If college recruiting had a motto, it would be this: "What the [insert expletive of choice] am I supposed to be doing?" It's a perfectly reasonable question to ask. Most players and their parents have never been through the process. Or maybe they bumped and scraped their way through it with an older sibling. The pressure mounts as they realize each player only has one chance to get it right.
The response to the question above is an emphatic, "Don't leave it to chance!" The odds don't work in your favor. At least five competitive youth players are vying for each college roster spot. You can roll the dice and hope the right coaches contact you, or you can grab the bull by the horns and make recruiting work in your favor.
Surprisingly, it doesn't require that much effort. A couple of hours a week is all it takes to do a really good job. Which brings us back to the original question of what on earth you should actually do.
Let's focus on high school juniors for the moment. By the winter of your junior year, you should be recruiting in earnest. (This strategy can also be applied to elite sophomores or seniors who haven't nailed down a spot. Just expand or abbreviate the timeframe.)
The first thing is to sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and take a deep breath. Don't panic; everything is going to be OK. Pull out a 2008 calendar and map out your strategy. Here are the most important activities to put on the calendar:
1. Build a list of schools (Winter 2008) Find five to 10 colleges that have the right blend of academics, social life, and soccer. To build this list, schedule an appointment with your college counselor, talk with your friends and family, ask your soccer coaches what they think, and use college selection resources on the web such Destination-U and Cappex.
2. Initiate contact (Winter/Spring 2008) Introduce yourself to the coaches at the colleges you identified. Start with a soccer resume that contains your club and high school soccer info, academic info, and pictures.
3. Convince them that you're serious (Spring 2008) Communicate with each coach at least once a month. Update them on your latest exploits and let them know that you're really interested in playing for them. Don't fret, you aren't bothering them. In fact, you're making their job easier.
4. Get seen (Spring/Summer 2008) Let the coaches know where you're going to be playing. If they're going to the same tournaments and you've convinced them that you're serious about playing for them, they'll probably make an effort to see you play. If your tournament plans don't overlap, go to one of their summer camps, which are a great way to get a ton of exposure.
5. Have the tough conversations (Summer/Fall 2008) Once a coach has seen you play, ask for his honest opinion. Is there a place for you on his team? You may not always get the response you're hoping for, but at least it allows you to narrow your focus to the teams that are interested in you.
If you want recruiting to work in your favor, it takes a little effort. Fortunately, the emphasis is on "little." A small time investment to get organized, put together a strategy, and actually follow it will go a long way.
(Avi Stopper played at Wesleyan University and coached at the University of Chicago. He is the author of the recruiting guidebook "Make the Team" and the founder of CaptainU, a recruiting Web site where players and college coaches can meet, exchange information, and build relationships.)