By Avi Stopper
The opening whistle blows. The ball gets dropped back to you. Your first touch isn't so good and the ball slips away. You scramble to it just before a defender gets there, but you hit it awkwardly and it bends out of bounds. Uh oh.
You look over at the sideline where the ball went out and see the coach from Northeast Southwest University. You gasp in disbelief, "I didn't realize he was here." Your mind is racing for the rest of the game: "What did he think of that touch? Did he see the shot I just took? Why does he only seem to be watching when I mess up?"
To be successful at a tournament, you have to ignore the college coaches on the sideline. Worry about recruiting before the tournament begins and then focus on playing while you're there.
Why is it so important to focus on recruiting before a tournament even begins? Let's do some quick math. The average tournament has 16 teams in each age group. There are three age groups from which college coaches recruit. And there are 15 players on each team. That means that there are 720 players at the tournament. For any given player, the odds of randomly "getting seen" are impossibly low -- about .1 percent.
How then to beat the odds? College coaches typically go to tournaments with a list of players they want to see play. The list may include five names or it may have 50. Either way, the college coach is focusing his attention on a fraction of the total number of players at the tournament. Simply put: You need to get on that list.
Fortunately, it's not that difficult. Once you've figured out which colleges you like and started communicating with them, email the coaches your tournament schedule. A week before the tournament begins, send the coach a quick email saying something along the lines of:
Hi Coach Affleck,
I'm excited about playing next week at the Southside Invitational. Are you planning to be there? If so, I would really appreciate it if you'd take the time to see me play. My schedule is as follows:
- Saturday, 9 am, Field 9.
- Sunday, 11 am, Field 2.
I'm very interested in playing for you and I hope that after seeing me play, you'll be convinced that I'm a good fit for your team. Thanks so much for your time. I hope to see you there next week!
Ralph K. Smithsonia
An email like this is surprisingly simple, but it shows a coach that you're interested in playing for him and that you're doing everything you can to get him to see you play. This makes a big difference to college coaches, who otherwise have to spend an absurd amount of time chasing players down to see if they're interested. Simply showing that you're interested and asking a coach to watch you play can dramatically advance your cause.
OK, so you've emailed coaches your schedule and at long last you get to the tournament. You're pumped and ready to play, if a bit nervous. Inevitably you look over to the sideline and there he is, sitting in his lawn chair, pen and paper in hand, school logo emblazoned on his shirt.
The best thing you can do is play the way you normally play. Don't start dribbling all over the place in an effort to impress him. Most importantly, don't dwell on your mistakes -- college coaches know that everyone makes them. In fact, the way you respond to mistakes is something that coaches often watch. Most importantly, enjoy the game and embrace the opportunity to play. If you do that, you'll be able to sideline your concerns about recruiting.
(Avi Stopper is the CEO of CaptainU, the youth and college sports network, and author of “Make the Team: The Art of Self-Recruiting.” This article previously appeared in the Youth Soccer Insider in March 2011.)