Last week the D3 Recruiting Hub looked at the physical aspects that a player possesses and what a college coach will look for in those areas (size, speed, etc.) when watching players at recruiting events. See “What D3 College Coaches Look For At Recruiting Events- Part 1”. Now it is great if a player is big and fast, but if you can’t do anything constructive when the ball comes to you or you don’t read situations very well, you are not going to have as much success as a college soccer player. The two other important areas that coaches look for are your technical abilities and your tactical awareness.
By far and away the most important technical ability is your first touch. This is your most critical touch on the ball. Can you control the ball with your first touch and get it going in the direction you want to go next? (Side note—are you tactically aware enough that you know which direction you want to go with the ball before you get it?) Or does your first touch wind up in the air, bouncing all over the place, and allowing defenders to close you down so now your only option is kicking the ball anywhere to get it out of trouble?
When you do finally get the ball under control, what can you do with it? How well do you dribble? Pass? Shoot? Are you dribbling and losing the ball every time or are you challenging the other team’s defense? Can you complete an accurate and properly weighted pass to a teammate or are you passing to the other team? When you shoot does it have velocity and accuracy? There are certainly more technical aspects that we look at (heading, driven balls, receiving air balls, tackling, free kicks, throw ins and so on), but I think that this should give you a clearer picture of things that we are looking for.
In addition to the technical aspects, we are also looking at the tactical aspects of your game. These are a little more difficult to judge than the technical and physical pieces because your club or high school coach may have given you specific tactical instructions for a given game or situation. For example, one of the things that I look for in an outside defender when they are playing in a four back set is do the outside backs get forward and join the attack. Now it may be that your coach instructed the outside backs to stay back and not attack in which case it makes it hard to judge you tactically.
However, there are several things that we can see and look for tactically in players. Defensively, how do you mark players- do you leave them too big a gap or are you marking tightly? Are you closing the gap when the ball is in the air or a player turns their back? When you are on the weakside do you pinch in to provide support? Are you communicating with your teammates and giving them direction (this in on offense and defense)? Do you recognize opportunities to double team? Do you force players inside/outside appropriately?
On offense, are you making constructive runs without the ball to open space for yourself or a teammate? Are you supporting the ball with width or depth appropriately? When you have the ball at your feet, are you making the appropriate pass— do you play the ball back into traffic or are you able to switch the point of attack? Can you start the counter attack or keep possession of the ball given the right circumstances? Do you recognize those situations? How are your decisions affected by where you are on the field and the score of the game?
The bottom line is this— college coaches want to see if you are a good player and have the physical, technical and tactical tools to be able to play soccer at the next level. For the most part, we don’t care about whether you are winning or losing a particular game, just how well you play. Good luck to all of you in your spring/summer tournaments!
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P.S.- On this Memorial Day 2011, please be sure to take a moment to reflect on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country.