goalWA.net is pleased to continue with a soccer club columnist on our website. He’s Adam Nowland, founder of Bellevue / Mercer Island area’s Nowland Premier Soccer Academy. Adam addresses soccer topics from his point of view in the series “Soccer Perspectives with Adam Nowland.”
by Adam Nowland
As youth soccer clubs, what is it that we are ultimately trying to achieve? Of course, the answer may be different depending on the mission of each individual club. It could simply be to teach the benefit of being a member of a team and all the characteristics that are associated with that. This would be a noble goal. Similarly, it could be to win and be successful (if you define success as solely winning or accumulating championships) or, it could be to produce as many professional soccer players as possible. At NPSA we try to define ourselves as a club that helps our players get to the next level, college. Notice how I said college rather than college soccer. Of course, you would hope serious club soccer players want to play in college but not all will or are able. I believe it is our responsibility as partners in the development of a child to set them up for success in any way we can. Indeed, we have a moral responsibility. This is why, at NPSA, we have developed our College Pathway Program which we provide completely free of charge to our members.
I understand that most clubs offer some sort of college program. I also understand that the clear majority are focused on the soccer recruiting aspect. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with this. After all, you are trying to push players to the next level. However, if you know anything about the college soccer recruiting process there is another large piece of the equation to navigate, the admissions and financial aid aspect. That is before you touch on what you want out of your college experience. If you love to blow off steam by shredding a fresh powder run then it will serve you well to not look at schools with year-round tropical temperatures. It’s all well and good being a stand out player and having many college coaches wanting you on their team. But, what if you don’t have the grades, scores, or finances? What if hitting the slopes is something you really need to do? You see, the college recruiting process is sometimes viewed as a “one size fits all” but, it is anything but that. If you do A then B will happen. This, as I have seen time and time again, is rarely how it happens. If ever. This is all about fit, personally, academically, and athletically.
Given that many club college programs center their presentations on this idea, NPSA has implemented what we believe to be the best approach to the entire process. A student and family focused program where each player is engaged to take the information we provide and implement it to THEIR specific needs. Our approach allows for the best and most current information to be passed along to our families with the precept that THEY are to decide what is best for them. Who else could possibly know this better than a family? No two students and families are alike. There are an infinite number of variables that will affect their recruiting process. We provide the information and each family is open to asking questions along the way. All any of us can do is advise as to what is most likely to happen. It generally can’t be guaranteed, it depends on any number of elastic scenarios.
Everything “depends”. It depends on your scores. It depends on your family EFC. It depends on if that dream school head coach needs a player in your position. It depends. It ALWAYS depends. This is why one size does not fit all and this is why each family must be advised rather than told what to do. Each family is unique, with unique circumstances, and unique needs. With so many families and players either confused, or worse given bad information that pertains to what someone else did, the College Pathway at NPSA has been developed and is run by two of the very best in the business, Lee Hitchen and Erik Oman. Between them Lee and Erik have over 35 years’ experience in college coaching and higher education. Erik, along with being a former NCAA D1 head coach, is an NSCAA and USSF instructor. He is also a former professional player and a current MLS match evaluator. Erik currently serves as the technical director of the PSPL. Lee has his experience firmly in the higher education world.
Starting as an admissions and financial aid counselor he went on to be a college assistant coach, college head coach, college athletic director, and a college dean of students. As you can see, NPSA has truly brought together two people whose experience simply cannot be matched. This allows our families to derive the best information and allow them to make the best decisions, for THEM. Tailored individually for each unique situation regardless of if they want to play college soccer or not. Each family can be helped to navigate the process to enroll in the college that best fits them.
So, with the fall season upon us, what should players and families be doing? Well, it depends. There we are again with that word. It depends on what school year you are going into this fall. If you are going to be a senior and you haven’t put a profile together or registered for the NCAA eligibility center then you have a lot to do! If you are going to be a freshman then your responsibilities are going to be a lot different. Given the magnitude of the potential “to do” list it might be better to discuss a few simple basics.
*All the following questions and answers are not exhaustive and not definitive. They are generalities. Each player has different and unique needs.
“I want to play in college. How do I get college coaches to watch me play?”
There are many ways in which a college coach can see you play. First, it depends on the definition of “watch me play”. Does that mean in person or does that mean through a surrogate or via a well-crafted video? Every time you step on the field to play, you should think that someone is watching. It doesn’t need to be a head coach. It can be an alum from the school whose head coach you recently contacted who looks like any other parent on the sideline. Many schools do not have the budget lines or time to see all the players that interest them. A trusted surrogate might be the scout. Tournaments, showcases, and ID camps are all great ways to put yourself in the shop window. However, you must remember that the majority of the time coaches have a limited window to watch the sometimes hundreds of games at a tournament or showcase. It might boil down to a couple of minutes per field. Given this, what happens if you are injured that day? Or have just been subbed off for tactical reasons? Maybe you are not having a good game that day for many different reasons. Your chance for that school may be gone. You can see that the window is a very small one. However, the alternate is true also. You may be playing the game of your life at that time and be dominating just as the head coach from your dream school happens to be at your field. It depends. It certainly can be a game of chance. What is probably best to do is to stack the deck in your favor by sending out a player profile, a professionally done highlight video, and a well-crafted personal email beforehand. By far, the single best way to get recruited is to be your own marketing machine. Do your research, send your information out to college coaches, and most of all be proactive. Some of the best players Lee and Erik have ever landed have been because of a player reaching out to them PERSONALLY. Not through a marketing service.
How do players stand out compared to others? What makes a player “college ready? What are college coaches looking for in a player?
This question is perhaps the easiest to answer. All coaches are looking for good players that are better than they currently have, can improve their team, and therefore increase their chances to win and perform on the National stage. Simple, right? Not so fast. There is more to it than that. A college coach wants to see that you can do the basics well. They don’t want, nor do they have the time, to teach you how to control the ball at the level they require. The basics are exactly what you think they are beyond first touch. Passing, heading, movement off the ball, work rate, communication, etc. A college coach wants you to fit right in and play in their system. Possibly one of the most important things to remember is that coaches are looking at the things you can’t teach. Character traits such as leadership, attitude, desire, resilience, etc. etc. A big one is how you treat your team-mates in general and when things don’t go your way. Additionally, how do you react in the face of adversity? If you are a hot-head and react badly after a bad challenge, that could turn a coach off. Never forget that coaching college is a career and it boils down to wins and losses as to if they keep their job. A coach can’t afford to lose players during a game that could affect their season and possibly their job. Think of it this way, a college coach doesn’t want any unnecessary headaches from players. Just remember, always
presume someone is watching. Beyond the basics and your character an important piece for being “college ready” is your fitness levels. What never ceases to amaze is how many players don’t know what a college pre-season is like. Most clubs train and train over the summer without focusing on the pure aerobic side of the game. A college team spends a lot of time in pre-season on fitness. Usually because players don’t come in fit enough or worse, not fit at all. However, a college pre-season is incredibly taxing physically. Getting yourself in the best possible shape you can, being able to pressure and run all day, and having the strength to protect the ball well will be a big check mark on the recruiting feedback. The thing is, everyone knows what makes a good player yet if it was so easy everyone would be playing college soccer. It boils down to doing the basics very well, a great attitude, physically in shape, and having the best possible grades and test scores. Again though, you might have all those things but a college coach may think that you don’t have enough of it. It’s all so subjective. All you can do is stack the deck in your favor. Think to yourself what makes a dominant player and try to be just that. Easier said than done I know.
How involved should parents be in the recruiting process?
This is a tricky one as the parents are the ones who pay the bills and have a right to know what is going on. However, I would say that parents should be more involved in the admissions and financial aid side than the soccer side. The soccer side should be handled by the player. For two reasons. First, it shows the coach that the player is responsible and mature enough to address their own situations by themselves. A huge plus. If mummy and daddy are constantly involved and making decisions that is a pretty good indicator that the coach will have to “babysit” a player and constantly be talking to parents about their decisions. A college coach won’t tolerate that. They don’t have to. There are plenty of other players to choose from. A sure-fire way for a very interested coach to go from hot to cold is to have too much parental involvement. When it comes down to making the final decisions then more parental involvement is acceptable. In fact, a good college coach will want to connect with the parents as the process goes deeper and especially when final decisions are being made. They want to make sure that parents feel comfortable with the potential decision. College coaches are well aware that they can be surrogate parents and it is in their best interests to have all their players taken care of. College soccer is NOT club soccer. What happens in club soccer wouldn’t be tolerated at the college level.
A reasonable amount of involvement on the soccer side is to ask your player to ‘cc’ you on all their emails. The conversational ones with coaches and the initial contact emails. This way you will know what is happening. Also, talk to your player about the process. Are they happy with it? Do they need any help? Is there anything that you can do? (without doing it for them). Plan to become more involved as the time for signing grows nearer. One last thing, NEVER contact a coach on your player’s behalf. EVER. Just don’t do it. It will have them sprinting in the opposite direction.
When should players be reaching out to college coaches?
The short answer here is the sooner you start getting yourself in front of college coaches and therefore starting the recruiting process the better. If nothing else, it will give you far less to do as time ticks by and will enable you to manage the recruiting process along with all your other responsibilities. The boys recruiting scenario and the girls recruiting scenario are slightly different. More girls commit sooner to their colleges than boys do. That doesn’t mean opportunities disappear. It is just something to keep in mind. It also varies by division. The bigger college programs can plan further ahead and therefore can balance recruiting classes further out. Then you have the rules and there are a LOT of rules. I could write so many articles on rules alone and supply goalWA.net with articles for the next 12 months! As many are aware there are only certain times when coaches can call you, respond to you, or send you materials. This can also vary by division and then by organization. Take a look at the links I have included below to get a grasp on some of the main rules. Use these pages as a landing zone for your information. There is much more information on there for you to use if you bounce around and explore. I strongly advise that you do this. It will make your life a LOT less frustrating if you know the rules for the organization and the particular division of that school. Remember, you are your own best marketing machine.
“How do club soccer coaches support their players in the recruiting process? How can clubs support players who want to continue their competitive careers?”
Club coaches can play an important role in the recruiting process of a player. They can be great references as a credible source on the ability level and attitude of a player. They can also serve as a motivator. Nobody knows more about what way any one player can be motivated than a coach. They know how each personality responds to different approaches. Some require an easy chat outlining why something is necessary while some need a more insistent approach. A gentle push. One thing is for sure, just like the college recruiting process, it depends on the player. A coach knows their players. They can be aware of deadlines for registrations for the SAT and ask questions or give reminders. I believe it is the duty of a coach, if they believe in the holistic well-being of their players, to help players beyond what they do on the field. The clear majority of coaches that I know are in that boat. They are building leaders of character with the necessary life lessons to set them up for future success. As I mentioned before, a coach is a partner, a role model in developing a young player as a person and as an athlete. They are there reinforcing what their parents are trying to teach them.
As a club, I believe that each one of us should create a culture of education and learning beyond the field. We can reinforce and push programming that will enable all our players to set themselves up for future success. By doing these things we can truly embrace the larger picture of developing players without losing sight of the imperative of academic success (don’t forget, it’s student-athlete not athlete-student). We can also embrace the idea that furthering an education isn’t solely for the few nor is the standard a four-year undergraduate degree. Like the underlying message of this article it depends on the individual. If a player has an interest in cars and wants to earn a certificate as a motor mechanic, they should be encouraged to do that AND they can play college soccer at the junior college level if they choose to. We can’t all be MD’s, Attorneys, or CPA’s. My philosophy is helping the player build their own path rather than building it for them.
I hope that my musing in some way helps you if you are one of the many players or parents that is either currently, or about to embark, on the college recruiting pathway. Finally, I would like to stress that my writing is to be taken in general terms not as a definitive individual how-to. There are numerous specific examples that can elicit a “yeah but” response. As I have tried to drive home, “it depends.” It always does. The process is so incredibly unique and specific to each player and family that it is near impossible to infer a definitive. A few things are for certain though. You are your own best marketing machine. You must work hard to get your name out there. It isn’t easy but it is very doable. Get the best grades and scores that you can. Put the time in on your game beyond your club practices and lastly, generally be a class act when you are on the field and in all your interactions with college coaches. You are a constant representative of yourself and remember, someone is always watching….
If there is any way that we can help you as a player, parent, or club, we are available to help. Either contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact our College Pathway Director, Lee Hitchen, directly at email@example.com and we will be happy to assist you.
Together Each Achieves More!