Swimming has one of the longest seasons in college athletics. The official season may start as early as September and lasts well into March. With the season being long and drawn out, college teams around America divide it up into specific periods. The following is a complete breakdown of a typical collegiate swim season. As far as my knowledge and experience, there are very few variations of this schedule. Most teams closely follow this format.
Pre-Season: One of the shortest parts of the season, this period consists of integrating the new freshmen into the team, adjusting to the start of the school year and preparing for the season ahead. Training in the preseason consists of heavy dryland, lots of cardio and much technique work.
Recruit Season/Fall Dual Meet Season: This part makes up the largest section of a college season. By now, teams have settled into a steady training schedule with a few dual meets sprinkled throughout the weekends. During this time, the school will also have potential student athletes visit campus. These recruit trips often become the focus of the fall semester, as teams focus on bringing in a strong group of athletes to join and strengthen their current roster.
Winter Invites: This portion of the season is the first opportunity teams have to rest for a swim meet. Winter Invites are used to see where exactly a team is in their fitness and racing. Often, this is where swimmers will try and qualify for the NCAA Championships. Though most teams will taper for their winter invite, many will not taper fully. Regardless of the extent of the taper, Winter Invites are always a nice break from the demanding training season.
Winter Training: Winter Training is the most mentally and physically challenging part of a swimmer’s year. With school finished for the fall, swimmers are expected to dedicate their full time and energy to training. Traditionally, Winter Training is the hardest grouping of practices. How a swimmer mentally approaches Winter Training can often define the final outcome of the swimmer’s season.
Taper/Spring Dual Meets: Ask any swimmer what the best part of the sport is and they will all have the same answer: taper. After weeks of grueling winter training, swimmers are rewarded with the lightened workload of taper. A few final meets are often held in early spring to fine tune swimmers’ race technique and strategy.
Championship Season: This is endpoint of any swimmer’s year. Some swimmers will focus all of their final efforts on their respective conference championships, while the more elite will have the NCAA Championships in sight. No matter which meet they choose to focus on, the end of the season means that it is time to fully rest and apply each swimmer’s final level of fitness to the races they are swimming. Championship Season is one heavy of emotion, but it is also the time that drives swimmers to continue to seek greatness in the sport they love.