After covering the High School and Club scene for over a decade, I’ve reached a few conclusions regarding the College Recruiting process.
First, there is an opportunity for anyone who wants to play College Soccer to do so. With over 1200 schools offering men’s soccer programs (>1400 women’s programs) from NJCAA (Junior College), NAIA as well as three NCAA Divisions there is a program for your child. The basic requirements are desire and good grades.
Your grades = Money. It is much easier for college coaches to find Academic scholarship funds for your child since Athletic funds are more limited for soccer. The discipline that is developed by working for good grades will also benefit your son or daughter when it comes time to balancing school and soccer. Much as you have likely experienced during High School and Club soccer.
DO NOT pay for a recruiting service. My number one suggestion is to identify schools of interest and attend their Summer Camps or Camps the coaches at those schools are working at. A residential camp means they will discover what it’s like to be on different size campuses at the same time they are learning what a Coach is like in a learning environment. The Coaches will learn more about your son or daughter in that environment than they will ever gather from observing a game(s) or a video.
Save your recruiting funds for Camps, not services or videos.
Finally, it’s never too early to start on this process. You and your child will be exposed to college players throughout their career – as Club coaches or assistants, at Camps and even alumni returning to High School for Camps, Alumni games or to cheer their alma mater on.
Help your child learn to reach out to these players on their own (an important part of the learning process). A simple introduction, a couple of questions to the College Player about their relationship with the Club or High School (when did they play, memorable games or experiences) will help create a personal connection with your child. We all want to tell ‘our story’ after all.
After this framework of shared experiences, the questions can then move to the college experience. What’s been good, what’s not as good, is it a big school or small school and why did they chose to play there? How much work is it at that level? Any questions your child might have can be answered by these friends of their team. Your child will see the diversity of opportunities that are out there which should help them as they work to make their decision.
If you begin this by Freshman year, you will have two, or maybe three, Summer Camp opportunities before their senior year to visit a range of schools (assuming one camp per Summer). That will mean at least 15-25 college coaches will now be aware of your camper. If you’ve managed the communication process well, a significant minority of them are tracking your child’s development.
That is the other critical element in this process. Much like the College Coach is selling you on their school and program, you are selling the Coach on your child’s fit for their program. That means you must communicate with them regularly. NCAA Regulations in particular limit their contact with you but you can contact them. The best method is email.
You child should make a habit of letting them know their Tournament schedule so that they can see them in action. It must be a personal email, not an email blast (like recruiting services) sent to 15 coaches at once. Like any relationship in life, Coaches respond best when they believe the child is most interested in them. The personal effort undertaken opens up the relationship your child has with the college coach. It’s another means of evaluating the player – how are their communication skills? Do they meet their commitments? in a timely fashion? and it also helps the player learn more about the coach and the school.
There is nothing wrong with playing the field – the College Coach certainly is – but as you narrow your choices be sure the Coaches are aware of that.
One of the best ways to do that is to complete the Prospective Student-Athlete Form that you will find on their athletic website. Here’s a link to the Maryville Saint’s Men’s Soccer form as an example. As your child enters their Junior year and takes the ACT and/or SAT test, deciding to have the results automatically sent to a school is another clear message. The student-athlete should also initiate the formal school admission process when appropriate.
ALL of these steps are best undertaken by the player. Coaches don’t want to hear from parents. They want to hear from the player. The same approach you must take with your Club and High School coaches. It goes back to my first rule – anyone can play but it requires desire. If the player isn’t handling playing time and role conversations with their Club or High School coach, how will they learn to manage this at the College level. The development process is not just about playing skills.
It is nice to be able to make a commitment before your senior year (season) begins because it means the school has committed to your child. It takes a burden off their shoulders during the season which allow them to enjoy that final year even more. We know how fast the time flies.
The additional benefit is that even if they are injured, you will likely still receive any athletic or academic dollars offered during the verbal commitment process. I’ve heard of money being pulled but it is very rare. An injury will mean the player is red-shirted and will have more time to concentrate on school work during their first year at college, a critical time. That is not a bad thing and at the higher levels (NCAA Division 1 and Division 2) something that will very likely happen anyway. So get started early and give yourself the time to develop these life skills and help your child find a wonderful college experience.
What about a Recruiting Profile?
This is an area where I suggest you take the long-term view. Your child probably has one or more social profiles already on the web. It is unlikely a Coach or a future employer is looking for ‘left-footed winger’ on the internet but they will search for your child by name, much like employers now and post-college, once they are aware of them. These days that often will lead them to a Twitter profile or other social profile – Facebook, Pinterest, Hudl, Vine, Snapchat, or others.
Go do a search, now. What do you see when you search for your child’s name? Do they have a unique name easily found? Or does it require some extra work, adding a school name or team name to find information? Are there stories from SoccerSTL.net or other media outlets mentioning them by name? Do their social media profiles offer a positive look or do you cringe a bit? These are the same steps that a Coach will go through.
1st step – I suggest you have your child make all of their profiles except one private. There are plenty of ways to share with family and friends without making the information public. Practice those steps.
2nd step – pick the public profile and ensure there is information that helps a coach identify your child. I suggest Twitter as that has become a popular and easy tool that the majority of coaches and schools are now using. Use the Biography section to share some basic information that ensures a College Coach can identify them as the prospect they are searching for – Class of 20xx, High School and Club team they represent as a start. Creative use of the Header Photo can offer more info at a glance – individual recognition or team success. That makes it easier for media (including me) to identify the player when I am researching for a story, or have a photo or story I want to share after covering a game.
3rd step – create a Player Profile using Google+. It’s a place that is easily discovered and allows you to create a profile simply that can help you start to create a positive resume-like place on the internet that your student-athlete can carry with them well past their college years. In fact, that’s the single best strategy you can have to protect yourself from future mistakes. A long-term message of positive results that will maintain a strong ranking within Google for years to come. Short term mistakes will show up but eventually be ‘pushed down’ by the strength of a good profile. The alternative is to purchase a website address (I’m SteveOleOlson.com) and create a simple website/profile.
Recommendations for setting up a Google+ Profile (coming soon)
Download the NCAA 2013-14 Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete
Pay particular note to information on the Eligibility Center which the NCAA suggests you register for as a sophomore. There is also an Amateur Certification step as a senior for D1 or D2 athletes. In addition, the NCAA Recruiting rules can be found beginning at page 21.
College Coaches on Recruiting
Five Important Lessons to Prepare for College Soccer
College soccer coaches across Division 1 talk about recruiting and developing talent as two most important aspects of the job. These are steps that you can take from the very beginning to prepare your child.
Post-Dispatch Looks at the Realities of College Recruiting
A College Head Coach offers 7 Tips to a Highly Successful Recruiting Process
From my story at SGFsoccer.com –
Although many college coaches say they don’t look at e-mails from the recruiting services, for families that have already spent money for years for summer leagues, camps and the like, it’s just another investment in pursuing a college scholarship.
Why don’t they look at emails from recruiting services? Think about it. If it looks like spam and smells like spam, can it be anything but spam? Recruiting services, while expensive, are not set up to act like agents with personal contact and negotiation. It’s strictly a numbers game for them and the results reflect it.