So, MF, Arizona Wildcats
Hey guys, I’m Grace Santos, long-time student of the great Gradum Academy. They asked me to talk a little bit about the college recruitment process and how I ended up nearly all the way across the country.
I grew up in a small Charlottesville club and was recruited (in spite of them) to play for William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. Following my freshman season there I decided to transfer to a more competitive program, and after conversations with schools in all of the Power 5 conferences, I packed my bags and headed out to Tucson to the University of Arizona and the PAC-12. Although I never imagined going through recruiting twice, it’s safe to say I now have a thorough understanding of how it works.
Just mention the phrase “college recruiting” and suddenly everyone’s an expert. Your teammate who claims to have been talking to Duke since 8th grade will tell you that “if you don’t have offers by now, you’ll never get any”. Your club coach who has “been around the block” will tell you should refer all college coaches to him and then give you bad advice on how to manage the process. Your will tell you not to worry about the school’s style of play, all that matters is how many games they win. Your neighbor will offer unsolicited life advice when you see her in the grocery store, “choose a college for its academics, not its athletics!” Something about a big life decision coupled with the glamor of recruiting, scholarships, and playing sports at a high level excites bystanders and makes them forget that it’s not their decision to make.
The sheer amount of information being thrown at you during college recruitment time can be overwhelming, I know from experience. Take it for what it’s worth (usually not much) and keep these five crucial things you likely won’t hear repeated in mind.
1. You are the real recruiter here
It seems the common conception of the athlete’s role in the recruiting process is one of passivity. In the movies, the high school star has a good game and colleges are banging down his or her door. The message? Just play well and you’ll be drowning in letters from schools across the nation practically begging you to join their team.
I hate to break it to you, but this is how it works for a very, very small subset of kids. Probably not you. Unless you are lucky enough to grow up in an area with, or commute to, well-known clubs who are playing in major, nationally-significant tournaments, chances are you won’t wake up to a phone call from Anson Dorrance on September 1 of your junior year. The simple fact of the matter is that athletes playing for clubs with high exposure or who are in national teams are pursued by top schools, but if you grow up in a smaller club it is incumbent upon you to do the pursuing.
Playing for a smaller club means that coaches from high-level programs aren’t going to show up to your games unless you do the work to convince them to. By work I mean compiling a list of your top schools, creating a highlight video to market yourself, doing research on each program to target them individually, and using this information strategically to create a relationship with/ultimately get seen by the coaching staff. More specifics on those things to follow in later posts, but notice it’s all your responsibility. There should be no waiting for college coaches to come to you, and no reliance on your club to make sure you end up where you want to go.
After pursuing one of the top schools on my list for months, their head coach finally reached out to my club coach and told him they would be coming to watch me play at an upcoming tournament. In response, my club coach attempted to pitch another girl on my team who had already decided not to play college soccer, and when the school turned up at the tournament, my coach started her in my position as I watched from the bench. Luckily the coaching staff from the college was patient enough to sit there and wait as I started on the bench for all three games of the tournament (yeah, it was awkward), but I made it into the game eventually and they made me an offer. The moral of the story is that you can’t leave things up to chance (or your club). You have to be aggressive, you have to market yourself.
2. ID camps can be an absurd waste of your resources…
But they don’t have to be.
“Okay, okay.” you say, “I’ll go to their ID camp! What better way to get in front of the coach than going to their camp where they have to watch me?!”
One small problem: 100 other kids had the exact same idea.
Imagine you’re a head coach attempting to pick the top players out of 100 kids at a four hour-long camp. You can’t possibly focus on each of them equally. In fact, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to pay attention to some of them at all. It’s impossible for a three person staff to host an event for such a large number of players, so the school hosting the clinic will bring in coaches from surrounding (usually less competitive) collegiate programs to help. Unfortunately, for you, this means there’s a possibility you sign up for a camp at your dream school and end up just another number on an overcrowded field being evaluated by staff from an outside university that you have no interest in attending.
I’ve been to my fair share of ID camps as both a recruit and a current member of the team, and I’ve learned that coaches don’t go into ID camps blind… they’ve done their due diligence. They invite players of interest; they know who is coming and whom they want to see more of. Armed with this knowledge, they create groups to isolate the players they’re most interested in watching. You need to be one of those players.
ID camps can be a great opportunity to showcase your ability, and get valuable facetime with a coach and their staff, but only if you do the preparation beforehand. The first time the coach sees your name shouldn’t be on the registration form for the camp. Establish prior contact. Email them, introduce yourself, express your interest in the program, let them know you’re coming, attach your resume and highlight video link (for more on what the email should read like, check back here soon). Take ownership of the process and do everything you can to ensure you’re on their radar beforehand, not just another face in the crowd.
3. Be annoying
Once you start emailing coaches, don’t stop. Did I mention that you want them to recognize your name? No better way to achieve that than persistent, professional communication. Introduce yourself. Let them know you’re coming to camp. Follow up with them after camp. Tell them where you’re playing next. Congratulate them on successful seasons. Fill them in on recent successes you’ve had on the field. It can feel like quite the one-sided relationship (particularly if you’re too young for the NCAA to allow them to respond) but continue to express your interest in the program whenever possible.
Coaches are busy people, especially in season. Even if you haven’t gotten the slightest acknowledgement that they’re reading your emails or that they know you exist, keep reaching out because you never know what is happening on their end. You might be getting the cold shoulder, or they might be busy but planning to come watch you at your next tournament. There’s no downside to being persistent, but by not being persistent enough you could lose your shot at being seen.
I once emailed a school for four months straight without getting a single response. One day I sent the usual game schedule update and received an immediate reply of, “Hey, we’re coming to watch you play tonight.” They came to the game, invited me to visit campus, and made an offer all within the week… after four months of crickets.
4. Seek out a trusted resource
I mentioned above that you likely have countless people eager to give advice, whether you asked for it or not. What you need now is quality, not quantity: the fact is, the world of recruiting is very unfamiliar to most folks. So while I’m sure your Aunt Karen has all the best intentions, you ultimately should look for someone who understands the process and can help you cut through the noise.
Stay tuned for more on the foundations of creating a school list, writing a resume, and how to reach out to coaches most effectively… but also realize that there is an element of all this that is highly-unique to you. Everyone’s situation is different because there are so many variables in the process, such as what level of soccer program you’ll fit into, what you’re hoping to get out of the college experience, your current age, the amount of visibility your club team is offering you, and so forth.
It is invaluable to have someone who knows how to get where you want to go as you navigate through the complexities of school targeting, timelines, communication, camp selection, and offer negotiations. Gradum did that for me and I would’ve been lost without it (just don’t tell them I said so). If you’re wondering where to go from here and are looking for an honest, educated take, don’t hesitate to drop Price a line… he’s only scary when he hasn’t had breakfast yet.
5. Take a deep breath
I’m going to leave you with this, because it’s quite possibly the most important part of all.
Though it likely feels stressful, this is actually a very exciting time.
I know it’s a lot to think about, you probably feel some pressure, and there are expectations (both that you have for yourself and that others have for you). Taking all those things into account, there’s a very fine line between exciting and anxiety-inducing. Do everything you can to stay firmly on the “exciting” side. Your mentality will affect everything from the way you perform on the field, to the way you connect with coaches off of it. You want to be at your best, and it’s tough to make a good impression when you’re worrying your way through the process.
In addition to the fact that stress impacts your performance, it also just casts a negative light on something that should be extremely positive. Realize that few people make it to the point where playing sports at the collegiate level is even an option… and let me tell you, college soccer is really, truly, awesome. You’re on your way to capitalizing on a rare opportunity and you’ve put in the work to make it this far, so be excited about what the future holds.
Hopefully you found this helpful, if not, feel free to yell at me in the comments (and if you have questions, comments are a good spot for that as well).