Soccer players about to enter middle school might suddenly find themselves the objects of surprising attention -- from college coaches.
"In women's soccer right now in Division One, there are 333 teams," said Alison Foley, former coach of the Boston College women's soccer team. "Everybody's out there. All the college coaches are out there every weekend... recruiting."
Foley, who coached the Eagles for more than 20 years, says new NCAA recruiting rules for Division 1 and 2 schools restricting back-and-forth communication between players and collegiate coaches until after 10th grade will probably curb some of the middle school recruiting. But she doesn't see it going away.
"In general do I think it's a good practice? I don't," Foley said. "I just think there are so many more things to think about that you don't know to think about or consider such a big decision in 7th and 8th grade."
But Foley, who now works with a Boston-area club soccer team, says recruiting young adolescents sometimes makes sense. She recently found an 8th grader who was a good fit for Boston College and that player verbally committed to that school.
Unfortunately, some verbal commitments made by young student-athletes come with a dangerous assumption, says Kim Penney, owner of One on One College Consulting of Wakefield, Massachusetts "It does not mean that the student-athlete is accepted to the school. It is actually just a handshake."
Penney warns that if there's a coaching change at the college or if the student's grades aren't good enough for the admissions office, that verbal commitment might not mean much in the end. "To have that sport... the ball so to speak... move that process.. in my opinion is the biggest mistake ever," she said.
She suggests first finding a school that is an academic and social fit -- so that if the sport part of it doesn't work out, the student won't be somewhere they don't want to be.
And keep in mind, Penney said, once you announce a verbal commitment to a school -- other coaches will usually respect that -- which could prematurely cut off other options. "You are off the market... essentially," Penney said.
That's why Penney advises not committing to college until junior year of high school. And to maximize your athletic options -- crack the books. "Do the very, very best you can academically," she said. "The better you do academically the more offers you will have athletically."
Along with good grades, one other thing is becoming increasingly important for athletic recruitment: playing on a club team. "I don't remember the last time... it was probably 20 years ago that I got a player who only played high school and wasn't involved in a club," said Foley.
For some players, club teams are cost prohibitive. "You're looking at, per season, usually around three thousand dollars," Foley said. But that's just the beginning of the expenses. Club team games often involve travel with sometimes overnight accommodations required. And then there are the tournaments.
"So there are normally three or four tournaments a year," Foley said. "One may be local. The others might be in Florida, which is very common. Or California."
Some parents feel the money is well spent. Often attending those tournaments, as well as events known as 'showcases,' are collegiate coaches looking for future talent.
Foley helped organize one such event earlier this month at Brandeis University. Some fifty college soccer coaches evaluated more than two hundred girls in grades 7-10.
Fifteen-year-old Grazzie Bhatia and her Mom, Michelle, came to the event all the way from Singapore.
"This is a great opportunity to meet some coaches and some other players and get a feel for what it might be to be a college player," said Michelle Bhatia.
Tina Datta and daughter Sarah also traveled from Singapore. "This gives a wide opportunity for a multitude of coaches to take a look at your child, Datta said. "We've been talking to a number of Division 3 schools that have expressed a lot of interest in Sarah."
Ryan O'Neill of West Bridgewater watched as his daughter Shea, an 8th grader, played a scrimmage with mostly older girls. "It could pay off," he said -- but added that it's ultimately up to her. "If she wants to throw the towel in, call it a career at the high school level or advance to the collegiate level. You know it's a big commitment."
That's the part about playing college sports some overlook, said Kim Penney, who played basketball at Tufts University, a Division 3 school. "If you can play a sport in college it's wonderful," she said. "You have an instant family... you have camaraderie... you have friends you go through a lot with."
But, she adds, you also may have restrictions on your life if you're playing on an athletic scholarship for a Division 1 or 2 school (Division 3 schools do not grant athletic scholarships). Certain majors are off limits because team travel will interfere with classes, she said. You might have to attend summer school for the same reason. And sleeping-in might not be an option if there are early morning practices.
One reason Penney chose to play at Tufts was because she wanted the option to study abroad -- which would not have been possible playing for a Division 1 or 2 school.
She said always remember... you are in control of your destiny.
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