No one likes critiquing themselves, no more than I enjoy listening to playbacks of my audio recordings and videos… Nonetheless, being realistic with yourself about your current abilities and skill level is the crucial difference between setting yourself up for success and setting yourself up for a string of disappointments.
- Cast a wide net:
Cast a wide net when starting your recruiting process. The general rule of thumb is to start your list with about 20/25 schools, ranging over all divisions – NCAA DI, DII, DIII, NJCAA & NAIA. Each division has its positives and negatives, so do your research and know what you are looking for.
- Set & Understand your goals:
If you want to keep playing the game but soccer isn’t your top priority, aim for a program that will match your level of commitment. Division III programs and Community Colleges can be just as fulfilling as playing Division I soccer. I know plenty of players that decided the DIII route was the best fit for them. They found a better balance with sports, class, and working towards their future careers, while going on to graduate with both athletic and academic honors.
- Find the right fit for your academic level and goals:
Academics are an essential part of the recruiting process. It should be no surprise that schools have a clear minimum GPA and SAT/ACT requirements, regardless if you are the most sought after High School player in your area, you need to meet their standards academically. This may narrow down your prospects.
- Watch and analyze collegiate games:
Too many players want to “go DI” but have never watched a Division I game in their life. How can you aim to play at a level that you have no knowledge of?
Coaches will often ask if you have seen them play. If your answer is no, their interest will immediately move from you onto their next recruit who has studied their style of play, coaching style, formation techniques, and their level of athleticism.
It is like a pizza shop saying that they make the best pizza in town without ever checking out the pizza from the shop across the street. You will not convince a coach that you are a good fit for their school without ever watching their games. You just won’t.
If you are seriously interested in a school, watch some of their games and see if you can picture yourself playing for their program in one year.
- Find the right style of play
Understand what your preferred style of play is, as well as your strengths and weaknesses as a player, and find a program that fits you. Some programs put emphasis on physical attributes over technical skills, while some programs focus on building out of the back and dominate possession. Each coach runs their program differently and watching games will help you find a good fit.
When I was playing for Loyola Chicago, we had a team in our conference that played 1v1 man marking over the whole field. That style of play required an extremely high level of fitness, strength, and soccer IQ.
Figuring out your potential program’s style of play is vital in your research, so make sure to invest the time necessary to do so!
- Ask people who have been there:
Ask your High School coach or club coach for an honest evaluation of your soccer level. For the most part, it does not matter if they are as level headed as Pep Guardiola or as unpredictable as Jose Mourinho, they will give you an honest, unbiased answer. It is a part of their job, and if they truly see your potential, they won’t hate having the reputation of producing a college athlete.
Preferably, ask a coach who has previously had some sort of college experience. It is more telling and holds more weight for someone to say, “You are good enough to play DI”, if they have been around that level before.
- Send personalized emails:
Once you understand the points above and figure out what to look for, it is now time to start reaching out to coaches. The key to a successful email is to send a personalized one. The College Recruiting Guide includes a template that will help you send great emails that get coaches’ attention and generate responses.
Trial and error will help you figure out what divisions and schools might be the best fit for you. If you send 25 emails spread over five divisions, and the only five answers you get are from division II coaches, that is a good hint on where to go from there!
Hope this helps!