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If you want to play soccer in college, obviously the best situation is to be recruited by a top school, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Whether due to injury or not getting in front of the right coach, some players just don’t make a connection with the coaches at a school they want to attend, yet they want to play soccer in college.

In that case, the player might try walking on.

What Does “Walking On” Mean?…

A “walk-on” is a player who was not recruited by the coach, whose received no interest from the coach, was not contacted by the coach in any way, and who was not asked by the coach to join the team, but who wants to play on the team. This player “walks on” the field and asks the coach if he can join the team.

A “recruited athlete” is one with whom the school has had contact (whether phone calls, an invitation to visit campus, etc.) about playing a sport. However, being a recruited athlete does not mean you’ll receive a scholarship.

A walk-on player is typically not recruited, although some coaches do ask a few kids to walk-on. These players are sometimes called “preferred walk ons.” If a player is told he’s a “preferred walk-on”, it means he’s a level below recruited. The coach might think he may be of value as a bench player or practice player, but wants to see how he looks during pre-season. The coach also likes to have competition for his recruits during try-outs. However, walk-ons aren’t expected to make the team and will probably get little scrimmage time.

What are the chances of making the team?

The challenge for the walk-on player is that, with a few exceptions, he isn’t as good as the recruited players or else he would have been recruited by the coach—or by another coach. It’s very difficult to get noticed by a coach as a walk-on if they didn’t notice you before you showed up on their field.

The coach knows this, and while he will let a walk-on try out, he doesn’t expect much. More than that, he doesn’t want to be proven wrong. He’s picked the players he thinks are best, and if you’re better than his picks, you’ve proven him—and his recruiting abilities—wrong.

The result is that the coach is unlikely to see you as a quality player, no matter what. In addition, the other players see the walk-on players as a threat to their spot on the team and may not be particularly friendly.

And if you should be taken on? It’s unlikely you’ll see the field in a game. Perhaps you won’t even see the field in practice. Some coaches carry a large roster and use the weaker players as practice players.

And while you might think that once you’re on the team your opportunities could change if there should be a few injuries or if a player transfers, it’s still unlikely. There will be new recruited players every year. Ultimately, it’s an uphill battle to show the coach that you can play at that level.

If You Choose to Walk On

If you decide to try walking on, there are some things you should consider.

  1. Make sure you want to attend that school. Your chances of making the team aren’t great, so you want to be at a school where you’ll be happy whether you’re playing on the team or not.
  2. During your senior year, keep the coach updated on the tournaments you’ll be playing in. Send him any news clippings in which you’re mentioned. Make sure he knows about you.
  3. Attend the school’s summer camp, if they have one. (You should be attending camps at colleges all through high school.) This gives you a chance to meet the coaches, see their coaching style, and show them your skills.
  4. If you walk on and don’t make the team, you can play intramurals or club soccer. Be sure you’re willing to do that.

Something else to consider

A “recruited player” at a top program might be scholarship material in a program that isn’t at as high a level. And a player who walks onto a D1 program might be recruited at a D3 school. Do you want to be considered one of the weaker players or someone the coach sees as core to his team’s success?

This isn’t true in every case. Some players might have sat out their junior year (the prime year for coaches to see players) due to injury, and might not be seen, even though in different circumstances the coach would have recruited them. These players are likely to have the best chance of walking on successfully.

A friend once gave us good advice: “You want to be interested in the school where the coach is interested in you.” That sums it up in a nutshell. If playing soccer in college is important to you, pay attention to the coaches who are recruiting you and their school’s level of play (D1, 2 or 3). That’s likely to be the level of school at which you’re best suited, and those coaches are the ones who think you’ll be an asset to their team.


  • Stephen says:

    Great advice! But can’t low expectations work in your favour?

    • Anita Nolan says:

      Thanks for the comment, Stephen. Having low expectations certainly can help in your decision-making process. They might also be an incentive, making you work harder because you know just how hard it is to make the team. (Besides, low expectations are the key to mental health!) Better to have low expectations, work hard, and be pleasantly surprised than expect to make the team and be disappointed.

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