By: Chris Edelschein, NLSA Trainer, Director of College Recruiting & Zone 3 Coordinator
In a world where athletic accomplishments are top headlines in sports, some onlookers lose sight of the true meaning behind the term “student-athlete”. If we dive into the actual words “student-athlete”, we can analyze the true meaning behind the reason athletes head to college to play a sport, and why college coaches look for more than just athletic ability and accomplishments.
Today’s college coaches look for the complete student-athlete to help their programs achieve their goals. This completeness can vary from coach to coach, but almost every coach looks for the following attributes in a student-athlete:
- Academic success
- Athletic ability and talent
- Physical and mental strength
- Personality, attitude, and vision
I begin with academic success as the first pillar that a college coach is looking for in a prospective student-athlete. This relates directly to my opening paragraph: every player is going to college to attain an academic degree, and academics take precedence before stepping on the field for the vast majority of student-athletes in college. If a prospective student-athlete does not have the adequate grade point average, SAT score, ACT score, etc. to be accepted into their desired school, a coach will not even get the chance to coach them on the field. Only 2% of high school athletes receive some type of athletic scholarship, which leaves the door wide open for academic scholarship opportunities. The academic success of a student-athlete is a key quality to start and continue a healthy recruiting relationship with a coach.
Athletic ability and talent is an assumed quality that college coaches always look for, as every coach wants to enhance their program with each player they bring in. A prospective student-athlete must start to fine-tune their skills for which they are being recruited. Is the prospective student-athlete a goalkeeper? Is the coach recruiting the student-athlete to become a prolific goal scorer for their team? Is the coach hoping the prospective student-athlete becomes a versatile field player that must have a complete technical game and be able to play multiple positions? These are all great questions to ask once the recruiting relationship begins with a college coach.
Coachability is the next feature that college coaches look for in prospective student-athletes. Coachability is defined as the effective ability to positively respond to instruction and training from a coach’s requests or demands, and then apply those coaching methods through practices and games. The more positive responsiveness a prospective student-athlete shows to their coaches, the more likely they are to get recruited. Also, when a prospective student-athlete gets to college, a coach wants to see that coachability continue to grow and adapt to their coaching staff and to peer feedback.
Strength breaks apart into two categories that college coaches look for: physical and mental. Physical strength is a clear and easy trait for coaches to look for. Does a recruit have the highest physical endurance while being showcased? Is the student-athlete fit enough to play multiple matches in a college showcase weekend? Can the student-athlete continuously perform at a high level throughout different phases of a match? These are essential questions student-athletes should be asking themselves. Mental strength is a unique quality that differs drastically from the physical side, as mental strength actually entails physical strength. College coaches want to recruit players who show a high level of mental strength in composure, positive attitude, work ethic, and drive. Every student-athlete’s body is going to tire during a match, during a season, and during the academic year. Can the athlete push through that physical tiredness and still make positive decisions when their body is trying to limit that ability, both on and off the field? Can the student-athlete show composure and a positive attitude when negative things occur on the field? Does the student-athlete have the motivation to keep getting better outside of organized team events and practices? Outside of academics and athletic ability and talent, mental strength makes a great case as the next most important quality in a prospective student-athlete.
Lastly, college coaches will look at a prospective student-athlete’s personality and attitude, as well as their own vision for the player. Coaches will ask recruits to come to their campus, both for daily and overnight visits, to ensure their personalities fit within the culture of their program. Coaches will ensure that prospective student-athletes have meals with current rostered players, and ensure that they spend social time with the team on official visits. College coaches not only watch recruits at showcase events, but they are also constantly listening to recruits. Coaches really want to see how players respond to both positive and negative situations, as well as how they respond to their coach’s feedback. Does a student-athlete continuously show a positive reaction to multiple forms of coaching? The last concept in this section pertains to a college coach’s vision for the student-athlete they are recruiting. Many coaches are always thinking of how they can fully utilize an incoming student-athlete in their program. Unless a prospective student-athlete is a goalkeeper, the player must be entirely open to a coach’s vision for them at the next level on the field. A prospective student-athlete may think they are solely a right or left midfielder, but a coach may see a bigger picture for them as a center back for the betterment of their program.
Each coach may have additions to these five essential qualities for a prospective student-athlete, but many agree that these are the pillars for building a strong recruiting class.
At the end of the entire recruiting process, a prospective student-athlete should always ask themselves one final question: “if soccer ends for me tomorrow, am I in the right place academically?” The student-athlete must always have a confident answer to this question, as the recruiting process for soccer is just as important as the academic process.