USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from Playced.com. This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. Playced.com is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student-athletes of all talent levels and ages.
“The competitive cauldron. We compete in everything we do. Every day, every practice, we compete and we track results. We firmly believe you can’t develop in a recreational environment. If you’re not keeping score, you’re losing a huge opportunity. You either win, or you lose. You shouldn’t have to apologize for being naturally competitive. That’s not how life works.”
That’s what separates North Carolina from every other team on the planet. And with 21 National Titles since the inception of the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship in 1982, I do mean every other team on the planet.
This week, I had the amazing privilege of speaking with Chris Ducar, one of the most respected men in all of soccer, or football if you prefer. Coach Ducar is entering his 22nd season as the top assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Here is some insight into how college recruiting works in Chapel Hill.
Q: What does it take for a recruit to be noticed by the North Carolina coaching staff?
A: For us to notice any player, we have to see something exceptional. You have to possess an exceptional quality that makes you stand out against everyone on the field. Speed is something you can’t teach and can be so hard to defend. If we see a player flying all over the field, that will attract our attention. Heading plays a huge role in the women’s game, so if we see a young player dominating the air with combative heading, that’s something that will get our attention. And lastly, a young lady that is just super skillful in all phases of the game is going to make us take notice. Ideally, we’d like to recruit the unicorn that has every one of those qualities!
I think it’s important to point out that it also takes exceptional consistency for us to recruit any player. Meaning, if we see you at your very best for one game, was that just an anomaly? The reason we watch players multiple times during the recruiting process is because we want to make sure they bring that type of performance every game. Some players only turn it on when they know coaches are watching them. We’re not interested in those players. We’re interested in the players that have competitive fire, discipline and self-belief. They love the ball, they love the game and they have grit. That’s what it takes to play soccer at North Carolina.
Q: What age are you identify potential recruits?
A: Recruiting has changed so much in the twenty-plus years that I’ve been at North Carolina. We’re now recruiting players as early as their freshmen year of high school. I know that seems crazy but I think the majority of that change has to do with the talent-level of these kids. The level in which high school athletes are competing in 2017 is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. They’re such sophisticated players that play beyond their age and they just keep getting better, year-after-year. Just look at the resources available to these kids. They’re getting professional, top notch coaching before they even step foot in a high school. They’re getting professional-level speed and strength training. With the internet and TV, they have access to anything soccer, 24 hours a day. It’s a combination of all those things that brings us to where we are right now with college recruiting. If you can play at this level, it’s almost certain that someone is going to take notice of you by your freshmen or sophomore year of high school.
Q: What does a high school athlete control during the college recruiting process?
A: Ultimately, you control what coaches you get yourself in front of. Once you understand that idea, it’s a matter of focusing, organizing and coordinating your efforts to make sure those programs can see you play. Even at a school like North Carolina, we don’t have an unlimited recruiting budget and I think that’s something players and parents don’t quite understand until maybe it’s too late. We have to be strategic in determining where we’ll go and what events we’ll attend in our effort to identify players. The same applies to the recruit and to a large degree, you the recruit, have to play a part in getting us interested in you.
Also to that point, you’ve got to have a really good understanding of who you are, in the moment. You need to understand your skill-level before you start investing too much in this process. College recruiting is not a lottery. You don’t just send an email to a coach and have them miraculously open it up and instantly offer you a scholarship. This is a process. To play for a Top 30 program, not just North Carolina, you’ve got to be the best player on the field, at all times. And if you’re not at least the best player on your team, don’t invest your time trying to get the attention of those type of schools that are most likely outside of your talent range. That’s not meant to be a knock and it’s not meant to be negative. Focus your energy and efforts communicating with the schools that realistically match up with your talent-level.
Q: Give me one thought that can help any recruit make his/her college decision.
A: The academic component of your college decision should weigh more heavily than the soccer component. If you put soccer before academics and end up at a weaker institution than you’re qualified for, what happens if soccer doesn’t work out? Well, then you’ve missed out twice. If all things are equal academically, use soccer as the tie-breaker. But, don’t ever sacrifice education for soccer.
Q: What advice do you have for parents of recruits?
A: Unfortunately, most parents just aren’t able to objectively evaluate their own children. And for that reason, college coaches aren’t interested in hearing your opinions concerning your daughter’s soccer abilities. That’s not to say we don’t want to establish great relationships with the parents of our recruits and players. We want to answer questions. We want to have an open line of communication with you and we want you to be a part of our family. All we ask is that you support your daughter and trust that our coaching staff is doing the best thing for not only your daughter, but for the entire team.
When it comes to recruiting specifically, we rely on our personal observations to evaluate a young woman. We rely on the opinions of the coaches that they play for. That’s it. Even if your daughter is the best prep soccer player in the country, it’s not your opinion that’s going to get her to North Carolina. Quite frankly, I feel badly for any kid that has to go through the recruiting process with an outwardly opinionated, overbearing parent. It’s as if the parent is so consumed with their own agenda, only to forget that this about their child’s future. That’s just a shame.