The main goal of club soccer programs, competitive high schools, the ODP program and even academy soccer, is to prepare athletes for the next level. College gameplay is dictated by speed, endurance, preparation and work ethic. That being said, there are certain skills and intangibles that nearly every college scout, recruiter, or coach will look for in players within that critical u15-u17 age bracket.
1) Ball Control
One of the first things that a college coach will look for is a player’s level of comfort on the ball. Coaches will carefully analyze a player’s ability to settle the ball quickly, maintain balance, follow through with passes and move at a fast pace with the ball at their feet. The equal efficiency of both feet is definitely an added bonus for scouts, but the demonstrated ability to use a weaker foot in-game is enough for them to see development potential. Minimizing the number of on-the-ball touches needed to complete a possession or continue an attack is crucial.
Efficient balance is something that can be hard to quantify on paper, but easy to spot when on display. Balance while attacking is important. As an attacker, you may perform skill moves, changes of direction, or be asked to respond quickly to a defender’s movements. Maintaining a strong center of balance allows an attacker to react quickly to the movements of other players, and allows you to stay in control of your movements and positioning. Meanwhile, maintaining balance as a defender can allow you to change direction several times within an attack and maintain a defensive formation. Being able to shift weight quickly diminishes response time to 1-2 passes, overlapping runs, through balls and even shots on net. Coaches will watch for weight distribution, and cues like time needed to change direction or space needed to perform a move on the ball.
One of a scout’s favorite things to do is watch a player warm up. The hour before a game typically consists of stretches, small sided possession drills, and even larger possession games for a team. Scouts that are interested in a player, or even in a group of players, will play close attention to how they prepare. This can be especially true of scouts representing larger, or more competitive programs. A leader is needed in warm ups, and players that take the reigns, establish a level of competition, and actively push to prepare the team, are sought after at the next level. Being first in line, taking warm-up seriously, leading stretches, or even communicating with coaches about the game plan, can all indicate to a scout that you’re disciplined, serious, and coachable.
4) Quick Transition Between Offense and Defense
An in-game attribute that scouts immediately notice is the ability to quickly transition between offense and defense. During a course of a 90 minute game, possession changes sides dozens of times. Players that can efficiently complete these transitions are often mentally connected to the flow of the game, and are able to eliminate open spaces for a counter attack. The ability to quickly transition between an attacking role and a defending role also helps a team maintain formation as well, which can be integral from a strategic standpoint.
A player that can run all day is a strong asset for a coach, no matter what level you’re competing at. However, having stamina doesn’t necessarily mean being able to run all day. Sometimes stamina can be defined as completing a short, intermediate, or long sprint, and having enough left in the tank to get back in position. Players that can get up and down the field quickly, maintain energy for a prolonged attack, complete longer runs, or consistently challenge 50/50 balls can have a profound impact on the outcome of a game.
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