My guess is, as a soccer parent, you already know that the college soccer recruiting process is complex and confusing. From trying to follow the NCAA rules about communication and commitment, to wondering whether colleges are seriously interested in your child – not to mention the uncertainty of trying to get noticed in the first place – recruiting can be a major source of stress for players and their parents.
As a recruiter, coach and club director, I spend a great deal of time educating student-athletes and their parents about college recruiting. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many families miss out on fantastic college opportunities because they had unrealistic expectations or were misinformed about the process. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful to tackle one of the college recruiting myths I hear most often: that elite clubs offer the best path to college soccer. Although clubs can provide great opportunities for development and exposure, there are many reasons to also include middle school and high school soccer in your family’s recruiting strategy.
Playing Games vs. Development
Parents tell me all the time that playing lots of games will help their child become a better soccer player. While this is partially true, there’s also a catch. Competing against worthy opponents will help develop an athlete’s soccer skills, but playing games will only help an athlete who has developed new skills during training. In other words, you can’t get an A on the test if you haven’t attended class.
Unlike many club programs, middle school and high school coaches are under less pressure to win, granting them the freedom to teach new topics and nurture individual players’ growth and development. School programs can be wonderful places for young athletes to learn and develop, offering players a safe place to try out new skills – and to grow and improve after learning from their mistakes.
The Best...at What?
Another misguided belief in college recruiting is that playing in an elite competitive environment – ideally for the “best” team or club – will ensure your child captures college coaches’ attention. The truth is, many of the world’s best players today came up through the ranks of non-elite programs. When I was a young player, I found it invaluable to be able to test the techniques I was learning in my academy program while also playing on my high school team. I attribute a large part of my success as a professional player to experimenting with new techniques at school, learning what worked and what didn’t, and then confidently using those skills in a professional match.
Coaches Recruit Leaders
As I’ve said, club teams can offer a lot of value, but a player can still make a valuable contribution to a team no matter its level of prestige. Most importantly, college coaches know that being on the roster of the winningest team doesn’t necessarily guarantee a player will be successful in college. Instead, college coaches seek out individuals who can demonstrate leadership, technical and tactical mastery, coachability, a strong work ethic, and other qualities that will contribute to their program’s long-term success. These and other leadership qualities also happen to be the foundation of school sports.
Building Mental Toughness
College coaches regularly note that student-athletes, especially freshmen, often struggle to cope with the mental pressure of collegiate competition. Playing varsity, or even junior varsity, soccer for their school team can be a wonderfully enriching experience that helps prepare young athletes for what they’ll experience in college. Performing in front of peers, teachers and parents can create a level of pressure that does not occur on a club team. This pressure intensifies exponentially if their team makes it into post-season playoffs or finals. Learning to manage the intense emotions of pursuing important personal goals while being judged by the people they care most about can help young athletes develop mental toughness that will serve them well in college.
Creating Lifelong Memories
The honor of representing their school in local, state and regional competitions forges unshakeable bonds among teammates and is an experience your child is likely to carry with them forever. In my own soccer career, playing school sports was a tremendous learning experience. I can still recall the buzz of excitement I felt playing for my school and representing my town. As exciting as it was for me to be a young professional player, my school memories are still as vivid today as anything I accomplished on the international stage. Your child deserves to have similar opportunities to cultivate friendships and a love of the game, and to build their own memories that will last a lifetime.
These are just a few of the benefits that school sports can offer young athletes. Playing on a school team provides vital opportunities for personal and athletic enrichment, making your child more appealing to coaches and helping them succeed in college. If you’ve previously dismissed the idea of your child playing middle school or high school soccer, I strongly encourage you to think about supplementing your child’s club training with a school program.
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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.