Helping Student-Athletes Navigate their Way to College
There are thousands of colleges and universities — how do youth soccer players choose the right ones to apply to? All too often, the ‘student’ in the student-athlete is overlooked when it comes to the evaluation process.
What if you are not being called by college coaches but still want to play a college sport?
Now, there is the help players and their families need. Former Chairman of US Club and longtime coach, Philip Wright, recognized these problems and founded Counting Stars to evaluate players’ potential and identify real opportunities.
Youth Soccer News: What do you do after nearly half a century in youth sports?
If you are Philip Wright, you take all that knowledge and turn it into helping kids plan for their future.
The choice of going to college is the first time a young person gets to say, “This is who I think I am and this is what I think I want.”
It’s a really important decision. And most kids have no idea what they want.
And, that is why Wright founded Counting Stars.
Counting Stars is not a recruiting company. Counting Stars evaluates youth soccer players, performing artists, volleyball players, as well as athletes in other sports and identifies college opportunities.
Working with top professionals and former pros, Counting Stars uses the latest in performance analysis tools and asks the all-important questions to help players narrow their choices based on what is best for their future, not just the sports’ programs.
Here is SoccerToday Diane Scavuzzo’s interview with Philip Wright on Counting Stars.
Diane Scavuzzo: You have recently stepped down as Chairman of US Club after 15 years and kicked off your new venture Counting Stars — how does Counting Stars help players figure out what colleges and universities they should apply to?
Philip Wright: Youth soccer players — as well as their parents — become so focused on where they want to play soccer in college, they don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about, what do they want to be?
What type of college or university do they want to attend? What location? There is a big difference between a small college and one in a big city. And, most importantly, what do they want to study?
We wanted to put the ‘student’ in the student-athlete first.
It has been bothering me that our youth soccer players generally lack a focus on their long-term future.
At Counting Stars, players come in for a day of Olympic-style evaluation. Counting Stars looks at a student-athletes’ abilities and their goals academically as well as through the lens of their sport.
We have a huge database of every single university in the United States and we can filter what these kids are capable of doing academically and what they want through that to get a list of schools.
Soccer players rarely ever ask themselves, “Who am I and what do I want?”
Having kids think about these questions is an important part of choosing the right college.
Diane Scavuzzo: What inspired you to do this?
Philip Wright: I am and have always been passionate about combining education and sports to help young people and their families.
Counting Stars can really help players and their families.
Diane Scavuzzo: What happens during the one-day evaluation?
Philip Wright: Players are evaluated playing multiple times; they’ll get evaluated doing technical work as well as they’ll have physical testing using state-of-the-art laser equipment like you see at an NFL Combine or the MLS Combine.
And they’ll have a psychological test of their mental toughness, performance, and coach-ability. The same tests are used by many colleges and professional sports teams. We want student-athletes to benefit from these tests as well, and be able to use the information to help narrow their search for the best colleges and universities.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you provide college recommendations?
Philip Wright: We’ll look at the schools that match their playing ability, academic performance and interests and the findings of the evaluation. Our goal is to provide young people and their parents a list of schools that we think they should look at.
We are not recruiting company.
Players still have to write to the college coaches, and send in their videos and follow up.
We help you focus on the right schools.
Players get a digital locker and when the evaluation is done, all their results are stored in their digital locker. We even provide players with a report highlighting their strengths and weaknesses, so they know the areas they need to work on.
Diane Scavuzzo: Who does the player evaluations?
Philip Wright: I worked very hard to get really high-quality directors in each of the disciplines.
Our evaluators are usually former professional players because the quality of the evaluators is critical, obviously. Like any evaluation, the data is subjective — and subjective data means you need to have people who really understand the various games doing the evaluating.
Diane Scavuzzo: You have two grown sons, one graduating medical school soon. How do you think this would have benefited your sons, had this been available to them?
Philip Wright: The physical testing that we do with the laser lights would have given objective data to college coaches documenting the exceptional nature of my two boys athletically.
The tests would have shown that athletically, they were at a very high-end, which wasn’t always noticeable with my kids because they’re very, very tall.
College coaches would have looked at the results and said, “Oh. Wow! These two young men are extremely athletic.”
As you know, as a parent, to talk to your kids and have them actually listen can be tough. I think these tests would have forced them, and probably my wife and I, to step back and say,
“College is not a soccer-first decision. This really is an academic-first decision.”
“And we should really think about making sure they’re going to the right schools academically for the long-term.”
Diane Scavuzzo: Can you give me an example of how the test results would have helped your family in the decision-making process?
Philip Wright: One of the things that we would’ve said to my younger son, who went to Washington is, “That’s a really difficult school to get the type of grades you need to get into med school while you’re playing Division 1 soccer. There are a lot of students in the Pre-Med program there who are doing nothing but studying, so it is going to be very hard to have the type of grades that jump out when you’re applying to med school.”
These are the types of things that parents often don’t think about, and kids rarely think about. And, we can change that.
One of our core beliefs is that, if you want to play sports in college, particularly, soccer, there are schools for you to do that.
And the experiences are not very different at Division I college than they are at a community college, to be honest. You have teammates, you train, you play together, you make your life-long friends
Whether it’s community college, Division 3, Division 2, or it’s Division 1, we believe that the experiences are really memorable, fun, and positive for long-time success in life.
You learn how to work together, you learn how to overcome adversity and all the many positive things you get from sports.
We want to have parents step back and realize, your son or daughter’s going to have the same type of positive experience playing-wise, wherever they go — so let’s find the right school for them to attend.
Also, it can be hard for a parent and a player to understand that maybe they are not a Top 20 player. Maybe your kid isn’t a D1 player. Maybe you can’t financially afford to go to a top college, or your kid is not physically or mentally ready to go away from home. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things.
Diane Scavuzzo: It’s hard to imagine that UCLA’s soccer team is similar to Costa Mesa Community College.
Philip Wright: When I say similar, I am referring to you have a coach and an assistant coach at both schools. You have teammates you train and travel with and you’re going to compete together. Those experiences are really not that different.
It’s not as different as people think, as far as, what you learn from those experiences.
Our audience are all the kids out there who are not being recruited and not being offered a scholarships but want to play in college.
Diane Scavuzzo: I think there are a lot of U.S. Soccer Development Academy (DA) players who are very confused and are evaluating colleges only by their soccer rankings or how many players are drafted in the MLS SuperDraft from that school.
Philip Wright: Absolutely.
Diane Scavuzzo: And players only one injury away from having their soccer dream side-railed and they need to have a reality check on what other interests that they have.
Philip Wright: Exactly.
Diane Scavuzzo:: I see a great value for all U.S. Soccer Development Academy players — to make sure that they can choose intelligently between the colleges they’re being recruited by.
Philip Wright: You’re so correct — most parents and kids intellectually understand the really small percentage of players, in any of these sports, who actually make a living playing sport.
You know this idea that you are really only one injury away from your career ending is easy to understand but it doesn’t seem to translate into their hearts — as far as making the decision as to where to go to college.
The decision on where to go should be based on what you want to study and the environment that you want to be in for the next four years.
Philip Wright: I tell kids all the time, “If you go to a Division 1 program, it’s like having a job all the way through college. You’re going to train in the winter and in the spring. You’re not going to be going to all the parties. You know, you have to love training. You have to love practicing.
You can go to a great school like a good Division 3 college with very intense soccer, but your off-season will be less intense. There’s not a right or wrong answer to those differences.
To be honest, one of the things I tell kids is, the only question that we ask them that they have to talk to their parents about is, what can their parents afford to pay?
Diane Scavuzzo: A lot of youth soccer players are star struck with the concept of becoming a pro. How many years have you been involved in soccer?
Philip Wright: I’ve been involved in soccer for 42 years. I started coaching when I was 22-years-old and I’m 64 now. And, I’ve coached for 38 of those 42 years.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many players’ lives do you think you have touched, either directly by coaching or through your programs at US Club?
Philip Wright: US Club has about 500,000 youth soccer players this year. We started with 30,000 and we built our way up and I was Director of two youth soccer clubs for 25 years, which means I had multiple teams. I’m doing my math in my head …
Diane Scavuzzo: I guess the number could be over a million …. So, out of the hundreds of thousands of youth soccer players you have watched over and whose lives you have influenced, how many have gone pro?
Philip Wright: I’ve developed a lot of professional players compared to many youth coaches. But I’d say it’s certainly less than 100.
Diane Scavuzzo: That’s a small fraction of all the youth soccer players …
Philip Wright: A very small fraction. And, those ones who went pro, their professional soccer careers ended at some point and their lives didn’t end when their pro careers were over.
Diane Scavuzzo: And, they didn’t end up with Cristiano Ronaldo’s bank account?
Philip Wright: No. I have had none of those. I have said from my first day of coaching, if all I’m teaching kids how to do is how to kick a soccer ball, I’m wasting my time.
Sports should be ways of teaching life-lessons.
I evaluate my influence on the game, not by those 100 players who have played professionally, but how many of the kids that played for me are still involved in the game when they’re 40 years old — as adult players, or referees, or who became coaches, or fans, quite frankly.
Diane Scavuzzo: When did you start thinking about creating Counting Stars?
Philip Wright: The US Club Players’ first initiative, which is our holistic approach to youth soccer, got me thinking about the whole college process that kids and parents go through. Why throw a dart at thousands of colleges and trying to guess? Or limiting your search to colleges whose coach has reached out only to find that you’re looking at a school that doesn’t fit anything you want other than soccer?
Diane Scavuzzo: The $450 fee a player pays to attend the one-day session is an annual fee?
Philip Wright: Yes, and Counting Stars holds the player’s records digitally, in their digital locker for easy reference. We have 5 locations in Southern California to players to take advantage of this opportunity and then we are expanding across the country.
Counting Stars will hold sessions in the Orange County, LA area, Try-Valley, Bay Area and Sacramento.
Soccer evaluations will be at Irvine Valley College (June 9th and 10th), Pierce College (June 16th and 17th), Las Positas College (July 7th and 8th), City College of San Francisco (July 7th and 8th), De Anza College (July 14th and 15th) and American River College (July 28th and 29th). Boys sessions are always on Saturday; Girls are on Sunday. To register, visit Counting Stars.