“The Girls Guide” – To College Soccer - Part 3

Blog Post 3

Written by Emily Scott

Here comes Round 3 of, “The Girls Guide” – To College Soccer! We’re answering questions that we feel can make the biggest impact for young girls going through the college recruiting process.

As you may remember from last week, for this blog we use stories and experiences directly from the best sources – former/current college soccer players themselves! These women all have different experiences, may have played at different levels, and have their own story to tell. Let’s meet the women of the week:

Claire Howard – Current College Player (Senior going into her 5th year)

College: University of Montana, Missoula, MT  

Division: NCAA Division I

Major: Business and Communication Studies

Lexi Zambrano – Former College Player

College: Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, IL

Division: NAIA Division I

Major: Finance

Emily Valentine – Former College Player

College: University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL

Division: NCAA Division I  

Major: Economics and Statistics

We asked each of these women a series of questions regarding their college experience. The following answers will include a mixture of their responses in order to keep things as honest as possible, names will not be directly attached to their answers, however all answers on this blog post will come directly from Claire, Lexi, and Emily.

Why did you choose to go to school where you did?

As always, everyone chooses their school for different reason, but at the base of these reasons there are always some similarities. For our girls today, their main reasons include being close to home, in a good city, major, religious beliefs, soccer program, coaching staff and culture of the program and family aspect of the team. All of these variables should be highly considered when choosing your future home!

What influenced your decision more – soccer or academics?

Both play a huge role in choosing your school. In this case, sports influenced their decisions the most. It can be beneficial to choose a school that offers many majors in case you decide to change it (which MANY girls end up doing). It’s important to have a good mix of both sports and education that are pulling you to a school.  

What was the highlight of your college experience? What was the lowlight?

Highlights: Winning the conference tournament and conference, NAIA Nation Championship Senior Year, away trips and traveling with your best friends!

Lowlights: Trials and tribulations throughout the years, such as adapting to being away from home, illness, and injuries. Also, facing the challenge of some of your best friends transferring or quitting the team. These are the struggles that are guaranteed to come along with college sports, and while they will definitely be tough, it can always be worth it!

Is there anything you would change about your college experience if you could?

Let’s just make one thing clear, while there may be things we would change or not change, we don’t have any regrets! With that being said, it can help to base your decision on where to go more on the quality of the school, and do more research into the school itself such as whether or not it’s a big commuter school, what the overall culture is like, etc. Looking back, a positive change would be to have focused more on being a leader instead of the individualistic portion of success, some games it’s so easy to get so focused on how many minutes you’re playing and whether you’re starting or not that it can be easy to lose sight for the love of the game, which you will always regret doing.

Why did you choose to play at the level you did? In this instance – NCAA Division 1 or NAIA Division 1:

NCAA DI: I only wanted to play DI, which in hindsight was not a good mentality because there are plenty of good programs and school that are not DI that would have been a great fit. I knew I wanted to play professionally after and so division 1 was the level that I knew I wanted to be at!

NAIA DI: I chose to play at the NAIA level due to the scholarship offering being just as high or even higher at the NCAA Division 1 and 2 level. I was considering the Division 2 level but eventually stuck with NAIA schools. The title of being a Division 1 and 2 level player was always important to me, but I found that my playing time would have been compensated at the higher level as well.

How did you begin the recruiting process? What age? Any programs? Anything you would do differently now?

There are a lot of ways to go about the process. One way is mailing coaches when you will be attending big tournaments starting around sophomore year of high school. Look at a lot more schools than you originally think and be persistent with emailing coaches. Others begin the recruiting process in the ECNL as a freshman in high school. Soccer showcases and college soccer camps play a huge role too. Completely give your entire dedication to the recruiting process - from the initial emails, to follow up phone calls, and to many overnight visits. It all helps in the end!  

Did you receive any type of scholarship (sports or academic)? How important was it for you to receive this? Did it have an impact of where you chose to play?

- “Yes I received very generous scholarships. This was very important to be because it relived a financial strain on my family.” – Claire Howard

- “I received both sports and academic along with a few more scholarships the college offered. Even at a young age being student debt free was a very big goal of mine, so this decision initially made or broke the connection with the school.” – Lexi  Zambrano

- “I did receive a scholarship for soccer, and it played a major role in me deciding where to attend.” – Emily Valentine

What was the communication like between you and your coaches? What aspects were good, and which could be improved? Do you have any recommendations for improving communication with coaches?

Communication with your coaches is not always going to be a walk in the park. It can be really tough honestly. For some, harder than others. Sometimes they don’t always know what a player needs so you have to be very proactive and not expect them to be able to read your mind. On a more positive note, coaches can be tremendous and make a large impact into the woman you become on the field and even more importantly to the woman you will be after sports. An open-door policy is important because it helps the communication remain constant on how you’re performing what you can do better and most importantly how to be a better teammate. You should always feel like you are being heard and have that trust built with your coaches.

Did you have a mainly female or mainly male coaching staff? What was their coaching structure like? Do you feel there was a difference in the way you were able to relate with the female coaches vs. male coaches?

- “The coaching staff currently is two males and one female. The female is able to tend to the emotional side of things a little easier than the males but the relationships are all still strong.” – Claire Howard

- “We had a mainly male coaching staff, our head coach was a male, our assistant coach was a female, and the goalie coach was a male. Regarding feminine related issues, our female coach was incredibly helpful she is also a certified mental conditioning coach so she related to problems from how injuries were affecting our game all the way to an awful breakup in the midst of post season. But honestly I could talk to our head coach about anything as well, he loved each of us like his own kids” – Lexi Zambrano

- “I have mainly had male coaches, but I did have 3 female assistant coaches and it was a little easier to relate to them, but overall it did not matter to me.” – Emily Valentine

Please share any other thoughts or comments that you think will help young girls who are currently going through the recruiting process!

Claire – “Enjoy this time and weigh all your options thoroughly. If you want to play in college there is a home for you it is just a matter of finding it. Also make sure that you love the school for just the school and not just the soccer because your experience embodies so much more than just the sport that you play”

Lexi – “I would recommend doing your research and getting to know the coaching staff and girls on the college visits because I could not have imagined myself at any other school. Also make sure to weigh what is really important to you whether that is education, minutes, friendship, division 1 title. Be thorough and be sure to enjoy every moment of it, because it goes way too fast. “

Emily – “Do a lot of research on the school outside of the soccer program, especially if it’s not known as being a “sports school”

While everyone’s experiences are different, there’s nothing that can better prepare you than hearing from those who have gone before you. Going off to college is a whole new ball game and can be a scary thing. We want to help as much as possible so that Lady Ballers everywhere have the best experience possible. If there are any questions, we missed that you’d like to have answered, let us know! Which part of the blog do you feel helped you most? Feel free to share any thoughts and comments with us in the comment section. Would you like to share your experiences? Reach out to us at tristin@soccergrlprobscamps.com. We’d love to hear from you! See you next Wednesday with even more content!