It's been a decade since Avi Stopper penned a guide for high-schoolers on how to navigate their quest to play college soccer. We checked in with Stopper, the CEO of CaptainU and a Youth Soccer Insider contributor, to talk about how the process may have changed over the years, the tournament industry, and scholarship mythology.
SOCCER AMERICA: Ten years ago, you published, "Make the Team: The Art of Self-Recruiting," a guide for young players aspiring to play college ball. How much has the landscape -- and the process -- changed in the past decade for such players?
AVI STOPPER: Wow! Crazy that it's been 10 years. So much for that decade. It's hard to imagine an era before YouTube and the technology that's now firmly at the heart of recruiting. From the perspective of a young player who wants to play in college, the fundamentals remain the same: find colleges that are a good fit, introduce yourself to the coaches at those schools, get them to see you play, build those relationships, and so forth.
But the nuances of how those kinds of interactions happen has changed a lot. A few examples include more advanced online search tools, mobile communication, YouTube for delivering videos. And that's just on the technology side. Things like the Development Academy, ECNL, and the growth of college camps has changed how players get seen in person.
SA: Do unrealistic hopes of college scholarships drive the ability of youth clubs to charge thousands of dollars a year?
AVI STOPPER: There's probably some element of that, though I think easier access to better information has helped subdue some of the college scholarship mythology. There are a lot of motivations behind those kinds of financial decisions -- some of which are probably more positive than others. That said, I think there's also a genuine interest and enthusiasm for becoming as good as you can be.
Ten years ago, pre-YouTube, you couldn't watch Cristiano Ronaldo highlights. It was harder to see how the game was played by the top players. And so it was difficult to even know what to aspire to. High school players now have such a better sense of what the game can look like at its best. I was at a Chicago Fire Development Academy game last year hanging out with the dad of one of our CaptainU customers who's headed to Creighton. It was incredible watching that game to see how good these players have become.
SA: Is it actually possible for players who are not recruited by college coaches -- or aren't invited to various identification programs or youth national team camps -- to play college soccer?
AVI STOPPER: I still think the answer to this question is a resounding yes. It might be a little harder to get seen if you're not playing at top tournaments or camps, but at the end of the day, college coaches are looking for great players irrespective of the source. Technology can help a lot in bridging the "access gap" between players who get to play at those events and those who don't. Find the right schools, make a video that shows you can play, send a thoughtful message to a coach, and build the relationship. The fundamentals are the same.
SA: There seems to be a glut of expensive youth tournaments and they sell themselves as opportunities to be seen by college coaches. How realistic is it that a player is spotted at a tournament and ends up being courted by a college coach?
AVI STOPPER: It's hard to generalize, but it is true that some of the more visible tournaments attract huge numbers of college coaches. There are coaches, for example, who only go to Development Academy events. So, yes, if you go to one of these tournaments where there are a bunch of coaches, the odds are probably higher that you'll get seen.
Ultimately, though, it's really about whether the school that sees you is a good fit academically, socially, and athletically. Just because they see you and like you doesn't mean that you're limited to that (or those) schools. This is why it remains as important as ever to do your work in advance to get the right coaches to see you play at those events. Even if you're not at the most well-attended events, it can be better to get a single coach at a school that's a good fit for you to see you play, than to be seen by a bunch of coaches at schools that don't fit what you're looking for.