Showcase…just the word puts you on guard. You’re the center of things. On the big field, the feature field, the stadium field, the special turf. Coaches come from far and wide to watch you play. You know who they are, even behind their shades, because they are standing there with their clipboards and game sheets, pens poised or tucked behind an ear beneath the cap with the college insignia. This, of course, matches the shirt and the jacket that sport the college logo and shout the school colors. They want you to know who they are. But do they know who you are? After all this is the Cup, the National Tournament, the Championship, the Show. You want to show for them.
This experience is daunting for some, perhaps many, kids. It used to be only the concern of high school juniors and seniors. Before this they were just getting their game on. They didn’t need to worry if anyone was watching. Now, with the expansion of competitive play and showcase events to the “elite” younger set, kids as young as 7th and 8th grade are being scouted and even recruited.
Coaches are getting their looks in at players at tender young ages. Perhaps this can work to the advantage of a late bloomer or a kid who needs to build confidence for play in a tense environment. Remember the knee-knocking and nail-biting that went on at that first tryout for the travel team?
Here’s the tricky part: back then, they looked to adults to supply what they needed. Now they need to look to themselves. So, showcase players, here are some helpful suggestions as you prepare for the show:
I. Simplify – take care of the basics ahead of time so you don’t have to give them a lot of time on tournament weekend.
- Know where your field is.
- Be early. In cleats. And shin guards.
- Know what color you’re wearing and have all uniform parts in case you need to switch.
- Find the restrooms before you hit the field.
II. Get the Jitters out – nerves can sap your strength OR be channeled into your game. Channel them in a way that suits you.
- Play your favorite pump up music through headphones a la Michael Phelps.
- Establish a special routine that normalizes even the tensest situation.
- Discharge the panic button by focusing on three things you’ll still have win/lose/draw, show or no-show. Priorities tend to put everything in its place.
- Quiet the “what if’s” with “act as if’s.” Whatever we believe will happen colors how we feel and actually encourages us to act as if it has already happened. If we act as if we are champions, we play more like champions.
III. Do Your Homework
- Learn what you can about the other teams and use it to your advantage.
- Play smart, not just aggressive. Club coaches may reward random effort; college coaches will not.
- Learn the NCAA college recruiting rules. They are complicated and subject to regular revision.
- Contact college coaches to let them know where you’ll be playing. If you can’t bring yourself to do this, are you really college soccer caliber?
- Research the colleges – academics, athletics, social life, location, geography, culture and anything else that is important to you for your college experience. Give serious thought to the kind of environment you need to succeed.
Okay. Now all you have to do is play it cool. It’s fun when you find out a college program is interested in you. Your heart flutters, kind of like when you find out that special someone wants to ask you out. It feels good to be noticed. But put all that fluttering away. Whether it makes you dizzy or gives you a big head, neither is good for your balance; you’ll need that for the field. There may be other suitors you don’t know about yet. You are meant, after all, to play the field!
Have you ever wondered what those serious-faced, clip-board toting coaches are looking for? It’s not random, especially for the ones who have been doing this a long time. They know exactly what they’re looking for in players they are watching. When you contact those coaches to let ‘em know where you’re playing, ask them. They’ll tell you. Here’s what they told me:
They are looking for players who:
- exhibit good decision-making
- show respect for the game, their teammates and the officials
- demonstrate athleticism, technique, tactical awareness, coachability
- handle themselves well in both difficulty and success
- have talent, character, a strong work ethic
- have natural size, speed or poise
- have developed the mentality to compete
- have the courage to take chances on the attack
- have tactical savvy and strong tracking presence in the box and in the final 25 yards to goal
Does that sound like you? If this is the game you play, then let it show. If you’re missing some of this, work harder to get it. If there’s a program you have your heart set on, ask the coach what he or she is looking for – specifically. I’m betting you’ll get answers like I did. A wish list of character traits they’ve identified over years of watching players mature and sifting through the best of the best.
If you just can’t see yourself approaching a coach, asking questions, advocating for yourself, honestly, is college soccer really right for you? Whose dream is this, anyway?
Because right now, playing in the college showcase is as easy as it’s gonna get. You see, these coaches do this every year. They look for a freshman recruiting class to replace the kids already on their rosters. All of them; not just the graduating seniors. There are no squatter’s rights on college teams. The best 11 play. Once they recruit you and sign you, you’re on the roster, but that’s it. Now you’re looking to fight for playing time and, if you’re lucky and good, for a starting spot. But look out for next year’s class. They may be bigger, stronger, faster, better, or more productive. When that happens, the upperclassmen take a seat.
It’s nothing personal. It’s business. The business of fielding a team that can win as many games as possible. How those coaches train and manage their teams is up to them, but they’re looking for the best raw material out there.
Parental aside: When your kid doesn’t get a look, it can be a very hard thing. This translates to “Your kid is not good enough.” We beg to differ. We have seen how he beats everyone at 1v1’s at practice or she outruns everyone at wind sprints or he arrives at practice early to get in extra touches. But as kids move up through the ranks toward college soccer (and all sports), there is a selection process which, by definition, not everyone can win. Their star quality on the club team gets ‘em nothing on the next level unless they earn it.
College coaches are looking for kids who can make it happen on the college playing field. They’re looking for that special someone, and they’ll know it when they see it. When they do, you can bet they’ll come knocking. Then athletes, by all means get those headphones out of your ears and answer the door!
So… simplify, relax, and do your homework. First, last and always, be teachable. It is college you’re looking at after all. And that, most everyone who has been there will tell you, is what you make of it. Start acting like a college soccer player, and before you know it you’ll convince yourself that’s exactly where you belong.