The process of getting on a men’s college soccer team starts a decade or even more before you hit the age of 17 or so and begin to apply to colleges. “They’ve come up with a figure of 10,000 hours to become an accomplished player,” says Frank Olszewski, coach since 1982 of the Towson Tigers men’s soccer team at Towson University in Maryland. If you’ve had your soccer cleats on since you were small, you’ve taken the first step toward succeeding at the college level.
Play on the most challenging teams you can in your age group to obtain exposure in front of college coaches and hone your game. Look for travel or elite travel teams as opposed to recreational teams as a youth player. Or try for a spot at a development academy, clustered on the East and West coasts, Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes, Colorado and Texas. Development academies, top youth teams, work in partnership with U.S. Soccer to develop elite youth players.
Switch teams if necessary if you are not getting the playing time you need due to a lot of other players at a position, such as left fullback. “The more someone’s playing, the more they’re getting experience in a good environment, the more they are improving,” Olszewski notes.
Work relentlessly on skills, tactics, psychological preparation and physical conditioning rather than winning; athletic players who win at lower levels on raw talent may not work on the skills essential to find a place at the hotly contested college level with so few spots.
Maintain your academics for the best chance of finding a spot. “The word ‘student’ is an extremely important part of the equation for student athletes,” the Towson coach notes. “You obviously increase your options if your academics are up to par.” Men’s Division I teams are limited to 9.9 athletic scholarship positions for a team of 25 to 26 players, and good academics help your chances of landing one of the remaining positions.
Compete with your team in showcase events at the regional or national level where college coaches come to observe high-level tournament play and scout players. “There’s no substitute for seeing the student athlete first-hand, you want to see them in the best possible environment and most competitive,” Olszewski states.
Send letters or email messages to the colleges that interest you most that aren’t in your area, enclosing DVDs or links to online videos of your play. “These can be a good introduction, especially if you’re a student in Maryland and looking to go someplace in Nevada or Colorado,” Olszewski notes. Include contact information for the coaching director of your current club team as well as information on your academic performance.