by Catharine Aradi

I recently sent a list of questions about recruiting to nearly four hundred 4-year college coaches.  Not all replied, but enough coaches graciously answered my questions to give me a good representation.  These coaches work at all levels of collegiate competition-e.g., Div. I, Div. II, III and NAIA
Here are some of the questions I asked the coaches along with a summary of their answers.

How many recruiting emails do you receive on a weekly basis?
Virtually all of the coaches said they get emails all the time. The number ranged from 20-30 all the way up to 200-300 a week at bigger schools. Most of the coaches said they get even more emails before tournaments. (One coach simply answered, “Too many!”)

How many tournaments do you attend every year?
Most of the coaches who responded to the survey do a fair amount of tournament scouting. Between the head coach and assistants, it seems most of these schools attend 8 to 20 tourneys over the summer and perhaps 2 to 10 in the fall. (It’s good to know that coaches are still getting out to observe players in a game setting, even if they don't all scout outside their particular area or region.)

How many players annually attend your camps? (This was a key question because I have my own thoughts on the value of camps.)
Three-quarters of the coaches told me they run at least 1 camp a year. Some hold lots of camps, and attendance rages from 30-50 players to up to 600 annually for some of the larger colleges.

The importance of this question has to do with the odds you as a player will be recruited out of a camp. If there are 20 players attending and you’re one of the stronger athletes and you’re really interested in that college, your odds might be pretty decent. But if you’re one of 200 or more players the coach sees at his/her camps…well…do the math.
How many new players join your team each year? 
One year it might be 4 players, but another year, it might be 7 or 8. (Smaller colleges that field junior varsity teams bring in as many as 8-10 players.)  So, there will generally-on average-be 4-7 spots open at a given college the year you graduate. (But they won’t all be starting spots!)

How often do you recruit junior college players?
The coaches were about equally divided on this question. A third of them said they regularly recruit JC players. A third of them occasionally recruit JC players, and the remaining third said they rarely or never recruit JC players.

The take away from this is that IF you’re attending a JC and hope to transfer to a 4-year college, do your homework. Start reaching out to coaches at 4-year schools when you’re finishing your freshman year and be academically ready to transfer by the end of your sophomore year.

Do you “surf” the Internet looking for players?
The vast majority of coaches said they spend very little time randomly surfing the Internet looking for players. Some said they’re almost never online and almost all agreed that the time they do spend on the Internet is usually tied to viewing players’ skills videos.

All of the coaches seem to rely heavily on videos. A few added that they like short, concise videos that allow them to quickly assess a player’s athleticism, mechanics and overall skill level. This helps them decide whether or not to try and see more of her.

Here are a few additional thoughts/comments about the questions I asked college coaches and the answers they gave me.

Note: The one question I did not ask is how many coaches read and respond to every email they get. I didn’t want to put them on t
he spot. But anecdotal evidence suggests that some coaches read/respond to all their emails (possibly coaches who get fewer to begin with). Some coaches read/respond to many or most of their emails if only to send a questionnaire or camp notice. And some coaches merely glimpse an email, and if it doesn’t “connect” immediately-e.g. It’s not from someone they already know, from a team they recognize, etc.-they send it to the trash folder.

Coaches who run camps feel that they get a lot out of the camps, and this makes sense to me. Coaches can see many different athletes, possibly work closely with them, and-if a coach is lucky and paying attention-he or she may get a sense of whether or not a particular player could be a good prospect for the team.

Nonetheless, I encourage families to be conscientious consumers when it comes to spending money on camps.  If a camp is within easy driving distance, affordable, and you can go into it with an open mind-e.g., if recruiting results, great. If not, it was still a good day-then by all means attend as many camps as you want.

However, if attending a particular college camp is going to cost you hundreds (or thousands) of dollars-travel costs, camp fee, meals, parents’ time away from work, etc.-ask yourself what your chances are of leaving that camp as a #1 draft pick for the head coach.  If a coach has specifically asked you to attend a camp and if you know you’re already a serious prospect for them, the expense might well be worth it. But if you’re just going because you got a flyer and you’re not even sure if this is one of your top college choices, consider investing your recruiting dollars somewhere else.

And please remember that most of these coaches told me they still really like to see players in action at tournaments, and they all still put a good deal of time into off-campus scouting.

Many of the coaches said they would like players to be more involved during the recruiting process.  This includes paying closer attention to yo
ur communications with coaches. Reach out to them personally, respond to their inquiries, answer their phone calls, fill out their questionnaires, spell their names correctly. In other words, be actively engaged, and don’t leave coaches hanging.

I would reiterate that most coaches really appreciate players who are proactive through letters and phone calls, and they like it when a player demonstrates that she’s genuinely interested in attending their college…and for more reasons than just playing softball.

By the same token, given that most college teams only have 4-7 openings each year, if you really, really want to play at that level, you will need to look at a number of colleges and be open to different types of teams. Most would-be college athletes cannot limit themselves to half a dozen schools and hope for the best.

The 2018 changes to NCAA Div. I recruiting guidelines may have leveled the playing-or recruiting-field somewhat, but in other ways, this has also made recruiting more competitive (or challenging) for coaches at all levels.  So…what can you can do to increase your chances of finding a college to recruit you?

WANT TO PLAY…and for the right reasons. In my work with high school players, I find the girls who are most successful in getting recruited are those who love softball and who can’t imagine not continuing their game in college. Scholarships are nice, but they’re limited in both quantity and amount for the overwhelming majority of athletes. A scholarship shouldn’t be your primary reason for joining a college team.

LEARN how recruiting really works. Don’t rely on hearsay, other players’ experiences, vague travel team promises (“All our girls get recruited…”), and so on. If you have a solid understanding of the big picture of recruiting, you’re much less likely to make the kind of recruiting mistakes that can leave you without a college team to play for. (My book, Preparing to Play Softball at the Collegiate Level, can help with that. (So can my services!)

BE PROACTIVE. Don’t expect your travel coach or your pitching coach or your mom and dad to find you a college and a team. Not one of them will be putting on a college uniform. You will be. If you’re not willing/able to put some effort into both your college search and being the best high school player you can be, chances are you will not be happy-or successful-on a college team.

BE OPEN. There are over 1200 four-year colleges with softball teams. Try not to lock yourself into one type of college. Consider competition at all levels and look for the team where you can both contribute and play.

Here a few final reminders.  75% of all colleges are not Div. I.  They’re Div. II, III or NAIA. Over 60% of colleges are both small (<6000 students) and private (as opposed to state/public schools), and 90% of colleges are located east of Colorado. If you decide you only want to play for a large Div. I college in the west, for example, your options may be limited.  Explore a variety of colleges and teams until you find the one where you can have a happy and rewarding collegiate experience, both on the field and in the classroom!

                                                                        © Collegiate Softball Connection 2019