Junior - Getting a Match

"Your goal is to build a relationship with the coaches on your list"

When we discuss the junior year, we're really talking about the day after sophomore year ends (the start of summer vacation). Until the end of sophomore year, you've been laying the ground work. Now it's time to get a match.

#1 Paying for College - Understand and Communicate
A potential source of frustration for players, parents, and coaches is the cost of college. No one wants to put in many months of research, campus visits, emailing, watching and performing at tournaments, attending camps and finally agreeing that the player wants to attend the college and the coach wants the player, only to realize that the financial piece doesn't work. If you don't require any financial aid and don't intend to apply for any, then that can work in your favor (depending on the college or university), and you can skip right to #2. If you do require financial aid, it's important that you have that conversation with the coach once he indicates that you're a strong potential recruit.

The vast majority of ECS colleges and universities are private and the "list price" is high; and even the public schools have high tuition for out-of-state students. The reality of what the typical student pays is much more complex than simply looking at the school's published tuition, room, and board prices, as we've documented in this paper. As our study illustrates, attending an "expensive" private school can often be less expense than an in-state public university. Also, all colleges are required to have online Financial Aid calculators on their website (you'll find these under the Admissions and Financial Aid Section). With just a few values, you can get an indication as to how much needs-based financial aid you can expect.

#2 Narrow your list, Adjust your list, Focus
You should have visited and researched enough colleges to now feel comfortable with the Three Campus Factors and have set your Academic and Athletic Priorities. In essence, you understand your ideal campus setting and understand what you hope to achieve academically and athletically. You have two years of grades and you should take the SAT or ACT early in your junior year; hence, you also now have a pretty good appraisal of your Academic Capabilities. The coaches of each of your targets should be able to tell you, roughly, what minimum SAT or ACT you need. Are you there, or can you get there?

You now need to narrow your list and focus on a manageable group of schools that fit your campus, academic, and athletic requirements. Based on a variety of sources, determine which colleges are realistic options for your soccer level (a stretch school is fine, but keep it real). It's best if you can include a reasonably safe school in the list; it's much easier to stay positive if you know that you have an acceptable safe school in the bag.

Determine the level of support you need
Most coaches can influence your ability to get an acceptance from Admissions; however, there are limits. Based on your academic and soccer level, you need to determine which schools are realistic opportunities. The following hypotheticals illustrate this point. The first example is a liberal arts college that plays at a very good DIII level (probably a three star on the ECS list). The school has a SAT 25%-75% range of 1800 to 2050.

The second example is an Ivy League school. In this hypothetical, the minimum require SAT to get the coach's support is 1800 and you'd have to be exceptional player for the coach to support you with that score. In the Ivy school example, Admissions expects the incoming recruited class to have an average SAT of 2000 or better. So one caveat is that a really great SAT score can result in you being utilized to raise the overall scores of the entering class, even though the coach doesn't expect that you'll be a significant soccer contributor; essentially, you could be SAT fodder. Then again, if your goal is to attend an Ivy League school, perhaps that scenarios is fine. In both cases, you can see from the below diagrams that the chances of getting admitted is a function of both your soccer and academic level (for simplicity, we just use SAT here). The better the coach's view of your soccer, the lower the required academics, and vice versa.

Likelihood of Coach's Support Examples

A great resource for understanding the academic selectivity of each school is CollegeData.com. This site has both selectivity information (percentage admitted, SAT/ACT ranges, GPA ranges) and the admissions factors in terms of importance used by each school.

#3 Dig Deep and Know the Teams
Your list of schools should now be manageable enough that you can spend time better understanding the programs and whether they are a good fit. Try to make some unofficial visits to the schools and meet the coach and players. Talk to people and research each team to get a better understanding of the team's style of play and the coach's demeanor. If you know someone on the team, or perhaps someone came from your club, speak to them about the team.

Roster analysis
The roster can reveal much about the team. And you can find previous year's rosters on the NCAA site. Here are some things that the roster can tell you:

  • How many freshman does the coach typical recruit? And what is the attrition rate of freshman over the four years? Some coaches bring in big freshman classes with the expectation that many will either leave or get cut in future years. A high attrition rate may signal that there are problems.
  • How big is the roster and how does the coach allocate playing time? Do some players rarely touch the field, or does she broadly distribute playing time?
  • How many seniors will graduate your senior year of high school? This, along with the historical team size can tell you if the coach is likely recruiting 3 or 10 players for your year. Also, note the positions of the returning players.
  • What is the level of the typical recruit, and how does that match with your background? If the top five recruits each year are coming off the national team pool, you will need similar credentials in order to be recruited.

Watch them play
Nothing tells you more about a team than watching them play; if it's possible, go watch the teams in which you're most interested play a game or two. Watching will give you insight as to how teams play and it will demonstrate to the coach that you have a genuine interest in the team. Make sure that the coach knows ahead of time that you're coming to the game. It's best if you watch home games, because the coach can speak with you when you're on their campus. If you're watching an away game, the coach can do little more than wave and smile.

#4 Are You Buying or Selling
From the coach's answers to the following questions and your general perception, ask yourself, "Am I a buyer or seller?"

  1. Am I on your list of potential recruits?
  2. Can you tell me where I am on that list (the top, top 5, top 10, top 20), and how many players do you expect to recruit for my class?
  3. (Depending on your goals and expectations) Do you see me as a contributor as a freshman?
  4. What else do you need to know about or see of me? What are your questions or concerns concerning my play?
  5. What is your timeframe and when will you know for sure to whom you’ll offer spots?

If you're initiating all of the contacts and trying to convince the coach that you're the right player for her team, you're probably the "seller." If the coach tells you that he really likes you and your academics are fine, but he needs to see you play more, you're still the seller (or the coach is the seller, and simply not very good at it).

By contrast, if the coach is regularly initiating contact and letting you know how things are going, he's probably selling and you're the "buyer." If he's telling you that you will be an immediate impact player, he's selling. But if he tells you that he likes how you play, and you're on his list of potential recruits, you're still selling.

In the end, it's nice to be the buyer. That means that the coach believes in you and wants you on her team. One word of warning, if you try to act like the buyer, but the coach isn't sold, that's a recipe for disaster. That can leave a bad taste with the coach, call him to question your intelligence, and possibly tag you as an attitude problem. Understand where you are in the process, and act accordingly.

#5 Grab Coaches' Attention - Differentiate Yourself
With your smaller focused list, you need to differentiate yourself. Here's a few things that can make a difference:

  • Most teenagers suffer from phone phobia when it comes to calling coaches; use that to your advantage. Pick up the phone and call the coach. They get many emails, far fewer phone calls.
  • For DI and DII schools, if they offer one, consider attending their fall clinic. Better yet, see if you can do an unofficial overnight visit.
  • For DIII schools, attend their clinics in the spring of your junior year and the following summer. This is the prime period for DIII coaches to evaluate players.
  • Have your club coach contact the coach on your behalf. The college coach will likely be much more frank with your club coach in regards to where you are on their list.
  • Create competition. Coaches hate to lose good prospects to other schools (especially if they are in the same conference). If you have multiple schools interested in you, make sure that you communicate that to the coaches (they'll want to know); obviously, never intentionally mislead any coach. And remember, many of these coaches are friends and they might even discuss prospects.

NCAA Recruiting Regulations - Junior Year
Division I and II
After September 1 of your junior year, you can receive letters, emails, and phone calls from DI college coaches (DII coaches can begin with written communication on June 15) interested in recruiting you (Note: the ability for coaches to call after September 1 is a recent change to the NCAA rules). On July 1 following your junior year, you are allowed up to three off-campus contacts with the coach (whether in or out of the academic year), and the coach is limited to seven evaluations during the academic year (i.e., watching you play) during the entire recruiting process. Official visits are not allowed until opening day of classes of your senior year. Confusing enough? Well, it gets worst because the NCAA seems to tweak the rules every year.

The Junior Caveat
Junior year is a time of focus, including narrowing your list of target schools. While it's good to narrow your list, and hence your focus, be care not to become fixated on a single "perfect" school. The chances that there is only one school where you'll be happy (athletically and academically) is highly unlikely. If you've done a nice job with your Campus Factors and Academic and Athletic Priorities you should have a group of schools that fit your academic and athletic aspirations. Pursue all of the schools on your list with effort and diligence.

Freshman Year >>> Sophomore Year >>> Junior Year >>> Senior Year