Welcome to Interview #47.
I am excited to introduce to you a friend of mine, Coach Bruce Deaton. We competed against each other over the course of about five years, with most games being decided by one goal.
It may surprise many athletes, but there are a lot of coaches who compete fiercely on the field, but who become friends off the field.
I saw firsthand Coach Deaton take Louisiana College from a team with barely enough players and a low skill level, to a large roster with a depth of skill. It was largely his ability to recruit that enabled him to change the program around.
Coach Deaton has just completed his first year as the Director of Soccer Operations and Head Women’s Soccer Coach at Evangel University. Coach Deaton was hired in April 2015 to lead the effort to launch soccer at the school.
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?
Play soccer. As simple as it sounds, get touches on the ball. Doesn’t all have to occur at major showcase events. I have watched players at futsal or indoor matches, caught training sessions and even single match events.
If you are interested in a college, I would suggest you consider their clinics or camps or even opportunities where you may know the coach is involved (ie., club). Be sure to send your schedules for both HS and club to the coach.
I do indeed recommend players reach out. Players that is. Not mom or dad doing so for them, but the players themselves. BUT, it must be a sincere reaching out, not sending a mass email to a coaching list. Honestly, if I get an email that says “Dear Coach” it rarely or ever gets read. Since I call myself “Coach Bruce” that is the salutation that tends to get looked at first.
I have gotten a few emails over time from the same player separated by a month or so, and it was exactly the same. That does not lend itself to detailed reading.
I do make an effort to respond to every email or phone call that I receive.
Once I have had a true communication with a potential student athlete, I put them into my overall recruiting spreadsheet and indicate the contact method for follow up.
Parents and prospective recruits hear more about being recruited to play at NCAA Division 1 and 2 schools. The reality is there as many roster spots at small colleges in the NAIA and NCAA Division 3 than there are in Divisions 1 and 2.
Why would you recommend looking at small schools?
There are a number of reasons for this. I believe, opportunity on the field is just one of them. I tell this to potential student athletes all the time, my sole job is to help prepare them to leave my institution when they have completed their degree and be prepared for life after college. Athletics is a great means to help in that preparation.
Smaller schools allow for more interaction across all levels, with the team in particular, not only in sports but also in the classroom. College is about the education and learning, I believe that greater interaction with professors through a smaller classroom setting can enhance the learning environment.
What are the differences in the recruiting process for athletes looking at small schools?
I am not 100% sure there is a great deal of difference in the process. I am still looking for the same quality of play as others.
I will add that I truly focus on the people side of the game as well. I have said this since the day I was hired at Evangel, to build a successful program over time, I needed to bring in quality people who will play quality soccer. It starts with the person.
Students need to determine if the school meets their needs academically, athletically, spiritually and socially in order to determine if that institution will help them grow and develop to their fullest potential.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
I believe they should be active, but not take the lead. Honestly, I would rather interact with the student athlete more so than their parents. Mainly because if they do come and attend my school and play for me, they must then be capable of handling the day-to-day processes and decisions on their own.
I spend a great deal of time with student athletes and their parents, especially during a visit, because I feel a responsibility to the parents that I will, to the best of my ability, take care of and be there for their child as they work through college. I want to be able to share my personality with them and for them to see who I am in my day to day walk outside of the game as well.
Having said all that, if moms and dads are doing all the talking or interacting with me, it may indeed indicate how prepared that student is to make decisions on their own which is truly necessary as they move into their college life.
Your soccer program will enter its second year of competition next fall. What would you tell prospective athletes are the benefits and challenges which await them at a relatively new program? (This could also help athletes who are looking at programs with new coaches undergoing rebuilding years.)
In our first year, we focused a great deal on building foundations. Foundations are absolutely necessary for stability of a building over time, but nobody truly sits and admires a “concrete slab”.
Long-term success and stability does not happen without the proper foundation. That foundation was built for us this past fall. We focused on developing quality soccer players but made absolutely certain we started with quality people.
We discussed throughout last fall, we would likely be the least experienced team on the field in each occasion we played. This was something that was out of our control. What we could control was our work rate. We could enter every match and out-work our opponents, we could control that. And honestly, I believe we achieved that. But because we focused on building the foundation, we can now continue to build upon it. I am very excited about the future of our team.
Being a second year program also means I have been recruiting across the board, all positions, to help us become stronger in every aspect of the game. This, to me, provides a greater opportunity for players to come in and compete.
I am not just looking for one type of player to fit into a mold, I am looking for quality people to play quality soccer and continue to develop what that “mold” might be, so opportunity to be a part of building something special and making a difference is very real here.
The challenge could be in how we view what success looks like. Sometimes one must measure the gains made in a brand new program a little differently than you might in a well-established one. If we are building for long-term stability, it is not an overnight process, which can be a challenge in our instant gratification world.
Could you share, in whatever detail you are comfortable, what the athletic scholarship break down looks like on your roster?
Building a roster from the ground up, has meant that I have spread athletic scholarship dollars across a range of players. I work very closely with our enrollment office along the way. Student athletes who invest as heavily in the classroom as they do on the field, will tend to garner more institutional aid along the way.
Over time and as our program grows, how athletic dollars are invested will likely change some.
Evangel University is a Christian school. Will all Christian schools be similar?
That is a tough question, I honestly believe they all strive to be focused on faith first, but I think there are at times differences in how heavily that focus is lived out on a day-to-day basis. But in the end, to answer the question, I would have to say no.
What are the differences that recruits should think about when choosing a Christian school over a state or private non-religious school?
Faith will be a big part of their life. One of the things we established here from day one was a servant-first focus, it was called #2NOT2B. It means that we are striving to serve one another, not to be served. We have a pretty good role model for that! I tell every single person I am fortunate to talk to about college soccer and Evangel, is that they will grow academically, athletically and spiritually during their time here.
I strive to live my faith out in front of my players. I pray for my recruits and not for them to come to my school, but for God to lead them to the place where they will be able to grow to their fullest in service to him. I pray with my players. My players pray with and for one another and we all strive to grow in our faith relationship as well as with growth in their soccer abilities.
Obviously, there tends to be a difference in student standards and rules at a Christian school. I think that is something that a potential student-athlete must take into account when they are exploring school choices.
You had success at your last school, Louisiana College in turning the program around. What have been the keys to your success? What are you doing right from the beginning to build success at Evangel?
Thank you, I tried my best and was blessed to work with an incredible group of young ladies during my years there. They are the ones who deserve all the credit.
I believe so strongly in pouring into the lives of my players, again I think one of my absolute responsibilities is to help prepare them for life after college.
On the field, I am a technician at heart when it comes to the game, so I have always invested heavily in training the technical side of the game and layering in the tactical side. Technical focus has always been a part of my training philosophy.
We have focused on competition but in a different way. I believe we are not competing against one another, but truly competing for one another. If a reserve player can do everything to help the player in front of them get better, the team does, and so do they in the process.
A few things I have tried to instill (even at my age, I am a work in process), is players need to be given the permission to fail. Success and failure are not on opposite ends of the spectrum, failure is a part of becoming successful, but we have to encourage them to be creative, try things and potentially fail until they get it “right”.
We don’t have rules. We have standards and players are expected to meet those standards. Again it is part of the process of developing for life.
Many high school girls and their parents struggle with whether they should continue playing in college because their academics will suffer. What would you say to these families?
Honestly, I believe the opposite occurs. I was fortunate to play, a ‘few” years back, and I can absolutely tie my time-management skills to being a college athlete. I was required, probably more so from my folks than anybody else, to maintain good grades while investing the time in training and other soccer related activities, and through that focus became rather successful in the classroom.
Plus one key ingredient I learned was that it is not all about me. I had to invest in what I did to not only help me, but to help those around me. In the process we all got better. I for one do not think, academics suffers. I strongly believe it is enhanced!
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?
Be confident in who you are. Not only on the field, but in life as well. I ask every individual who comes in and visits my campus, “Why should I recruit you?”, it is surprising how many folks cannot answer, or struggle with, that question.
In that case, it is not about the answer but the ability to express that answer, and be confident in themselves and what they bring to the table. This is something that will happen on numerous occasions throughout their life.
Bruce Deaton is the Director of Soccer Operations and Head Women’s Soccer Coach at Evangel University. He is in his first year at EU, hired in April 2015 to lead the effort to launch soccer at the school.
Prior to coming to Evangel, Coach Deaton spent five years as the head women’s coach at Louisiana College in Pineville, LA. Additionally, he was also the Associate Director of Athletics for LC.
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