College Contact Day – The Start of the Process, Not the End

Breathe.

You heard me, class of 2024 soccer players and parents.

Take a deep breath and put College Contact Day into context.

June 15th is the earliest college coaches can contact rising juniors. Some of you will inevitably receive a call or email. Odds are you know the coach, have attended one of their camps, or are a nationally recognized player.

For those of you who were contacted, congratulations! This is merely the start of the college recruitment process.

For those who didn’t…take another deep breath.

Like your classmates who received calls, emails, and texts, you’re starting the college recruitment journey too. If you need a moment to feel disappointed, take it. Learning to process disappointment is a key life skill.

But so is finding the right response.

That’s our topic for today, finding the right response as you start your college search. I’ll share some thoughts from The Soccer Parenting Handbook and offer actionable, insider tips. Even if you didn’t receive a college contact today, this is a time for action.

Here’s the plan.

College Recruitment in a Nutshell

Let’s start with the big question.

What is college recruitment?

College recruitment is the process by which potential student-athletes (PSAs) and college coaches explore mutual fit. Areas of consideration include, but are not limited to, academics, career objectives, system needs, cultural fit, gaps in roster, and social fulfillment. Some schools may also warrant an exploration of religious or political fits.

Like a job interview, the interviewer and interviewee engage in dialogue to see if there’s a match to be made.

All these considerations take time. College recruitment isn’t a celebratory social media post or bragging rights in a group chat. It’s the process of discerning a multidimensional fit.

Starting the Process

So what does that process look like?

Done poorly, it’s simply a means of choosing the school with the highest prestige or best financial package. Those are important factors, but if they’re the sole considerations, disappointment is inevitable.

Let’s start the process elsewhere. Instead of starting with the external from the get-go, let’s proceed with the internal. What do you, the PSA, want from your college soccer experience?

Take out a sheet of paper or open up a blank document on your computer or phone, then copy and paste the following questions.

  • What are my top career interests?
  • Which majors will help me get there?
  • How important is a school’s academic prestige? What’s the minimum I’m willing to accept?
  • Do I want to commute from home or find something more distant?
  • How far am I willing to travel for school?
  • Want kind of climate do I prefer?
  • Any location preferences, like the beach, mountains, metros, rural, suburbs, etc.?
  • What’s my ideal school size?
  • Do I want a high or low student-to-teacher ratio? Small classroom sizes or larger?
  • Can we afford the school?
  • Are there any social factors to add, like a football team or cultural amenities?
  • Would I attend the school even if I wasn’t playing soccer?

Before signing that commitment letter or casting off the entire college athletics experience, these questions need answering. Your goal is to better determine what you want from your college experience. Recruitment starts with you and your preferences.

The 20-School Universe

Now that you’ve answered those questions, the real work begins. It’s time to fill out what The Soccer Parenting Handbook calls “The 20-School Universe.”

Answering those 12 questions is designed to help you whittle down that list of prospective schools. Start with the region, then look at school and class sizes. By this point, you’ve hopefully narrowed your list of prospective schools considerably.

Next, look at majors. If a school doesn’t have one of your preferred academic programs, cross them off the list.

Now let’s move to the soccer side of things (though this process is easily replicated for any sport). The most important question you can ask is, “do I make this team better?” As coaches watch you play, that’s the top question they want to answer.

If yes, that’s a school to pursue. If you’re not good enough to contribute right away, understand that you’re playing an uphill battle. This is more a case of you recruiting the coaches than the two of you recruiting each other.

Recruitment is a process of elimination. Both players and coaches are trying to narrow options, but it’s important not to overcommit to one hope. College coaches don’t talk to one recruit, so you shouldn’t talk to one school either.

Ideally, you’re constructing a list of approximately 20 universities that offer the right fit. They check all the boxes from the 12-question survey and offer a range of soccer experiences ranging from reach to safe schools.

One of the biggest mistakes PSAs make is taking a “D1 or bust” mentality or believing an athletic scholarship is the absolute minimum they’ll accept. Those are mindsets are driven by status, not the full range of academic, financial, and athletic needs.

Here’s another take. Whatever level of play you consider realistic for yourself (you may need help from a coach, direct feedback from a college ID camp, or watching the team play, ideally live), identify five schools from that division. So, if you believe you’re a D1 athlete, pick five D1 programs that you want to pursue.

Don’t stop there. Now move down to the next division and find five schools there. Repeat until you have 20 total universities on your list. Even if you believe you’re a D1 player, include D2, D3, NAIA, and JC options. You may think you’re a D1 or D2 player, but that final offer isn’t yours to give. If playing college soccer is something you really want, expand your range of divisions while narrowing your list of schools at each level. Having 20 D1 schools on your list won’t help you if you’re a D3 player.

With your list of 20 colleges across the full range of divisions, find a nice email template and initiate contact. Send your highlight reel, basic contact information, academic interests, and a sentence or two explaining your interest in the university. Know that for larger or more prestigious schools, you may have a difficult time reaching the staff. Plan to send follow-up emails.

Patience, Diligence, Fit, and Camps

One of the biggest challenges with the recruitment process is the inevitability of delayed gratification. A friend might have offers. Another may already know where they’re going. Some are closing in on a D1 commitment, some are weighing scholarship offers.

Keep in mind that many (most) didn’t receive a contact on June 15th. Most haven’t received offers, had a campus visit, or are being pursued by the school of their dreams. Empathize with those who haven’t and celebrate the success of those who are fulfilling their dream.

Most importantly, show patience and the understanding that this is a process and your timeline doesn’t have to conform to those of your teammates and friends.

Once offers do arrive and you’re at a stage where coaches are giving you a campus tour, this is your chance to make your final assessment. Do you fit with the players, enjoy the coaching staff, and want to join the team culture? Spend time with the players if possible. Watching a training session or game is a great way to see how coaches treat their players and run sessions. Game film will also help you analyze if the program’s playing philosophy fits your skill set. If you’re best in a possession-dominant system, spend the extra time on YouTube watching the school’s games to ensure the game model fit is there.

In the end, TARGET THE RIGHT FIT, not any fit. You might squeeze into an adult small kit, but wouldn’t you rather have the adult medium that fits you better? The right fit will get the best out of you, and you’ll enjoy the experience much more.

From a soccer perspective, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. Ask where you fit on the team. If you’re more likely to play on the reserve team, ask about the pathway to the first-team. How many players earned promotion to the first-team last season? You should also look at their website to see how many freshmen played with the first-team in recent seasons and how many minutes they received.

You should also ask yourself if you’re okay playing on the reserve team or coming off the bench for the first team. Are you okay if you don’t play until your junior year? I’ve spoken with players who nearly quit their youth clubs because they moved down a team or lost a starting spot. If you’ve had this experience, you’ll want to prioritize playing time early in your collegiate career rather than reaching for a better team or division. Your youth soccer experience has so many insights to offer you. Reflect on your past to make a better decision for your future.

Finally, don’t confuse a camp offer with being recruited. Every school would love for you to register for their camps. Please, register for our Pfeiffer camps!

At their best, ID camps are a chance for coaches and players to find each other. Highlight reels, though necessary, offer limited information. Your best chance of getting recruited is to play in front of your targeted universities’ coaches. This is especially important if you’re not in an elite league with showcase events or interested in small schools that are routinely understaffed or operating on a tight budget. Lower-division and smaller schools typically recruit directly from ID camps.

Don’t take this as saying you’ll get recruited if you show up to a camp or that you should sign up for each school in your 20-school universe (this is a tremendous waste of money). Instead, be selective. If one coaching staff is more communicative than others, that’s probably the camp to attend. Communication signals interest.

Another good strategy is to ask college coaches if they plan to attend any 3rd party camps. If two or three of your prospective schools plan to attend the same event, that’s the one to target. Help yourself out by contacting them at least a week before the event. We get a flood of emails in the days leading up to showcases and camps. Get yourself on our evaluation list with early contact.

Invest in the Process

June 15th is simply a day on the calendar.

Whether you received a contact from a college coach or not, you’re at the start of the process. Even if your dream school offered you a spot on their team, the process doesn’t end today. You owe it to yourself, your parents, the college coaches, and future teammates to complete your due diligence.

Know what you want in a school and soccer program, then spend the time creating a list of target schools.

College Contact Day has little to no bearing on your outcome. This is simply the day we can start the process and evaluate if the fit is there. Don’t panic if those contacts aren’t happening right away. It’s early in the process and most of us are more focused on rising seniors (currently the class of 2023).

Today is simply the day to start our dialogue. We college coaches want to get to know you and your family. You’re not just a soccer player. You’re a person, a young person with ambitions, hopes, and flaws. We’re evaluating fit just as much as you are.

Take actionable steps and stay focused on the endgame…finding the right academic and athletic fit. Take ownership of your recruitment process and explore your options. Be okay with the timeframe and delayed gratification. Commit to the process and make a choice that checks your boxes.

This is the start, not the end. Recruitment is a process, not a day. Good luck on the journey.