When watching college games, I frequently overhear parents discussing how confident they are that their daughter could play for this particular team. Actually,what I usually hear is something like, "Have you seen this team play? My kid could help them right now."  In other words, dad or mom believes his/her child could put on a uniform and play for this team as a high school senior, junior, or maybe even a sophomore.

Once in a blue moon, this is actually a valid assessment of the situation. Most of the time, however, if you were to put a uniform on the daughter in question and deposit her between the white lines on the college field, the parent would be astonished or even stunned that this stellar high school athlete goes 0 for 4 and makes two errors in the field. Does this mean she's not that good of a player? Not at all. It's simply that college softball--even at smaller, seemingly less competitive programs--is harder, more challenging, and demands more of the athlete.

When you follow a college team at any level--D-I, D-II, NAIA, D-III--and you see a freshman who is batting over .300, leading the team in one category or another, and playing almost every game, it's a safe bet she chose a college that was smack dab in the middle of her (realistic) target zone.  And that's a good thing!  But the more common occurrence is that freshmen struggle a bit, take time to adapt to a new coach, and have to adjust to a new level of competition. The committed athlete will work hard and, if she's lucky, end up being a contributing player by her junior--or even her sophomore--year.  But she has to be prepared to do this, and neither the player, nor her parents should assume that just because a college coach recruited her, that guarantees playing time and/or success. And it certainly doesn't guarantee she'll be the best player on the team from her first day on campus!


During a recent Div. I college broadcast, the announcer mentioned that a top D-I coach at a top D-I program told her he was now carrying a bigger squad (as are many coaches these days) because he needs to push his players more than ever before. While the showcase format of many travel tournaments may justify the exorbitant entrance fees, it has also taken away the drive win. Every  team there knows they will get X number of games, no matter what. And in order to keep players and parents happy, travel coaches often choose to substitute more and worry about winning less. No one likes to lose, but when you know you'll have another game regardless of the score of this one, it has the effect of letting everyone off the hook.

Consequently, when a team finds itself down by four runs going into the seventh inning, the players often don't know how to ratchet up their intensity level in order to pull off a win. So, a college coach may end up with a great freshman class of very strong athletes who have a lot of skill and experience, but who have no clue as to how to "take it to the next level" mentally.
That's one reason many college programs are carrying twenty or more players. During practices, the coach can divide them into two teams and simulate game situations, but perhaps even more importantly, the players quickly discover they have to work twice as hard to get the chance to step onto the field against tough opponents. 

Parents and players should understand that just because you're on a partial scholarship, this is not necessarily a guarantee you'll start every college doubleheader (or any college doubleheader!) There will almost certainly be other players on your team who are just as determined as you are to get into a game. Some may be even more determined. And you may find that when your coach told you she has a "Produce in the field or ride the pine" philosophy, she wasn't kidding!


As I watch the college season unfold each spring, I find myself thinking the same thing over and over. If your stated goal as a high school athlete is to PLAY college softball, why would you spend all kinds of time and energy pursuing college teams where you're almost certain to sit the bench?  Does this sound a bit harsh?  I suppose so, however, in four years your college career will be over. And during those four years, if you're on a college team, you'll make a lot of sacrifices and give up a lot of hours just to be able to wear the uniform.

It's one thing if a college coach has a legitimate game plan for you that involves spending your freshman year preparing to fill the shoes of a starting senior after she graduates. Assuming you do get to start when you're a sophomore, this year on the bench may be worth it.  However, I see many players join college teams believing they're going to be 3 or 4 year starters when it's pretty clear by the end of their freshman fall that this isn't likely to happen.  A lot of college coaches carry 18-22 players on their rosters, and there's simply no way all those kids will get to play. 

Now, you may be the kind of kid who just loves being part of a team and who really doesn't mind practicing three hours a day, plus conditioning, study hall, and so on even though you rarely set foot between the white lines come game day. If so, that's great. But if you're someone who's played highly competitive travel ball, who has always been a leader and a starter on your club team, and who lives to step on the mound or into the batter's box, I suspect you won't take well to being a cheerleader.

Yes, all teams need role players, and all teams need cheerleaders. But if you don't want to be one, think again and again...and maybe again about the type of college team you reach out to when you begin your college search.  For my money, (and quite possibly your parents' money), playing college softball for your team will be a heck of a lot more fun than watching college softball from the bench.

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