It is championship season in college soccer, regular season and conference tournament champions are being crowned and national postseason tournament are starting.
I had the good fortune of having a great deal of success as a college soccer coach, winning 22 conference titles, 23 conference tournament championships and playing in 23 NCAA tournaments. Much of my team’s successes were because we recruited the right kids AND my teams were committed to the details. If a player wasn’t willing to pay attention to the details, they would not get on the field, simple as that. Some might think many of these details were so minor, but they all add up.
Let me give you an example…
I had a rule as a college coach that all throw-ins must go forward. I believe that if you throw a ball backward or square, you are setting your team up in a negative position. When you have a throw in, you typically commit to sending numbers forward, going back or square could have serious negative consequences. In my opinion, throwing the ball back or square can lead to a loss of possession and counterattack when our team is not in the best defensive position. I had plays for situations on throw-ins and long throws too. the first game or two, a new player always reverted and threw the ball backward. They got subbed off and they never did it again. I had about 30 non-negotiables on the field like this. They all added up and are a big reason my teams were more successful than most!
Recruiting needs the same type of attention to detail if you want to be successful. Just like the throw-in “rule” described above, everything matters and adds up. In recruiting, there are a lot of things that a player should think about when trying to be recruited. Here are a few:
Don’t send a coach an introductory email on a college program’s game day. Look at a team’s schedule before you reach out to a coach. On game day, I had a million things to do in addition to worrying about winning. Timing of your emails is important and when you email a coach, mentioning something relevant also shows you are paying attention. For example, “Coach – good luck this week vs. XXXX. I know it is a big game with huge NCAA and conference implications and that you beat them earlier in the year 2-1 at home.”
When a coach reaches out to you, be sure to communicate back within 24 hours. Honestly, the sooner you reply, the more you move up on their list. Coaches have a big list of kids they are recruiting. Some don’t respond at all and others wait to respond. If you wait, the opportunity may pass you by as the coach doesn’t have time to wait. They are recruiting several players for your spot at a minimum and they will focus on the ones that are good, consistent communicators.
Listen and communicate with every coach that reaches out. A coach from a college you have never heard from may reach out. Don’t discard them right away, hear them out. I have seen so many prospects land at schools they never previously knew of, only to find out that school has everything they are looking for. Sometimes a coach leaves for a new position at a school that was on your dream list. If you don’t leave a good impression, they might not consider recruiting you to their new team. Another thing to consider is that believe it or not, coaches can help you even if it’s not for the betterment of their program. I have seen coaches with good relationships with prospects help them go somewhere else. A good relationship can only help in the recruiting process and as life moves on. Now, almost five years removed from college coaching, I still maintain relationships with prospects I recruited that went elsewhere.
You are going to get a lot of silence from coaches in this process. Coaches don’t want to tell someone they aren’t good enough or the right fit, so they just don’t respond. Some won’t be interested and you need to be okay with that from the start. If you send out 30 emails to coaches, you might only hear back from three or four. Some are not interested, but sometimes you might be a great fit for that school and the coach just never replied for some reason. Coaches get tons of emails from recruits and your email might have landed on your coach’s kid’s birthday, when a coach was on vacation, etc. If you get silence, reach out two or three additional times and then if you get continued silence, it’s okay to move on.
Oftentimes, when you email a coach, you will get an automated response inviting you to their camp so they can see you play further. Realize that everyone that emails that coach likely gets the same email. It isn’t personal. My advice, try to make it personal. Email the coach back and see if they are willing to do a zoom call with you. If you get further, REAL communication back, then and only then would I ever really consider attending that camp.
Be aggressive. You can’t sit back and hope this is going to happen for you. You need to be different from the other recruits out there, find something that sets you apart. You need to have guts and sometimes got for it. I had a prospect I worked with a few years back go to one of these big “cattle call” ID camps that I don’t like. I don’t think these camps really help recruiting, but it was his only chance. He went into the coach’s tent at the event and introduced himself to a few coaches at schools he wanted to get in front of and had real conversations. He had good questions and went for it. He ended up getting an offer at one of these programs because he stuck out. He didn’t just stick out because he had guts then, the coach knew this kid would have guts on the field too.
Find someone that can tell you the truth about what level of play you should target. A lot of people are going to tell you what you want to hear or that “you are so D1”, but they have no idea. Find an unbiased person in your community that knows the levels of play and can assess your skills honestly. This way you can target the appropriate level of play with your recruiting. Also, find an advocate, someone that has connections and is trusted by college coaches and can really move you up a coach’s recruiting list. I can call a lot of college coaches and at least get a player a look because a coach trusts me and because I was very successful at the college level, but there are other ways too. Maybe you are family friends with an alumnus of a program.
I had a soccer prospect I worked with that knew a softball coach from a different sport at a college they were interested in because of a family connection. The softball coach called the soccer coach and advocated for this player, even though they had no idea the level of play but they got the prospect a look because the soccer coach had a trusted friend say that this kid is worth a look.
Cast a wide net. A lot of players overshoot here and only reach out to schools they have heard of or higher-level schools. They think they are a Division I player, have been told that, but the reality is they might not be, so reach out to schools at all levels. There are good and bad teams at all levels so just reaching out to certain Division I schools may limit you. I hear a lot of players want to go to a big school. I promise, you hang out with the same amount of people at a big school as you do at a small school, you only have so much room in your circle. Being open-minded opens a lot more doors.
I mentioned it in my last blog, that if you want to play, go where you are loved. If you go to a program and college that wants you, you will likely have way more success on and off the field than forcing your way on a roster at a school that doesn’t really care about you or want you.
Lose the EGO. So many want to go “D1” because they worry about what people will think. They don’t think it’s cool to put their commitment to a Division II, Division III, NAIA or JUCO program on their Instagram. Prospects need to realize there is a huge world out there and great teams at levels. Letting your ego get in the way is only going to make recruiting that much more difficult and doing so may cause opportunities to pass you by.
Here is a hilarious clip I like to share about a prospect that does it all wrong.