LeBolt: Strategies to ace your first college soccer recruiting visit
You’ve narrowed it down to five to ten schools that all might be “The One.” They all have beautiful campuses, good food, the academic programs you want, and they play a brand of pretty nice soccer. Time for a visit. If you really want to give yourself the best chance of playing at those schools, do your homework.
That’s essential, says Carey Goodman, who as a top soccer prospect in North Carolina looked at strong academic schools with high-test soccer, but admits she always wanted to be a Duke Blue Devil.
“My parents forced me to look at other schools, though,” she says, so Carey expanded her list to seven schools she would go to visit, unofficially. In soccer-speak, that means you are interested in the school and program and have contacted them to let them know you’d like to visit. (Official visits are limited to five and the school pays. Unofficial visits are unlimited, but you travel and stay on your own dime.)
Once you’ve contacted the school and the coach, they pick a weekend that is convenient to have you visit. You usually stay with and attend a class with one of the players, tour the school and meet the coaching staff.
Of course, you’re not the only one coming for a visit. It’s you and the rest of the recruits touring the campus; most are accompanied by their parents and perhaps siblings. Now that’s got to be an awkward situation. You may be the best athlete there, but now your soccer can’t speak for you. You’ve got to speak for yourself and still stand out.
Carey credits her father, Blair Goodman, for preparing her to make a good impression. He insisted she always come with five questions to ask. She smiles remembering how that saved her when the coach at UNC started their interview with, “What questions do you have for me?”
“If I hadn’t brought any, that probably would have been the end of that interview,” Carey says.
Of course perceptive questions mean that you have done your homework. You’ve been to the school’s website, know the team’s playing schedule, their record, where they’ve traveled, and how they’ve performed.
You have read about the coach(es), clicked through the current roster, and certainly you have noted how many seniors they will be graduating this year and next so you know what their recruiting class might look like.
This is all due diligence. And it starts with preparation for the unofficial visit. (Where are the restrooms? doesn’t count.) Find out everything you can beforehand, and come curious. What do you really want to know? What will help you decide whether this is a school where you can see yourself fitting in, making an impact, being a good teammate, growing as a player and a person, and finding and pursuing a passion?
You can’t ask people to answer all those for you. All you can do is ask questions with that on your mind. Because believe me, if you come with a “they should be happy to have me” attitude, it shows. If not on the tour, then on the overnight stay. Keep in mind that these college players are going out of their way to welcome you and show you around, but this is on top of the heavy course load and playing demands they are already balancing.
“One player complained about sleeping on a futon, and another whined that we didn’t have any Diet Pepsi when there was a vending machine just down the hall. You’re someone’s guest. Act that way!” Carey says, without adding the ‘for crying out loud’ it deserved.
In spite of the red carpet you may have been shown elsewhere, there’s nothing that will usher you out of a highly competitive team selection process faster than thinking you deserve one, even though you haven’t set a cleat on their field. Players currently on the team know who will make a good teammate and who won’t.
“I’m not sure I was really aware of this when I was making my college visits as a recruit,” Carey says, “But I sure was when I was on the other side, taking prospects on the tours. The coach doesn’t spend much time with the players on this visit. Afterwards, Coach will ask us, ‘How was she?’ You remember the ones who ask perceptive questions and forget the ones who don’t speak up.” You want to be remembered, but in a good way.
Carey’s experience offers these five sure-fire ways to make a good impression on your unofficial campus visit, plus a bonus suggestion for Mom and Dad.
- Do your homework. Research the team, coach, players. Know what conference they play in, when and where they’re traveling and about their recent performances. Be aware of how many players they will be graduating and at what position.
- Come prepared with five questions. For the coach(es), for the campus tour, for the players, for the admissions personnel. Rehearse your questions and ready with more if things go well.
- Be ready to learn and don’t show off. Ask perceptive questions, but also listen so you don’t repeat what’s already been said. Stay close to the main tour guide so you can hear even the casual conversation along the way.
- Remember, you’re a guest. True gratitude never presumes and never forgets to say thank you. A “they should be happy I came” attitude speaks as loud or louder than your player accolades.
- Be persistent, but not pushy. Stay in touch, and follow up in ways that make it easy for coaches to find you and get to know you. Head coaches are notoriously busy, and some don’t return emails or phone calls regularly. The NCAA also has strict rules about this contact.
- Moms and Dads: take the back row and let your player rise or fall on their own merits. Nothing sends up red flags with college coaches faster than a parent who does all the talking. Help your kid prepare, and then take a seat. It’s the best way to tell them, “I know you can do this!”
Laura and Blair Goodman can be proud of their eldest daughter, who played 4 years of soccer at Duke University and now is the Assistant Director of Athletics Development at the College of William and Mary. She’s only been there a year, but particularly recalls being new and meeting with the current head men’s basketball caoch.
“He knew my name and asked me how I liked playing soccer at Duke,” she said. “I couldn’t believe he actually took the time to read my bio!”
It’s good to remember that the bio you are now writing with your soccer is what your potential first employer will be reading. In fact, I know employers who, if given the choice, will choose the athlete every time.
They say sport doesn’t build character, it exposes character. Best come prepared.