I'm sitting in my 12th grade math teacher's office eying the phone. My nervous fingers dial the number. The line rings once, maybe twice. A baritone voice picks up, a voice that I recognize from U.S. national team broadcasts.
"This is Ty Keough," says the head soccer coach at Washington University.
I realize I don't know what to say and stammer out a few blundering statements about how much I want to play for his team. The whole time I'm thinking, Wow, I sound like I'm 5 years old. Three minutes in, I decide I've already taken enough of his time and end the call. Hmmm, I think, I didn't do very well with that.
Seven years later I sit on my porch in Chicago with a stack of a dozen folders, calling players I am recruiting for the University of Chicago, where I am the assistant men's coach.
I reach a player - one of our top recruits - and have an awkward 2-3 minute "conversation." I revert to my more or less standard list of questions:
How are things going? Pretty well.
Any big games lately? A few.
What tournaments are you going to in the spring? President's Day, Dallas Cup, and Nomads.
How are you feeling about UChicago? I like it.
Do you have any questions about the school or our team? Not really.
This pattern of questions and monosyllabic answers repeats itself time and again. I get through my stack of folders within an hour.
Despite these rather painful examples, phone calls remain an essential part of recruiting. While coaches do a lot of calling, players don't have to wait around for the phone to ring. Instead, pick up the phone, shake the nervousness out of your fingers and make the call. But then what?
The good news is that college coaches thoroughly enjoy engaging conversations with recruits. If you convey your love of the game and general enthusiasm for joining their team, you can dramatically advance your cause.
To have a successful call, do a little prep work in advance. That way, whether you're dialing or answering, you won't be caught off guard. Every few weeks, take a few minutes to jot down a list of talking points including the following:
(1) The Champions League, MLS and U.S. national team games you've seen recently and a couple of observations about those games.
(2) The games you've played in lately and what went well (or not so well) in those games.
(3) Any technical or tactical questions you have.
(4) Things you'd like to know about the college or team that can't easily be found on the Web.
(5) Tidbits about your life outside soccer that you'd like to share - what great movies you've seen lately, academic accomplishments, etc.
Have this list of talking points in front of you when you're on the phone. It'll help make the conversation lively and interesting.
Enthusiasm, anecdotes, and a little repartee go a long way. Remember, this shouldn't be a cross-examination, so bounce some questions back at the college coach. Asking questions is a great technique to get the coach talking and to initiate a dynamic conversation rather than having a mundane, robotic information exchange.
It takes a little practice to be ready for these calls, so do some role-playing with your parents, club and high school coaches, and teammates.
Switch roles and put yourself in a college coach's shoes. This way, the next time you find yourself on the phone with a college coach and he asks how things are going, you'll be ready to have a real conversation.
(Avi Stopper played at Wesleyan University and coached at the University of Chicago. He is the founder of CaptainU, a recruiting web application that allows players and college coaches to meet, exchange information, and build relationships. Avi is also the author of the recruiting guidebook "Make the Team" and the host of the popular college recruiting podcast Radio CaptainU.)