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College Soccer Recruiting - A Primer for Parents & Students

florida kraze krush, florida high school soccer, high school soccer florida, sports florida, florida sports, florida high school sports, seminole county news, seminole county post, news seminole county

The decision to pursue athletics in college is one thing- but actually taking steps to pursue the goal is quite another, and we soon found ourselves with dozens of questions and a great deal of confusion about navigating the recruiting process.


By Steve Nordstrom


Each February, a new group of local youth soccer athletes reaches a milestone of achievement.  Surrounded by family, friends and coaches they sign National Letters of Intent to play soccer at colleges and universities all over the United States. For these kids and their families, the moment is a culmination of years of training, sacrifice and dedication to “playing at the next level” in the sport they grew up with and dearly love.


My daughter Maddi was among this group of athletes in 2014, and her experience during her years of participation in Club and High School Soccer has been an amazing journey for her.  For me, the “youth soccer years” have been a whirlwind of excitement, anxiety and education.


Like a lot of parents of my generation, I didn’t grow up with soccer and had little exposure to the sport. I knew it only as a good option for exercise and learning the value of teamwork, victory and defeat. Since I had no background in soccer, I learned it from ‘scratch’ alongside my daughter and eventually came to understand what a wonderful and unique experience it offers as a truly “world sport”.


Of course, to my surprise I also learned early on the mystique surrounding college scholarship opportunities for young athletes. I was quickly introduced to the culture of recruiting, the importance of “exposure” and the whispered discussions of the “DI full ride”.  These things were mysterious to me, as we had never even considered athletics as a path to college. But as years went by, and my daughter became more and more focused and personally invested in soccer, I began to think- “Why not? Is it possible she might have what it takes”?  This naturally led to further discussion with Maddi, who by the time she was 14 had readily embraced the goal of being a college athlete- though she knew as little about the process as I did.


The decision to pursue athletics in college is one thing- but actually taking steps to pursue the goal is quite another, and we soon found ourselves with dozens of questions and a great deal of confusion about navigating the recruiting process.  And although my athlete was ultimately successful in being recruited and signed to a Division I soccer program at her university of choice, I look back on the recruiting experience and wish there had been a clear roadmap (or at least a few more signposts) through the process.


I’ve come to learn our experience was fairly typical in that the many myths and misconceptions about athletic recruiting pervade all youth sports. Word of mouth, rumors, and lack of a comprehensive “guide” to recruiting allow myths to persist. Although my daughter’s experience is soccer-specific, many of the principles we learned apply across other sports such as lacrosse, volleyball, and softball- almost any team sport has some of the same basic recruiting principles involved.


While it’s commonplace for all players to dream of the game-winning shot or save, the commitment and drive necessary to achieve a roster spot at the college level can be daunting. To gain perspective on this achievement, consider that in 2013, an estimated 800,000 high school-age players enjoyed the sport of soccer. Also during 2013, only about 70,000 played at any level in college, including NCAA Divisions I, II & III as well as NAIA and Junior College. Approximately one hundred of these amazing, driven athletes live right here in central Florida and joined this elite group in 2014. Any discussion about the college recruiting process should start with the question: “How did they get here?”


Of course, the most important factor is within the players themselves. These young athletes’ dedication to years of training on the soccer pitch is key in achieving the goal of playing in college. For most of them, the dream begins early- even while they learn the basics of dribbling, passing, striking a ball and teamwork. These fundamentals are often taught by the coaches at one of the area’s many youth soccer clubs. Long hours of practice on the field, in the gym and on the road to far-away tournaments prepare them for the demands of a college athlete’s routine.  They are often required to choose between advancing the goal of playing college sports and other- often more attractive- extra curricular pursuits and opportunities that surround every teenager. The focus and commitment required of these kids cannot be overstated as the most important piece of the recruiting puzzle.


Often overlooked in the discussion of college recruiting is the vital role played by parents and family members in guiding and supporting the athlete during the process. This support goes far beyond signing checks and driving the player to and from practice. Even a parent like me- with little understanding and no experience of the sport- is indispensable in the process. Parents are most often the driving force in ensuring the athlete communicates with prospective college coaches routinely and appropriately. They must motivate the tired, distracted and occasionally cranky teenager to follow through with training and fitness commitments. Parents often take a leading role in researching dozens of potential schools and factors that may be beyond the ability of a teenage athlete to navigate. And of course, it’s also often a parent’s role to learn about a prospective club or team’s track record in developing the college bound player and guiding the decisions toward achieving the goal.


Local soccer clubs also play an important role through assistance to players and their parents in navigating the often-confusing network of leagues, tournaments, Showcases, camps and programs available, not to mention the “Do’s and Don’ts” of the NCAA recruiting rules. An experienced Club Director or Coach can be vital in suggesting colleges that may be a “fit” for the athlete, recommending appropriate communications to a college coach, and most importantly guiding the player’s development by identifying weaknesses that may not be evident to the athlete or parent. Some clubs are staffed by full-time professionals whose careers have been dedicated to the advancement of youth soccer. These professionals are often sought for their experience in the college recruiting process and their ability to identify talent and potential in the young soccer player. The recruiting process can be long, frustrating and exhausting. The guidance and mentoring of these athletes (and their parents) through the recruiting labyrinth is a key element of their eventual success.


But even the most successful youth Club Directors point to other factors equally important as talent or training; factors that make these young soccer players’ achievements a point of pride for the entire community.  In addition to achievements on the soccer field, a successful college player has proven him/herself capable in the classroom- an often overlooked attribute highly valued by college coaches. Unlike what we routinely hear and read about so-called “revenue” sports of football and basketball, most college soccer coaches avoid risking a scholarship and training on a prospect who may not succeed academically. Additionally, many coaches favor recruits who have worked as hard in the community as they do on the soccer pitch, dedicating hours to social and charitable organizations, churches and even mentoring younger players within their youth soccer clubs.  This demonstrates a commitment to community not too different from the commitment required of college athletes as unofficial ambassadors of a university.


So, what does it take to be a college athlete? It takes athleticism, academics and community-mindedness. It takes long hours of hard work and training.  It takes the dedicated support of family and coaches. As this year’s freshly-minted group of college soccer athletes signs their scholarship agreements, all of us in central Florida can be proud knowing they will represent us well in university classrooms, communities and soccer fields across the USA.  And even better- there’s another group next year and the year after.





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