I've been a recruiting consultant for over 20 years. I see the ebb and flow of softball better than most people...and certainly better than families going through it for the first time. Some years, pitching is in short supply, so pitchers who are perhaps only slightly above average may find their recruiting stock is higher than expected. Other years, there is a lot of talent available even late in the season (e.g., the fall of a player's senior year), and those high expectations that Alabama or Missouri would come calling have to be adjusted...and quickly!
It's amazing what a rejuvenating month August can be. Parents (and sometimes players) who were angry at their summer travel coach for not getting the player that full ride to a big D-I program suddenly love those coaches again as it becomes obvious they'd better find some port in the storm. In other words, despite the fact that it's not the coach's job to get the player recruited--it's her job to get herself recruited--panicked parents will forgive the summer coach almost anything if they think he or she holds the key to that elusive scholarship.
And yet, fall ball is precarious. While there are plenty of tournaments around--sometimes, it seems like players are on the road every weekend from September to November--the fact of the matter is that college coaches scout a lot less in the fall. They have their own fall season and their teams to focus on, as well as having recruits in on official visits. Some coaches elect to scout off campus only once or twice all fall, electing instead to hold a number of camps that do double duty of raising money for the program and letting them assess the skills of players whose parents can afford to send them to these camps.
It's doubly difficult on the West Coast where there are fewer opportunities to play--e.g., way fewer schools. Coaches from outside the region, if they even come out to the coast to scout during the fall, usually only come out once, maybe twice. So it can be hard for many players and coaches to connect. If the coach isn't attending the tournaments the player is in or the player isn't playing the one weekend the coach flies to Southern California, that may well be that.
Is all doomed? Absolutely not! It's likely that between 70% and 80% of the college coaches who will eventually field a team next fall (for example, 2014) are still actively looking for players. You just need to know how to find them, how to reach out to them, and which ones are most likely to consider you a top prospect for their teams!
9-11-13 WHICH COLLEGE IS BEST FOR YOU?
If you're just starting to think about college, there are a variety of Internet resources available that list colleges by academic ranking, by financial aid awards, by "best bargain", and more. This may not help with finding a softball team, however, because most players have to go where their talents will be recognized and appreciated, and that isn't always going to be at a big name university. In fact, this can be one of the hardest decisions a prospect has to make. Do I stay close to home? Do I take my chances as a walk on somewhere nearby? Do I give up my dream of being a starter in order to make the team at a local college. Am I adamant that I want to attend a big name college with a nationally ranked football or basketball team, or does it matter more that I find a college softball coach who believes I can make a difference to his or her program? These things may well factor in as you start to look at colleges. And it's why I always encourage kids to look for "hidden gems". Find that smaller school that offers a great education, but whose softball team is still growing. You may find you have a terrific college experience, graduate with a degree that matters, and get to be an impact player!
10-1-13 I WISH THINGS WERE DIFFERENT, BUT...
...recruiting isn't fair. It wasn't fair in the past; it's not fair now; and it's certainly not likely to be fair in the future. Like it or not, some players will have an easier time than others. Some will get lucky; some will be more flexible; and some will be willing to work harder. I agree that this sucks, but I can't change this. Nor can you.
This reality is most evident to me in the fall when I see seniors moving forward with their college search. Despite what you may want to believe and despite what you read on the Internet, 75-80% of all college bound softball players won't decide on a college or know where they're going to be playing ball until the winter or even the spring of their senior year. (If you need to know how this can be, send me an email and I'll explain it.)
Each fall, I see many seniors who are talking to coaches, setting up visits, and making college choices. I also see others who have to continue reaching out and making new contacts and who may have to keep "working" at their college search until spring. There often is no logic to this. But I'll be honest. Most of the time, the players who accurately target schools where they would be perceived as impact players--and reach out to a lot of them--find success more quickly than those who only email ten Div. I schools, who don't want to make follow-up phone calls, and who feel coaches should come to them on bended knee.
Nonetheless, as evidence of the "it's not fair" law of recruiting, some athletes will simply have to keep plugging away at it. So to offer hope to those players, let me say that persistence does pay off. If you want it badly enough, if you contact a lot of schools where you can actually make a difference, and if you hang in there, you will find a school to recruit you. That, I can promise you!