When Suzy Germain and her freshman class (1980) teammates were recruited by Anson Dorrance to play for the UNC Tarheels, they were a force to be reckoned with. Describing it, Suzy says, “Practice was a battle. We took over every starting position. We knew we were better.” She says this matter-of-factly, with the confidence I’m sure gave her an edge on the playing field. There was no question that Suzy came to college for one reason: to play soccer.
That was the early 80’s. These girls were riding the wave of Title IX. More opportunities were opening up for girls in the sports venue. National Federation of State High School Associations statistics show that girl’s high school soccer participation grew more than 600% in the decade between 1971- 1981. But did the number of really top notch female athletes grow at that rate? Suzy’s recollection is that the strongest athletes were few and a tight knit group. Easy to spot and easy to recruit by enterprising coaches.
Cut to the young women of today who are competing on their high school teams with high hopes of playing in college. There are many more college women’s soccer programs, Division I, II and III, in 2011/12. But the explosion in the number of girls playing soccer has kept pace. While there weren’t very many programs for women in the early 80’s Suzy wonders whether the percentages really have changed much. The statistics bear this out.
The NCAA estimates (I have used the calculation methods designed by NCAA to generate estimates) the chances of a female high school senior soccer player landing a roster spot on a college team in 1981 was 6.4%. For college freshman in 2009 it was 6.7%. NCAA research estimates for boys put their chances at 5.7%. Though the NCAA does go on to calculate the chances of going pro for boys: 0.04%. Women’s professional opportunities are so limited they are not calculated.
The bottom line: while more kids are playing and more programs are providing teams, the chances your kid will make the college team is probably no better than it was 30 years ago. Male or female, they need to be:
- in the top 5- 6% in the nation. That means on a championship area team and a top player on that team.
- willing to look at Division I, II or III programs and flexible in their geographic demands. The chances to play Division I soccer are much slimmer: Under 2%.
- able to stand up to an exhausting schedule of training, practices and travel
- championship time managers because time for homework is slim even with study haul and tutorial help usually available.
If this looks like an impossible dream, it just may be.
Suzy and I agree. It would be healthier and more reasonable to:
- establish more realistic tiers for our kids playing soccer (and probably all sports).
- find an appropriate playing level where they can compete and grow in their fitness and athleticism.
- take the college pressure off the table.
- consider the club and recreational options many colleges now offer. Lower pressure. More fun. Still highly competitive.
If they show the highest potential (Be objective about this. Get a professional coach’s opinion!) then help them move up the ranks to the appropriate level of challenge. But for the other 95%, let’s put the ranks in place so all our kids have a safe and healthy place to play.