Player evaluation is a critical question in recruiting. The depth of talent is so much better today than it was twelve years ago when I started recruiting at UNC. All the aspects of extra physical development done by the players today were just coming into consideration when I started. With an abundance of quality athletes, the goal for the individual athlete is to separate themselves from the ordinary.
We start out with three categories on how we rank players. For a player to receive serious consideration they need to score an eight or better on the scale of one to ten.
The first category is discipline—the discipline to prepare for their position for the game as well as the discipline to do well academically. Discipline is also the individual’s approach to their social life, overall health, and nutrition.
The second category is self-esteem or self-belief. Does the player believe that she can achieve a higher level? Does she have confidence that she will be successful?
The final, and probably the most important to us, is competitive fire. We want players who will compete until they collapse. This is a game that goes 90 minutes or longer. We don’t want a player who has a mental weakness and will quit when it gets tough. There are some players who may not be the most technical, but if they demonstrate the ability to be more competitive, they will score higher. It’s a lot easier to teach technique than it is to instill competitive fire. I want a player who won’t talk to her brother for a week because he beat her in tiddlywinks. That’s how competitive you have to be in order to achieve at the highest level.
Once we have the three general categories ranked other areas will pop out at me such as winning crosses. This is a huge weakness in the women’s game because women don’t read the flight of the ball as well and they don’t catch balls in a crowd consistently. If a goalkeeper is dominating in the air, she’s attracting my attention.
Another obvious requirement is speed. Soccer is a game of speed. We have never regretted recruiting speed, even at the sacrifice of some technique. In position-specific situations like midfield, things such as endurance will stand out. Rebecca McDowell was a cross-country champion from Colorado. She may not have been the fastest athlete on the field but she was still going strong after 90 minutes. Another thing is power for goalkeepers to be able to jump, which also translates into speed.
One attribute that is difficult to quantify is leadership. In the women’s game there are very few verbal leaders. In the recruiting process we look for a girl who is in charge of her team. This person is an organizer and receives respect when doing it, which is a tough attribute to find in the women’s game. At UNC we’ve had players who were great leaders but not necessarily great soccer players. They’ve earned themselves game time because their leadership qualities helped them lead all the other players on our team.
Jordan Walker was a good example of this. In 2003, when we went undefeated, she was on the field a maximum of 10 minutes, but she started every single game of the NCAA tournament. The game was being played around her. She lacked great speed and agility; however, what she was doing was whipping people around her to do their job better. The players respected her and they knew she was smart enough to know what was going on. After 10 minutes when we dragged her off the field and put an oxygen mask on her, the game was under control.
There are numerous qualities that coaches consider when recruiting, but the more you can develop an extraordinary quality, the more you will be able to separate yourself from the masses of average athletic players.