We are a few weeks into the college soccer season and many of those players I helped place last year at colleges are in a wide array of different positions on their teams. Almost everyone went into their new team with a goal and thought they would make a difference right away. The reality is, some are in starting line-ups, some are getting a few minutes and some not playing at all, not even making travel rosters.
As a college coach, prospects asked me all the time if they thought they would play right away as freshmen. My answer was always, it depends how well you transition. I recruited those that had the qualities I thought could help our team, but until you are actually in a college soccer environment, it is hard to have a true understanding of the quality of play that all levels have: the pace of the game, the physicality, the intensity, and the nuances that make college soccer different. Additionally, many new college soccer players are tasked with learning to compete within their own teams for the first time in their lives. Most were the stars in high school and club and playing time was never an issue. Most have never had to deal with not playing or earning more playing time.
It’s a life challenge.
In my time, I have seen some players not ready for this challenge and they have quit or given up, but I have also seen those that fought, worked hard and eventually got what they wanted. I think it is a great life lesson that can help prepare you for bigger life lessons in the real world later. I had very few freshmen in my time that started on “opening day”. Most took a few weeks, even a year or sometimes two to make the adjustment.
The intensity level of college soccer requires being a TRY HARD. Don’t be too cool to give it your all in everything you do. College coaches won’t stand for anything less. The transition to college is so hard for so many because the pace of the game, intensity and physicality are different. I have heard some colleagues in the soccer community say college soccer is a different sport and I don’t disagree. American College Soccer is very fast paced, full of pressing, fouling, substitutions, etc. It is different from the professional game and our youth soccer experiences are governed by principles to help the very few future professionals be ready for the pros. This makes transitioning to college even that much harder.
I watch a lot of club and high school training and I see training with no shin guards. Kids don’t learn how to tackle and they shy away from challenges when they don’t wear shin guards. Then when a kid gets to college and someone maybe four years older than them is coming at them at full pace in practice and might accidentally foul them, they don’t know how to deal with this. They don’t know how to play fast enough, take a hit or even battle back. They don’t know what to do when they get punched in the mouth. Some blame the coaches, some blame the playing style. The truth is college coaches get paid to win, their livelihood relies on winning. So I can promise they aren’t holding grudges or making decisions that they don’t think are best for the team, they are trying to win games.
Transitioning to play college soccer is hard. Remember only 7% of high school soccer players play in college. It is not easy, if it was, everyone would do it and the transition is at every level. Many get frustrated, some even think it will be easier to transition at a NCAA Division III school, and that is just as tough. As I grew as a coach over my 25 years, I told people I didn’t coach soccer, I coached competing, I taught those in my program how to compete for everything.
I knew things would not always go our way, but I wanted them to compete. If we could compete harder and be more in sync than our opponent, no matter how talented they were, then we had a chance.
If you want to find a way on a college roster, you have to have skill, athleticism, touch, vision, soccer IQ, but you also need to learn to compete. You also need to compete in the recruiting process and when your dream school isn’t interested in you. You need to be resilient and work hard to find your path. You need to go where you are wanted, but you need to compete for it. You need to have an open mind and truly compete.
I encourage everyone to know the resilient story of Josh Allen, who is now the starting quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. Allen was under recruited out of high school, no one was interested. He decided to go to his local junior college where he didn’t play until an injury to the starter gave him a chance in the third game of the season. He seized the opportunity, became the starter and had a great season. He sent emails to every NCAA Division I coaching staff in the country. He really wanted to go to Fresno State, but they weren’t interested, only Wyoming and Eastern Michigan were interested. He chose Wyoming. Allen missed out on his first season because of a broken collarbone. He worked hard to recover and started his junior and senior year at Wyoming before being drafted to the NFL.
Now, at the age of 26, he is the top rated QB in the NFL. Allen was punched in the mouth more than a few times, but he made the most of every situation, had an open mind and worked extremely hard to get what he wanted and more!
So what am I trying to say?
Be aggressive and push yourself in the recruiting process. Have an open mind, listen to everyone and be persistent to find where you are wanted and a place where you can maximize your potential on and off the field.