Buying a car has a lot of similarities to college soccer recruiting.
My wife and I have been looking for a new car. We looked and looked and settled on one that was right for us. We wanted a Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid. We wanted good gas mileage, all wheel drive, needed the cargo and passenger space and we have had good luck with Toyota’s. The problem being, some new cars are impossible to come by these days and if you want a particular car, you go on a waiting list for that car and as the cars come in, you can either pass or take it, depending on what features it has and what color it is. You basically have to take the car even if it doesn’t have the exact color or package you want.
So, my wife wanted a blue Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid, but would settle for almost any color. For some reason though, my wife was completely against owning and driving a red car. “What if a red car comes in or we have to wait another 8 months for a car?”, I asked. She said she would rather “wait” than drive a red car. But then our dealer said something that reminded me of the college soccer recruitment world. You are the driver and you are on the inside of the car and rarely see the color of it and don’t even notice the color when you are driving it, does it really matter? It’s what is inside the car and how it runs that should count.
When I compare this to college soccer recruiting, so many prospective student-athletes have the idea that they want to play from looking at the outside and not really knowing what the “inside” of the college looks like. They see visions of Power 5 schools on TV and they think that is where they want to go, but they have never been on the “inside” of a Power 5 school, nor have they visited or seen the “inside” of a small college campus. Honestly, they don’t know what they don’t know and they see what the media and social media portray.
A lot of student-athletes come to me and say they want to attend a “bigger school”. I get the thought process and from the outside what this perception is. A big school might be right for many people, but I think everyone should look at the “inside” of a lot of schools – all different sizes, to help find their best opportunity. You can be a small fish in a big pond or you could be a BIG FISH in a small pond. Being the big fish in a small pond can have great benefits. You can develop relationships at a different level with your professors and others on campus. You get to know people, including faculty and staff, that can help you get internships and jobs in the future where you might not be able to establish these relationships in a university with huge classes that are taught by Teacher Assistants in a huge lecture hall. Maybe being the big fish means you will get on the field earlier in your career and make much more of an impact over time on the soccer team. It is not for everyone, but the personalized opportunities that a small college can afford should be considered and sometimes there are distinct advantages.
I hear the argument, “that school is smaller than my high school.” To that I say, “Do you hang out with everyone at your high school?” Chances are that you hang out with roughly the same amount of people at a big school as you do a small school. You have your circle of friends from common living areas and activities that you gravitate towards. Whether you play soccer at a bigger college or a small one, you can only hang out with so many people. Usually you hang with your teammates and other student-athletes if you are a student-athlete. That group is no bigger or smaller depending on where you go.
Often NCAA Division III and NAIA college coaches are the first to reach out a prospect and a prospect automatically casts an opportunity aside because they have never heard of the school or they are afraid of what others will think if they don’t tell their friends they are committed to play at a major Power 5 school. I encourage everyone to really go down the road with everyone that contacts you. It may not end up being the place for you and that is okay, everyone has different priorities. I have seen so many find their right fits at schools they never previously considered or heard of before the recruiting cycle started.
You can’t let image get in the way. This has always been hard and it is getting harder with social media. When buying a car, do I really want to pay an extra $30-$50k to drive a luxury car brand that I can’t really afford, just so I can look like I am living up to an image or should I get what is practical for me? The same goes with your college selection. You need to choose based on the best fit for you, on and off the field. Find the school that gives you what you want and need athletically, academically, socially and financially and not worry about living up to an image.
I hear it all the time, “That kid was so good, they should have gone Division I”. The reality is some were good enough and chose a Division III or NAIA school that was a better fit for them and others just really weren’t good enough to play Division I, even though people (the wrong people) were telling them this. It is important to have an understanding of what level of play you should target based on your ability and getting an unbiased evaluation of this can be really helpful and of course, it is important to cast a wide net in case you do happen to overshoot.
Eventually, my wife and I received a call that we were next on the list for the car we wanted. After the discussions with my wife and discussing what our dealer said, that the outside should not matter, we were willing to accept any color. When the call came, the car was white, but we would have taken red as this was the car we wanted after looking at a lot of makes and models. What color it was wasn’t important anymore.
Just like my car buying experience, don’t throw away a chance at a potential dream school because you haven’t experienced the “inside” of a college or never heard of it. Look into everything and once you have options, then you can decide what is best for you after you have seen the “inside” of all those options.
Going to play in college where you are truly wanted is some sage advice. When there is love for you, you will be taken care of as a whole person, by the coach, the faculty and staff. I have seen too many athletes try to look where there is little or no love or desire for them to attend. Having this love and a program and college that want you can lead to greater success and truly allow you to be a big fish in a small pond, have the best four years of your life and be at a place that can maximize your potential on and off the field.