For many players, playing soccer for their college is a dream. This article is about how to get there.
Below you're going to find a collection of video and linked resources that will get you well on your way to:
Get to Know the NCAA
Whether you're interested in soccer, football, swimming, basketball, or some other sport, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a good place to start. There are plenty of paid services that would happily insert themselves (for a fee) between you and the NCAA, but why use a middle man? The NCAA publishes the rules for how and when colleges can make contact with athletes, it has guidance for coaches, it's realistic about the academic and athletic requirements an athlete must meet in order to be eligible, and it even offers a checklist and an elligibility center to help you navigate the process.
Get to Know the Process
The more you know about the process that get's an athlete selected (or rejected), the better prepared you are to navigate it. Just as i would never recommend jumping on a rubber raft and trying to run the Colorado river without a map and some careful preparation, I would not recommend putting in to the river of athletes trying to get a spot on a college team. The odds do not favor the unprepared.
You need to know, for example:
- What life is like for the coach you want to go play for. How many days per week does he or she get 100+ emails from students just like you who want to play on the team? What is likely to get the coach's attention in a positive way?
- What are the rules for contacting colleges or for colleges to contact you? How often and how can you legally communicate?
- What kind of academic and athletic performance is expected at the schools(s) you want to go to? Hint: you can be the greatest athlete, but if you don't have the grades that meet the school standards, then your chances of being cut just went up!
- What are legitimately helpful services and those that just take your money?
- How do you make yourself look good on paper and on film?
- What is a highlight video?
The down selection process is meant to reduce huge numbers (tens or hundreds of thousands of candidates) down to a handful of final picks. It's meant to be brutal. If you're not familiar with the rules, but your competitor is, who do you think is going to have a better shot at surviving that?
If there are two slots available on a team you're interested in and there are 1,000 applicants, your chances of getting one of those spots starts at 2/1,000 or .2%. Not 2%. <point> 2% - like less than 1%! Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to do everything you can do from your sophomore year through your senior year to improve those odds.
You need to know that schools are going to be looking carefully at some key points:
- Ability - do you have the athletic and academic ability the school needs? Athletics aren't just about kicking a ball into the net. They include composure, ethics, leadership, attitude, and perseverance. Academics need to be at or above school standards or buy bye...
- Do they have a spot on the roster? If you're the best keeper in the world and the team needs a striker, you're out. If the team needs a box-to-box midfielders #8 and you're lightning fast on the wing but can't keep it up for more than 20 seconds, you're out. Schools will be looking to fill their needs.
- How well can you complete your questionnaire? If you're in the running, you'll likely be getting a questionnaire about half-way through screening. If you don't turn that in, the answer is easy - you're cut. If you turn it in and it looks like a kindergarten student sneezed with a crayon, you're cut. If your answers are thoughtful and accurate, you might get to move on.
- Can you handle the phone? For many kids today, talking on the phone has been replaced by texting or snap chatting. When your potential new coach calls, he or she won't be amused by filter voices or teddy bear ears. They want to see how well you conduct yourself on the phone. How do you conduct yourself? Are you polite and professional, or do you refer to them by animal names and suggest they hit you back when your video game is over?
- Do you have a 2-3 minute highlight video? I'm not talking about some cheeseball video of a blue spec kicking a ball with a red spec that leaves a reviewer wondering which athlete are you. I'm suggesting clearly annotated performance (supported by notes) - hopefully your best performances. That means, of course, having video cameras rolling during games now. Don't wait until your senior year, then slap together a scrimmage. Showcase 11v11 events, tournaments, great games you've played... all are potential sources for good video. Leave the music to the pros. Those who review your tape are likely going to hit the mute button anyway - unless they want to hear how well you're communicating with team mates. They don't care about your mixtape of songs.
Get to know yourself
The little things matter. Athleticism, skill, work ethic - all of these things count big time. AND a lot of kids across America have them just as much as you do. Given a choice between two equally skilled, same size athletes, which one do you think has a better chance of being selected - the one with a big head / big ego, or the one who shows restraint and leadership off the pitch? If you're experimenting with drugs, using performance enhancers, posting silly things on social media, or telling the world that you're the next greatest thing to the world soccer stage - and your competitor isn't... guess what? You lose.
There is a difference between bragging and promoting. Bragging is usually done with the intent to make yourself look better at the expense of others. Promoting is truthful, statistically backed, honest assessments that you find ways to get into the hands of those who need to see it. Nobody likes a braggart and if you really ARE good, it's often very hard to have conversations about your performance without sounding like a braggart. Ask family and friends to listen to the way you describe yourself. Dial it back if you see the bristle - even if what you're saying is true. There is a delicate line between bragging and promoting. Often it comes down to the way your message is received, so practice!
Your stats are important to capture. It's best to capture them early and refine them over time. Hopefully, you'll be improving your stats deliberately as your youth career evolves. Leaving it up to others to know your performance stats is dangerous. Everyone reads stats differently - some double count, some miss counts all together. If your coach is willing to teach or work with either a paid stats keeper or with a volunteer who can learn the job and capture stats during games, this can give you a huge leg up. Check your stats. Ask your coach about them. Do things to make them better.
Don't Spend a lot of Money
Getting started should be free or next to free. Setting up a free profile through NCAA's elligibility center is a great first step. Bring your contact information and your grades, then set up your free profile and get your NCAA registration #. When you're done, you'll be on the radar.
Only set up (or upgrade) to a certification account if you know you're targeting Division 1 or Division 2 schools. Often you don't need to do that step until or unless colleges start actively recruiting / sending questionnaires, etc. As a sophomore, a free profile account will get you an NCAA # and email reminders about eligibility, timelines, the legal process, etc.
Other sites like NCSA Sports also have free and paid services. They also have helpful articles to guide you along the way. My home Club uses SportsEngine, which has an affiliate relationship with NCSA Sports. That means I've been able to show interest through registration and my son started getting information about camps and such that he could attend as a way to promote his talent. I find it helpful to remember that these sites are businesses and they ultimately want to turn you into a paying customer. You'll need to make your own judgment about whether using paid services is worth it or not. For my family, I've found most everything can be done pretty inexpensively using resources found on the Web.
I've featured several videos here on the show notes page. I chose each one for a slightly different reason. I recommend these as a way to start your journey. If you couple them with some of the links below, I think you'll be well on your way.
Avoid Gaming the System
It's a small world. Remember that. If you lie about yourself, about offers you're getting, or about your grades, you're going in the liar pile. Gaming the system or attempting to game the system is a really bad move and shows poor integrity.
On the other side, it's hugely important to promote, promote, and promote! Colleges won't find you if you're not actively putting yourself out there.
In summary, get yourself out there in a proactive and positive way. Don't lie. Don't play games. Keep your social profile clean and practice communicating your value in a friendly way to anyone who will listen.
- Jcoleman@ncaa.org. “Recruiting.” NCAA.org - The Official Site of the NCAA, 3 Oct. 2018, www.ncaa.org/student-athletes/future/recruiting.
- “NCSA Athletic Recruiting Blog.” NCSA Athletic Recruiting Blog, www.ncsasports.org/ppc/lp/general/brand1/want-exposure-to-college-coaches-01.
- “Schellas Hyndman's Do's and Don'ts of College Recruiting.” US Youth Soccer, www.usyouthsoccer.org/schellas_hyndmans_dos_and_donts_of_college_recruiting_/.
- “Find College Athletic Scholarships and Get Recruited with Athnet Sports Recruiting.” A Site Designed to Help You Navigate the Recruiting Process, www.athleticscholarships.net/.