Creating Swim Scholars

Creating Swim Scholars

By Mike Watkins//Contributor  | Thursday, October 11, 2018

It’s no secret that swimmers are some of if not the smartest athletes in sports.

At many schools, it’s the swim team’s grade point average (GPA) that brings up the athletic department’s GPA as a whole.

With twice-a-day workouts – morning and afternoon – many days a week along with traveling for meets, etc., they have to rely upon their excellent time management skills and ability to prioritize to get everything accomplished – and they do it time and time again.

But three clubs – SwimMAC Carolina, Nation’s Capital and Irvine Novaquatics – have devised methods and implemented practices so that their athletes stand out annually among all swim clubs when it comes to the number of annual Scholastic All-Americans selected from their teams.

For them – as it is with swim clubs in general – it’s as much a priority as excellence in the pool.

“Academics are so important to us (at Nation’s Capital Swim Club) that it’s part of our mission statement,” said Chief Executive Officer Tom Ugast. “It’s one of our core values, and as such, we take many steps and measures to make sure our swimmers are making their academics a priority.”

In 2017-18, 47 athletes from SwimMAC earned the recognition, while 34 from Nation’s Capital and 26 from Irvine Novaquatics earned both the required individual time cuts (equal to a 2017 Winter Junior qualifying event during the August 16, 2017-August 15, 2018 SAA qualifying period) and the grades (minimum 3.5 GPA for the current academic year) to be named SAA.  

For SwimMAC, which has ranked among the top 3 among USA Swimming club teams and been No. 1 for 6 of the past 7 years, it’s all about making sure their swimmers find and maintain a balance between time in the pool and time with the books.

And regular communication with parents and swimmers helps gauge levels of stress and fatigue and any feelings of being overwhelmed by school and/or training/practice.

“Getting the most Scholastic All-Americans is one of our original goals every year, and falls into our standards and goals to be the best we can be,” said Terry Fritch, head coach at SwimMAC. “As a coaching staff, we start educating our athletes in the process and balance of swimming and academics when they come into the club.”

Fritch said by the time athletes are 13 and in middle school, SwimMac coaches have meetings with athletes to stress the importance of maintaining this balance while monitoring their grades and communicating with athletes and their parents to make sure they are keeping up with their studies.

He added that they always want to make sure they (coaches) are doing everything they can do to help their student-athletes achieve their goals in the water and in school.

Part of that includes cutting back on weekly time in the water or in dryland training during heavy academic spots in the school year – exam weeks, etc.

“The biggest key is just keeping in contact with our athletes and parents to gauge where they are academically throughout the school year,” Fritch said. “We want to make sure they are keeping up and not feeling overwhelmed.”

Along with qualifying times and GPA, SAA applicants must have completed 9th grade or higher in high school. Points are given for As, Bs and Cs, and any grade lower than a C in an academic subject means automatic rejection of the application. Honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and dual credit college level academic courses will earn one half (.5) extra Grade Point.

At Nation’s Capital, Ugast said coaches at each of its locations around the Washington, D.C. area take it to heart that these young people need to be successful in the classroom as well as pool in order to earn college scholarships in the future.

The goal is to train the athlete while creating exemplary students and people in the process.

Because many of their athletes attend private schools and come from families of very accomplished parents – lawyers, doctors, etc. – who stress and understand the importance and value of education, Ugast said his and his coaches’ jobs are a little easier than at other clubs – but the need to help athletes find and keep balance will always be a priority.

Along with the club’s most famous alumnae – Katie Ledecky, who is a scholar at Stanford – 2018 Nation’s Capital graduates are attending top academic institutions like Harvard, Emory, Penn, Cal-Berkeley, Notre Dame and Northwestern, among other schools.

“These are kids of Type A parents, so they understand that education is important,” he said. “I see our roles as more of watching our athletes and stepping in if/when we see them getting overwhelmed with school or swimming.

“They hear at home as well as from us the importance of getting good grades so they can swim in college, but we want to make sure it’s not so overwhelming for them that they shut down or give in. As coaches, if we’re just creating great swimmers but not great people and students, then we’re not doing our jobs.”

SAA team members will receive three certificates and a bag tag. Three-timers will receive a special gift. Awards will be shipped in the Fall.

USA Swimming is proud to recognize these scholar-athletes and congratulates the swimmers on their achievement, as well as their coaches and parents for their outstanding support.

For more information about SAA application requirements and procedures, visit the Scholastic All-America area


5 Tips for Helping Your Athletes Gain Athletic and Academic Success

Nation’s Capital Swim Club:

1. Be competitive in the pool as well as in the classroom. Excellence in both can be achieved through finding balance.

2. Be accountable for your actions in the pool and classroom to yourself and your teammates.

3. Include and embrace diversity.

4. Maximize leadership opportunities. Mentor whenever possible.

5. Be dedicated in the pool and in the classroom.

SwimMAC Carolina

1. In goal meetings, discuss academics or at least how to balance both.

2. Invest in the whole athlete – not just the swimmer.

3. Incorporate a strong college resource. Have your athletes and families understand the college process – timing, rules and what is important.

4. Older athletes must invest in younger athletes and set the example.

5. Create and maintain a strong coach/swimmer/parent relationship with good communication and clear expectations. 


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