'Win the College Soccer Recruiting Game': A guide delivered with unique expertise

If any soccer parent had an inside track on college recruiting, it was Steve Gans.

A former player who went through the process himself (and played for both Cornell and Brandeis University), he has served as an advisor, consultant and attorney for players, coaches, clubs, administrators, owners and colleges. He has worked at every level from youth and college to the pros, and served on a youth club's U.S. Development Academy/MLS Next board. He even investigated a college soccer program in a recruiting matter.

Gans’ two sons played at high levels. He was closely involved in their college recruiting process.  Yet neither wound up at the school to which they originally committed.

“The fact that someone with my experience and expertise can still have surprising, and perhaps disappointing, outcomes underscores how fickle” that process can be, he says.

So, hoping other parents won’t make the same mistakes he did (and, in a generous gesture, donating most proceeds to club scholarship programs for players who don’t have the resources Gans and other pay-to-play parents have), he wrote a book.

The title — “Win the College Soccer Recruiting Game: The Guide for Parents and Players” – makes it sound like just another how-to tome.

It isn’t. Gans illustrates every “do” and “don’t” with specific examples, from his own experiences and others’. (He asked his sons’ permission; some of the stories are quite personal.)

Whether the topic is highlight videos, emails or weighing MLS Next vs. high school, Gans writes powerfully and passionately. His tales resonate with any parent or player who has been told from Day One that youth soccer is a pathway to college.

Gans’ takes on identification camps and showcase tournaments are particularly valuable. (Spoiler alert: He understands their importance. But he’s not a big fan of either.)

College soccer is a “non-revenue sport,” Gans emphasizes. Coaches have limited recruiting budgets. So even players at the highest level – MLS Next – must be proactive. Anyone hoping to play college soccer must have a plan. It begins with when and how to approach schools they are interested in.

They (and their parents) must also be alert to things that can go wrong. (Spoiler alert No. 2: They often do.)

In Gans’ son Noah’s case, that was being placed by his Development Academy coach in a position that did not show off his best attributes (and where college coaches did not envision him playing). Then the Harvard program recruiting him was put on “pariah status” by administrators following news of a Google doc containing inappropriate comments about the women’s team.

Noah ended up at Division III Brandeis. Though it was his father’s alma mater, Steve was not sure it would be a good fit.

It was. As a freshman Noah helped lead the Judges to the final four. He enjoyed an excellent four-year career there.

Gans’ younger son Josh had a different story. After limited playing time on the Boston Bolts DA team, he moved to their National Premier League side. He thrived there, and had a great time playing high school soccer, too.

Emory University liked Josh, but wanted him to raise his ACT score by a point. He did. Yet two days before Early Decision admissions in December 2018, the new head coach learned that Josh had not taken enough Advanced Placement courses. Josh ended up at Brandeis as well.

Gans blames himself for some of those missteps. In retrospect, he says, he should have spoken up sooner about his concerns over Noah’s positioning. Others – like miscommunication between the Emory coach and the admissions office – were out of Gans’ hands.

So he offers a book full of tips: how to curate a video. When a “highest label” club or team makes sense, and when it doesn’t. How to select the right ID camps.

Gans is well aware that his book is aimed at parents who can afford things like professionally shot videos, multiple ID camps and trips to tournaments. That’s why he’s donating proceeds to clubs whose players can’t pay for those things.

But he knows his audience, and he speaks their language. It’s the language of “do we really have to go to another showcase?” He answers it in the language of: “Maybe. But before you go, consider these questions.”

An important through line in “Win the College Recruiting Game” is “caveat emptor.”

“You have to be an educated consumer,” Gans notes. “I knew a lot of the traps, but I still made mistakes.”

He offers a lawyerly disclaimer that although he has no daughters, he did his research into the women’s game. Because girls are recruited – and commit – as early as 8th or 9th grade, they should start the process earlier than boys.)

Gans’ book is a sobering read. And he is not optimistic that things will change. He’s heard “so many recruiting horror stories” this year alone. Coaches who lack communication skills will not change overnight, he says, and there are more ID camps and showcases than ever. Some are “extremely misleading” in terms of which coaches they advertise will be there, or how elite the players will be. Even in the best situations, it’s unrealistic to expect coaches to look closely at every player.

Some college coaches and club administrators may not like his tell-it-like-it-is approach. But his primary audience will.

“I’m trying to pay it forward, for parents and kids,” Gans says. “Whatever I do in soccer, it’s about making the game better. I call out the dysfunction in college soccer – and there’s a lot of it. But I give shout-outs when I can too.

“I hope everyone takes it all to heart.”

Win the College Soccer Recruiting Game: The Guide for Parents and Players By Steve Gans (Alinea Learning), 146 pages, 2023 (available in paperback, Kindle & Nook)

2 comments about "'Win the College Soccer Recruiting Game': A guide delivered with unique expertise".
  1. Greedy Striker, March 21, 2023 at 9:10 a.m.

    Interesting to see the colleges mentioned were elite academic schools not known for athletics... the Harvard's and Emory's are not necessarily akin to other programs ... or men's college soccer as a whole. Not exactly a typical college decision at all and skeptical about how this helps improve . Maybe change the book title to only privileged soccer prospects

  2. Mike Lynch, March 21, 2023 at 12:31 p.m.

    There are over 1000 underclass student-athletes in the NCAA women's soccer transfer portal. All the stakeholders (Student-Athletes, Parents, Club Coaches and College Coaches) in the college soccer recruitment process can and must do better. Hopefully, Gans' book and others books and webinars providing more transparency will make a difference. Thanks for sharing Dan. 

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