One of the most common questions we get is, “What are college coaches looking for?”.
The truth is, every college coach is looking for something a little different. Some coaches love big, strong, physical players, while others prefer small, quick, explosive players.
On top of that, there are a lot of factors that change what a single, given coach is looking for…
Position - Coaches look for different qualities in forwards than they do in defenders.
Outgoing Class - A program may be graduating a class with a lot of size, so the coach might want to make up for that with the incoming class.
Style of Play - A program’s style of play might evolve over time, so the coach will want to adjust the players on his roster to fit the new style.
Change in Division/Conference - Sometimes, colleges change conferences or even NCAA Divisions. To compete in the new environment, coaches might have to recruit a different type of player.
Coaching Staff - If a college’s head coach changes, chances are the new one will be looking for something different. But even changes in assistant coaches will impact a program’s ideal player profile. After all, assistants do the majority of recruiting at most programs.
All that being said, there is one thing that every single college coach is looking for. When a coach sits down on the sideline to watch your game, this is what he/she wants to see...
The One Thing - Impact
College coaches recruit players who impact the game.
What does that mean? It means that, after watching you play, if a coach is asked, “What did (insert your name here) contribute to the game?”, he/she can give a clear and confident answer, rather than saying, “Uhhhhh” or “Did he/she play?”.
That may sound harsh, but when I was a college coach, I left many a game struggling to put into words what I thought of a player. Why? Because he didn’t do much. He didn’t get himself involved. He didn’t make his team better. He didn’t have an impact.
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Why Making an Impact is Important
College coaches recruit players who they think will help their teams win. When a given coach watches your team play, it’s highly unlikely that your team or the team you’re playing is anywhere near as good as his/her college team. So, in order for a coach to believe that you can help his/her team win, you need to have a serious impact on the game.
The coach also needs to understand what you can do. If you float around without really getting involved, college coaches can’t evaluate you. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes - impose yourself on the game!
Lastly, unless you impress a college coach, he/she will probably only watch you once...and probably only for one half of a game. That means you need to take your chance to show them what you’ve got in a short period of time. You can’t pick your spots or have good games and bad games - you need to step up every moment of every game.
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What Impacting the Game Looks Like
Impacting the game can take a lot of different forms. The most obvious ones are scoring, assisting, making a big save, etc. However, there are plenty of other, more subtle ways to impact the game, and college coaches will notice:
Playing the majority of your passes forward, in possession
Challenging for every first and second ball
Communicating clear, concise, timely instructions
Motivating your teammates with your words and actions
Quickly transitioning from attack to defense, especially when you turn it over
Controlling the pace of the game based on the situation
Winning fouls in dangerous areas
Not fouling in dangerous areas
Adjusting your positioning or style of play to disrupt the opponent
Implementing coaching points from your coach that improve your team’s play
Sticking to your assignments on set-pieces
There are many other ways to impact the game. Can you think of some more? Any that you do on a consistent basis?
Ways to Improve Your Impact
Look over the above list again. Most items on the list are centered around your mentality and effort. Pick 1-3 and try to implement them in your next few training sessions and games. For games, remind yourself of the ones you’ve chosen before warm-ups, before kickoff, and at halftime. After the game, rate yourself on how you did.
When it comes to improving your impact, there are two things I tell every player to do:
Work on your technique outside of team training.
Watch the game.
The more time you spend on the ball, the more confident and comfortable you will become, which will allow you to step outside your comfort zone and thrive in high-pressure situations.
The more soccer you watch, the better understanding you’ll have of the game, and the more players you’ll have to emulate. When you watch a high-level game, watch the players who play your position. You’ll see the little ways in which they impact the game.
Another thing you can do is seek feedback. Ask your coaches how you can better impact the game. If you go to an ID camp, ask the college coaches there what you can do. Don’t be defensive when they give you constructive criticism - take it on and work to improve.
In what ways do you impact the game? What can you do to impact the game even more? Let us know - shoot us an email or slide into our DMs!