Question: There are an increasing number of associations (PGF, ASA, TCS, USSSA) claiming that they have the "best" camps and showcases at any given moment. My question to you is as follows: In your opinion, what tournaments should a travel coach consider when developing their fall or spring/summer tournaments. Thank you!
Answer: Oh, how I wish there was a simple, straightforward answer to this question. There is no such thing as the perfect or best tournament unfortunately because there are too many of them. If you're lucky enough to be one of the very top travel teams in the country, then almost any tourney you select will be good for you assuming there are college coaches attending. However, for the overwhelming majority of travel teams getting players seen, scouted, and recruited is going to depend either on dumb luck OR on the recruiting foundation the players themselves have built.
What I mean is this. Only 25% of players will compete at the Div. I level because 75% of all college teams are not D-I (and this doesn't even include Junior Colleges). Since Div. II, III and NAIA college coaches don't always recruit following the same timetable or the same pathways as Div. I coaches, it's critical that any young athlete hoping to play in college understands how things really work. Sending out 20 emails (or 100 emails) before every tournament weekend is useless most of the time unless you know your target zone and understand where you are most likely to have a strong "wow" factor---because that's what gets you recruited.
I tell my players find the college coaches who will go "wow" when they see you and it won't matter which tournaments you're at---particularly if you are likely to be a Div. II, III or NAIA prospect. While these coaches do attend tourneys and do hope to see you in action, they also have other avenues to allow them to determine if you're a good prospect for their teams---such as an on-campus workout.
Here's what I would recommend to most travel team coaches when it comes to selecting tournaments. Try to honestly and objectively assess where (at what type of college teams) your players are most likely to be considered top prospects. Make sure your families are thoroughly educated about the realities of recruiting by being sure all of them have my book, Preparing to Play Softball at the Collegiate Level. Encourage your players to be proactive and send snail mail packets (as per my book) to a wide variety of college teams---and not just the ones they see on TV (or not just Top 25 D-I programs unless you truly know all your kids are top D-I prospects...but if they are, you probably didn't need to ask this question in the first place!)
Then try to pick events that are likely to be attended by the types of coaches that will respond to your players. Know (and make sure your families know) that there's no way all the coaches they write will see them in action. But remind them that Div. II and NAIA coaches can have kids on campus for tryouts/workouts, so if they can't see a player at a tournament, they may still decide to actively pursue her. And many Div. III coaches will recruit players based on videos, profiles and recommendations because there are no athletic scholarships involved.
Obviously, tournaments can be great opportunities for recruitment. But if you consider that even at a very well attended event, the players participating will outnumber the coaches attending by a factor of 5, 10 or even 50 to 1, and many of the coaches will follow the same kids around hoping for a shot at them. It's not fair, but it is what it is. The other thing that's key is that very few coaches randomly wander around tournaments hoping to discover that special player. Virtually all of them go in with a list of names. If your name isn't on that list, chances are the coach will never see you unless you happen to outperform 95% of all the other athletes there...AND...the coach happens to see you!
The bottom line is this. Don't rely on any one (or 5) tournament(s) to get your players recruited. Use these events to your advantage and be prepared (as a travel coach) to chat with as many coaches attending as you can if you believe your athletes could compete for them. But also make sure your kids and parents understand recruiting and have done their homework ahead of time. I have players recruited every year who never get seen at a tournament by the coach who ends up recruiting them! Tournaments are only one of several routes to finding the player who's just right for your team!