Conservatively there are over 900 men's college soccer programs taking into account NCAA's Divisions I, II and III and the NAIA. Women have over 650 college soccer programs in the same group. Add to this mix the Christian College Conference, Junior Colleges, and a host of independent college soccer programs and you'll end up with nearly double the numbers. Assuming that colleges need to fill around six spots on their teams each year, you end up with close to 10,000 male and 7,500 female soccer players needed each year to fill the college soccer ranks. Therefore, if your son or daughter wants to play college soccer, chances are he or she can. The trick is finding the right fit with the coach, the school, and the major. Plus you can't just leap into this search in the summer between sophomore and junior years in college and expect to come out at the end with a roster spot. You need a plan, and you need to initiate it in your child's freshman year. More importantly, you need your soccer club to help your player find the right program.
College searches usually begin just before or during the junior year, but to find a college where a student can also play soccer requires earlier planning. A great place to start is on the major amateur athletic Web sites: www.ncaa.org
(National College Athletic Association), www.naia.org
(National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics), www.nccaa.org
(National Christian College Athletic Association), and www.njcaa.org
(National Junior College Athletic Association). These Web sites list all the college soccer programs, links to these programs, and information on qualification requirements. As you look through these lists, consider issues of in-state vs. out of state, school size, academic rigor, and successful soccer programs. Create your own list of up to 50 schools with a variety of options. Research the schools' academic and athletic programs so that you can narrow down your search to a dozen. Then write to the soccer coaches and request an unofficial visit as soon as you can. These visits can help you narrow down your choices even further since the coaches can be very frank with your family about the possibility of joining the soccer team and your player can see if he or she feels comfortable with both the coach and the campus. Stay in contact with the coaches you meet because that's the way you let them know that you are truly interested in the program. Send emails after a game to congratulate the team on a strong victory or to commiserate with them over an unexpected defeat.
All of this research and all of these visits will do you no good if the coaches don't have an opportunity to see players in action. Here's where your club is of utmost importance. If your son or daughter is playing in a select club, you should expect the following from your club. First, they should be taking the team to the best soccer showcases they can enter beginning with U-14 for girls and with U-15 for boys. You should attend one or two showcases the first year and then at least three in the following years. Second, your club should have a Web site with player profiles that coaches can access through a password, and your club should be printing off a booklet of profiles to hand out to college coaches at the tournaments. Third, your club should hold college recruiting seminars every spring and fall and provide an excel spreadsheet to every player of regional colleges with coaches' email addresses set up as links. Fourth, prior to every tournament, the club will receive a list of college coaches who have registered to be in attendance. They should pass that list on to the players in the form of another spreadsheet with linked email addresses so players can invite coaches to come to their games. Fifth, when asked, your coach should be able to provide for you a letter of recommendation. Sixth, your team manager or a designated parent should be keeping statistics of every game so that you will have an easily accessed record of both the team's accomplishments and individual player accomplishments. Finally your club should have strong contacts with local college coaches facilitating conversations about potential recruits from the club. Your club should be "selling" your son or daughter every opportunity it has.
Too many clubs neglect the next step that a player can take in soccer. They fail to realize that part of development is helping the player move forward beyond the club. On the other hand, most clubs recognize the marketing value of a player who moves on to college soccer as evidenced by such listings on their Web sites. Some clubs just aren't willing to make the investment necessary to assist all interested players in getting to the next level. It's a shame because so many good players end up abandoning their soccer careers at high school graduation or praying that a walk-on tryout will result in a roster spot.
Given the numbers, playing college soccer can be a very real possibility for many kids. Division I soccer could be difficult to attain, but terrific opportunities exist at Division II and III as well as through other college and junior college athletic associations. However, you'll need good planning, perseverance, and strong support from your club. Don't be shy about asking what the club is willing to do for your player and don't be shy about encouraging the club to do more. They are the conduit through which your player may or may not pass into college soccer. A club's neglect of this conduit shouldn't be acceptable. If they want to list the players who move on to college soccer, then they need to be willing to provide the support to make it happen.