The Pathway to University Soccer in Canada

by Rob Kelly, editor of Soccer Coach Canada

The two best options for young Canadians wishing to play University soccer are staying in Canada and playing for a CIS team or heading south to play for an NCAA program. If a player is using university soccer as a stepping stone to go pro, players playing in the NCAA have the advantage of being eligible for the MLS Superdraft. Whether in Canada or the US the benefits of playing university soccer are significant!

  • High level training and coaching, along with athlete development services such as physiotherapy, strength and conditioning, nutrition and sport psychology support.
  • Simulates a professional atmosphere with travel, competition, and performance expectations.
  • National team and professional scouts frequently attend university championships, and follow teams, athletes and statistics. 
  • Get an education (often with scholarship dollars and support financially)
  • Academic support and guidance, free academic tutors and programs
  • Develop transferable skills that will benefit you in life and career (time and stress management, leadership, team work, performance under pressure to name a few)

*Source:Jenn Beagan-Access Sport Recruiting and Training

So how does a skilled soccer player get noticed by a Canadian University soccer program?
“I think the biggest misconception with parents and players today is that a coach is going to find me….in fact, it’s very much like a job – you have to do the work upfront to sell and market yourself to get noticed. Coaches don’t have the time or resources to find you. Video is key for me….if a player sends me an email without video links – I flag it differently than a player who has an introductory email that has good informative data included.”

-Tino Fusco-Head Coach, Women’s Soccer, Mount Royal University-

How does a skilled soccer player find their way to an NCAA program?
The key is exposure. Canadian players need to come with their club to an event or two in the US. The other option is to come down for camps. As a school close to the border, we try to get up and see Canadian teams 3 or 4 times a year and also watch them when they come south for games/tournaments.
The hardest part for Canadians is that University at home is relatively inexpensive compared to attending a US school so it takes a huge scholarship to lure a player down to the states, which means they usually have to not only be as good as the American players, but actually better.

-Jamie Clark, University of Washington Husky Men’s Soccer Head Coach-
Scott Menzies and Josh Heard are Canadians currently playing for the U of W in NCAA soccer. They have both offered up advice to young Canadians pursuing a spot on an NCAA roster.

"I made initial contact with the U of W by going to one of their ID camps. I kept coming back to camps (5 of them) until eventually they offered me a spot on the team. I think my biggest piece of advice to young players is become the best player that you can be because you need to be better than all the Americans who recruiters see every day in order to make an impression and get on their radar. Make sure to talk to as many schools as you can to have the highest chance of getting an offer."

-Scott Menzies - U of W Husky Men’s Soccer Team-

"I think the two biggest things I’ve learned in being able to play soccer here at UW are the values of both hard work and enjoyment. I always made sure I always worked my hardest in youth training while also realizing it was vital in also truly enjoying what I’m doing. I’ve also learned these two values can go hand in hand. To work hard and see the results is incredibly rewarding and a joy to see.

I advise young aspiring soccer players to take the drivers seat. Reach out personally to schools you want to go to, make yourself familiar with coaching staffs and find what best fits your own character. Another big aspect of getting noticed are recruiting camps. Most university soccer programs have camps where you can go and play with kids your age and show your skill. The number one thing is finding a way for NCAA programs to see you."

-Josh Heard - U of W Husky Men's Soccer Team-

Here Are Five Things You Should Know About Pursuing University Soccerby Jenn Beagan of Access Sport Recruiting and Training
1.  Athletes should begin thinking about university recruiting in grade 9 or 10. 
This is not a typo, at 14 years old a student athlete is more focused on short term goals, having fun with their friends, their upcoming games, and school commitments.  But NCAA coaches are beginning to recruit and identify prospective athletes earlier and earlier.  It is not uncommon for top universities to have commitments from their incoming athletes a year (sometimes two years) in advance of high school graduation.  There are steps you can take at 14 or 15 to set yourself up to be recruited, but it is the responsibilities of coaches and parents to learn about the process and recruiting time-lines so they can help young athletes be prepared. (Note: CIS recruiting can start in grade 11)
2.  Research, research and more research. 
For most young student athletes, choosing which university, and university teams you want to pursue is a difficult and time consuming task.  There are geographic, academic and athletic criteria to think about, evaluate and research so that the school you ultimately end up at is a good fit, and is somewhere you can succeed.  We recommend athletes create a target list of about 10-15 schools to start out with.  However, if you want to play soccer beyond university, especially professionally, there is another layer of research you must add to this list.  Pay special attention to who the coach is, where did they play, who do they know and what kind of connections do they have to European teams, national teams or MLS?  What style do they coach?  Will you be learning tactics and strategies that will translate to the pro level?  If you play well, your university coach can help you get tryouts with teams, it will be important to communicate with your target coaches that your goal is to play professionally.  Check out the rosters of some of your favourite professional teams, what universities are represented there?   
3.  Be identified and evaluated.
Coaches want to evaluate athletes at least three times a year during recruiting.  This can be achieved a number of different ways.  The most important thing to have at the outset is a good quality highlight video.  This should show you in competition, show your team skills, tactics, positioning, on and off ball ability.  The video should include a skills session where you show ball control, dribbling, shooting and distribution skills.  A highlight video is what is going to catch the attention of a coach, and make them want to see more of you.  Other ways to be seen and evaluated are at showcase tournaments, college camps, national level competitions, and any competition that you have invited a coach to come see you play.
4.  Develop good relationships.
Much of successful recruiting is communication and developing a good relationship with your target coach.  You want to use the recruiting process to sell yourself to them, demonstrate your character, your skills and abilities and why you will be a good addition to their team.  You also want to use the recruiting process to ask meaningful questions, learn about the school, team and coaching staff.  Try and develop a personal relationship with the coach, when you are away from home, across the country, or even across a border your coaches will be your support system and parents away from home.  The coaching staff at your university will also be your advocates in finding professional tryouts, identification and playing opportunities.  The better your relationship, the better your opportunity.
5.  Prepare for transition, and be ready for the next level.
There are many things you can do now, as a youth athlete that can help you mentally and physically prepare for the next level of soccer, whether it is university or professional.  Seek out mentor-ship and guidance from your support system, coaches, teachers or other professionals.
Access Sport  has a wide range of services to help athletes prepare for this transition including:

Performance Lifestyle management (Athlete mentoring, time and stress management, goal setting and action plans)
Athlete Development (Training tips and resources, nutrition, sport psychology)
Media Resources (social media responsibility, interview skills, using social media in recruiting)
Transition resources (culture shock, home sickness, life skills)
Financial Resources (learn about scholarship information, grants, loans and external aid to assist with cost of education) Check out Access Sport to get regular information, tips and resources! (watch for our new and improved website to be launching 2016)

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