“Coaches at colleges large and small flock to watch 13- and 14-year-old girls who they hope will fill out their future rosters.” New York Times, January 26, 2014
Among the many roots to the weed that is early recruiting is “the code” that exists among women’s college soccer coaches. In short, the code says that once a player makes a verbal commitment to a university, all other coaches will back off. This is not a NCAA rule. The NCAA allows universities to compete for a recruit right up until signing day. But in an effort to keep the recruitment of women’s college soccer from becoming the recruiting spectacle that is NCAA football, this gentleman’s agreement was established and, for the most part, coaches have done a remarkable job of abiding by it. The code is not the sole culprit in the early-recruiting train wreck. It’s just one of several elements that have accelerated the recruitment of female soccer players to the point of absurdity, but it certainly plays a role because the code provides an undeniable incentive for coaches to get prized recruits off the market and to do so as quickly as possible. The younger a player is, the smaller the number of coaches who have identified her. It is tremendously advantageous to have her visit your school, make her an offer and get her to say those magic words – “I’d like to commit to your university” – and then send her back to her 9th-grade homeroom. You let out a deep sigh and bask in a battle won because you know that in four years time she’ll be showing up for preseason at your university–because not a lot can go wrong in four years in the life of a teenager…
The code began with the best of intentions, but in practice it is now fueling the race to find the best young talent and have those players decide on a college before deciding on a date for junior prom. It is distinctly disadvantageous to out-of-region universities who often don’t even spot these players until they’ve already committed to another school. It limits the out-of-region university’s opportunity to make its case to these players and it limits the opportunities that these players would have had if they had waited another six months or year before committing. In effect we have chosen to govern ourselves with the same ‘I saw her first’ decree that we used in middle school when we were dueling our best friend for the pretty girl who showed up at the skating rink. In our effort to stay civilized, we have instead given ourselves one more reason to recruit younger and younger and now it’s only a matter of time before you see a dozen college soccer coaches sitting in the lobby of an OB-GYN, begging for the first look at a sonogram. Or coyly asking: can I feel it kick?
—Author Dan Blank is the Associate Head Coach of women’s soccer at the University of Georgia, and the author of the #1 Amazon best-seller Soccer IQ: Things That Smart Players Do, Vol. 1. His new book, HAPPY FEET – How to Be a Gold Star Soccer Parent: (Everything the Coach, the Ref and Your Kid Want You to Know), will was published in February 2014.