Sophomore - Defining Priorities & Capabilities
players are being evaluated the previous 12 months."
If it's September of your sophomore year, you probably have less than 24 months left in the recruiting process. DI coaches will be watching sophomores play and the frequency of verbal commitments will start to climb in the second half of sophomore year. You are now entering the critical period if you want to play DI or DII, and DIII coaches will start engaging, too.
Here are three specific activities that we recommend you take sophomore year to enhance your chances of success:
#1 Define Your Academic and Athletic Priorities
You should have a better handle on the Three Campus Factors by sophomore year, so time to explore your Academic and Athletic Priorities.
Defining your priorities, both academically and athletically, is one of the most difficult parts of the ECS Process. Most important is to engage in an internally honest assessment of why you want to play college soccer, and how it fits with your academic aspirations. There's no "right answer" to these questions, since you're dealing with your own value system. You need to discover those answers through a thoughtful self-assessment.
Obviously, the academic aspects of college are important to you or you wouldn't be reading this. Answering the following set of questions will help to define your academic priorities, which will then help to hone your list of target schools.
- Do you have a required specific major or area of study that is not found at all colleges or universities? This is a practical question, and requires less introspection. If you're undecided about your major or know that you want to major in English or history, you are virtually unrestrained in picking a school. However, if you are seeking a specialty that is not offered at all schools, you will need to adjust your list. You need to research each of your target schools to determine if they offer your required area of study. The following are popular majors that are not offered across all schools:
- Veterinarian Science
- Physical Therapy
- Graphic Design
- Is there a particular level of academic selectivity that you seek that outweighs any soccer consideration? For example, do you first and foremost want to attend an Ivy League school, regardless of any soccer considerations (other than that you want to play soccer)? Ultimately, Academic fit is easier to determine than Athletic fit because you’re going to take the SAT or ACT and you have your GPA - the data is quantitative. So you’ll get a pretty good idea of where you can get in (even with a coach’s help). The ability for a coach to affect admissions varies from school to school, therefore, you’ll have to figure out that part for each of the schools on your list (asking the college coach is a good place to start).
People desire to play college sports for a variety of personal reasons. Understanding your motivation and goals for playing in college is crucial to increasing your chances of finding the team and school that is right for you.
- Rank the five factors most important to your soccer aspirations. Some common soccer reasons that players give for choosing a particular college are:
- Play at the highest possible level possible
- Have the potential to start all four years
- Be an "impact player"
- Play NCAA Division I (or DII or DIII)
- Play in a specific conference (e.g., ACC or Pac-12)
- Be a two sport college athlete
- Play college sports, but have primary focus on academics
- Like the team atmosphere
- Like the coach
- Be on a team that typically competes for conference and/or national titles
- Garner public recognition
- Must you be an Impact Player, or are you happy as a Core or Depth player?
Broadly speaking, players fall into three categories: (1) impact players; (2) core players; and (3) depth players. Where you fall in these categories is dependent on (a) your natural athletic ability, work ethic, and acquired skill, and (b) the competiveness of the program.
The diagram below illustrates the typical make-up of a college roster, with 20% of the players being impact, 60% core, and the remainder depth. Impact players rarely leave the field, some core players start and others get playing time, and the depth players rarely, if ever, play.
Where you fall on this chart is a combination of your ability and the level of the program, as illustrated by the following diagram:
As an example, an impact player at Notre Dame will likely be on a U20 National team or playing at some equivalent high level. Whereas, a Notre Dame core player (someone who might or might not start, but gets playing time) could be an impact player at Bucknell. Feeling pride in being a depth player (someone who rarely, if ever, sees the field during a game) at Boston College could fit within your goals. But if you’re used to being on the field 90 minutes a game during your club and high school years, sitting on the bench for four years might not be satisfying. The point is, you need to determine where you’ll likely fit at a school, and whether you are satisfied with that expected experience.
In terms of soccer level, few players aim too low. The danger in aiming too high is either (a) being left without a chair when the music stops; or (b) getting what you hoped for. A word of advice in regards to Athletic considerations. College soccer is the end point for most women players; very few play professionally, and for those who do, the poverty is only bearable for so long. For 99% of college players, your youth soccer has really been leading up to playing in college. So if you're seeking a team at the highest level of play, but end up with no playing time, that could be frustrating. Determine the level that gives you a realistic chance of achieving your playing goals.
#2 Appraise Your Academic and Athletic Capabilities
You've got your list of schools, aided by defining your Three Campus Factors and you're beginning to understand your Academic and Athletic Priorities. At some point, your aspirations and abilities have to overlap, thus you'll need to make a realistic appraisal of your Academic and Athletic Capabilities.
- The academic part is not so hard, as it's based on your grades and eventually your performance on standardized tests. However, when trying to gain a coach's support, the academic performance that is required for a specific school is also a function of how highly the coach appraises your soccer potential. So the difficult part of this exercise is that there are multiple independent variables, as the coach's interest in you is a function of both academic and athletic ability.
If as a sophomore you're on the U.S. National Team, things are pretty straight-forward. You'll be seen as an elite player, and capable of playing at virtually any college or university. But that's only a handful of players in each class year. And regardless as to how good a player you are, if you have a C- GPA and a SAT combined score of 1400 (out of 2400), you're not going to play at Harvard (or any other ECS school).
As a sophomore, you likely do not yet know your eventual appropriate academic or soccer level, so don't get too focused on that at this time. Instead continue to look for a range of schools that best meet your Campus Factors and has your academic area of interest. Your list will likely change and ultimately narrow over the next 24 months. Of course, continue to make good grades as having a strong academic record opens many more opportunities.
- Athletic fit is the tricky one, with the hardest part of the search being a realistic appraisal of your soccer level. Parents are notoriously poor judges of their own children’s athletic ability; their natural interest in wanting happy, successful children does not foster unbiased views. Your coaches are often only slightly better judges, either because they don’t understand what it takes to play college soccer or they have a reluctance to give honest, sometimes expectation-deflating feedback.
Pursuing the right level is actually a multifaceted issue, since it includes both your ability to make a team, your expectations of playing time, and your overriding academic goals (for example, do you want to play at the highest level possible or use soccer to reach the highest possible academic level?). It also introduces the questions of DI, DII, or DIII. There is a plethora of online discussion of the various divisional levels. Our advice is to let the division fall out of the search; in other words, get the right school (academic and athletic fit), determine your desired balance of academics and athletics (DI generally requires a bigger time commitment than D3), and then play at whatever division in which that college happens to fall.
Only about a third of ECS colleges and universities offer athletic scholarships; and a number of those schools play at the highest DI levels and recruit from National Pools. A little known statistic is that only 1% of all high school athletes end up with a full-ride DI athletic scholarship, and the percentages for women's soccer is even lower. While an athletic scholarship is great, be cautious about sacrificing your academic goals and college fit in pursuit of an athletic scholarship; there are many other sources of college funding available.
#3 Contact Coaches, Get in Front of Coaches
Judging soccer talent is subjective, so it's imperative that you play in front of your targeted coaches. Your options are:
- Having the coach come to a regular game (probably in the spring). If they'll do that, it shows a real interest and you'll get far more focus.
- Having a coach watch you at a tournament.
- Attend a clinic or camp at the coach's school.
- Attend a clinic or camp at another school where the coach is present (maybe harder to get their attention).
The value of ID camps and clinics
The prevalence of women's soccer ID camps and clinics justifies more discussion. Most college coaches now offer either a one or two day clinic or longer summer camp, many offer both. The clinics and camps can be either residential or non-residential. Done wisely, ID camps and clinics can offer a cost effective way to both experience a campus, get familiar with a coach, and showcase your skills. Today, many coaches (especially DIII coaches) boast that the majority of their recruited players come from their camps and clinics.
Our advice is to pick those camps and clinics that make the most sense in terms of maximizing exposure of your target list. It gets expensive if you go to many, but more important, you will get camp burnout, which will hurt your performance in front of coaches. Also, doing five hours of soccer per day for multiple sequential camps can result in injuries.
It’s sometimes hard to know which camps are actually being used for ID’ing players and which are primarily money generators. Some things to consider:
- Is the camp for high school players? If the camp/clinic includes 5th – 8th graders, then its primary focus might not be looking at high school prospects. This is more common at summer camps, whereas, most clinics are only high school players.
- Does the camp include coaches from multiple schools on your list? You can only do so many, thus if you can play in front of three or four of your coaches that’s better (well, better only if you play well, which gets back to limiting the number of camps you attend).
- How many players are at the camp and do the players wear numbers? Some camps have hundreds of girls all wearing unnumbered tee shirts. It is great that 10 college coaches from different schools are working the camp, but how are they supposed to identify a player? Perhaps tell the camp administrator “Today, I liked the girl with a blonde ponytail, and white cleats. Can I get her name?” If you go to one of these large summer camps you should contact your targeted coaches ahead of time and ask to meet them and have them watch you (especially if you wear your hair in a ponytail and have white cleats). Better yet, if you have a #1 coach there, request to be on that coach’s team during the camp.
Also be aware that just because you get a camp brochure doesn't mean that you are being recruited. Coaches do mass mailing and emailing of their camp brochures.
That's pretty much all of your live options for getting in front of a coach. The only other avenue is video. The use of video can be helpful, but rarely can convey all that a coach needs to know about you.
Prior to having the coach see you play, it's imperative that you send an email to introduce yourself. The email should contain a link to your Soccer Profile and other information that can help you standout in the coach's mind. Remember, this is when you want to begin differentiating yourself from the countless other players who are contacting the coach. Here's a link to a sample introduction email.
Prior to each event where the coach can watch you, you should send another email; they'll only watch you if you ask them to do so. And finally, send a thank you email any time a coach has watched you play, and ask for feedback. As a freshman and sophomore, the feedback is likely to be nonspecific and generally positive. But as you get into your junior year, the feedback can give you a true understanding as to where you are on the coach's list of prospects. These email contacts are crucial in building a relationship with the coaches of your target schools.
NCAA Recruiting Regulations - Sophomore Year
Division I and II
For the most part, you are officially off limits to DI and DII college coaches during your sophomore year; which seems strange considering that some verbal commitments occur during this time. Here's the lowdown...
As a sophomore, DI and DII coaches can’t call or email you, or have any contact with you or your parents off their campus. You can receive brochures for camps and questionnaires, but no personalized recruiting materials. However, you may call the coach and they can then speak with you. Not only can DI and DII college coaches not call you, they can't even return a call if you leave a message for them (they're not being rude); nor can they email with you.
So how do coaches communicate with you and let you know they are interested during sophomore year? Typically through your club coach. DI and DII college coaches are allowed to contact your club or high school coach at any time. And while they can't call you, they can take your calls. So typically, they'll call your club coach and request that you initiate a call to the coach. Not exactly the most efficient form of communication, but that's the rules. College coaches can, however, meet with you on their campus and even have you do a sleepover (you'll be charged a nominal fee for sleeping over and meals); these are called "unofficial visits" and you aren't limited on the number of these. Official visits (that is, paid for by the athletic department) are not allowed until senior year.
Calling college coaches is a very important detail to your process. Remember, one of your goals is to differentiate yourself from all of the other high school players. Most high school girls are intimidated by the prospect of calling a college coach, which makes it all the better way to differentiate yourself to the coach. Start calling them weekly and they might see you as a crazy stalker, but making a call to introduce yourself or to thank them for watching you play can make a lasting impression.
As a sophomore, Division III coaches can send you recruiting material, email, and call you (and, of course, you them). However, the recruiting timeframe for DIII is typically later than DI and DII, so in reality few focus on freshmen. This doesn't mean that you should ignore DIII schools during your sophomore year. Visit some DIII campuses to help define your Three Campus Factors; better yet, attend some spring and summer soccer clinics at a couple of DIII schools that are of preliminary interest. One restriction is that DIII coaches cannot have off campus contact with you or your family until after your junior year. As with DI and DII schools, there is no limit to how many colleges you can visit, but the college can't cover any of your expenses until senior year.
The Sophomore Caveat
Coaches want strong athletes and students; players with academic woes are a distraction for the coach and can hurt their important relationship with Admissions. But coaches are also looking for good character. Coaches do not want to deal with problem student-athletes with bad attitudes. So remember that you're being evaluated both on and off the field. And "off the field" includes your social media. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are highly hazardous for aspiring high school athletes (not to mention politicians, business people, and others); assume that coaches will see anything you post.