Welcome to Interview #68.
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NCAA Division 3 Women’s Soccer Coach of Greenville College, Jeff Wardlaw.
Coach Wardlaw has been at Greenville since 2005, where he has worked his way up from being a graduate assistant, then associate head coach and finally head women’s coach.
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen?
A personalized email with an introduction and explanation of why they are thinking about Greenville. Mass emails are pretty obvious and a lot of coaches will delete them immediately. Any type of game film is always helpful. If I am not familiar with the athlete we will probably ask for one.
Why do you think athletes should consider an NCAA Division 3 college? What are the benefits of a Division 3 school specifically?
The function of D3 is to put academics 100% first and to treat all students the same. I like the fact that everyone on the team is choosing to play for the love of the game and since there are no athletic scholarships everyone is completely equal. You don’t have players feeling like they need to justify their scholarships. We never have to deal with the possible issues that can arise with that kind of thinking. There is not a feeling of hierarchy based on scholarships.
What are some things that would keep you from recruiting a player?
It takes a lot of discipline to be an NCAA student-athlete and so I struggle with the recruits that say they are going to take care of college admissions paperwork and other responsibilities but don’t follow through. To me that is a little bit of a yellow flag that makes me wonder whether they will be able to balance the college schedule.
I also think you can tell a lot about a young person’s character just by looking at their social media and so that could either help or hurt.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
It really depends on the individual coach. Some coaches don’t like the parents too involved and others use the parents a lot. For me personally it is a little bit of both. I really try and get to know the parents and want them to know me a bit as I hope to be a very large part of the child’s life for the next 4 years and beyond. I think it is important that I am available to them to help answer any questions or concerns they may have.
What I don’t like is when parents get so involved that they are doing everything for the student and calling me and asking me things that the recruit needs to be doing. College is about starting the maturation process of becoming an adult and I think it starts with the recruiting process.
How should soccer players use video of themselves during the recruiting process?
Game film and/or drill videos is fine. Don’t need to spend tons of money on a professional video. Have the video show different aspects of the game and we can usually make a judgement on the talent level.
Greenville competes in the NCCAA in addition to the NCAA Division 3. Can you tell us what the NCCAA is and why Greenville chooses to compete in it?
The NCCAA (National Christian College Athletic Association) is an association for Christian schools to be a part of. It has NCAA D2, D3, and NAIA schools involved. There is a NCCAA D1 and D2 and Greenville completes in NCCAA DIV 1. There are around 70 Div. 1 teams. This allows us to compete for two National Tournaments with the main goal always being NCAA.
The NCCAA National Tournament is a week-long trip to Florida where the top 8 teams compete for the championship. It also allows our players another opportunity to compete for national individual honors such as All-America, All-Region, All-Academic.
Greenville College is a Christian school. Will all Christian schools be similar? What are differences that recruits should think about when choosing a Christian school?
We are a Christian school and it is very important to our school and soccer program to have that be the main focus of everything we do. Most Christian schools will be similar in their underlying themes and missions but some may be more intentional about the faith integration in the sports.
The biggest thing that I tell recruits is that they can expect a lot of character and faith development to help them figure out who they are and who they want to become. We have kids from all different backgrounds. There needs to be a level of respect for wherever people are on their journey. There also needs to be a willingness to grow in their faith and challenge themselves to figure out what they believe and why they believe what they do.
What should players expect from a Christian college athletic experience?
At Greenville, although we are very competitive and always striving to make the NCAA tournament our focus is on the growth of the individual and the team. Putting a lot of focus on the teaching of life skills using the “beautiful game” as the teacher. We also focus on the relationships built within the team.
The player’s self-worth should have nothing to do with how good they are or wins/losses. Your self-worth comes from the fact that Christ made you in his image and you are perfect in his eyes. The team chemistry goes beyond just liking each other but really getting to know each teammate on a deeper level and being vulnerable with personal struggles and life baggage.
Now I want to turn the interview a bit more personal. Can you tell us how meeting the demand of collegiate athletics prepared you for your life after college?
Not to get too personal but my passion for these kids comes from my experiences of not meeting the demands and learning about life as a college athlete. The regret and the struggles that I went through after college because I wasn’t focused on the right things were substantial and my message comes from negative experiences that I don’t want these players to have to go through. I’m pretty transparent with my players and they know my story and they know why we spend so much time on character, faith, and leadership development.
What was your own recruiting story out of high school like? Why did you end up choosing Olivet Nazarene and then The University of the Cumberlands?
I actually followed in my 2 older brothers footsteps and started at Olivet Nazarene University and then transferred to the University of the Cumberlands. I was on a nationally recognized club team in Kansas City and the majority of my teammates went NCAA D1. I knew I didn’t want a big school and at the time wanted to follow in my brothers footsteps and so I didn’t give a lot of attention to the recruiting letters from other universities.
What gives you the most joy or satisfaction as a coach?
Growing up I always wanted to be a counselor and so the relational piece is what I enjoy the most. As a head coach there is only about 10-15% of my job is actually on the field coaching. There is so much behind the scenes stuff that goes on and getting to know the players through them hanging out in my office or having coffee with them in the coffee shop is a big part of my job.
I really embraced my role as a coach when I realized that when I’m 60 years old my wins/loss record is going to mean nothing but all the years of relationships that I’ve made will be the most satisfying. The four years of college should be the most important time in the life of these players and I thoroughly enjoy being a part of their lives on a day to basis from 18-21 or 22 years old and then keeping in contact with them for the rest of their lives.
The growth that can and should take place as a person is substantial and the dropping of life baggage and moving on preparing for the “real world” is really cool. A lot of tears and maybe butting heads goes along with that but that has to be a part of the process.
Can you share a creed, quote or philosophy you try to instill into your athletes?
We have a binder that every player gets as their own called “The Greenville Way” and it explains every single aspect of our team culture. It is more of a life book that they can keep forever but goes over our philosophy with a fine tooth comb. Some of my favorites are:
–“I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”-Dr James Dobson
–We play a beautiful game we love, with teammates we love, for a God we love
–It’s not about you!
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?
- Come up with a checklist of things that are important to you and that you want from a school and add or remove choices based on that.
- If you are interested in a school don’t wait for them to contact you. There are thousands of players out there and if you are interested then contact the coach and see where it goes.
- Take an overnight visit and stay with the team. You will be able to tell a lot about chemistry, the team, and the school by being in the dorms in a relaxed environment.
Coach Wardlaw has been at Greenville since 2005. At Greenville, he has fulfilled many different roles. Before becoming solely the head women’s coach, he was a Graduate Assistant of men/women’s programs, then full time Associate Head Coach of men/women’s program and then Director of Soccer Operations of men/women’s program and Head Women’s coach. In addition, Coach Wardlaw has coached high school and club teams.
Next, take a look at The Final Price is What Really Matters.
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