How to be a Walk-on College Swimmer

Be a determined swimmer and be a great walk-on, you won't regret it.

In high school, I was a talented swimmer. I worked my butt off and earned a swimming scholarship at Purdue University. I was truly fortunate to earn this scholarship. During this time, I was more fortunate to interact with walk-on swimmers. Walk-on swimmers were some of the hardest working individuals I met, scraping for any improvement at each workout.

Now, college swimmer highlights a lot of the elite swimmers, but there is a role and need for walk-on swimmers as well.

This article discusses how to be a walk-on college swimmer, as we all won't be the next Michael Phelps.

Choosing Your School

Some of you may not have a choice of where you go to school due to finances, location, or education reasons. If you have a choice, I highly recommend looking at schools with a good program for walk-ons.

The best way to choose a school as a walk-on is to assess the size of a team. Men's swimming programs are allotted 9.9 scholarships. If the team has 30 or 40 swimmers, you can do the math and see how many are walk-ons.

You can also look up the athlete bios on the website, sometimes it will say if a swimmer is a walk-on. If it does indicate if a swimmer is a walk-on, checkout the quality of the walk-ons and if any are traveling to their conference meet.

If you have a few schools in mind, contact the head and assistant coach or fill out a recruiting form online. You can find most coaches email addresses in the universities staff directory.

When contacting the coach, express your interest, tell them your times, and ask what is the process for walk-ons.  

Pick the school you feel most comfortable with. Keep in mind, school isn't just swimming, but also a place for enhancing your academic and social life. If you can, visit each school you are considering and see if you can meet the team or schedule a recruiting trip.

Depending on your skill level, the team may not be able to afford your trip. However, most coaches are happy to exchange emails and let you know if you have a chance at walking-on.


Unless the coach indicates you do not have to, you'll have to go through a tryout. This involves practicing with the team during a trial period to determine if you are dedicated and good enough to make the cut. If you have a mediocre talent, preparedness, and speed, you'll be fine.

Unfortunately, many swimmers show up to these "tryouts" out of shape and lazy. Don't worry about this group, be prepared and show that you're ready for some hard training.

Preparing for this is easy – be in-shape. Don't take the summer off or even too much time after your last summer meet. Stay sharp, fit, and ready for the next step.


Although talent is important, I'd say attitude is more important. Whether you have mental sayings or read self help books, you must prepare yourself mentally.

As a walk-on, your attitude will be tested. You'll surely have to work harder than all those talented swimmers, but don't let this bother you. Do whatever you have to do for improvement, whether it is grinding out a hard set, or simply getting in the water first, have the attitude that you'll do anything to get better.

Have a positive attitude, even when times are tough. Remember, you'll improve if you keep putting in the hard work.

Keep yourself honest and don't be content.

If you want the coach to pay more attention to you in practice, get faster, this will get their attention.


Being a walk-on is going to be hard. No matter if you were an all-star in high school or your club team, if you're a walk-on, there are going to be a lot better swimmers on the team.

Often times, your coaches won't give you the time of day, the other swimmers will harass you, and the equipment managers won't help you out.

Many coaches take on walk-ons, then complain about them to their assistant coaches or simply doubt their ability to improve. You may have to share a locker or even worse not even get a locker! Use this as your desire for improvement.

As a walk-on, many coaches and swimmers will view you as a "training partner". Use this as a badge of honor and start training harder, beating the better swimmers. Instead of beating them only during warm-up, start beating them during the main sets.

Remember, life isn't fair - get over this notion now! Genetics, equipment, coaches, money, intelligence is not fair, and either is life. You have to earn the right to be treated fair.

Seize Each Opportunity

You will have few opportunities, but when they come, you better take advantage of them. When you get a chance to swim at a meet, be physically and mentally prepared. Take this as a huge opportunity, if you start beating some people on your team, you'll get more opportunities.

Solidify your Role

A lot of swimmers have dreams of being sprinters or elite at other events. Unfortunately, you have to know your role and solidify it. Maybe you feel you are best at the 100-fly or 50-free. I can guarantee you, there is a better shot at swimming meets if you can improve your 200-fly. This may sound crazy to some of you, but trust me, find a role, no matter the event. Seriously scout the team, find the weakness, and find your role filling this gap.

The Good

Although I just discussed a lot of the hardships as a walk-on, there are positives. Most teams provide free gear to all the swimmers, and this sometimes includes shirts, shoes, etc.

More important than free stuff is the experience. Getting to know a team, getting to push your body to the limit, and seeing improvement is worth all the time, sweat, and pain.

Also, the satisfaction in your life of starting something and finishing it.

Good luck to all your swimmers hoping to walk-on a college swim team.