Welcome to Interview #41.
I am excited to present to you NCAA Division 3 Swimming and Diving Coach, Dave Allen of Mount Holyoke College.
Dave Allen enters his 18th season as head coach of the Mount Holyoke College swimming and diving program. His squads have been competitive within the region since he took over in 1998.
Where do Division 3 swimming and diving coaches most often find players for their teams?
I find many of our team members on web based recruiting sites, such as berecruited.com, CaptainU, NCSA, etc. The challenge with swimming and diving is we do not have “showcases” like some other sports. So when we go to a meet, we do not receive information on academics, etc. This makes it more challenging to identify student-athletes that are a good fit for our program. Of course, we have the most success with students that contact us and express interest in Mount Holyoke.
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen? What are the important steps for an athlete to get noticed by you?
The first step is to send an email to the coach or complete our on-line recruiting information page. Most, if not all, colleges now have a link to a questionnaire for recruits.
An e-mail expressing interest is also important. When you email make sure to include a resume with key academic and athletic information. There are many times I get a general e-mail for a recruit and that will be my first request – send me your transcripts, board scores and your best events and times.
Recruiting swimmers is all about recorded data, right? Or is there more to it?
Swimming and diving definitely are based on times and scores, so that is very helpful to start off with, but there is so much more. First, when were those times achieved? How long have you been swimming? I love to find “diamonds in the rough”. People that have not been swimming as long or are a multi-sport athlete. They typically will see the best time drops in college.
Also, how developed is the technique. We work a lot on technique, so swimmers that didn’t have a technique focused coach in high school can also see significant gains in college.
Even more importantly, how does the student fit in academically? Mount Holyoke has a rigorous academic program, so it helps to know their academic background.
Last, how do they fit in with the team? What type of person is she? We have a very supportive/family atmosphere type team. So when recruiting, I look for swimmers and divers that will fit into our team.
Can athletes swim and dive or do they specialize in college?
It is pretty challenging to try to swim and dive in college. We have a good number of people that do other sports – fall and spring, but there is too much conflict between the swimming and diving training during the season.
Why do you think athletes should consider Division 3? What are the benefits of Division 3 specifically?
To me Division 3 is the best of both worlds. You can excel in your sport, and at the same time have a well-rounded educational experience. D3 has fewer weeks of practice, so it is up to the individual athletes to keep in shape during the off season. At the same time, it allows them to be involved in more than just swimming and diving. We have women on our team that are involved in student government, orchestra, college radio, community service, etc. This is really a great component of their education.
Similar question, why should student-athletes consider Division 3? How does the Division 3 experience differ from the Division 1 and 2 experience?
I think one aspect that has changed in D3 in the last decade or two is the level of play. D1 and 2 have always had strong athletic programs, but D3 has really increased exponentially in the level of competition. So an athlete can get the competition they need and the education that will help them in the future.
How do you use social media when recruiting? What is your advice to recruits about their use of social media?
We don’t use social media as much as we should. It’s not that I’m against it, it’s just finding the time to post stories, etc. I maintain our team’s Facebook page and our athletes maintain a Twitter and Instagram page.
The best advice I have as far as social media is think of it as a big “thank you” card. As much as you may want to rant, only post positive stories, pictures etc. Remember there is no such thing as private on the internet.
As an example, I do not follow any of my athlete’s pages (lots of schools/coaches do). I trust that what they post is representative of our program and school. The funny part is Twitter keeps sending me email updates about what’s popular in my “network”. One of my swimmers is constantly in that feed – not because I follow her, but at some point she probably sent something my way. So now I get lots of her tweets unintentionally. So do not for one second think you are only complaining/putting someone down to your friends. It will get out!
What are a few of the most common mistakes that prospective-student athletes make in the college recruiting process?
One mistake is not understanding the process or doing their homework. I get requests about how they can get an athletic scholarship from Mount Holyoke. As a 3 program, we are not allowed to give any aid tied to athletic ability. I also have swimmers that say they are only looking at D1 schools because they are going to get a scholarship, which based on their times or scores, just isn’t going to happen.
I think another common mistake is being too passive. It is a two way street for recruiting, especially at the D3 level. D3 coaches wear “many hats” so often have limited time to recruit. Let the coach know you are still interested and want to hear from them. Or email them with questions you have.
Last, know what you want and let coaches know if you are not interested. Coaches will appreciate knowing you are not interested as soon as possible, so they can focus on other people.
I coached at the Division 3 level for seven years. One of the biggest concerns from parents was financial. Parents would tell me because Division 3 does not offer athletic scholarships they can’t afford it. What would you say to those parents?
First, very few swimmers and divers get a full ride. Most will get a little money to cover books or a small percentage of tuition.
Second, to me, college is an investment and should be looked at that way. Tuition is going to be lower at state colleges and universities, but there is a tradeoff. Mount Holyoke has a student to faculty ratio of 10:1. So students will get to work closely with faculty. All of our classes are taught by faculty not TA’s (which is the norm at larger state schools).
All colleges give out financial aid – about 80% of MHC students receive some type of financial aid. So if you really feel a college is a good fit for you, apply and go through the process of applying for financial aid. You may get enough aid to make it affordable.
Last, many school give out Merit Awards, including Mount Holyoke. So you may qualify for scholarships that will help cover the costs.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
I think the parents are a great resource in the process. At the same time, I want the student to be the driving force. I have had lots of recruits where I talked to the parents, more than the student and that to me is a big warning sign. I talk to parents about our team, expectations and financial information, but I see the student as the main contact throughout the process.
Your players are consistently getting high GPA’s. How are they able to balance athletics and academics? What are some keys to their success?
First, as athletes attending Mount Holyoke, they walk in the door ready to succeed. Swimmers and divers tend to be detail oriented people and work hard in the pool and the classroom. They were successful academically to get accepted to MHC so that carries over when they get here. The students here are also driven academically – they want to do well, so they work hard to be successful in the classroom.
Second, I think being an athlete helps them focus. During our season, they need to stay on task to get things done on time. So they use time in between classes and at night to their advantage. Also, being at a smaller college, most of the team has 1-2 classes together, so they will often get together to study and work on projects.
Last, we strike a balance between what we do academically and athletically. Some swim teams do double practices 4-5 times a week. We limit it to 2 mornings a week where we focus on strength training and dryland. Then we have a great practice in the afternoon.
What are the differences between competing in the pool at the high school or club level and the college level? What do incoming freshmen need to be prepared for?
I think the biggest difference between a club team and a college team is the “team atmosphere”. Many times club teams don’t really focus on the team aspect, which is really important at the college level. To paraphrase one of my swimmers, she had swum on teams all her life but her first year here was the first time she understood what it meant to be on a team.
As far as the difference between high school and college is really the dedication required and the length of the season. High school seasons are usually around 12 weeks long. Division 3 college seasons are 19 weeks, but spread over 22-23 weeks depending on breaks. So it is a much longer season.
I think another important aspect is the first year transition. Going from a supportive home environment, where you have parental involvement to really being on your own is also a challenge. Academically, college professors are also much more hands off, so you need to make sure you are completing assignments on time etc. It doesn’t take long to get behind if you do not stay on top of your schedule and work.
I also think there is a challenge transitioning to a new coach training philosophy as well. Every coach is different and it takes a while to figure out how to work with each individual athlete. So it is usually about half way through the season before I start to feel comfortable with all of the new people on the team!
This year our athletic department has invested in having all the student-athletes complete the DiSC survey, which is a personality inventory. We are also doing education around the results, both as an individual and amongst team members. This has really helped the team atmosphere.
You are in your 18th season at Mount Holyoke. Could you share any examples of how competing at the collegiate level has impacted any of your alumni in their lives after college?
One of the things student athletes do not appreciate is how impactful their athletic experience is. By competing on a team for four years in college you learn team work, perseverance, grit, overcoming obstacles, time management etc. Our Career Development Center does a workshop to help athletes identify these traits and use them in job and graduate school applications and interviews.
So I think the largest impact is on setting yourself apart from the rest of the applicants! Being a 4-year college student-athlete is special.
I think another point is developing lifelong friends. The amount of time a swimming and diving team spends together is incredible. You get to see people at their high points and low points, so that really does help develop lifelong bonds.
One of our alums from 2009 just came by for a visit. She had taken a year “off” to pursue a passion for turtles in the Cape Verde Islands. Unfortunately, she had a challenging experience with her supervisor and she talked about how she used skills she developed as a captain to help work through the issues with her supervisor.
Another swimmer wrote a college essay comparing a study abroad program to swimming the 50 freestyle. She compared going through Denmark’s customs to the start of the race and diving head first into the experience. She went on from there, comparing the middle of the semester to her flip turn and the finish of the race to completing her essay.
Generally, the knowledge the swimmers and divers gain from competing on the team is carried throughout their lives. At our alum meet earlier this semester, we had an alum from 1980 come in and talk about how important the experience was for her and shaped her life. I still keep in touch with people I coached 18 years ago when I first arrived at Mount Holyoke. It truly is a powerful experience.
Bonus Question: Is there anything important that you would like to share directly with high school athletes or swimmers in particular as they navigate the recruiting process?
This can be a crazy intense process, but you will find success at the end. Everyone is looking for the perfect school, but really you can/will make the perfect situation at the school you choose.
Most importantly, visit schools while classes are in session so you can meet the students. They are the ones you will spend most of your time with, so you need to feel comfortable with them. Every campus has a personality – some you will not like and others you will love. You need to experience that before you choose.
The nice part of swimming and diving is you can find a school where you can compete. So if you want to swim/dive in college there is a college where you can do that successfully. Division 3 might be that place.
Last, this is an incredible time in your life and you will go through so many successes, challenges and changes. The best part is you will come out stronger because of all of it.
With Allen at the helm, over 150 College and pool records have fallen, and two athletes have qualified for the NCAA Division III National Championships. He has accumulated a dual meet record of 84-62-1.
Next, take a look at 4 Tips Toward a Great College Athletic Experience.
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