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College Soccer Recruiting: Should You Rethink Going Division 1?

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Dennis is a passionate soccer player from the United States.

I know what you’re thinking—I don’t know your footballing talents and abilities, and therefore, have no right to tell you how to go about the recruiting process. And to that I would say, you’re right. Your prospect’s ability on the field is not the only relevant aspect of college soccer. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Simply put, you should choose a school based on the following criteria:

  • Degree Value (Academic/Financial)
  • Athletic
  • Location
  • Social
  • Spiritual

Granted, each prospective student-athlete has different priorities. However, you cannot ignore any one of these facets altogether. I'll give more info on these criteria a little later.


The Difference Between D1 and D2

Before I dive into some of the reasons why you shouldn’t pursue a spot on a Division 1 roster at all costs, there are some basic things you should understand about the different levels of college soccer. First, the difference in quality between Division 1 and Division 2 is not as big as you think. In fact, the only real difference, in my opinion, is athleticism. That is, the average player in D1 is much faster and stronger than that in D2. I’m not going to make comparisons to the D3 and NAIA levels since most players are not choosing between D1 and D3 or D1 and NAIA explicitly. To my knowledge, this small difference between D1 and D2 is not present in most other collegiate sports, making college soccer recruiting a bit unique.

College Soccer as a Stepping Stone to Professional Soccer

Another thing you must realize is that playing Division 1 does not exponentially increase your chances of making it to the professional ranks. If you’ve never read the story of Chris Wondolowski’s path to professional soccer, it’s worth a read. Spoiler alert—he never played Division 1 soccer. Some of you are probably saying that Chris is not the type player you want to emulate anyways. Regardless, you cannot dispute how ridiculously successful the man has been during his professional career in Major League Soccer.

Even if your goal is to play professionally, you still need to be realistic about your chances relative to your abilities and opportunities in other areas or professional industries. That is, it would be foolish for the majority of kids going into college soccer to place all their time and energy into soccer while giving school the minimum amount of attention to the point where you’re just doing enough to pass your classes. Since soccer, at this moment, is still a sport for the wealthy in the United States, most prospects arrive at college soccer from an educated family and decent upbringing. Consequently, many student-athletes could pursue more difficult degrees that would, ideally, reward them with better jobs once they graduate. However, because college staffs are ultimately in their positions to win games, I feel that this aspect of being a student-athlete often gets overlooked. Athletic departments should want to prepare their student-athletes to be successful once they graduate just as much as they want to prepare them to perform on game days.

A New Way to Think About Recruiting

If I’ve convinced you that the soccer aspect of your decision is not the end all be all in your future experience, you may be wondering what a more proper way of approaching the recruiting process would look like. Well, if you’re the type of person that would be going to college even if soccer wasn’t in the picture, then I would encourage you to put a lot of weight on the financial dimension of your decision. Today, most college students are graduating with piles of student loans. I promise you that you would not regret it if you leveraged soccer to help yourself graduate debt free. Also, keep in mind that being a student-athlete increases your chances of being employed once you graduate. This is because employers will know that you understand work ethic, time management, teamwork, leadership, and many other qualities that apply directly to a corporate setting.

Furthermore, if you really are a talented player, you should have less of an issue getting tons of playing time at a D2 school since you were mostly considering D1 programs in the first place. Consequently, there is an argument that you would be a better player if you played 90 minutes every game at the D2 level as opposed to coming off the bench and playing 30 minutes every game at the D1 level.

Another benefit of going D2 over D1 initially is that if you excel at the D2 level, then there will be a number of D1 programs interested in taking you in as a transfer. Keep in mind that college coaches usually bring in transfers for important positions they need to fill immediately. Moreover, the transition in transferring to a D1 school from a previous institution should be a bit easier than going directly into a big-time D1 program out of high school.

Focus on Your Personal Goals

Different prospective student-athletes have different goals, and therefore, the college soccer recruiting process is unique for every individual. However, the concepts discussed above apply for the majority of high school-aged players desiring to progress to the collegiate level. In my own experience, there was always this feeling of needing to progress to the next level in soccer. Now that I am on the other side of my competitive playing career, I’m amazed at how many more opportunities have been afforded to me by not betting my entire future on playing professionally.

Deciding to play college soccer is a big yet extremely rewarding decision, and I would recommend it to anyone who has the means to do it. You should now have a framework to think about the different programs you’re considering based on your goals, interests, and soccer ability.

© 2018 Dennis