Monday, August 15, 2016
As I sat in the bleachers at a recent adult game, the coach’s father and I were talking about several of the players on the home team. They came from local colleges and universities, some graduated and some still playing for their school. We were also talking about my sons, Robbie and Bryce, and the coach’s father was interested in knowing if they had played with or against any of those players. A dad sitting next to us, overheard and immediately wanted to engage me in conversation. He said, “Your boys played for University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee? My son played with the team this summer.” I was confused until he explained that his son had attended a soccer camp at the university and, dad announced proudly, had even scored a goal. “He’s just a sophomore, so he’s doing well to be recruited by the school.”
It was neither the time nor the place to explain him the realities of recruitment and summer soccer camps, but it pointed out to me once again how few parents who want their kids to play college sports actually understand the process of being recruited and hopefully signed. I blame the high schools and the soccer clubs for not educating their players and parents. I’m especially disappointed in the clubs where parents invest a boatload of money, so they should expect someone to mentor players through the procedures and rules of what can be an extremely complex and difficult course. There are a number of opportunities for kids who want to play at the next level, but schools and clubs seem to only concentrate on the players that they think can play NCAA Division I sports. Besides the three divisions of NCAA, there is the NAIA and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). Most of the recruiting steps are similar for each of these but the dates for contact, dead period, and quiet period will differ. All of the rules are online by going to the association website.
I can’t possibly cover all the complexities of being recruited in this blog, but I can cover the highlights, especially the things students and parents can do to increase the odds of being evaluated and recruited. It’s important to make the distinction between these two elements. Evaluation goes on through avenues which are both official and unofficial. Being evaluated is a long ways from being recruited.
Camps: Most colleges and universities offer summer camps for high school students. Camps can be expensive, especially if they are a long distance from home. Nevertheless, they’re a great opportunity for kids if the family can afford it because it gives them a peek into the college soccer experience while indicating their interest in a school. However, don’t read too much into being invited to a camp. Most schools use the mailing list of the state youth soccer association, high school teams, and recreation programs.
College Showcase Tournaments: Every club should enter their Under-15, Under-16, and Under-17 teams in at least one college showcase a year. These tournaments have competitive entry requirements, but if they don’t fill all their slots, they will lower the bar to get enough teams in. College coaches regularly attend the top tournaments. If your club doesn’t enter these tournaments, you might look for another more aggressive club or you can put your player on a list to be a guest player for teams that are attending. Since these trips can be expensive for families, teams may find themselves several players short and need someone to fill in at the last minute. Most tournaments maintain a list on their website and teams do regularly peruse the list. If you are planning a trip to Disney World during the time of a tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports, placing your son or daughter’s name on the list would be a great idea. More importantly, you need to be proactive in getting your club to attend these tournaments. Likewise, high schools will often play out-of-state games or attend a tournament to give their players exposure to coaches. Talk to the athletic director to see if your school could possibly do the same. You may find yourself in charge of a fundraiser!
High School Games: Local colleges and universities regularly have their coaches attending high school games and tournaments. They usually can’t talk to students as that is heavily restricted, but they will roam the edges of the pitch or sit quietly in the back of the bleachers watching and taking notes.
Athletes’ Role in Recruiting
Research: Just as students research choices in higher education to find a match academically, socially and financially, athletes need to do the same to find the right fit for their abilities. Talking to only the coaches of the top 20 Division I teams certainly is exciting, but remarkably unwise. Players need to decide if they would be happy playing at Division I, which is like a full-time job on top of academics and if they would be happy with a particular coach. The best advice I can give is to attend games for as many, if not all, the schools an athlete is considering. That’s a great way to judge if the team is the right fit. They should carefully watch how the players in their position are used. Every athlete should ask him- or herself if they match up in skills, tactics and philosophy. Being recruited outside of an athlete’s immediate geographic area is also difficult because coaches have limited travel budgets to come evaluate players. That’s why college showcases become so important. Students should look closely at the rosters of the schools that interest them to see where the players come from. These rosters and student bios can be found on the school’s athletic website. If schools seem to only recruit locally, then an athlete from 1,000 miles away may be at a disadvantage. In the end athletes need to look at all levels and associations.
Email: Students should contact coaches as soon as they feel they are in a position to show themselves well. Initial emails should include a playing resume, a photo, interests outside of soccer, grade point average and ACT/SAT scores, and a schedule of their high school and club games. Coaches want to see that an athlete has selected a school thoughtfully, rather than just sending out dozens of blind emails, so senders should indicate why they picked this school. Examples include: “I was impressed with how the team came back from that 0-2 deficit against Illinois to win 3-2. I saw the kind of determination and never say die attitude that I try to keep when I play,” or “I got to visit Washington University this summer and felt so comfortable on the campus and in the community.” Encourage your club to maintain a spreadsheet of schools, links to their websites, coaches and appropriate emails that can be distributed online to every player. Coaches can change suddenly, so the list needs to be updated often. It would be embarrassing, not to mention an indication that an athlete isn’t really following a team, to send an email to an old coach rather than the new coach. Follow up all emails with a phone call a week or two after they have been sent. Coaches may not yet be able to talk, but a call will indicate a serious interest and give the player a chance to reinforce that an email was sent for the coach to check out. Finally, don’t send any video until requested. We went with my son, Bryce, to his interview at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, and I was astounded to see two garbage cans filled to the brim with DVDs. When I asked I was told no coach has time to look at all those videos, so they are tossed immediately. They ask when they are ready to move ahead with a player.
Application: Serious athletes should fill out entrance applications to the schools they are most interested in. Don’t believe the myth that if a coach wants a player, he or she can pull strings to get them admitted. If your player falls below the academic requirements of a school, chances are the coach will have to pass. So work closely with the high school guidance counselor. Have your son or daughter go over all the schools they are looking at for soccer and see if they are realistic choices academically. Counselors should have some experience with student-athletes and can be a valuable resource in moving to the goal of playing college soccer. Waiting until a student gets recruited to apply for entrance to the school can delay everything including the possibility of a scholarship and additional monies beyond athletic funds that coaches can find for an admitted student.
Coaches’ Role in Recruiting:
Club and High School Coaches: They should have contacts with at least the local institutions and possibly with other schools. Coaches need to discuss with all their players where each should reasonably seek recruitment. Coaches should be willing to write letters to college coaches and to help provide game film. Coaches should be willing to take their players to tournaments and games where the players can be seen by scouts. Most importantly every coach of an Under-15 through Under-17 team has to hold an informational meeting for the players and their parents about how to be recruited, what deadlines must be met, best ways to contact college coaches as well as example emails and resumes. Even better, a club should set up a spot on their website that college coaches can access on which every player can post their resume, picture and vital statistics. There are plenty of services willing to do this for reasonable fees which will either maintain a reporting site that coaches can access or set up such a service directly on the club website.
College Coaches: Here’s the tricky part. College coaches operate under some really restrictive and strongly enforced rules in the NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA. Therefore, no athlete should assume that they aren’t on a coach’s radar just because they haven’t heard anything. These rules are detailed on the NCAA web site (web3.ncaa.org/lsdbi/search/bylawView?id=8749#result) which are similar for all levels and associations. The language is very dense and complex, so there’s also an overview of the rules on Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NCAA_student-athlete_recruiting). Coaches can invite athletes to their schools with either an unofficial or an official visit. In the former there can be no financial advantage to the student other than three tickets to a game. In an official visit the school can pay for transportation to and from the campus, meals and lodging. This is obviously a much more serious invite and usually proceeds discussions of commitment. Coaches can talk to athletes who come to the campus essentially any time they want with a few periods where no communication is allowed. That’s why they can run camps and why independently visiting a school without an invitation can be important.
Parents’ Role in Recruiting
Coordination: Parents can be proactive by coordinating their players’ clubs and high schools to provide the opportunities needed in order to be evaluated. Encourage that your club offer showcase tournaments to their teams and make the effort to qualify for the best tournaments. Check with the high school coaches and athletic director to see if the possibility exists to participate in games or tournaments outside of your conference in order to provide more exposure for the players. Robbie and Bryce’s high school was Jesuit and participated in a yearly tournament with three other Jesuit schools from Kansas City, Denver and Washington D.C. with each school rotating as hosts. The tournament would attract several local college scouts which was great for all the players involved. Parents also need to help coordinate visits to campuses, emails, applications and collecting the supporting materials to give to coaches. Many showcase tournaments use or sponsor websites where players upload all their statistics, game film, transcripts and test scores. That’s a great service that players can then refer to and provide a link when they email coaches. Since game film will be ultimately requested, parents can coordinate the collection of that video either by filming games themselves or locating game films. Many tournaments offer professional game tapes and high schools generally tape every game. Video needs to be of good quality, so no cell phone offerings. Throughout the process parents need to encourage and insure that kids don’t give up too easily.
Realism: Recruitment is not the time to see stars. It’s important that parents be good evaluators themselves, doing honest appraisals of their players’ talents. When I coordinated Wisconsin ODP, I had a dad call me after his son wasn’t selected for the State team. He capped off his enraged diatribe with the statement, “My son is going to play Division I soccer.” Parents need to keep options open and not see it as a defeat or some kind of shame to play anything but DI soccer. College soccer is a great way to enter school with a ready troupe of friends, a purpose, and a staff dedicated to maintaining grades. Finally parents need to be realistic about what type of scholarship may or may not be available. DI soccer scholarships are limited to 9.9 full-time for men at DI (NJCAA offers 18) and 14 full-time for women in D1. With squads of up to thirty players, you can see that earning a full scholarship isn’t in the cards for all but the very elite recruited DI player. Therefore parents need to be prepared to seek other grants, scholarships and/or loans to pay for college. If your player is recruited by an out-of-state public school or a private school you’ll either have an out-of-state tuition supplement (which can be more than double the in-state) or a huge private tuition bill beyond an athletic scholarship. That may mean nixing some choices for your player.
Being evaluated is a great honor and should be considered a very important first step in the recruitment process. However dozens of players are evaluated for every player who is even invited for an unofficial visit. So to keep the process going, don’t settle on the laurels of getting invited to a camp or hearing back from a coach. Ultimately it will be passion and perseverance that tip the scales. Players need to participate in as much soccer as possible in order to make their resume show both talent and involvement. Guest play whenever possible, do summer leagues if available and work on conditioning. Most importantly be sure to build on every accomplishment. If a coach contacts an athlete, the player should answer back as soon as possible, especially if the coach asks a specific question. Remind coaches of the times and fields for the team at tournaments. If an athlete attends a camp, build on that by sending a thank you note to the coach, affirming interest in the college, and reminding the coach of what the player accomplished at the camp. When there are 100 kids running around in similar t-shirts they are often only distinguishable by what they do. Don’t worry about “bothering” a coach. Every coach has a delete button on his or her computer, so if they don’t want to read an email, they won’t. The player’s job in the recruitment game is to be a gnat, constantly reminding the coach they’re still around. Finally, get educated about the process. If you don’t know the dates and deadlines, you could miss out or falter. Visit the different association websites. For NCAA, the calendar, links to rules and an overview of the process can be found at www.ncaa.org/student-athletes/resources/recruiting-calendars. Good luck!