Welcome to Interview #12
I am pleased to share with you an interview with an incredibly successful and experienced coach. Coach Nick Cowell is the Women’s Soccer Coach at NCAA Division 2 St. Edwards University. If you are a prospective college athlete, you will find the advice of Coach Cowell well worth your time.
Coach Cowell has been with the St. Edwards women’s soccer team for the past nine years. The St. Edwards Hilltoppers are coming off a 15-5 campaign including a perfect 8-0 conference record. His team has appeared in six straight NCAA tournaments, and has appeared two times in the Elite Eight.
Cowell is third all-time in career victories in NCAA Division II and in the Top-15 in career winning percentage. Enjoy this priceless interview from one of the top coaches in the nation, regardless of sport.
Where do you most often find players for your team?
Geographically, we recruit world wide – with the onset of YouTube & social media we can broaden our recruiting sphere!
In recent years we have had players from Australia, England, & Sweden. We also have players from the west coast (California, Washington & Oregon), & the east coast (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Florida). Of course we also have many players from Texas, which is a hotbed of women’s soccer. We draw from Dallas, Houston, San Antonio & Austin.
The way we find players is through watching them at club tournaments. Video can be a good introduction & if we think that we would be a good match for a player then we will watch them live.
Because we are now getting commitments from sophomores, a lot of the communication has to go through the club coach, or it can happen on an unofficial visit to campus.
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen?
Write to us as freshmen & sophomores. Provide a link to a basic video with some game highlights. Nothing more than 2 minutes. Schedule an unofficial visit to look at campus. Attend a summer camp or ID camp.
What would a timeline look like for your recruiting of a typical player? What kind of communication do you send out and when?
Freshman – write to coach & inform of tournaments. Make a basic video. Summer – attend summer camp. Fill out online questionnaire.
Sophomore – maintain communication of tournaments. Update video. Attend ID camps.
To freshmen & sophomores: We are only allowed to send out communication about camps & request that an online questionnaire be filled out.
Junior & senior years – we are allowed to email & text message. Generally we will follow up with recruits in the manner in which they contacted us (i.e. if they text us, we will text back).
St. Edwards is a Catholic school. What is it like to go to a Catholic school? What are some of the advantages?
The heritage of St. Edward’s is Holy Cross & this is seen in the values of the school with an emphasis on community service & social justice issues. The campus community is very diverse however & very welcoming to people of all or no faith.
What is college life like for a D2 athlete? What will day-to-day life look like? Can they be involved in activities outside of sports?
The D2 mantra is “Life in the Balance”. This means that there is a balance between athletics & academics. Your athletics should never come in the way of succeeding academically. Athletics is taken seriously, after all we offer athletic scholarships, but we also stress academic excellence. There are plenty of opportunities to be involved in activities outside sports, but I would hesitate to recommend doing too much especially as a freshman. The most important thing is to get acclimated to college athletic life, make friends on your team & succeed academically.
Could you share, in whatever detail you are comfortable, what the athletic scholarship break down looks like on your roster?
The maximum number of NCAA D2 scholarships for women’s soccer is 9.9 (not all teams have the full quota). This is 9.9 for the whole team, not 9.9 for every year! Our situation is that we have less than the full amount so we have to reward players who do well. In an incoming freshman class of 12 athletes for example, 6 may be on scholarship & 6 not on scholarship. Those who are not on scholarship may actually have more potential than the ones who are on scholarship, but they simply decided too late & we had already used up our athletic scholarship allotment.
Out of the 6 who are not on scholarship as freshmen, maybe 3 of them will earn a scholarship for future years.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
The player should definitely learn how to communicate with the coach via emails, etc. The parents should be in the background guiding the student-athlete in how to narrow down their choices, good questions to ask on visits, etc. Ultimately it is the young person who will be attending the school & being asked to get up every day & go to practice, so the motivation has to be personal to that student.
As parents we should not do everything for our kids. Our role should be to make them responsible for their own life course.
We can use it positively in sending out messages about our team’s success & our players’ sense of team chemistry. It can also be used as a filter to make sure that recruits are behaving in a respectable manner. Student-athletes should know that anything that is sent via a phone is potentially public information (this even goes for text messages, Snapchat, etc.).
Your teams are very successful in the classroom. How are your players able to compete at a nationally ranked level and succeed in the classroom?
We recruit smart students who are eligible for academic scholarships because this increases the chance that they will end up choosing our school. Most of our team are on academic scholarships, & this money can be added to any athletic scholarships they receive. Most of these athletes come in with good study habits.
We are also fortunate to be at a school that emphasizes small classes & personalized instruction. The average class size is about 15 students. This means that you can have a personal relationship with your professors & ask them questions in class or during office hours.
We also have many state-of-the-art safety measures to make sure that, if a student is struggling with a class, we can get them the help that they need, i.e. tutors, supplementary instruction, academic counseling.
Of course, the NCAA D2 philosophy ensures that we always have to ask if our athletes are living a “balanced” life.
You have coached a lot of college athletes since you began in 1989. Can you share a story or two about how playing on a college team has affected former players in their lives after graduation.
Part of the joy of coaching is keeping in touch with players who have played for you over the years. The advent of Facebook has really helped me stay in touch with former players, & has helped those athletes stay connected with me & each other.
Many of my former players & assistant coaches have gone into coaching roles or administrative roles in athletics. In fact one of my current assistant coaches, Kelsey (Yeatts) Baird is a former All-American player for me.
I hear that the attention to teamwork & the discipline required to be a top collegiate athlete are the main qualities that people appreciate after graduation. Being a college athlete is not easy. It requires time management, persistent motivation, & the subjugation of ego for the betterment of the team. All qualities that will help you succeed in life in the business world.
What advice do you have for recruits on how to prepare for their freshmen year in a college soccer program? What are typical things you wish incoming freshmen realized or knew before they arrived on campus?
Attention to fitness levels translates into confidence in your own ability. If you are worried that you didn’t train hard enough in the summer, you probably didn’t! We believe that fitness should always be soccer specific, so training for a marathon the week before pre-season is definitely not going to prepare you for a soccer season.
I wish that freshmen athletes realized that the freshman year is one of intense development & that they should come with an open mind to learning both on & off the field. They are competing with other athletes who were all some of the best players on their club & high school teams. College athletic careers are 4 years long & initial failure may be necessary for future growth.
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?
My role as a coach & educator is to help the recruit find the right school for her. Sometimes that will be my school, sometimes not. If I can guide a student through the process & she ultimately finds a school that is not us, I am delighted!! We only want players for whom we are a good fit.
You must be highly motivated:
– to be part of a winning team culture (where ego is not present),
– to do well in school (study hard & get good grades),
– & be prepared to give back to those less fortunate in our community
So my advice is to find coaches, parents, counselors, teachers, & family friends who do not have an agenda in where you go to school. Obviously there may be some financial parameters that your future school may have to fit into, but because Grandma went to XYZ State University, does not mean it is the best fit for YOU!
Nick Cowell has been at St. Edwards Hilltoppers nine seasons. They have appeared in six straight NCAA tournaments and eight in nine years. In 2014, his team finished 15-5, losing in the NCAA South Central Regionals. In 2013, the Hilltoppers’ only loss came in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. They have been to the Elite Eight twice and have been ranked as high as #3 in the nation in 2012.
In 2010, Cowell led the team to a 17-2-2 record, a #6 national ranking and the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. The 2009 season saw Cowell guide the squad to a 16-3-3 record, and a NCAA Sweet 16 appearance for the first time in school history. For his efforts, Cowell was named South Central Region Coach of the Year.
LIKE WHAT YOU READ?
Next, take a look at Can You Play College Athletics and Succeed Academically.
Keep in the Conversation,