Why Does It Matter To Club Swimmers and Coaches?
At the present moment, one of the most serious threats to the sport of swimming and its long term future, is the continual chipping away at the number of collegiate programs for men and for women, that has been going on now for close to two decades.
College is about the best and the brightest. We all preach to our children, “You need to go to college to have a good future.” We all want our children to attend the best college/university that they can qualify for, and that we can afford. Middle class Americans see education and specifically a college education, as the key that opens the door to a financially secure future, an educated mate, and continued experiences in the middle and upper class economics of the USA.
In Short, Its Important.
College swimming, like a life in the social world of the college, or the academic excellence of the university selected, is one of the opportunities that are considered when a family starts looking for the “right” college experience for their child.
Parents and swimmers alike view the college swimming experience as the “peak of the pyramid” of swimming for most of them. As the NCAA ads state so clearly, “most of them will go pro in something other than sports.” Most parents and many athletes love the idea of swimming in college because it provides the same benefits of “belonging” that existed earlier in their swimming life.
What motivates the athlete during their high school years? For many of them, it’s the allure of the “team orientation” of the high school swim team. It’s a home away from home, a family outside of your own family. “A gang” with socially positive motives and actions. It’s belonging to something larger than yourself, and committing to it. As in all later phases of life, the “belonging to a group” impetus is powerful, meaningful and lends context to the life of the young student-athlete.
Continuing to challenge yourself and achieve more certainly is a motivator, as well as the omni-present “be with my friends.” Without a doubt, there are multiple motivating factors in the ordinary high schooler’s life.
In the 2008-2009 academic year, 130,182 boys and 158,878 girls swam in high school. Assuming that 20% of those are seniors, we have 26,036 boys and 31,775 senior girls. Further assuming that 30% of the graduating seniors would like to swim in college if the circumstances were “right” for them. We have a potential senior swimming class of 7,810 boys and 9,533 females. So hypothetically, 17,343 young men and women were looking for a place to swim in 2008-2009. (Statistics taken from the National Federation of High Schools participation report.)
Further, analyzing data from the NCAA Participation Reports, we see the following at the NCAA Level, for the same year; 139 Division I Teams had a total of 3,822 slots available for men. In Divisions II and III, 206 teams had a total of 5,055 slots available to swim for men. In total, 8,877 male slots available to those who want to swim in college. Making the assumption that 30% of those slots are available to Freshmen, we have an opening of 2663 places for males on NCAA Swim Teams. (versus 7,810 males who might like to swim. Thus, only 34% of the males who want to swim in college, can do so.)
On the female side, 194 Division I Teams had a total of 5,296 slots, and at Divisions II and III, 316 teams had a total of 6,320 slots for women, for a total college swimming opportunity of 11,616 for the ladies. Again making the assumption of 30% of those slots available to women, 3,485 slots are open to female freshmen. (Versus 9,533 females presumed interested in competing in college. Thus, only 37% of the females can be accommodated in NCAA programs in 08-09.)
IT GETS WORSE. WHEN YOU USE THE SAME ASSUMPTIONS AND LOOK BACK 19 YEARS TO THE ACADEMIC YEAR OF 1990-91, we find that 42% of the males could be accommodated, and 45% of the females could be accommodated.
In 19 years, we have LOST 8% of male opportunities to swim in college and lost 8% of female opportunities to swim in college.
Don’t be fooled by NCAA statistics that indicate number of swim teams rising in collegiate swimming. That by itself is true, but relative to the increasing swimming population at the High School and USA Swimming level, we are clearly losing significant % of opportunity for athletes to continue seeking personal excellence in college.
If you’re a club coach, why is this important to you?
College swimming is a “prime driver.” One of the things that pull swimmers and their families onward in our sport. One of the things that we all talk to our swimmers about, as a part of the vision, a part of the dream, a part of what we sell about what makes our sport special, and rewarding and intriguing. “You can keep getting better for a very long time!”
College swimmers, when they come home to our high school and club programs during their college years, help reinforce this dream, with stories of the wonderful times with their college teammates. Swimming in college becomes a key part of the “college dream.” Where women’s “collaborative efforts” become truly manifest and rewarded and where men bond for life with teammates who will help them throughout life.
Later on, in post-college life, the general pattern is that former college swimmers drift away from the sport while they are establishing their professional careers and then, gradually, they come back, as Masters Swimmers and most critically, as Parents with an excellent long term perspective view of our sport and they bring their children back to help grow and reinforce the strength of swimming. The good experiences of college swimming most recent in their mind, they are also contributors to support college AND club programs, where club coaches have kept in contact with their athletes during and post college.
For the club coach, this makes efforts to Expand, Preserve and Protect Collegiate Swimming, an important initiative. As you consider this, understand that we all need to put aside personal differences of opinion, conflicts and unhappiness. Neither club coaches nor college coaches are perfect – and flawed relationships exist because of actions on all sides – as we set about expanding, preserving and protecting collegiate swimming, it is not individual coaches who “own” swimming at XYZ University. The swimming program at that University is a local, regional and national swimming resource, and as swimming people, we all need to cherish and respect and hold sacred the existence of that resource, regardless of who is the current “caretaker” of the program, be they great, or be they greatly flawed.
We need to make existing programs stronger in every regard, athletically, financially, and philosophically, and we need to find ways to expand the number of universities and colleges offering our great sport to our athletes of the future.
College coaches have a huge role to play in this. So also do Club Coaches, and we’ll be asking for your help in expressing gratitude to your local and preferred institutions in the near future. I hope you’ll be convinced of the importance of this effort and be ready and willing to spring to help.