruiting and fundraising though are very big parts in college coaching, and frankly, were what really turned me away from it. Just not my cup of tea.

    3. Didn't mean to say that there was less coaching involved with college. Just a different over-all focus with the recuriting. I have coached college swimmers in the summers a lot, without the added pressure of recuriting the next year's star. There is a big part of me that wishes I could focus on individuals and only certain events for them.