Mike's Mailbag: Prepping for the College Road

Mike's Mailbag: Prepping for the College Road

By Mike Gustafson//Contributor  | Monday, March 19, 2018

Every Monday, I answer questions from swimmers around the country. If you have a question, please email me at swimmingstories@gmail.com.


Hi Mike


For the past few years I have hit a plateau in swimming.  I am in grade 12 and would like to swim in college next year.  My swim coach and parents also would like me to swim in college.  I am very nervous that I am not fast enough to make a college team.  I know that I will work hard and improve immensely if given the opportunity to swim on my college team, I am just scared I will not make the team.  I am also nervous that I will not be able to handle the intensity of varsity swimming.  I live in a very small town and we have very limited pool time and no dryland.  How should I approach this situation?



Scared swimmer


Hey Scared Swimmer,

You sound like I did, when I was a senior. Small town, limited time, a strong desire to swim in college.

Here’s my advice:

First, attend the best college for you that you possibly can. Go for the school, not the swim team. Some swimmers out there choose schools based on swim teams — I disagree with this. Swimming is a sport, not a life. The college you choose, the academic programs that college offers, the people you meet, these are life-affecting. Yes, swim teams can also positively impact your life, too (mine did), but you should choose the very best school you can get into and attend.

Second, let’s say that school also offers a swim team, and your times are fast enough to walk-on. (You should check with the coach, too.) Those college practices will start up in August or September with or without you. From my own experience, if you expect to be near the bottom of the practice pack, begin to prepare now.

How do you prepare now?

Physically, see if you can get a duplicate copy of an example of a fall swim practice. I wish I had done this. If you’re admitted and the coach says you have a spot on the team, ask for an example workout of what you can expect this fall. Then, once you’ve digested the insane amount of yardage required each day, work your way backwards: What do you need to do to prepare for that?

I don’t think you have to begin swimming those kinds of college workouts now, in March, April, or May. But if those workouts involve a lot of distance freestyle sets on intervals you can’t make now, begin to train distance freestyle. Build your base. Work on your weaknesses. Imagine your body and swim training is a rubber band — you want to gradually increase the range of what your body can handle, without causing it to break.

From my own experience, adjusting freshman year was really hard. I wasn’t ready. I was lapped, last, and lethargic. I took too much time off the summer before, figuring that I had four years to make-up for it. Instead, I wished I had spent the summer really working on my distance base. Forgetting about sprinting and swimming fast, and just pounding those yards to prepare for fall practices.

Most swimmers will adjust, with time, patience, fortitude, and persistence. But adjustment can be a long road. Prepping for fall practice is a balancing act: You don’t want to work too hard the summer before. You don’t want to burn-out in your sophomore year because you worked too hard now. But you do want a nice, solid foundation from which you can build on during your freshman year.

Mentally, adjustment can be the hardest part. Make no mistakes about it: If you come from a small team with limited pool time, adjusting to the college double workouts can be hard. I’m a firm believer in balance, so take some breaks both now, and a short break before you get to college. Maybe three weeks before summer, a week after the summer season ends, then a few days before you get to college. Definitely, hop in the water several times before that first college practice, so you don’t hurt yourself.

Most importantly, communicate with people on the swim team. Ask them their advice. Every team is different. I knew, beforehand, that I should be in reasonable shape showing up to practice.

Don’t be intimidated, either. Don’t be scared. College swimming is an awesome experience. If anything, be open and honest, with yourself, your teammates, and your coaches, about what’s going on. Take breaks. Go slow but stay consistent. Gradually build your base, increase your daily yardage, and do things outside the pool to prep your body for more dryland, weights, and strength-building. Though it’s impossible to completely prepare for a college training circuit, you can begin to pour the foundations now.

I hope this helps.



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