Author: John Roman, Goalkeeper Coach
University of Florida Women's Soccer
This blog post will help you:
understand the statistics behind going pro
see a professional club’s point of view
know what you can do to increase your likelihood of getting paid to play soccer
If you are 15 years or older and not a star on a top 10 club team in the US that is winning
national competitions, the chances of you becoming a professional soccer player without a lifestyle overhaul are essentially zero. To be precise, .4% of female and .8% of male Division 1 college soccer players are signed into American professional leagues according to the NCAA. Though international professional opportunities abound, the NCAA does not track participation abroad as closely. For comparison, 391,000 girls and 457,000 boys participate in high school soccer according to the NFHS. So, if we round up and say 150 female and male players end up playing professional soccer somewhere around the world after college — a liberal estimation — that would indicate about .03% of high school female and male participants go pro; or, 1 in 3,333. The few players from American universities in international leagues often get those jobs from pre-existing agent or college coach connections. Interestingly, these low percentages are not uncommon with almost all NCAA sports putting less than 2% of athletes into professional ranks besides baseball (8-11% depending on metric used). If these statistics motivate you to be
the diamond in the rough, great! If these statistics demur you, choose a college soccer experience dedicated to your enjoyment playing the game and attending a great university.
So, why is it so hard to play professionally? In short, there is little money out there compared to the quantity of college soccer players. Before discussing your perspective as the athlete, let’s start with the decision-makers in professional soccer. General managers and professional club coaches must take the resources available and put together a competitive team each year. In the women’s game, most professional clubs are less resourced in budget, travel, support staff, and facilities than top 25 Division 1 programs. In the men’s game, professional clubs are relatively more resourced, but pale in comparison to the arsenal of European counterparts. Given greater resources from the MLS and lower leagues, contracts are more lucrative and opportunities more
plentiful. Regardless of gender, as a professional athlete, you are a budget line-item serving the club’s aim of winning. With limited resources to put a winning squad together in women’s and men’s professional soccer, players with enough talent offering high potential or very low maintenance are prioritized.
The classic debate is how much maintenance a player is worth given their level of talent and potential to contribute in the future. Herein, “maintenance” indicates how easily a player fits into a club’s system of play, their coachability and reliability, and a lack of drama. College soccer programs have this debate just as professional clubs do. To be seen as having high potential or a
very low maintenance player, the relationships between your college coach and professional clubs is the key starting point. Generally, longer tenured college coaches are more likely to have had success at their school, which leads to broader connections with current professional players and colleagues. In contrast to the importance of a coach’s experience, there are not necessarily specific schools better or worse for pro players besides the absolutely blue-chip elites (e.g., North Carolina women & Indiana or Virginia men). If you are interested in playing pro, ask a prospective coach, how many of their past players currently play pro?; what does the program do to specifically develop future pros?; and, how far they see you from the professional level? Most important, if any coach guarantees they can get you to be a pro, RUN AWAY. That person is a charlatan.
Finally, America is still a relatively immature soccer nation with one benefit to the individual athlete being extreme technical ability and tactical knowledge stands out. Often, younger athletes are seen as exceptional and recruited based on their genetic predisposition to athleticism. But, if you want to stand out become a tactical and technical savant, which requires exceptional psychological skills manifesting in maturity and dedication.
Professional soccer as a next step for a collegiate is extremely rare
Pro clubs are limited in what they can offer and must build a winner
Become a technical and tactical savant to stand out
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