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How Do You Feel About College Scouting in Youth Sports?

Softball Team Huddle

A few weeks ago we came across this New York Times story about a high school soccer player who was being recruited for a college team. Now obviously high school athletes get scouted and recruited every day, but the real crux of this story is that this soccer player is only 15. She’s a freshman but, “Before Haley Berg was done with middle school, she had the numbers for 16 college soccer coaches programmed into the iPhone she protected with a Justin Bieber case.”

Many sports parents dream of athletic scholarships to help offset the costs of college, but there is only so much money to go around. In college football, for instance, there are roughly 2,528 Division I football scholarships available each year. Meanwhile there are 1,108,441 high school football players and 316,697 are in their senior year. That means less than 1 percent of high school seniors will actually get an athletic scholarship for football.

Thousands of players will never actually get seen by a college scout (smaller programs don’t usually get noticed), making it even harder for players to get scholarships.

So if it’s that hard to get an athletic scholarship, should the lucky few that get scouted early jump on the opportunity and lock down an agreement as soon as possible?

Haley is only 15, and while it seems like she absolutely loves soccer, a lot could happen in the next four years. She could get hurt (torn ACLs are a big risk for female soccer players), burn out on soccer, find a new passion, change her mind about where she wants to go to school/what she wants to study and more. But is the athletic scholarship worth too much to turn down?

Believe it or not, early scouting in women’s soccer is actually becoming more and more common. As the article points out:

"Early scouting has also become more prevalent in women’s sports than men’s, in part because girls mature sooner than boys. But coaches say it is also an unintended consequence of Title IX, the federal law that requires equal spending on men’s and women’s sports. Colleges have sharply increased the number of women’s sports scholarships they offer, leading to a growing number of coaches chasing talent pools that have not expanded as quickly. In soccer, for instance, there are 322 women’s soccer teams in the highest division, up from 82 in 1990. There are now 204 men’s soccer teams.

… while only 5 percent of men’s basketball players and 4 percent of football players who use the company commit to colleges early — before the official recruiting process begins — the numbers are 36 percent in women’s lacrosse and 24 percent in women’s soccer.”

A huge percentage of youth athletes quit playing sports by 13, and many feel that early specialization and burnout is contributing to that dropout rate. But on the flip side plenty of parents feel that early specialization is the key to getting that elusive athletic scholarship.

And if college scouts are looking at middle schools for their up and coming talent, young players need to get as good as they can as quickly as they can, right? Pushing kids to specialize in one sport from the get-go might make them more attractive to college scouts down the road, but it also increases the likelihood of repetitive motion injuries, which could quickly put an end to their athletic career.

We don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer here. People on both sides of the fence make very compelling arguments but stories like this sort of reinforce the need for youth athletes to specialize early on if they want to get noticed by scouts. On the flip side, “after an incoming student signs a letter of intent binding him or her to a university, many schools have no contractual obligation to treat injuries or strains that result from playing for that college… There is also no provision in the Division I Manual to prohibit a coach from revoking a scholarship the year after a recruit gets hurt.”

Lucky athletes could spend their entire lives fighting for that athletic scholarship only to lose it after one injury.

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Issues & Advice, Recruiting SportsEngine