Welcome to Interview #78.
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NJCAA Women’s Soccer Coach of Polk State College, Steven Linamen.
Steven Linamen is entering his fourth year as the head women’s soccer coach at Polk State College. He has coached at all levels in Central Florida, from the youth competitive clubs to the college ranks. Coach Linamen has many insights on recruiting and the relationship between two year and four year colleges.
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen?
From the intentional standpoint, high school athletes need to reach out to us. While I prefer an email early in the initial contact, I am receptive to all forms of contact including text and social media. High school athletes also need to realize that the college they are contacting is bound to certain constraints for contact.
How do you find players for your team? What type of student and athlete do you focus on?
90% of the athletes that become a part of our program have contacted us directly and showed interest in our program. The other 10% are from referrals from other coaches (at all levels), scouts from 3rd party companies, or are athletes that stood out to us while we were watching another player.
Why do you think athletes should consider a NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association)? What are the benefits of an NJCAA school specifically?
There are many reasons athletes choose NJCAA programs but I have found that the top 3 reasons are smaller rosters, recruitment timing and scholarship opportunities.
We keep a smaller roster than many 4-year colleges, which means more opportunity to contribute on the field as a freshman. We look for athletes that will play immediately not in a season or two after they have been exposed to our system of play and developed more.
When it comes time for high school athletes to think about the future, many are overwhelmed and stressed. Most 4-year college programs are looking at getting verbal commitments from high school athletes well before their senior year whereas we have a stronger focus on seniors. This can mean that as an athlete approaches the end of high school, there is still an option for college athletics.
Many reasons can play into athletes making late decisions to continue their playing career and many may feel that if they have not committed by their junior year they are out of options.
Lastly, NJCAA has the most available scholarships across all sports with the exception of cross-country. This coupled with the fact that most NJCAA schools are part of their respective state funded college system makes for very attractive financial opportunities.
What should an athlete do prior to, during and after a showcase event to maximize their chances of being recruited?
Contact, Contact, Contact. Even if you don’t get a response the first email, send another one. Persistence is key. As I already mentioned, athletes need to contact the coaches.
Let us know you are interested in our program. This should be done the week prior to the event. If I receive an email a few days before the tournament, most likely my scheduled is complete and the athlete may get missed. During the showcase I like to see the athletes take the initiative and introduce themselves if possible. Also, let us know of any schedule changes.
After the showcase is the perfect opportunity for the athlete to reach out again. Many times the athlete thanks us for watching them play or ask us for anything they can improve on.
The key is to contact us again afterwards. It shows the interest in our program is genuine.
How important are 3rd party recruiting companies such as CaptainU and BeRecruited for you in finding athletes?
While I do not use 3rd party recruiting services specifically to cold call athletes by browsing the recruits, they are valuable to us for providing additional information and video as well as an avenue for athletes to connect to us. Many times when an athlete contacts us, they include their profile from one of these services.
Could you share, in whatever detail you are comfortable, what the athletic scholarship break down looks like on your roster?
We like to carry 20-24 athletes that are the right fit for our team culture. Since NJCAA allows us as a DI program, 18 athletes on scholarship, that does mean we have 2-6 athletes that are not receiving any scholarship.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
While we like the contact to be between the athlete and us directly, I believe the parents play a vital role helping guide their kids through the decision making process. I want the parent(s) or guardian to also understand what we are about as a program and where we place our priorities. Parents also have a pretty good instinct when it comes to what is best for their children.
What does the offseason, fall season and summer look like for a NJCAA soccer player?
Our seasons are based on dates. Our athletes receive a summer training packet that is based on 12 weeks leading up to preseason fitness testing. We can officially begin preseason on August 1st each year and the season lasts until we are eliminated from the postseason tournament which concludes mid November.
After the fall season our athletes generally revisit their summer training manual until spring season. Spring begins with fitness testing on February 1st and the season ends on April 30th. This is when the process begins again.
How does your school help players transition to a four year college? When looking at a 2-year school, what are some questions student athletes should ask about the help they will receive to get into a four-year school and to continue playing?
We have a focus to continue to develop our athletes so they have the opportunity to continue their athletic career at a 4-year college or university. We keep our athletes on track to receive their Associates degree during their time with us. Our advisors also do a great job at helping our student athletes with obtaining the classes they need for their desired degree looking beyond the two years they have with us.
On the athletic side we guide our athletes as they look to continue playing. We actively talk to our colleagues about our athletes.
Can you share a success story or two of athletes who came through your program and then went on to a four year school?
Here is one quick story which is a common example of our athletes moving from our program to 4-year programs. We had an athlete that received an athletic scholarship from her dream school to play soccer. Unfortunately, the private school was still going to be financially out of reach for her. We were lucky enough to have her become a part of our program. Over the two years with us she continued to develop mentally and physically. She was recruited to the same university as an incoming junior to finish her college playing career. Because she had shown that over her two years with us that she could handle the rigors of college athletics and she continued to grow as a person, she entered that program in a leadership position as well as almost 3 times the scholarship money.
What are some myths or misconceptions about junior colleges?
I think one misconceptions about NJCAA is that the level of talent is below that of NAIA or any of the NCAA divisions. In reality, there are many factors that play into the decision of athletes to play for a NJCAA program, some that have been mentioned but for us the athletes found our program to be the right “fit” for them.
The other misconception is that NJCAA programs tend to have athletes that have low GPA or SAT/ACT scores and they need to go to a two-year school to raise their academics. While this may be a possibility for some situations, it is not the norm for us. I look for student-athletes that have shown they have applied themselves academically throughout high school. Most of our athletes come to us with a weighted GPA of 3.8 and higher. They need this foundation to be able to balance the incredibly busy schedule that college athletes have.
What was your own recruiting journey as an athlete like?
My path to college athletics was much different than most of the athletes that are a part of our program. I played soccer from a young age including high school. I went to college with the intention of just being a student. I ended up walking on and playing every game as a freshman. From my own experience, I can say just because your path is different doesn’t mean you can’t make an impact.
Can you share a creed, quote or philosophy you try to instill into your athletes?
Character is everything. At the end of the day you are not defined by the sport you play or a grade you receive in a class but rather by how you carry yourself; your integrity, moral compass. When everything else is stripped away, only your true character remains.
Bonus Question: Is there anything important that you would like to share directly with high school athletes or soccer players in particular as they navigate the recruiting process?
When working through the recruitment process, make sure to check your email daily and a few times a day if possible. Make sure to respond and return any information that a coach may ask you for in a timely manner.
Take all your visits. Even if you think you have found the right fit for you, take all your visits. You may find something you didn’t expect.
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Steven Linamen is entering his fourth year as the head women’s soccer coach at Polk State College.
Linamen has coached at all levels in Central Florida, from the youth competitive clubs to the college ranks. He served the youth of Polk County through soccer camps at Grace Lutheran School, Auburndale Scream girls’ competitive teams (2004-2009) and Lakeland Futbol Club (2009-2011). He founded and directed PC United in 2010 with the idea of offering local female soccer players a chance to focus on technical skills.
Coach Linamen’s full profile can be seen at the Polk State Women’s Soccer page.
Next, check out: How to Destroy Your College Athletic Career in 1 Easy Step.
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