by Catharine Aradi

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 small percentage of the total number of prospects. The vast majority of kids will probably have to work very 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 summer. They simply 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 simply overwhelmed. They not only cannot see--let alone discover--every player out there, but many of them can't even get through the mail on their desk! A coach who has 40 videos sitting in front of her may look at fifteen of them and find three players she likes enough to call, go see play, etc. Because of that, she may discover, recruit and sign a player long before she ever gets to video number 37--which happens to be your daughter's video.

Several coaches told me recently that while the video is critical in getting them to consider a player (particularly if they can't see her in person), follow-up was equally important. One coach told me she had sent out about 50 requests for videos to kids. Of the 30 or 35 players who actually sent video links back only four or five called to follow-up--e.g., to ask if she'd gotten the video and to find out where she stood with recruiting. This coach said she paid a lot more attention to those four or five kids because of their phone calls. It definitely made a difference in her response to a player if she knew that player was so interested that she would make the effort to call--no matter how scary that phone call might be!

Most coaches don't mind if parents call unless they sense the parent is doing a hard sell. But almost all coaches like it when a player is brave or confident enough to call them herself. It tells them a lot about her desire to play in college. I will acknowledge that some college coaches are too busy (or too disorganized) to return a phone call or, in lieu of a call, to send a letter 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 letters and handle PR for them. I often hear that a player has gotten a gracious letter 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."

Yet, I may also know the odds on this player making the team--forget starting--at that school 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 will have ten kids trying out as walk-ons, including several more players from those same big name travel teams. He or she will keep one or two, and the rest of the kids will get cut. It's a business and that's how it's run. But the school's or 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.

I've had many parents complain about some coach who wrote their daughter a blunt rejection letter. And they'll often contrast that with the big name school coach who sent a lovely letter saying she was welcome to try out as a walk-on. Personally, if I was the parent of a player who passionately loved the game and who really wanted to play, I would much rather a coach tell me the kid wouldn't make the team than lead me on.

Sure, she is welcome to try out. But at that point, she's already chosen the college, enrolled, moved to the school and turned down other colleges where she could really play. Now 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. Five or ten 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 almost 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!

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