Last week I was in San Diego for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Summer Showcase. In addition to the fun I had coaching CSA’s U14 DA girls team and providing support to the U15 and U17 teams, it was great to see so many familiar coaches’ faces and forge valuable new connections with college programs across the country. Each day when I arrived at the soccer complex, the excitement was tangible. Before the games even started, coaches were discussing whom they’d be evaluating and the questions they’d ask themselves as they watched the games. Like the players, the coaches in attendance prepared for this tournament to make the most of their time there.
During the games and after hours, I spoke with dozens of college coaches and I thought it would be helpful to share some of the insights I gained from those conversations with you. All of the coaches in attendance were primarily focused on looking at recruits that were already on their radars, whom they had previously identified at ID camps, whether their own or that of another program. That said, the coaches were also on the lookout for unknown players whose performance impressed them. I heard from several coaches that watching players at this showcase was beneficial in that it allowed them to see players in a far more challenging environment than an ID camp, and it enabled them to see players perform within their regular team environment which shed light on how they contribute to a team they train with consistently.
When evaluating players, coaches use a combination of technical, tactical, and psychological criteria to assess their suitability for a college program. Coaches are interested in whether a player is dominant on the field and plays with responsibility. From a psychological perspective, they observe the messages communicated by a player’s body language to determine how they respond to pressure and adversity. Technical skills are also evaluated, including passing and receiving, footwork, the ability to get out of difficult situations, if and how the player strikes the ball with both feet, and how they receive under pressure. Of critical importance is players’ communication skills. As I’ve discussed in previous blogs, communication is an aspect of the game that many players must improve. I really can’t stress this point enough: Coaches want players who communicate clearly and effectively, and who are confident enough to do so consistently.
The coaches’ conversations continued even after the games were finished, as they shared their experience dealing with the players in their programs and the strategies they’ve used to bring players together as a team. Many of the coaches talked about what they view to be a huge issue for incoming freshmen: youth programs are not providing players with enough insight into the collegiate soccer experience. The majority of freshman athletes are unprepared for the situations they will face, such as not playing in a game because their last performance was sub-par, underestimating the level of the program they’re about to join, and possessing inadequate offensive and defensive skills. Having a realistic understanding of their strengths and weaknesses is critically important to a player’s success, as it empowers them to more quickly adjust to new situations and develop the areas that lack. Unfortunately, many incoming freshman overestimate their abilities and have unrealistic expectations about their preparedness for collegiate competition.
Looking back over my week in San Diego, a consistent theme emerged from the coaches. Questioning a recruit’s competitive nature, they asked, “Is she a soccer player or is she just playing soccer?” My advice is to ask this question of yourself and use your free time this summer to reflect on your attitude and approach to training and games. Are you doing everything you can to improve your game? Do you practice at consistently high levels and show up to games ready to set the tone? Coaches will know if you are a soccer player through and through. Aim to always put forth your best effort, never stop learning and improving, and you’re sure to impress those who watch you play.
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Chris Bart-Williams is the founder and owner of CBW Soccer Elite. After an extensive career in the English Premier League, Chris now uses his vast soccer knowledge to assist families throughout the college recruiting process and prepare players for the mental and physical challenges of collegiate soccer. You can reach Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.