“The time and effort that has to be put into Division 1 is significant….If you love the idea of game days – great! But you need to love the idea of more time on the training field, the locker room, on the road and even sitting on the bench until you reach the game as a starter.” Coach Todd Clark
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NCAA Division 1 Women’s Soccer Coach of Canisius College, Todd Clark.
Coach Todd Clark, a head coach with more than 18 years of experience, has been at Canisius since 2015. He has also coached at the D2 and NAIA levels.
Welcome to Interview #106
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen? If a soccer player personally contacts you by phone or email, what will you do next?
Without a doubt the largest impact a prospective student athlete can achieve is to make their contact personal and give an idea of why they are specifically contacting this particular program or staff. I understand that they may be looking at quite a few schools in the beginning but make it personal. It may be a family relation that went here, the location, a particular major, another coach who mentioned us, an alumni they know, etc. Quite a few contacts catch our attention so this is helpful making an athlete stand out. If there is not a direct connection just yet that is OK, but try to communicate what your interest is at this point.
Secondly, understand that if we hear from you once we may lose track of you, so if you remain interested please don’t feel you are bothering us by sending schedules, current tournaments, a potential time you will be nearby to visit, or other communications to keep on that radar once you begin the process. We may not be going to the first event or may not know you, yet, but if you stay on it there are more and more possibilities. Far too often people send one letter or email and then we never hear from them again and they either fall off our radar or they seem uninterested. It is our job to stay with people through the process so keep in contact even if we cannot contact you at this point.
Differences between NCAA Division 1, 2, and NAIA Schools
You have a unique perspective because you have coached at NCAA Division 1, 2, and NAIA schools. I would like to ask you a few questions to give potential college athletes a perspective on differences in levels of college athletics.
When should athletes be contacting colleges for Division 1, 2, and NAIA?
I have coached each of those levels, as well as been around D3 over the many years as a result, and I don’t think there is a perfect time frame for each. I do think the earlier the better as each level has a somewhat typical time frame for decisions as well as contact periods and so on. The sooner you are on a coach’s radar the more options you have for yourself as you examine the differences in universities as well as levels of play, academics and so on.
Division 1 does typically make decisions earlier but that never means you are out of the hunt if that is your goal. But I am also a firm believer that each level, and program for that matter, has a tremendous opportunity for the right student athlete so identifying what you want is the most important and then following that as strongly as possible. I would add that YOU need to know the basics of when and how a coach can communicate with you as coach’s are each given different rules to follow.
What are the differences in time and life commitment as an athlete at Division 1, 2, and NAIA?
I would say this is one of the larger differences. People assume, or try to say, it is all about athletes size, speed, and technique, or even coaches. But there are good and bad at every level. The time you spend at Division 1 will be significant so you need to truly love the game, the process, the work, and even the pressure that may come from Division 1 before you want to attempt that move.
There are great aspects to each level but time management at Division 1 will have some saying they are “missing” other aspects of the college experience. If you are missing other aspects, then Division 1 probably isn’t the place you’d enjoy. Athletics is a four year process that really never stops until the last game. Academics and social need not suffer but they take more of an effort in my experience.
Similarly you can have tremendous teams at other levels that work tremendously and are as competitive as ever, but the time away from the game is a benefit and not a bad thing. Determining your overall experience on the field, in the weight room, on the road, in hotels, on buses, on planes, and absolutely when you can study and become a more complete person is up to each individual.
It is not your coach’s dream of where you go or even your parents’ and friends’-it is your life so be involved and informed to make a great decision where you want to go to become that person. Time is the most valuable commodity you have and all the work you do will be valuable if you put it into things that reward you.
What are the major differences in the type of athlete recruited by a Division 1, 2, and NAIA schools?
Coaches are always looking for the biggest, fastest, most dynamic player available. Identifying them is the easy part but finding the ones who are mutually interested is not. The truth is not that each program has the perfect roster but it is a puzzle putting them all together to make a strong team. Saying that, a bit of reality about the program or the individual’s ability becomes important. The fact may be that the coach can find other players that are simply better in some fashion so find the coach that appreciates you. If I had to make a blanket statement about athleticism, technique or tactical understanding I would not say it all is one level or another as each team can attract players that have these gifts but it often comes down to how many of them are on the roster.
Division 1 seems, to me, to be able to acquire more ability, up and down the roster. There are equally talented players at every level, but the higher the level the fuller the roster is of talented players. There are fantastic Division 3 teams that have players I would love to coach and there are people on Division 1 teams that might have been better suited in being at another level had they thought through their impact over the four years. Some of the best players I ever coached played for me in NAIA and Division 2. But the overall number of particular players is larger on each Division 1 roster on average and that only goes deeper the higher up the pyramid you go.
For soccer, how different are athletic scholarship opportunities at each level?
Typically, based on NCAA or NAIA limitations, the Division 1 programs have the most potential money in soccer scholarships but don’t forget that each school may also have other limitations. Additionally if money as a great part of the decision the academic scholarships may be far greater for the right PSA than they’d ever see from a soccer scholarship.
Don’t believe the myth of the “full ride.” A player seeking a “full ride” needs to remember that if a Division 1 program has 14 scholarships but 25 players, everyone can’t be on a full. Academics are a far better option and totally within your control. We have absolutely chosen a player based on academics. If two players are similar in terms of ability but one also brings the academic side of things, the offer can be greater and the team will not worry about them struggling to achieve both on and off the field.
When looking at D2 and D3 as well as NAIA, each school varies in terms of athletic money or academic demands, so it always comes down to the best PSA finding the best school in a broader way. If you further consider private vs. state schools it should not all come down to money available or desired at each level. A great Division 1 private school, like an Ivy League, may not even offer soccer scholarships but a tremendous Division 3 public school can offer everything the PSA wants. Learning about the various programs both on and off the field as well as the direction and support of the current program is necessary to make wise decisions.
What it takes to be a Division 1 athlete
How early do athletes need to be noticed to have a chance to play at a major Division 1 school? When is it too late?
I don’t ever think it is too late if it is truly the right school from both sides. However the trouble comes when a player is interested and a team has already filled their roster or are interested but you may not be able to gain admissions in time. I think the earlier a PSA (Prospective Student Athlete) gets working on communicating to coaches and Admissions, the more likely it is that the two will come together, if it is going to happen. And if it does not work out for the PSA that a program is interested it gives more time to reexamine other opportunities and ultimately find the true right place.
From the coaching side the more time we have the better we can make the right decision for our program to continue to grow. Far too often we hear from someone so late that while love them on the field, we are out of money for that class, concerned about Admissions, or some NCAA facet that could have been covered much earlier.
Don’t put your eggs all in one basket. Dream of the perfect spot. The measure of that spot may not be a t-shirt we all recognize but might show itself to be a tremendous education, a ring from a title, and memories of a fantastic program and education that will last longer than that t-shirt ever will.
If athletes are pursuing a Division 1 roster spot, what do they need to know?
The two simple statements I would say are, “don’t tell me you love it when you only like it” and “everyone on the roster has a scrapbook so don’t think that will get you the next opportunity.”
First, the time and effort that has to be put into Division 1 is significant. If you feel you will miss out in other aspects, then do yourself a favor and follow your dream of a college experience. If you love the idea of game days – great! But you need to love the idea of more time on the training field, the locker room, on the road and even sitting on the bench until you reach the game as a starter. If you like soccer you will show up when it’s fun. If you love it you will live it daily and it will be a part of social decisions, academic rigor, nutrition, and virtually your entire experience for four years while still getting a rewarding college experience. Some people truly love that challenge and others realize, some too late, that they like soccer an awful lot but there are other things that are more important.
Second, the players on the vast majority of good Division 1 teams may be the best player with all the awards (but all the pressure this year). Others are #24 and yet each one of them was probably a star at some point in the past. Your scrapbook, parent’s or club coach’s help might have gotten you to the roster but your effort, skill, commitment and focus is what will get you on the team in the role you covet.
Division 1 coaches are often accused of playing favorites which is somewhat comical as it is the likeliest place to get fired for a lack of results. Winning is important to the coach. Even though you are a great kid, if you didn’t score in training, you may not travel on the bus, let alone sub on at some point. This sounds harsh but the outcome for the team is paramount and not the individual outcome. I’ve seen coaches literally get up from a club game after watching the attitude from players or even parents. Each player is vital for a team to succeed but if your role today is as a great sub or a practice player, is that going to be accepted or not?
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?
I would urge players to take the lead in the recruiting process. Parents, teachers, club and school coaches certainly have a positive impact to help them. But the relationship will ultimately be between the coach at the college and the players you will join. The more a PSA makes this experience their own, the greater potential they have to attract a strong program they can enjoy and the more they will develop individually.
You can find out more about Coach Clark and the Canisius College Women’s Soccer program by clicking here.
Next, check out: Are You Sure You Are Really Being Recruited?
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