by Catharine Aradi

Many key elements of recruiting and the college search process have remained relatively stable over the past ten to fifteen years. But, there are some key elements that have changed--or at least shifted--and these are things parents definitely need to know. I’ll look at one of those changes here and follow up with others in later articles.

Until eight to ten years ago, most coaches, regardless of the level they coached at, did the majority of their active recruiting after a player’s junior year.  While the elite athlete--someone like a Jenny Finch or a Keilani Ricketts---would be pursued and might commit to a Div. I college before her junior year, this was definitely the exception rather than the rule. And while early commitments--e.g., those given before the middle of a player’s junior year--are still statistically-speaking the exception rather than the rule (see note), the number of players who decide on a college while still freshmen or sophomores has increased dramatically.

Note: It’s extremely important for parents to understand that in any given graduating class, no more than 10-15% of all the students who eventually go on to play softball at a 4-year college will actually give an early commitment. So while it may seem like every parent and travel coach is telling you it’s all over for your athlete if she hasn’t committed by her sophomore year, the truth is over 80% of students won’t decide upon a college until their junior or, in many cases, their senior year.

However, this particular shift in recruiting trends necessitates what I now call a two-tier approach to the college search.  If a player really wants to find out if she might be a candidate for a strong Div. I program, she needs to get on that coach’s radar by her sophomore year.  Unfortunately, not all athletes mature at the same rate, and many players who might be solid Div. I prospects by the time they are seniors may be overlooked simply because as freshmen or sophomores, they weren’t as physically or experientially mature. (This is a perfect example of my first law of recruiting--e.g., it’s not fair!)

Using this two-tier approach, many, if not most players who send out letters and resumes with video links, transcripts and schedules during their freshmen or sophomore years will have to repeat the process--expanding their target zone to include more Div. II, Div. III, and NAIA colleges--again as juniors. So college search that used to be focused on an athlete’s junior into her senior year may now be stretched out over most of her high school career. It’s a bummer, but that may be what it takes for you to find the right college and team.

In my next column, I’ll look at other major changes that have shifted the recruiting landscape in recent years.

NOTE: In 2018, the NCAA voted to create new, stricter Div. I recruiting guidelines.  These essentially prohibit all recruiting contact with prospects by Div. I coaches priort to Sept. 1 of the junior year.  For more information, please visit my Recruiting News page or the NCAA website.  The 2018 edition of my book also explains these changes.

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