How to Walk On to a College Soccer Team in 6 Simple Steps

Are you already enrolled in college with a desire to play for the university’s soccer team? Walking on is difficult, but this guide tells you exactly how to walk onto a college soccer team. How do you walk onto a college soccer team, and what are some things you can do to prepare for the tryout?

To walk onto a college soccer team, contact the coaching staff regarding roster openings and walk-on tryout dates, prepare physically and mentally for the tryout, visualize yourself succeeding during the tryout, show up early on tryout day, introduce yourself to the players and staff when you arrive, and give 100% effort during the tryout.

Keep reading for more details on how to walk onto a college soccer team, general college soccer walk-on information, and a step-by-step guide to walking onto a college soccer team.

Related: How Hard is College Soccer? Choose the Best Division for You

For good measure, I contacted a college soccer head coach to learn about their team’s walk-on process and included that information in the article.

What is a “walk-on” in college soccer?

You might think the “walk-on” title is reserved only for individuals that join a team through a tryout. However, even a recruited player can be a walk-on.

A walk-on is an individual that “walks on” to a team; these individuals, recruited or not, are not on an athletic scholarship. Walk-ons can be recruited from high school or another university or join the team after an open tryout. A preferred walk-on is a player recruited to join the team but not receiving financial assistance.

Preferred walk-ons are recruited players that are committed to a school but will not receive an athletic scholarship. Although a preferred walk-on is the highest-status non-financially compensated recruit, they can still be cut from a team if that team chooses to do so.

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The walk-on we generally think of when we hear the term is an “unrecruited” walk-on. In this case, it’s someone who got accepted into or is enrolled in college but did not commit to a university team.

Players that eventually do join a team, most commonly through an open tryout, are called unrecruited walk-ons.

What is a walk-on tryout for college soccer?

Individuals that didn’t play or get recruited for soccer in high school will have to try out for a college team and become a walk-on. What is a walk-on, and what’s a walk-on tryout?

Walk-on tryouts generally consist of one or two two-a-day sessions where prospective walk-ons participate in a team’s training regimen. Those interested in playing for a college soccer team can participate in a walk-on tryout but are not guaranteed a roster spot.

The sessions are designed to highlight the skills of each player and enable the coaching staff to make an informed decision on whether or not an individual trying out for the team will make the cut.

Related: When is College Soccer Season? Fall and Spring Rules

Walking on is a challenging feat, as college soccer teams generally have a full roster by the time walk-on tryouts are held.

That doesn’t mean teams won’t hold a tryout or that you can’t beat out a rostered player for a spot on the team. The process is competitive, but healthy competition is good for the team.

A girl dribbling a ball during a college soccer walk-on tryout wearing red with a yellow athletic bib overtop.

The college soccer walk-on process, according to a coach

The walk-on and tryout process looks different at each university. Some hold tryouts in the off-season in spring, and some host them during the preseason in the fall.

I asked a college soccer coach what his team’s walk-on tryouts look like.

Related: How Much Time Do Student-Athletes Spend on Their Sport? (Real Examples)

Jesse Tinney, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville men’s soccer head coach, had this to say when I asked him what the NCAA Division 3 school’s walk-on process consists of:

“We offer a two-day tryout period over the first two days of fall preseason, with two sessions per day. The tryouts involve returning players, incoming first-year students or other recruits, and prospective walk-ons. The sessions include a fitness test, small-sided games, and full, 11v11 games.”

Tinney has his United States Soccer Federation C License and a Master’s in Athletic Coaching from the University of Mount Union.

How to walk on to a college soccer team in 6 steps

If you’re unsure about the walk-on process for men’s and women’s college soccer teams, I created a six-step list detailing the college soccer walk-on process.

A college soccer player wearing red opens running with his mouth open and his arms wide.

Here are six steps on how to walk onto a college soccer team:

  1. Contact the coaching staff
  2. Prepare for a tryout
  3. Visualize success during the tryout
  4. Be punctual and get to the tryout early
  5. Introduce yourself to the players, coaches, and staff
  6. Take a deep breath and give it your all

1. Contact the coaching staff

The first step in walking onto a college soccer team is to contact the coaching staff, be it the head coach, an assistant, or a graduate assistant. You can find their email on the university’s website, specifically the sports team’s page.

Related: How to Contact a College Soccer Coach (Recruiting Tips)

Ask the coach if there are walk-on or tryout opportunities, get the date and time, and ask what the tryout entails. Be respectful and professional, and show genuine interest in joining the team.

Even if it’s an open tryout that you heard about from word of mouth, contacting the coach and facilitating a relationship with them is never a bad idea. It could be the difference between whether or not you get a roster spot.

Proactivity is your best friend in this situation. Be patient for a response, but reach out early enough if you need to follow up with them upon not receiving an answer.

2. Prepare yourself for a tryout

Walk-ons must try out for the team to earn a spot for the upcoming season. This is a huge and often intimidating challenge for prospective walk-ons.

If you’ve played club soccer or any sport that required you to try out for a team, you know how scary it can be to show up one day expecting to play your best amongst players already on the team.

This makes preparations especially necessary.

Train your body with intense exercise; if you have enough notice, let’s say about one month, you should try to get into decent playing shape. Don’t run yourself into the ground a few days before the open tryout to where you won’t be able to perform your best.

On top of training your body, get some touches on the ball with technical drills to sharpen your abilities.

I also recommend you brush up on as much soccer knowledge as possible.

For example, when I played in college, we’d split into several teams and play small-sided games during walk-on tryouts so prospects could showcase their in-game abilities. Our coach would ask players from each team questions like, “What was the score of the Premier League game yesterday?” and whoever answered correctly got to play first.

The moral of the story is you never know if the coach might ask you some soccer-related questions!

3. Visualize success

Leading up to the tryout, all the way until you step onto the field to lace up your boots, envision yourself succeeding. Set yourself up for success by picturing what that looks like in your head.

Use visualization methods like imagining yourself scoring, completing key passes, or getting into the correct position to receive a ball as a tool to help you throughout the tryout.

Related: 7 Tips to Become a Better Soccer Player

Visualizing success helps us succeed when the time comes. It boosts our confidence and gives us an idea of what to do when the ball comes our way.

4. Be punctual – show up early to the tryout

If you adequately prepared for the tryout and contacted the coaching staff in advance, they likely told you when to show up on the day of walk-ons.

Show up to the tryout before the time you were told. If possible, try to be the first player at the training grounds. This display of professionalism and commitment will take you exceptionally far in the eyes of your future coaches.

I recommend showing up at least fifteen minutes before the designated time, even if events are going on beforehand, prohibiting you from using the facility.

A person checks their watch for the time.

5. Introduce yourself to the players, coaches, and staff

I know it can be intimidating, and I’m on the shy side myself, but I encourage you to take the initiative and introduce yourself to the players and coaching staff.

Getting to know the others is a vital part of the tryout, especially those that extend two or three days. You wouldn’t want to be on the last day of walk-ons without the coach knowing your name, right?

The warmup can be an excellent ice-breaker for introductions. Typically, the coach will introduce you to the team before the tryout commences.

Two women shake hands hands while one holds a black and white soccer ball.

6. Take a deep breath and give it your all

Tryouts can be a surreal experience. Try grounding yourself with a few deep breaths and positive thinking before things start.

The best advice I can give you is to leave everything out on the field. Give all your energy and effort to the tryout, and give the coaches a reason to consider you for the roster.

You will have a better chance of making the team if you intentionally follow each of the previous steps and take this last one to heart.

When all is said and done, you’ll have to wait to hear from the coach on whether or not you made the team. If you did make the team, you will have to formally accept or deny the offer to join.

Can you play soccer in college without playing in high school?

College soccer teams are looking for high-quality athletes that can make an impact on the soccer field. Just because you never played soccer in high school doesn’t mean you can’t play in college. If you’re talented enough, it doesn’t matter.

You can play soccer in college without playing in high school. No rule says you need to have played in high school to play at the college level. If a college team didn’t recruit you while you were in high school, you would have to participate in a tryout and walk onto the team instead.

The biggest roadblock for anyone that didn’t play in high school, other than the fact that they probably didn’t play club soccer, is the lack of exposure and the recruitment process.

Related: Can You Play College Soccer Without Playing in High School?

In other words, there’s no chance for a college soccer coach to see you play if you didn’t play in high school. Therefore, they can’t offer you a spot on the roster.

Typically, college soccer teams commit to bringing a player on before the college season starts. For soccer, this means recruited high school players will receive an offer from a college during their senior year or, in some rare cases, their junior or sophomore year.

This idea of the traditional recruitment process is only viable if you play in high school. Without it, you’ll have to prove yourself to the college soccer coach and their staff in another way.

This is where walk-ons and tryouts come in.

Related: How Many Players Are on a College Soccer Team? (D1, 2 and 3)

If you didn’t play soccer in high school but are still interested in playing soccer in college, you will likely have to go through a series of tryouts to make the team.

Even if you did play in high school but weren’t interested in playing college soccer or weren’t recruited by a university, you still need to prove your talent to the coaching staff before they can bring you on.

Walk-on tryouts are your best and typically the only chance of playing college soccer without having played in high school.

Can you play D1 without playing in high school?

As for Division 1 college soccer, some teams offer walk-ons, but they’re much more challenging to walk on to. Depending on the program’s success and overall skill, and if they provide walk-on roster spots, you might be able to squeak into the roster.

You can play Division 1 without playing in high school if selected to join the team after a walk-on tryout. There are no rules in Division 1 saying college players must have played in high school. The NCAA permits anyone enrolled in the institution with remaining athletic eligibility to try out for a team.

Walk-on tryouts are for anyone interested in playing that have never gone through the traditional recruiting process.

Related: How Much Time Do Student-Athletes Spend on Their Sport? (Real Examples)

Likewise, if you tried out for a team in a previous season but didn’t make the cut, you can still try again the following year.

Division 1 teams, though not always, are high-level programs that are difficult to get into because of the skill it takes to make the team. If you’re still in high school and want to play Division 1 soccer, I recommend playing in high school if it’s not too late.

Otherwise, walking onto a college team at any level will be extremely difficult.

If you didn’t play in high school and therefore didn’t go through the traditional recruiting process, coaches won’t know if they want to offer you a roster spot.

In this case, you will have to prove yourself during a tryout.

Can you play college soccer without being recruited?

College soccer typically involves a hands-on recruiting process involving high school athletes and the college’s coaching staff. However, some college soccer players never went through the recruiting process. Can you play without being recruited?

You can play college soccer without being recruited by walking onto the team. Many universities host walk-ons or open tryouts during the fall preseason or spring season for college students who would like to join the team. These players may not have been recruited or decided not to play in college but changed their minds.

Either way, walk-ons are hosted to add talent to a college soccer team.

The prospective athletes, or “walk-ons,” can play for a college team if they make the roster after the open tryout.

This is a tall task for those who weren’t recruited during high school, as it’s difficult to maintain the high level of skill needed to play college soccer without actually doing it.

Can you play college soccer without being enrolled?

One of the most common questions I see is, “Can you play college soccer without being enrolled?” There’s a reason college soccer players are called “student-athletes.”

You can not play college soccer without being enrolled in a university. You can only play for a college team if you are accepted into and taking classes in a graduate or undergraduate program at that university, meaning you must pursue a degree if you wish to play college soccer.

College athletes generally enroll in undergraduate programs, but some student-athletes enroll in one of their university’s graduate programs.

All student-athletes must be involved in some university curriculum where the result is a college degree. Otherwise, you can’t represent the university as an athlete.

Sean Tinney

I’m Sean Tinney, a lifetime soccer player and Ball At Your Feet owner. This website is a hub for practical soccer advice, information, and insights from one player to another.

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