Your son or daughter wants to play college soccer—how do you make that happen? Will it happen? If it does, what does that mean for your player and your family? Getting recruited doesn’t mean sitting back and letting your child’s statistics speak for them. Having a college coach develop an interest requires some hard selling unless your child happens to be on the National Team. Even Regional Team players find themselves in the position of hustling to be noticed. You need to start early and you need to be tenacious.
First the good news: As long as you keep your options open your child has an excellent chance of getting on a college team. Girls have an advantage because there are more women’s college soccer programs than men’s. This is due to Title IX and the need to offset football programs. Obviously, if you look primarily at schools without a football team you are more likely to find men’s soccer teams. The other consideration is Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 in the NCAA and the NAIA. I know most kids and parents see NCAA Division 1 as the only option but by narrowing your options so much you may be denying your child the opportunity to play college soccer. There are schools out there that go begging every year for quality players who might be able to find your child more than just an athletic scholarship because they want him or her badly. Bryce was offered $32,000 a year by a Division 2 school with $34,000 of expenses. He eventually turned down the offer to play for a Division 1 school with even more expenses and only a $7500 offer. He based his decision on location and major.
That’s the next most important consideration. When Bryce was visiting University of Wisconsin, which is in the middle of Wisconsin on a small lake, the coach told the story of kid they were recruiting. They thought they had reached an agreement and the coach was so excited to get the guy. At the end, he asked the player what he was planning to major in. "Marine Biology," was his reply. That was the end of the negotiations. Pick schools to pursue based on going to that school, not on the team. This means, of course, in the topsy-turvy world of college sports that the number one team in the country might be 50th the next year due to loss of players and/or personnel. Coaches get fired, move to new teams, quit, or retire. The team you fell in love with may not be the team that exists by the time your player joins it. Robbie’s college team has had three head coaches in four years. So once again, make your choice based on the school, members of the team you might respect and whether or not you want to be close enough to go to the games. Everything else can change in a heartbeat.
In picking schools ask the important questions. Does your child feel comfortable at a school with 48,000 students? Is he or she comfortable living a long distance from home? What does your child want to major in? Would your player be better off being on a great team with little playing time or a weaker team where he or she could be a significant player? What living arrangements does the school offer? Will that be comfortable for your child? Don’t get stars in your eyes and be blinded to the more important factors. If your child spends a season on the bench because of injury, will he or she still love the school experience? Will the school be too tough for your player to handle both soccer and academics? Remember, there are academic standards for playing sports that can end up costing your son or daughter a season if he or she can’t keep up.
Remember also that there are three divisions in NCAA and there is another college league, NAIA, which also has three divisions. Don’t rule out non-Division 1 schools. Division 3 in the NCAA and NAIA can’t offer athletic scholarships, but they have other resources and may actually be able to give your child more money to attend school than the schools who can give athletic scholarships. Likewise, Ivy League schools don’t offer athletic scholarships, putting their emphasis on academics. Less than 1% of scholarships are what is considered "full ride" and in soccer that hardly ever happens. Instead, soccer splits around 9.5 scholarships among all the men soccer players on a team and 12.5 scholarships among all the women players on a team. Since most soccer teams carry 25 to 32 players you can see that the money isn’t great. In fact, in all of the NCAA there are only 138,000 full scholarships for Division 1 and 2 and most of those go to football players. In the NAIA the standards to get an athletic scholarship are less stringent, so your child is more likely to qualify. You also need to remember that scholarships are renewed each year at the coach’s discretion. If your player spends a lot of time on the bench he or she is likely to see the scholarship dwindle to make more money available for "performers."
Begin your college search early so you can "market" your player properly. Locate a variety of teams at all levels and in all leagues. I would say 20 to 30 teams to begin with. Eventually, you’ll narrow these choices down. Be sure you have up-to-date emails for all head coaches and assistant coaches. Head coaches make the final choices but assistant coaches do most of the active recruiting. Letting schools know you are interested in their program is the first step. end to all the coaches an email that includes why you like the school, the location, the academics, and the soccer program. Personalize the email by showing that you have paid attention to what is happening on the team. Note the skills of a particular player or talk about a recent game. Coaches want to know that you are truly interested in their team and not just blindly emailing every school in a 200 mile radius. Start this process in the sophomore year. Your soccer team should be attending at least two college recruiting tournaments a year, so let the coaches know when and where the team will be playing and once you know the schedule, send that along as well. You can contact coaches by email and phone as much as you want under NCAA rules, but they have very strict rules about how much they can contact you, including returning phone calls. I recommend having your child do the contacting. Even if a coach doesn’t reply, keep sending emails. One a week wouldn’t be out of line. Coaches can push delete. A player is considered a sophomore until September 1st of the junior year which is when coaches can contact him or her. This is when the emails can build up in your account. Your child may get emails from schools you never considered so be sure to look them up and find out if their interest in you should be met by your interest in them. Remember, it’s a bird in the hand kind of situation.
It would be a good idea to create a DVD of some of your child’s highlights. Don’t send it until it is requested. We visited IUPUI and saw a 33 gallon trash can in the coaches office overflowing with DVDs. They don’t have time to watch except the ones they request. Include both club and high school highlights and a stat sheet. Start keeping stats freshman year. Don’t include stats before then. Coaches aren’t interested because the competition can’t be trusted. On the back of the stat sheet do a resume with a photo. In the resume give facts such as GPA, SAT, ACT scores, outside service, school awards, interests, and family contact information. Update the DVD and sheet regularly. Usually when you attend a college recruiting tournament, the sponsor will offer the opportunity to post your child’s resume, stats, and photo on a website where coaches can download the information. Bryce actually got recruited this way. The coaches of his school came to see a player on the opposing team, saw Bryce play, were impressed and looked him up. So have a photo and information you can easily upload to these sites.
Don’t give up if you really want to play at a particular school. Robbie emailed his top school every week and never heard back from them. We sent him to the camp they sponsored along with nine other schools. He ended up being named MVP of the camp and got recruited on the spot by the school and two others. I don’t recommend going to lots of camps as they are expensive and sometimes schools are already done recruiting. But if players have a top school that has been ignoring them, then why not? There are 250,000 seniors playing high school football and only 19,800 available scholarships. Image how much worse it is for soccer players. Therefore, don’t fight for a school because you think there will be money. Since your child should be picking a school on academics, he or she could go to the school and then "walk on" which means requesting that the coach allow him or her to practice with the team in the hopes of making a positive impression. Some coaches don’t allow any walk-ons, so find out what the coach’s policy is before planning on this strategy. Also, some coaches will only allow walk-ons during spring season. Your chances may be slim, but with some confidence it could be the best option. Many colleges have a club team, so consider joining that as coaches have been known to show up at a game to watch for talent.
At the aforementioned camp one of the schools which was actively recruiting Robbie was an NCAA Division 3 school which consistently ranks number one in the country and has won numerous national championships. He loved the coach and the school was excellent academically. However it was in Texas, way outside Robbie’s comfort zone. He will never be in a national championship with his present college team, so he can be a bit wistful about passing up the opportunity. As you help your child search for a school, keep that kind of experience in mind. There may be more opportunities for success and national recognition with a smaller school and a different division. Decisions about who gets invited to professional combines often come down to a player’s position in his or her college league. Being a big fish in a smaller pond could prove to be more effective than being a big fish in huge pond. An excellent player might get dwarfed by a ton of other excellent players. Depending on your child’s aspirations you might want to keep future opportunities in your considerations.
Finally, remember that if you look to a variety of choices for schools and teams you have the best chance of landing both a spot on a team and a scholarship. Most decisions are made before the beginning of senior year, which is why you need to start early. Girls with a spring soccer season often have their decisions made before January of their junior year. These will all be verbal decisions. Nothing is set in stone until national signing day and even then I’ve heard of players reneging with consequences. Until signing day, there’s a gentleman’s agreement which can be disrupted, but is rarely. Usually a player has to do something unusual to prompt a school to reconsider or a new, better offer has to come in for a player to want to change schools. This rarely happens because if a school really wants your son or daughter the school will speak up earlier. Most importantly, don’t waste a coach’s time. Remember, if your student doesn’t meet the minimum academic requirements for the school he or she won’t get in. Soccer coaches don’t have that kind of pull with admissions and they worry that your child won’t be able to handle the academics and will become ineligible. Don’t think your superstar soccer player will be attending Notre Dame if his or her grade point average is 2.5. Coaches talk to each other, so they may end up discussing your son’s or daughter’s record. Don’t lie on the stats or the resume. Coaches are very astute and have ways of getting stats from high school, club and tournament websites. They do their homework and won’t take kindly to being duped. No matter what responses you get, if your child wants to play college soccer I can nearly guarantee there will be a match out there. You have to plug away, which means starting early enough to give your player a chance to discover and stretch out the options.