USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Nelson Gord is a former collegiate and professional ballplayer, successful high school head coach and the founder of the largest travel baseball club in Illinois. Nelson is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience and dedication, along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community, helped create NCSA Team Edition, the free recruiting platform for club and high school coaches.
Is it your dream to play the beautiful game in college? A successful soccer recruiting process requires the same elements you need to pick up three points on the pitch—tactics, technique and training. Whether you’re a goalkeeper or a goal scorer, you need to come up with a recruiting game plan and execute it from kickoff to stoppage time. Here are eight pressing questions to help you understand the soccer recruiting process.
When do college soccer coaches start recruiting?
The higher the level, the earlier soccer recruiting starts. Many top Division I programs start recruiting as early as freshman year, while Division III coaches often wait until junior year. In general, it’s never too early to start researching the recruiting process, looking at schools and recording video.
“Soccer recruiting starts very early,” NCSA Soccer Recruiting Coach Ellen Brown said. “Some recent rule changes have curbed that somewhat, but you still have Division I coaches watching freshmen and sophomores.”
“Be committed in your intent to play in college,” NCSA Recruiting Specialist Chris Keeney said. “Be dedicated athletically, academically and in your communications to target schools.”
Which division level is my best fit?
“Explore more than one level,” Brown said. “Even if you are getting recruited by Division I coaches, think about what it would be like to play Division II and fight for a national championship. Would that experience be better than sitting on the bench for a year or two on a Division I team?”
Brown speaks from experience. She started her college soccer career at the Division III level with Grove City before transferring to Kentucky for her last two years of eligibility.
“Build a big list,” she adds. “If you write to 20 coaches and hear back from seven, that’s a pretty good response rate. Make sure most of your target schools are an athletic fit. Have a few stretch schools and a few safeties as well.”
If you’ve sent out your video, attended a few camps at Division I schools and competed in a handful of tournaments without hearing from Division I schools, you should try looking at another level.
“All levels of college soccer are very good, and any opportunity is worth considering,” Keeney said. “Be realistic in your self-assessment and listen to the advice of others. There are lots of opportunities at Division II and Division III and NAIA levels.”
How much scholarship money can I get?
Soccer is an NCAA equivalency sport, which means coaches get a set amount of scholarship money to divide across their roster. At the Division I level, the soccer scholarship limit is 9.9 for men and 14 for women. With average roster sizes around 30 and only 7 to 8 openings each year to replace outgoing seniors and transfers, most offers tend to be partial scholarships.
“Realize that a soccer scholarship will not cover the cost of college,” Keeney said. “Full rides can be found by combining academic and soccer scholarships.”
“Any grad level can call college coaches to ask if they’re interested and if they still have scholarship money available for their position,” said NCSA Soccer Recruiting Coach Pete Kowall.
Read more: How do you get a scholarship for soccer?
Which ID camps and showcases should I attend?
ID camps and showcase tournaments can help you get seen and hopefully recruited by college coaches. But attending the wrong ones can be a waste of time and money. Your best bet is to only attend camps at colleges you’ve identified as good athletic and academic fits. Remember—a camp invitation doesn’t automatically mean you’re getting recruited. For showcases, check the website to see which college programs have confirmed attendance and email coaches to let them know you’ll be there.
“If you can afford to, attend 1 to 2 camps each season,” Kowall said. “Otherwise, Division II, NAIA and junior colleges offer on-campus tryouts.”
After the camp or showcase, follow up by sending thank you notes to coaches. An email is fine, but a phone call or a handwritten letter can help you really stand out.
How should I contact college soccer coaches?
To get on a coach’s radar, it pays to cover all your bases—email, phone and social media. Start your intro email by stating your name, grad year and primary position(s) on the field. Include a schedule of any upcoming tournaments or camps you’re planning to attend. Conclude the email by outlining your next steps–for example, telling the coach to expect a call from you tomorrow afternoon. Follow the soccer programs you’re interested in on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and comment on their Facebook page after games.
“Once you make a list of target schools, reach out to those coaches and invite them to watch you play,” says Brown. “Call coaches to ask for feedback after they see you play or after they have viewed your profile. Then, ask them if they think you could be a fit for their team.”
“Each coach has a different timeline,” Kowall said. “Student-athletes need to be proactive and have clear and concise communication. Don’t be afraid to call and ask questions.”
Making calls to college coaches can be intimidating at first. Ease your nerves by starting with calls to schools where you think you’d be a shoe-in. Coaches talk on the phone with recruits all the time—they know you’re nervous. Cold calling coaches isn’t always fun, but sticking with it and casting a wide net can give you plenty of options.
If one coach doesn’t see you as a roster fit, be graceful and explore other options,” Keeney said. “Soccer is an art form, not a science.”
Read more: How to email college coaches
What should I include in my highlight video?
Video is a great way to get in front of college coaches and convince them to watch you play. Your video should be 3 to 6 minutes long and include 20-25 clips of game action. Depending on your position, show offensive skills, defensive skills and off-the-ball footage. Show a wide angle, don’t zoom in and out and use an arrow or marker for identification. Be sure to update your video whenever you have new footage to add.
“Video is everything,” says Keeney. “If you’re a field player, you need to film your matches to create highlight reels. Goalkeepers should film intense workouts to demonstrate their prowess around the net.”
Should I join a soccer club?
Club soccer can be pricey. But if you want to compete for a top college team, it’s a necessary expense. In fact, 93 percent of NCAA men’s soccer players and 95 percent of NCAA women’s soccer players competed on a club team in high school. Since the college season is in the fall, coaches typically evaluate recruits at club showcases and tournaments in the spring and summer. To get recruited by a prestigious Division I program, you need to play on a competitive club team and participate in major tournaments. A few of the biggest include the Surf Cup, Dallas Cup, Disney Showcase and the Las Vegas Mayor’s Cup.
Keep in mind that your club soccer coach can play a key role in your recruiting process. Since Division I coaches can’t directly contact athletes until Sept. 1 of junior year, it’s up to the club coach to relay messages, schedule phone calls and offer their honest opinion. Make sure you stay on good terms with your club coach!
Why NCSA for soccer recruiting?
Next College Student Athlete is the world’s largest and most successful college athletic recruiting network. In January, NCSA became the official recruiting partner of GotSoccer and US Youth Soccer. Over 90 percent of US college programs used the NCSA platform in 2018, and we’re excited to work with GotSoccer and US Youth Soccer to give college coaches an easier, more efficient way of recruiting and evaluating student-athletes.