I wish there was some way I could plug in to parents' and players' heads and transfer my recruiting experience and knowledge directly to that part of the brain that is responsible for decision-making. Because no matter how much I talk, many kids and parents still don't quite get it. (And that's understandable given all the misinformation that floats around the ball park!)
It is true that there are a few travel teams who garner so much attention from college coaches that their top players really don't have to do much other than play well to get recruiting offers. But these kids represent a very small percentage of the total number of prospects. The vast majority of kids will have to work hard if they want to find a college and a team. They and their parents simply cannot make the mistake of assuming they/their daughter will be snapped up by college coaches just because she was All-League in high school or because she hit two home runs last weekend. They cannot sit back and wait for the phone to ring.
When talking to coaches about the college search process and recruiting, it has become increasingly evident to me that many college coaches are overwhelmed. They not only cannot see---let alone discover---every player out there. Many of them can't even get through the emails on their computer! A coach who has 90 emails sitting in front of her may scan twenty of them, dump fifteen and find three players in the rest she likes enough to follow up with. The remaining emails may be sent to an auxiliary folder or simply be tossed into recycling.
While coaches tell me the video is critical in getting them to consider a player (particularly if they can't see her in person), they also say follow-up is equally important. Coaches pay a lot more attention to those kids who can be bothered to pick up the phone and call them. It definitely makes a difference in how coaches respond if they know a player is so interested that she'll try to talk to them directly---no matter how scary that phone call might be!
I admit that some college coaches are too busy (or too disorganized) to return a phone call or, in lieu of a call, to send an email saying, "Thanks, but we're not interested." So, as disappointing as it may be, I usually tell an athlete if she calls a coach three times over a couple of weeks and the coach just ignores those calls, it's time to move on to other schools.
It's also good to keep in mind that at many of the big name programs, they have secretarial staffs to write nice emails and handle PR for them. It's not unusual to hear that a player has gotten an email from the #1 or #2 or #4 school in the nation saying, "You're a fine athlete. If you decide you want to attend our college, please let us know. We'd be happy to have you try out as a walk-on....etc., etc."
At the same time, I may also know the odds on this player making that team---forget starting---are very slim. I know the coach at that school. He or she has signed four seniors from nationally-known travel teams, and he or she may also have promised recruited walk-on spots to a number of other players...likely from similarly big name travel teams. At that level, softball is a business...and coaches know what kind of athletes will help them win. But the team's image is important too, and no one wants to deliberately hurt a player's feelings. Hence the nice letters welcoming you to walk on.
If playing softball isn't that important, but attending Oklahoma State or Michigan State or Arizona State is, that's fine. Go to school there, have a great college life, and if you have to give up softball, so be it. But if your athlete really, really wants to play, you can find a team that will give her that opportunity even if it's not the #1 team in the nation. Believe me, there are lots of coaches at smaller programs out there who love to hear from a player who's interested in their school.
Ten or fifteen years ago, if you just wrote a coach and maybe sent a video, you had a good chance that the coach would try to see you play or would respond to your letter at the very least. That's not enough any more. There are just too many kids in the mix. You have to do something that makes you stand out. Obviously, it's terrific if you can do this on the field during a game when a coach is watching you. But it also helps if you are willing to try to sell your love of softball to a coach.
That's where the phone calls come in. Coaches know how hard this is for you, but they are more likely to take you seriously because it is so hard. So is college softball! Make that effort, take the chance. You may get turned down; that's part of life. But you may also steal a spot on a team away from another player who couldn't or wouldn't make pick up the phone!