by Catharine Aradi

It can be tough being a softball player who not only has the ability to compete in college, but who also really loves the game and can't imagine quitting after high school. There are probably eighty thousand high school seniors graduating every year who could potentially play college softball.  Many of them won’t want to, of course, and many who think they do will decide otherwise once they find out what it actually entails.  But I estimate that most travel ball players have about a 1 in 15 to 1 in 20 chance of making a college team. (That's a statistical average, not one based on ability, experience or exposure.)  Nonetheless, only about 4500-5000 girls will enter college each fall as new recruits headed for the softball team.

Coaches who do a lot of off-campus scouting (and/or who run lots of camps), may have the opportunity to see more than 5000 kids over the course of a year. Talk about a "can't see the forest for the trees" scenario! Yet many parents assume that every coach they pass at a major tournament is there just to see their daughter...and no one else.  In the same way, many parents often believe that the coach their daughter is emailing every two weeks with updates on her high school statistics or her travel team’s next event is only corresponding with her.

That might be the case at a really small program, but in my experience, most players tend to aim high when they start their college search.  In so doing, they may forget to cover their bases by aiming lower as well.  Twelve or fifteen years ago, this wasn't a big problem because you had time to work your way through 50 or 60 colleges until you found the one that wanted you. Even players who started as seniors could usually find a team to recruit them. But these days, it’s important to have--at least--laid out your college search game plan by the time you’re a sophomore or junior. (And ideally, you will read my book and learn how recruiting works when you're a freshman in high school. That way you ensure you cover
all your bases and don't get called "Out!" for missing one!

In my book, I refer to a "target zone."  The target zone will differ, of course, for each athlete, but in general, it represents a range of college teams where you might be able to compete. On one end of this spectrum are the schools where you'd probably have to try out as a walk-on and then fight for a spot on the team.  If you were lucky enough to make it, you'd probably be a role player and not get a lot of time on the field.  On the other end of the target zone will be those schools that would consider you a major impact player and whose coaches would probably do everything possible to recruit you.

Most moms and dads, of course, want to see Susie playing at Alabama or Arizona (or their regional equivalent.)  But as I so often remind families, only 100-150 athletes total will go to a Top 25 D-I program each year.  That translates to roughly 4-5 kids per team out of those eighty thousand high school seniors.  And, due to the growth of softball around the United States, coaches at the big name schools can choose from the best prospects in Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Texas, and so on, and not just from the West Coast.

Children growing up in the last century (aka the 1900’s) used to play a game called Musical Chairs.  There would be a row of chairs set out in the middle of the room, and the number of chairs would always be one less than the number of youngsters playing the game. The person running the game would put on a record--you know, vinyl--or a cassette tape, and the kids would march around the chairs until the music suddenly stopped.  At that point, everyone scrambled to get a seat.  The player left standing was out of the game.  A chair would be taken away, and the whole thing would start over, continuing until there was just one child left on one chair.  She was the winner.

College recruiting is a much tougher version of this game.  There are a lot more kids than there are spots on college teams.  And every time the music stops--or a player commits--another chance at playing in college is gone.  This is not to say you should grab the first school that comes along if it's not going to be a good collegiate fit for you.  But look at it this way.  When you pursue only big name programs or schools whose coaches might not consider you an impact player, you're walking around four or five chairs with hundreds of other kids.  If you identify and pursue colleges whose coaches will go "Wow!" when they know you're interested in them, you might end up walking around those four or five chairs with only a few other kids.  Seems like much better odds to me!

When you begin your college search, don't just write the schools you saw on ESPN.  Do some internet research and write schools that are strong at the Div. II, the Div. III and the NAIA levels as well.  Always keep in mind that--despite what other parents and travel coaches may tell you--full rides are a rarity.  So for most athletes, the time will come when they have to decide whether to grab this great chair in front of them or keep marching and risk having nowhere to sit at all. In other words, if you are realistic about where you can play, it will significantly increase your chances of making your collegiate softball dream come true!

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