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SRUSA’s Don Williams on Finding the Right Fit

Don Williams coached soccer for 22 years. During those 22 years, he recruited a lot of international athletes, which is how he met Chris Cousins. Chris is a recruiting “headhunter” or “matchmaker” based in England. He finds soccer athletes and places them at schools and on teams all over the world. Over the years, Don and Chris built a working relationship as many of Chris’ athletes were recruited onto Don’s team. Naturally, when Don retired, he and Chris worked together to bring the company to the US. And so begins the story of SRUSA.

SRUSA is different from other recruiting agencies because their sole focus is on the athletes, not on making money. They work with athletes and coaches to meet both of their needs and find the perfect fit. They are invite-only, and place only a select number of athletes each year. Because of this, they have a 100% placement rate for all of their athletes.

I met with Don to learn more about the company, what they do for athletes, and any recruiting advice he can offer.

What is your business model and philosophy?
Our business model is finding the “right fit.” Athletes come to me with a list, and it’s not my job to change their mind; it’s my job to help them realize what’s reasonable. I give high doses of reality checks for parents and athletes.

We call ourselves a family. We treat athletes like we’d treat our own child in the recruiting process. We help athletes with the whole process, from how to approach coaches to what happens after placement. This year, I even helped a kid with move-in. 

If we don’t get it right the first time, we help them find their right fit and transfer there.

All I’m doing is helping them walk the pathway that they think they want to walk. This is their life, not my life.

Related: Knowing When to Transfer

What schools/divisions/leagues do you place into?
All schools across the US, from JuCo, to NAIA, to DI, DII, and DIII, and some schools in Canada. Sometimes, Division I is only a label, and that’s one thing we help athletes realize.

Related: Pro Soccer Player Talks Chances of a Juco Athlete Going DI

What do you do for your clients?
I work remotely, so I find creative ways to track our clients’ progress. Every client gets the college-level fitness packet. It’s very important each player gets all the possible information they can get to be prepared for college. We give them nutrition advice: how to cook, how to shop, how to pick food. 

We work with athletes freshman – senior year. If they come to us early enough, we can offer some coaching as well. I put together “20 things to do with a ball and a wall” that I give to every client. We then focus on four aspects of soccer: technical, tactical, physical, and mental. For mental training, we buy all players a one-year subscription to Dan Abrahams Soccer Academy.

The tactical part is hard because we don’t want to contradict what their coach is telling them – do what your coach tells you to do!

Related: Soccer Recruiting Advice

What are some key factors when placing athletes?
These are all weighted differently for each athlete, but soccer, academics (not just the major, but the programs), finances (most families have a budget, anywhere from $0-unlimited), location (could be weather, anything related to the location). 

Some kids say “I don’t care because soccer is all I do,” other athletes are totally okay playing no minutes all 4 years. So, we have a rating system: 1-10, how important is academics? And we do that for each key factor. 

When it comes to budgeting, some parents come with a blank check ready to pay whatever it takes, and others have a limited budget. If you only have a $10,000 budget, it makes more sense to go to JuCo for two years for $5,000/year, save $10,000 over two years, then have $15,000 to spend on each of the last two years at a university. 

What’s the hardest part of your job?
Matching the athletes, and giving reality checks. I try to play devil’s advocate; I want them to understand what they’re getting into. Getting past preconceived notions and human emotions is really challenging.

What are some changes you would like to see in college soccer or in the recruiting process?

  1. Soccer is all equivalency scholarships, not headcount. I would like to see all the sports work on the same model. It’s very confusing for families when their superstar soccer athlete is only getting a partial scholarship and their neighbor’s mediocre football player gets a full-ride because that’s how headcount scholarships work.
  1. From a soccer standpoint: our system is terrible to cram 20-something games into 10 weeks. There is no recovery time, and very little individual training time. It would be much better to only play one game on Saturdays, and play for 10 months rather than 10 weeks. Kids will do better academically, emotionally, they will have more recovery time, there will be less injuries, and there will be days during the week where we can work on individual stuff. I would like to see a better year-round model. This prepares the best players in the country for the next step. 

Related: What’s the Difference: Headcount and Equivalency Scholarships

Don said the whole process is about doing what’s right for athletes in their situation: “If I can’t help you, I’m still going to point you in the direction that can help you – I just want to treat people right.”

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