Michigan swimmers and divers spend almost as much time on the podium as they do in the pool. Evidencing Big Blue’s golden tradition: more than 10 National Championships, 33 Big Ten team titles and 145 NCAA individual titles. A glance at the men’s team roster reveals that most of the Wolverines hail from premier swim clubs. Head coach Mike Bottom explains the value of these clubs in his recruiting process.
STACK: What qualities are important when you evaluate prospective recruits?
Mike Bottom: One, we look at their times. We look at how they’re set up against the country and the rest of the world, because we recruit from all over the world. Then we look at their grades and their [test] scores. We look at some of their activities outside of swimming, [such as] their leadership activities, if they’re captain of their swim team, if they’re [involved] in student council [and] if they’re doing some community work.
We need guys that are fast…If we’re going to try to win an NCAA championship, we have to have the best swimmers. More than other top 10 programs, I think we will look at an athlete’s potential. If an athlete has a great heart, that’s a great thing. But, also, how tall is he? What is his muscle structure like? What is his stroke like? And his feel for the water?
Do you check an athlete’s grades to make sure he meets Michigan’s academic standards?
MB: Yes. It is harder to get a guy into Michigan than it is to get him to want to come to Michigan. I can sell Michigan. The hardest job I have is to sell the Admissions [Office] on my athletes. To do that, I need their help. I need them to have good grades and good scores.
Explain the importance of being involved with a club team during high school.
MB: It’s very rare that you see a great swimmer come [straight] out [of] a high school program. If you’re not swimming year-round, most likely you’re not competing at the level we need. When [swimmers] come to Michigan, [they] compete against the best in the world, not just the best in the country. We have to go against some of the great universities that have guys from everywhere. [Athletes] need to be race-seasoned when they come here…The more competitive experience you have, the better you’re going to fit in here.
How does swimming year-round help an athlete?
MB: The focus has to be on getting better…If a person just swims for [a] high school [team], which is three months a year, even if [he has] a lot of talent, I have to look at the person [and ask], “What are you doing to get better?”
What should a swimmer keep in mind when looking for a club team to join?
MB: A lot of it has to do with what’s available… You have to go where there’s a club. And if there’s a 50-meter pool nearby, you want to attach yourself to it.