What Qualities Does A College Soccer Coach Look For In A High School Player?

Frank Kohlenstein, a soccer coach for over 30 years and a resume that includes the head men’s soccer coach at UNC Charlotte and the Colorado School of Mines, sat down with StriveFar to provide a college coach’s perspective on recruiting.

This is the first post in a multi-part blog series on soccer.

Last year there were 27,358 female and 24,803 men NCAA soccer players. Each year college soccer coaches identify high school players to play soccer at their university. The process and what they look for in a player may surprise you.

“The more challenges you see them face, the more you see about their character.” 


Question: Frank, What are the qualities a college soccer coach looks for in a player?

Technical Ability

The number one thing, when a coach goes out to watch a player is their technical ability, their skill. This is one of the easiest things to see when the ball comes to them or when they are defending someone.

Tactical Awareness

Their tactical awareness, the decisions they are making on the field. Are they making good decisions that allow their team to attack or defend? Do they know what their team is doing? Is the player tactically on top of the situation.

Are they making their runs at the right time? It is not about making 30 runs; it is about make 30 good runs. When they are on their defensive 3rd, are they clearing the ball so they are not giving 2nd and 3rd chances to the other team?

Physical Attributes

Physical strength is an easy thing to evaluate, and important, (What I evaluate) how strong are they on the ball, and how strong is the athlete in the tackle.

One (attribute) that is very hard to make improvement on is their speed, what is their pace? If someone has a whole lot of pace, they can make up for mistakes. In your mind, as a coach, you can envision them getting back defensively. Pace is very important and easy to notice.


Character is harder to notice on the field. As a coach, you want to be in a place where you can hear what the player (you are recruiting) is saying. I will talk to a lot of people that know the player. Is he a positive player, does he argue with his coach and teammates? Is he doing stuff that distracts from his goals during the match?

Are They Interested In Our Program?

Does the player have an interest in us (the college)? If someone has an interest in our program, we will more than likely go see him or her play and examine them.

An interesting thing, the higher up the player is, the college coaches look at what the player Can’t do. If you are a coach just starting out with a lower level team, you are looking at what the player Can do.

Example: Let’s say you are one of the top 10 college soccer teams in the country. You are looking at a player – your analysis, the player is good with ball and knows what is going on during the match, but they are slow. If you have a lower level program you say, look how good they are with the ball and look at all the good decisions they are making. You do not evaluate what they Can’t do.

The higher up you go the more you look at what they Can’t do. When a coach is evaluating a player, they are not only looking at what they can and can’t do but also can this player help my team now or in 4 years. Not only is the coach looking to bring someone in your program but also to cross someone off their list.

Limited Opportunity

The trick for players is to get the coach to come and see you. What most players do not realize, the coach might only be there for a half. If you are awful, they are not coming back or sending an assistant, or going to watch your video, or stream your matches…

Question: What about work ethic?

Work ethic is one of the most important things. This guy is technically good, making really good decision but they are not there, not where they could be, not involved in the match. Not willing to put themselves out there, not willing to be involved – they make a pass and then they jog instead of sprinting. The more you are involved the coach is going to like you. Who wants a player that only wants to be involved when it is easy?

We always try to watch someone play in the toughest match possible. We want to see them perform at the highest level against the highest level because that is where you want your program to be and that is the type of player you want that can prosper in the toughest situation. The more challenges you see them face the more you see about their character. Are they invested in the team or are they invested in themselves?



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