by Catharine Aradi

One important aspect of the college search that is often overlooked is whether or not the athlete really wants to play college softball.  I suspect many girls who say they want to aren't at all sure that this is true.  And some who insist they'll play in college will do so only if it's essentially handed to other words, if the coaches come to them rather than the other way around.

An athlete might think playing softball in college sounds exciting, but on the other hand, she may not want to do the work necessary to achieve this goal.  She may consider playing college ball if someone "pays" her to do it; but she's not interested in competing at a non-scholarship program.

Players' reasons for wanting a scholarship may be good ones---to help out their families or because they believe this is the only way they can pay for their education.  Or their reasons may not be so good. Intentionally or otherwise, their parents may have sent the message, “Get a scholarship or you'll let us down.”  And some players may feel they should be "rewarded" for all the years they've played travel ball.  They want to say they got a scholarship, but in actuality, they may have very little desire to keep on playing the game.

When parents tell me their daughter has to get a scholarship or she can't go to college, I ask them what would happen if they were told playing softball would endanger their daughter's health or if funding for all college scholarships was cut? Would they somehow find a way to send their daughter to college---even if it meant taking out loans or having her work part time?  Or would they tell her she’s on her own once she graduates high school, saying, "Good luck, get a job, and have a good life."

I'm always very happy when I meet parents who tell me, "A softball scholarship would be nice, but we're going to do whatever it takes to our girl through college even if it means making some sacrifices."   These parents may love watching their daughter play softball. They may think she's best thing that ever happened to the game, and they might sincerely believe she's a scholarship athlete.  But they're in touch with reality.  They'll investigate financial aid, apply for all types of scholarships and grants, and take out loans if needed.  But she'll get her education!

Statistically speaking, there are way more softball players with the talent to play in college than there are spots open for them.  You might assume that only the very best players in the country make college teams.  Yet when school opens each fall, I always see many solid---but not superstar---players happily settled on college teams, while other extremely talented and experienced athletes aren’t playing at all. 

Why does this happen?  Because despite what many families
say, when you look at what they do, someone---the parents, the athlete, maybe both—clearly have mixed feelings about competing at the college level. To start, let's look at parents' behavior.  Parents might say their player needs a scholarship or she wants to play college softball, but they do little, if anything, to help make this happen. They may trust the travel coach who assures them he get their daughter her scholarship.  Or they may believe their athlete is much better than she really is and assume they don't need to do anything---e.g., she'll just be discovered on her own. 

They might not understand that the schools they are actively pursuing for their player are simply not the schools where she's likely to succeed.  They may not be educated about the college search process and may not realize there are things they could/should be doing to help their athlete find a college and a team.  But whatever the reason, these parents are doing their daughter a disservice, and they may have a rude awakening when they find out they either have to pay for her to play softball in college or she may have to give up softball completely.

We also need to look at the athlete who insists she wants to play softball in college, but never ends up on a team.  She might say she wants to play ball because she knows that's what mom and dad want to hear.  But she herself is not really sure she's reagy to make that kind of commitment.  Or she too may be unrealistic about her prospects, believing she's too good to play anywhere but at a top Div. I program.  She may be caught in a bind---e.g., she likes the idea of playing, but isn't sure she can balance the demands of a competitive college program with the demands of a tough academic course load. The player might want to stay close to home and play at a small local Div. II school, but she may be afraid she'll let mom and dad down if she doesn't go to the big East Coast Div. I scholarship program that's recruiting her.

Athletes are sometimes unable to acknowledge or articulate these conflicts, and they may deal with them in a passive-aggressive manner by doing things like putting off the SAT or ACT so they don't qualify academically. Or they never have the time to make their skills video.  Believe it or not, some athletes get emails or phone calls from coaches and simply ignore them never even bothering to send the coach a Thanks, but no thanks, email!  And when they
do talk to a coach, they often seem disinterested, noncommittal or bored, thus turning off the coach. 

Both action and inaction speak far louder than any words. Regardless of whether you really do or really don't want to play softball in college, try to be honest with yourself and others. If you don't want to play, let your parents know so they can find other things to share with you (and save some money for college!). And if you do want to be a college player, don't just sit there!  Go out and make it happen!