How useful are football trials for securing the best US college scholarships?

Organising trial matches for UK footballers looking to gain a scholarship to play and study at college in the USA is a common activity carried out by many scholarship agencies. Most are run on a regional basis where men and women players from the local area get a chance to showcase their football talent to the agency’s recruitment team. These trial days often require a payment from the players/parents and will include a number of football drills, a few short matches and, of course, a sales pitch from the agency.

Whilst the benefits to the agency are clear, how useful is the process for assessing whether a player is first good enough to play at a US college, and secondly, for matching students to the college that will suit them best?

It’s worth remembering that the US college soccer system is huge, comprising almost 1,500 schools across the various NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA divisions. Whilst choice is great, expecting a trials day to do more than flag that you can play at a decent level is unrealistic.

Of course, the people who matter the most are not the recruitment teams from the scholarship agencies, but the college coaches who decide which players they want to recruit and how much of their scholarship budget they are prepared to commit to securing a player.

Coaches are not interested in trials. They need 2 key pieces of information – video footage and academic achievements.

Video footage
This is critical to help coaches decide whether players are the right fit for the positions they need to fill. Coaches need a mixture of footage (attacking, defending, in and out of possession, set piece skills, finishing etc) and typically in much greater depth than can be provided from the trial matches alone. 
Academic History
Depending on the type of college, coaches can enhance a sports scholarship with an academic scholarship which could make a significant impact on the total scholarship offered.

To supplement the video footage and academic qualifications, coaches need to know lots of other things such as the level that prospective student athletes have been playing at, their motivations for wanting to play US college soccer, their commitment to self-improvement through training, diet and lifestyle, their capacity and resilience to live away from home etc.

Due to time constraints, coaches at the top colleges generally rely on a trusted consultancy agency like SSP to carry out this research for them.

So what are the benefits of trial days?

The main benefit is for the sponsorship agency to filter out those players that don’t have the necessary technical skills and to create a relationship with lots of potential clients. The second benefit is for players to find out more about the experience of playing and studying in the USA.

Whilst trial days may suit those agencies needing to place large numbers of students every year, they have no value for a specialist soccer scholarship agency such as SSP, where we focus on recruiting for coaches at the top soccer colleges and work with only a small pool of players. By using video footage, multiple zoom conversations and personal visits to watch our clients play in their usual surroundings, we believe a personal service is much better for the student, their parents and the recruiting college. And for those playing at an elite level, such as previous soccer students and SSP ambassadors Jack Harrison and Rachel Daly, we offer a proven route into the professional ranks.