Monday, February 11, 2008
Note: In this blog "you" means the player.
Being recruited by a college to play soccer really just has two components: making sure coaches know you want to be seen and being seen by coaches. However, as rudimentary as it appears, the process is anything but simple. I've been through it once with Bryce and I'm now going through it with Robbie. The learning curve escalates sharply, so hopefully I can pass on a few tidbits for achieving your own college dreams.
An important step to take before even moving ahead to being recruited is to get registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center (https://web1.ncaa.org/eligibilitycenter/common/). Coaches will ask you if and when you registered. Without NCAA approval no coach can put you on the team. The NCAA provides a central location for gathering all your data (grades, test scores, and coursework) while also serving as the judge on eligibility to play in college. Therefore, before you take any ACT or SAT tests, it's a good idea to be registered since you want those test scores sent to the NCAA. There's a spot on your test registration form for putting in the NCAA as one of your "college" choices. There's a one-time fee for registering, but there is also a way for lower income families to get the fee waived. In addition, the NCAA (www.ncaa.org) is a great source of information on the recruiting process. You can download a booklet of the rules for eligibility and for recruitment.
If you want certain schools to show interest in you, you'll need to show interest in them first. Send emails to the coaches in August and September of your junior year. Make the emails personal – in other words don't send out bulk emails. Individual emails require more effort, but have a bigger payoff. Use methods such as addressing the coach directly and then talking about the school and why it interests you: I had a chance to visit your campus last May and thought the new student union was amazing// I want to study engineering and I see your school has one of the top programs// I loved the way the team never lost its cool against Wake Forest and managed to come back and tie. Make sure the coach knows you want to go to University X and not just go anywhere that will take you. Finally apprise the coach of your playing schedule – tournaments, showcases, high school state finals, etc. Once you have a dialog going with the coach, don't be afraid to ask serious questions about the program, your place in the program, and your chances. Remember also that in general the assistant coaches do the initial recruiting. However, I think it's best to write to the head coach and let him or her decide who should be corresponding with you. In some cases all the coaches may end up writing to you. Take that as a huge compliment and a sign that the school is definitely interested in you as a player.
In general coaches can contact you by email and letter no earlier than September 1st of your junior year and by phone no earlier than July 1st between your junior and senior year. However, you can call coaches as much as you want. Although that seems intimidating, it really is a great way to indicate your interest in a program. Plus the coaches can talk to you about how they see you fitting into their program which is valuable information as you begin to make your choices. Coaches are also limited to the number of times they can speak to your parents. This assures that they won't have to deal with "parent agents." Coaches want to recruit the player and not the parent. In fact if parents are too pushy, coaches see that as reluctance on the part of the player to really want to play at the college level.
You will need to make visits to the campuses of schools holding the most interest for you. These visits are classified as unofficial – i.e. you made the choice to go visit – and official – the college invited you to visit. Unless you are Bill Gates' son or daughter, you'll need to limit the unofficial visits due to the expense. So you'll need to carefully consider the schools where you think you have the best chance of being accepted and getting recruited. Coaches can't talk to you off campus until your senior year, so they love to get players to come to campus so that they can talk to you and your parents. In addition visiting the campus gives you a chance to see if you feel you'll fit in. Soccer is wonderful, but ultimately if you don't feel comfortable at the school with its social life and academics, you won't do well.
The biggest advice I can offer is to stay in contact with the coaches. If they write to you and you don't write back, they wipe you off their lists and move on and the opportunity is gone. If write for a while and then lapse, again the coaches may just move on. They have a limited window of opportunity to pursue certain players and if they don't get enough nibbles, they move on to hungrier prey. On the other hand, it's tough to stay on top of it if you have several coaches interested in you, so just make it a habit to take a hour on Sunday evening to send short emails to the coaches indicating you still have an interest. Again keep the emails personal, but they don't need to be elaborate. One or two quick lines let the coaches know that despite your busy schedule you have the time to write. They'll appreciate that.
Once you let coaches know you want to be seen, you'll need to get to the places where coaches can see you. There are three methods: least efficient, possibly efficient, and very efficient. Camps are the least efficient means for being seen by coaches both from a cost perspective and for the number of schools represented. Most college programs offer camps throughout the winter, spring and summer as a means of seeing players and bringing in revenue to the program. If you have a particular college you want to attend, camps offer the possibility of both getting in an unofficial visit to the campus and having the coaching staff of that university see you play. But it comes with a price tag. Resident camps cost around $550 for three or four days. Day camps at local campuses that have a cost around $100 give you a quick taste of the program and the school. As a selling point these camps may state that coaches from other schools will be present, but we are talking just a handful, compared to what you would get at a college showcase tournament. So in general camps are not a very efficient means for getting seen.
I'll skip to the most efficient means because it helps set the stage for the possibly efficient method. College showcase tournaments are the bread and butter of recruiters. It's an opportunity for them to see the top teams in the country (and by logical extension the top players in the country) by traveling to one venue. Recruiting budgets are small, so coaches need to be as efficient as the players in deciding where to go to recruit. The downside for the player is that most of these tournaments use a ranking system to decide which teams get accepted. Tournament committees will look at who got to state finals, regionals, and nationals, who won or came in second at other top tournaments, and at the overall club (can they get six teams from a club to qualify for entrance). This leaves plenty of good teams and players out of the running. Nevertheless, college showcases are the best place to be if you want coaches to see you. So how do you get there?
First, when you tryout for a team at U15, U16, and U17 play ask the coaches, the club president, and the parents and players how serious they are about playing college soccer. If a coach or a club isn't committed to getting players to the next level, you probably won't get the opportunity to go to a showcase. If the players and their parents aren't committed to playing college soccer, then they will look at tournament choices purely on an economic basis, not on an advancement level. Look at the club's website to see if they list the players who have moved on to college. That gives you a good indication that they are serious. So pick your club well! Second once you get on a team, encourage the coach and team administrator to apply for the top tournaments. Sometimes they are reluctant because they believe they won't be accepted. In the end, it's no harm no foul as you'll get your money back if not accepted. When I worked for US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program I often got calls from very prestigious tournaments asking if I knew of any good U16 or U17 teams that they could add because they wanted to make an additional bracket. So don't sell your team short – apply even if you don't think you have a chance. Third, work hard to win those accolades that will get your team in these tournaments.
All is not lost if you can't get into the top national tournaments. There are plenty of local tournaments that attract local college coaches. You may not be seen by a California school if you live in Wisconsin, but you will certainly be seen by coaches from Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota. Lists of tournaments can be found on the internet through state soccer organizations and tournament guides. Some of the top tournaments to consider are Dallas Cup, Blue Chip, Disney College Showcase, Surf Cup and the Final Four. But every state offers strong showcase tournaments such as Metro FC, John Talley, KISS, and others. So check websites and tournament listings to find tournaments that your team can qualify for and enter.
Once you get into a tournament, go to the tournament website and see which colleges have indicated they are sending representatives. Then write to the colleges you have an interest in. It doesn't hurt to submit a copy of your unofficial transcript in the email and list any test scores if you have taken the ACT or SAT. Whatever you do, don't inflate your grade point or test scores in hopes of getting a coach to see you. Coaches have strict standards they have to meet with the admission's department and no coach appreciates having his or her time wasted by a player they have no hope of admitting. Likewise, only write to those schools in which you have a serious interest. While you may hate to cut off an opportunity, if you know a school doesn't have your major or is too big or too small for your tastes, then don't "tease" them. The pleasant surprise is that you may get several schools that express an interest in you that you didn't even write to. Remember your teammates are asking coaches to come watch them, which means the coaches are watching you as well. My son Bryce ended up at a school he never contacted to come watch him! In addition prepare a profile sheet for the players on your team that the team administrator can hand out to the coaches on the sidelines. Don't do a booklet as coaches can't use that as efficiently. Instead, prepare a sheet landscape mode that lists the uniform number, player name, position, address, phone number, email, GPA, and test scores. Leave a column at the end where the coach can make notes. Anything else the coach needs he or she will get directly from the player once they contact him or her.
Now there is also a possibly efficient means of being seen. Since you may not have the opportunity to play on a team that gets selected to these college showcases, you can still get to these tournaments as a guest player. Most of the major tournament websites offer a link where you can register as a guest player or where you can contact teams that have asked for guest players. Usually the guest player form asks for things like position, years played, and some statistics. Don't oversell yourself. Coaches are leery of a "too good to be true" player. Be honest and forthright, but don't brag. The upside of being a guest player is that you get to the major tournaments. The downside of being a guest player is that you are not guaranteed any playing time at all. Therefore give the coach a reason to put you in. Let the coach know which college coaches have indicated that they will watch you play. That means that the team players will also be seen by these coaches, so it's to the team's advantage to give you some playing time. In addition be honest with the team coach about your intentions. You want to play to be seen to be recruited. Don't be afraid to ask the coach about playing time. Most college showcase tournaments are simply round-robin festivals without winners which allow coaches to play everyone without worrying about "success." So that makes it more likely that even guest players would get playing time. Just remember to also ask your own club coach for permission to apply to be a guest player. In some cases guest teams may be affiliated with national soccer organizations for which you do not have a pass. In those cases the guest team administrator can usually get you hooked up with a pass pretty quickly. Faxes and the internet certainly help to speed up the process.
Just remember that college coaches need to recruit the best players they can to their teams, but that doesn't mean that they won't have to look deeply into the ranks of teams to find those players. You need to be sure to make yourself evident to the coaches. This isn't the time to be shy or modest. It's about selling yourself. Coaches are looking for players who have the confidence to make the sale. So get out there and promote yourself!