According to Fox Soccer, there were nearly 25 million soccer players lacing up their boots in the United States in 2013. Knowing what the scouts are looking for is one way to get a leg up on the competition. Scouts look for a combination of tangible and intangible qualities, like a player’s physical attributes, mental makeup, and, of course, talent and technical skill.
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The Tangibles: Physical Attributes
Much to the chagrin of young players, some things simply can't be taught. Speed and size are two things you’re either born with or born without. Every position on the pitch utilizes pace. Scouts have to see you have the foot speed to outrun a defender or hang with a speedy opponent. Size, while an important asset for many positions, is especially important for goalkeepers. Some scouts will even perform tests on younger athletes to forecast their growth potential.
Although most scouts will rarely watch the ball during a match, a player is expected to showcase solid technique while on the ball. Players should be able to dribble and pass with their head up, and should possess two strong feet. A deft first touch is something a scout will look for in young players. A useful first touch illustrates a player is thinking one step ahead and knows what to do with the ball before it comes to them.
The Intangibles: Soccer IQ
Soccer is a cerebral sport and its mental aspects are hard to teach. Some scouts watch where a player positions himself, while others focus on a player’s movement without the ball. Players should never stand still; those that do are called “ball watchers,” a term that makes scouts cringe. The players with the highest soccer IQs make runs and effectively move into space to receive a pass or draw the defense. Great players possess the awareness and instincts to know not only where all the other players are, but also where they will be.
Depending on the level of competition, scouts may interview players and their families to assess temperaments. A pro scout, for example, must know if a player can handle the pressure of playing at a big club in front of thousands of fans. Players need to harness their emotions and remain focused over an entire game of 90-plus minutes. Players also must show they can work well with the other 10 players on their side.
You can’t get noticed if you aren’t out there competing. Tony Lepore, the director of scouting for the US Soccer Development Academy, gave young players hope in 2013 when he said, “It’s hard to hide good players. If you’re a good player we’ll find you.”