Summer travel ball is well under way, and theoretically, thousands of young athletes are having a ball. Well…maybe.  After only a month of competition, I’m already hearing parents arguing, complaining, looking tense and irritable, and in general, not seeming to enjoy watching their daughters out on the fields.  Not all the daughters are having fun either. It’s a shame that the desperate pursuit of what is mistakenly believed to be the Holy Grail-e.g., a scholarship of some sort-causes so much misery.  Even parents who are educated about the process and who seem to understand the realities of recruiting have a hard time not stressing out.  Parents and players who have little or no awareness of the big picture may suffer unbearably as they rant and rave about the unfairness of it all.

This is always tough for me to watch.  I see terrific young ladies who are accomplished on and off the field turn into unhappy, fearful, and sometimes resentful players who are convinced their lives will end if they don’t get a scholarship to a big name school.  I see moms and dads who love their daughters become bitter and disappointed because a college coach is asking about another player on the team.  For me, it’s easy to understand why this happens because the softball world is full of hype, full of false promises, and sometimes full of itself.  It’s a game!  It should be a fun, educational, challenging and rewarding game, but too often when reality meets fantasy, it stops being all of those things.

At this time of year, I strongly encourage parents and players alike (and a few coaches too) to step back, take a deep breath, and try to remember why you’re here.  It’s fine to want to play in college.  It’s fine to hope for some scholarship money.  But the primary reason to be doing all of this is because it’s FUN!  If it’s not fun now, I can guarantee, it won’t be fun in college.  So my advice to the young ladies is this. Go have a ball…literally!  If you’ve done your homework regarding college coaches…if you and your parents understand how recruiting (really) works…if you know you don’t have to panic even if every game doesn’t go your way…and if you show that you love the game, it will all work out for the best.  I promise!

Summer ball is all done, and while some of you are starting to attend tryouts and thinking ahead to fall ball, while others are going on vacation, all of you who will be seniors when school starts and who hope to play in college should be asking yourself, “What now?”  Mid-August is when I encourage all my kids to do an honest, objective, and thorough review or assessment of their college search. 

Is all your paperwork-e.g., NCAA Eligibility Center and NAIA Eligibility Center-in order, transcripts and test scores sent, etc.?  Have you scheduled the Sept. ACT and Oct. SAT test dates?  Assuming you wrote (not emailed) a ton of colleges, have you set up a system for finding out where you stand with all of them?  Are you prepared to start your follow-up calls, and do you know what to say, how often to call and how to assess the results?  If you didn’t answer yes to all of these questions, you may be bad shape recruiting-wise going into the fall season.  While there are plenty of college coaches still looking for great prospects (even at the D-I level), you will start to face diminishing returns from here on out, and rather than hearing a coach say, “Gosh, we think you’re great and we’d like to talk to you about a visit,” you may instead get a response of, “Gosh, we think you’re great, but we just got a verbal from someone (or we just made an offer.)”  I’m not talking about coaches at big D-I schools who were done in June, but coaches at the other 85% of schools who will start to make their decisions over the next few months! 

**On another note, I had a long conversation with the coach at a good southeastern D-I program this week and not only is he still looking for a couple of strong athletes, but he still has money.  He also, however, said that he gets 50-70 emails a day, depending on the time of year, and he rarely reads them unless he already knows the sender.  He said he looks for kids who are more proactive, who write a letter, make a phone call, plan a visit and show him why they could be a good prospect for his program.  Frankly, folks, he only reiterated what I already knew and what I try to tell families every day!!!

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