Did you ever pretend to be playing at the biggest stage in the biggest moments like scoring a goal in a National Championship game, I know I did. As a young boy from the suburbs of Philadelphia growing up in the 90’s I imagined playing for the University of Virginia. If you know anything about college soccer in the 90’s UVA was a dynasty and that is where some of our best Americans played their college ball. But dreams don't always turn into reality. There are over 800,000 high school soccer players and on average about 8% of them will play at the collegiate level. And only 1.5% will play Division I Soccer.
The question is do you have what it takes to be a college soccer player? College athletes must have a certain mindset as well as the talent to play at the next level. Most, student-athletes are the best players on their high school or club teams, however just because you are the best on your high school team doesn't mean you can play at the next level and vice versa. It takes much more than talent to be a college player.
Here are four qualities that every student-athlete should have or do.
Self-Confidence: If you want to play at the highest level in college sports you must have unwavering self-confidence. But you must also be realistic. I dreamed of playing college soccer at the University of Virginia for as long as I can remember. But I realized I didn't quite have the talent as well as the grades to play at that level. But I still believed I had what it took to be a Division I soccer player but it wasn't an easy road.
I had many people tell me I was crazy, you would too, if you heard the story. I played on a very competitive club team in Philadelphia, each year we were competing for a State Cup Championship. I also attended a high school that traditionally had a strong boys soccer program. I thought I was entering into a great situation that would provide the experience I needed to play Division I college soccer. That turned out to not be the case. 20 years ago the recruiting process didn't really begin until the summer prior to your senior year, much different than it is today.
It is also much easier to be seen by a college coach today than it was 20 years ago. To make a long story short, there was no recruiting process for me. I ended up playing in five varsity soccer games in my senior year, so yeah I was a bench player. I didn't have one college coach contact me, I reached out to a handful of schools to express interest but only had one program reach out to me only to tell me they didn't have any roster spots available for the fall but I could play on the JV team. That was all the opportunity I needed. I eventually walked-on to the team in the spring of my freshmen year and would go on to play my last three years. The highlight of which is a game vs. nationally ranked University of Virginia. I received my first start in my junior.
I would end my college career making 13 starts and playing in 23 games, not too shabby for a high school bench player. The best part of that story is the Mount was the school I wanted to attend, soccer or no soccer. Today, I consider Mount St. Mary's my second home. The moral of the story is that my talent is not what led me to The Mount but the self-confidence I had in myself that I could play at that level.
Attitude: Your attitude is what will carry you through your athletic career. How do you approach the game? Do you feel because you are one of the best players people will just hand you things. Well, if that is the way you feel than you don't have the college mentality. There is no sense of entitlement being a student-athlete, it is a privilege and you need to earn it everyday.
Work Ethic: Do you believe you are so good that you can skate by on your talents? If that is your attitude then you don't possess the mindset of a college athlete. College coaches want someone who is going to improve over their career. Are you willing to work for what you want? Are you willing to sacrifice things to reach your goals. This is your training mindset. Showing up is not enough in college, you need to train hard. If a college coach has the opportunity to watch you practice they are going to observe how you approach training. Will you just go through the motions in simple drills or will you go 100%? College coaches LOVE athletes who train hard all the time.
Coachability: Do you think you have nothing else to learn or are you willing to learn more? Coaches want players who want to improve in all aspects of their game. You must be able to handle constructive criticism from the coaching staff. Coach-ability is major player in being a college student-athlete. You have to have the attitude that you do not know everything and your coach has much more experience than you do. I did an interview with the Women's Lacrosse Head Coach at the University of Southern California, Lindsey Munday spoke about what she looks for in her recruits. While it’s not soccer related I think it speaks to all athletes in all sports I think this is exactly the mindset that every potential college athlete should have.
"There are so many talented players out there, and I truly think the ones that succeed at the next level are the players who have the desire to improve, work hard, and fall in love with the process of becoming the best they can be."
Obviously to play in college you have to have the talent to compete at which ever level you are interested in. Division I you have to have Division I talent. Division I is not for everyone, if you have the burning desire to play there are many options to look at. There are many players who have the ability to play Division I but maybe they are looking for something different out of their college experience so they go to a Division II, III, or NAIA school. As you navigate through the process keep your options open, don't slam the door on any opportunities that come your way. If you had your choice would you rather be a bench player on a mediocre Division I team or be a starter on a Division III team that will compete for conference championship?
If you possess these four qualities no doubt there is a school and program who is looking for you. Be proactive and contact college coaches, attend ID Camps, and Showcases and gain college exposure. Next week we will look at how you begin building an initial list of schools that match your academic, athletic, and personal needs.
Grab your copy of Designing Your Pathway to College Sports www.GuidingFutureStarsAcademy.com (GFS Store Tab) and get started on your journey to find the right college fit, academically, athletically, and personally.