3-1-16 GET TO KNOW ALL OF YOUR OPTIONS Now that the college season is officially underway, try to get out to see a variety of college games. You don't have to be interested in a particular school to go watch its team in action. Just find out where there are Div. I, Div. II, Div. III, NAIA and even JC games being played within a 50 (or 100) mile radius. Pack a picnic and get out there and see the action firsthand. Why? Because 75% of you won't be playing at a Div. I college. And 95% of you won't be playing on a big name Div. I team.
I constantly make the same point over and over...and over. Do you want to play in college because you love softball, or do you want to play because people say you should or because your parents want you to or because your friends are doing it? While it's nice to think you might get some money to put toward your education, the reality is that very, very few players have their whole college experience paid for. So doing this for money isn't a practical reason either!
If you want to play because you love softball, then you just need to find the team where you can contribute, make a difference, and have a positive experience. So go see as many different teams as you can and get an idea of where you might actually fit in. The bottom line will always be that the coach has to want you as much as you want the school and team!
3-14-16 CHOOSE THE PATH THAT OFFERS YOU THE BEST OF EVERYTHING Sometimes, players are so focused on one specific type of school that they miss out on what might actually be a better academic and/or athletic opportunity. Let me give you an example of this. A player who really wants to say she's playing at a Div. I college is offered a recruited walk on spot by one or two small D-I schools. At the same time, a top-ranked NAIA program offers her a very decent scholarship package, a starting spot, and the chance to play for a winning program. The D-I schools recruiting this athlete are trying to strengthen their programs and grow, but their chances of going to the WCWS or even regionals while this player is there are very small. Whereas, the NAIA team is practically guaranteed one or more NAIA Championship appearances during her four years. As a bonus, if she were to be a major contributor, she would have a shot at being an All Region or even an All American candidate.
Obviously, you need to find the college that's best for you. But in the above scenario, if all other factors are equal, is it really the smartest softball choice to choose the small D-I school where you're not even guaranteed playing time let alone the chance to be an All Conference player? Yes, you want to pick the best college for your needs. But you may want to take a good, hard look at all the schools whose coaches reach out to you. Whatever your goals and interests may be, try to step back far enough to gain some perspective. When all is said and done, your college softball experience should be fun and worth remembering. It will be hard work, but that work should have a payoff, and that payoff should be one you enjoy!
4-1-16 ACADEMICS SHOULD ALWAYS COME FIRST It's easy when you (and your parents) are caught up in the excitement of high school or travel ball competition to brush aside concerns about your grades. Many parents choose to believe that if a coach sees how phenomenal you really are (or could be), he or she will work some magic and get you admitted to his or her college...even if you're not quite up to snuff academically. Unfortunately, this couldn't be more wrong.
If you're not NCAA or NAIA qualified, the only coaches who will look at you will be JC coaches. (This is fine if that's where you want/need to be.) However, if you're thinking 4-year scholarship, you'd better watch your grades as closely as you watch that 61 mph curve ball the pitcher is throwing you. Even if you're on track to meet NCAA eligibility minimums, many coaches won't pursue you if you're marginal for admission to their colleges. There are just too many good players out there, and most coaches won't take chances with kids who could end up being academically ineligible and therefore of no use to them.
As you wrap up your spring season and head toward summer, this is the perfect time to take stock of your grades. Do you have any D's in required courses? If so, plan on fixing them this summer or next fall...even if that means retaking the class. Are you taking all the core courses you need to be, and will you have at least ten of the sixteen required classes completed by the end of your junior year?
If necessary, meet with your counselor and identify any problem areas so that you can fix them now before it's too late. And if you're doing well, pat yourself on the back and keep up the good work! This accomplishment is something you should be proud of!
4-15-16 RECRUITING AND YOUR WOW FACTOR A comment made to me by a friend who is a successful travel ball coach prompted this editorial. He was referencing a very competitive Div. II program and a specific player, but really, it doesn't matter who the player is or which school we're talking about. What this youth coach told me was that School A had been watching Player B, and when he asked what they thought, the coach said they liked her, BUT, so far there was no "wow factor."
I speak endlessly about the "wow factor." I have reprints about it, I refer to it in emails, I describe it in phone conversations. It's the brass ring, the golden ticket, the magic key that unlocks the treasure chest. And it represents the simplest solution to most recruiting dilemmas. Find your wow factor schools, and you'll get recruited. Yet--for some reason--this seems to be an extremely complicated concept for many parents and players to fully comprehend. They nod their heads and tell me they understand... and then they persist in pursuing schools whose coaches are likely to say this particular player does not have a strong wow factor for their particular team. This doesn't mean she's not a good athlete. It doesn't mean she can't compete in college. It simply means they probably won't recruit her.
It's pretty safe to say that when a school/coach thinks your wow factor is very high, you will hear about it. But until or unless you hear (or read) those magic words, "We want you," you should continue to explore lots of options and consider various types of teams. Recruiting is now and for the foreseeable future a buyers' market. Strong players outnumber available spots on teams by at least 10 to 1. The less time you waste pursuing schools where your wow factor is low, the more time you'll have to pursue schools where you really knock the coach's socks off! (And where you're likely to find a softball home!)