The college search is a journey, and while thousands of kids start the journey each year, 15 out of 20 will probably fall by the wayside. Some will decide they just don't care about softball anymore; some will be prevented from playing by more important priorities. And some parents will "price" their player right out of the market. The players I'm trying to reach are those who do have a bright and exciting future at some level of college softball. I want to help them learn how best to get there.
To start, parents and players need to understand some basic realities. That may mean turning a deaf ear to much of the verbiage they hear from other parents and even from some travel or high school coaches. Parents also have to be willing to put aside their egos in order to: a) look at their daughter's skills and needs as objectively as possible; and b) keep focused on what is most important in this picture---e.g., getting a good education to prepare her for life in the real world.
Although many of you know these things, let's look quickly at some basic facts:
• There are approximately 1200 4-year college teams.
• Roughly 25% are Div. I; about 23% are Div. II and all the rest are D-III and NAIA. (In other words, 75% of all collegiate players will not compete at a Div. I program!)
• There's approximately a 65 to 35 ratio of private schools to public or state schools.
• Sixty percent (63%) of all colleges are small—as in having student populations of 6000 or less.
• Only about 55% of schools offer some type of "softball scholarships," and the majority of those that do will not give out very many (if any) full rides. Those generally only go to major impact players--as determined by the coach, not the parents.
• All schools with softball dollars are limited in how much they can give.
• Most scholarships must be renewed on a yearly basis. Guaranteed 4 year rides are extremely rare.
• 90% or 9 out of 10 schools with teams are in states EAST of Colorado. That means only 10% of all college teams are in the west. This is particularly relevant to West Coast players.
There are probably 70-80,000 graduating high school players every year. Some won't want to play college ball. But if even 25% of them decide to see if they can make a college team, it presents ferocious competition because only about 5000-6000 total spots on college teams open up each year.
Because softball popularity has grown so much, kids who might have been "easy" recruits fifteen years ago may now have to work twice as hard to find a good school to recruit them. And unfortunately, it's not always about how “good” a player is. While the top 5-10% of all recruits--e.g., high visibility players from the very top travel teams in the nation--may still be fairly easily recruited, the remaining 90-95% of recruits have to be noticed in a pool of prospects that has become HUGE.
Parents (bless their hearts) can (and should) be able to pick their player out of a group of 100 others even from a block away. But college coaches will just see this blob of players, and they will likely notice those with the most bells and whistles, the brightest colors, or who are jumping up and down and doing cartwheels. Does that mean those players are the best? Not at all. But they may be the best at getting noticed.
Does Lady Luck play a role in this? Sure. We all know of someone who played the game of her life when a college coach was watching. She got recruited and things seemed to work out almost magically. And I keep buying lottery tickets every week because people do win. (But I haven't yet. And that's not FAIR!!! I really DESERVE to win!!!) Your player may deserve to be recruited and given a scholarship. But that's not going to be good enough for most kids. College coaches are people too. And you can't control what they will do or think. You can only prevent your own.
If I had a magic wand, I'd wave it over all the girls who come to me saying, “I want to play college ball.” In two seconds, those who were passionately serious about this would turn green, and those who weren't would turn orange. My job be a lot easier! But alas, I don't have that wand. So, what gets a player noticed by a coach? Leaving out the 5-10% of blue chippers and the 5% of kids who just happen to get lucky and looking at the other 85-90% of prospects, what gets an athlete noticed is her determination to make coaches see her instead of some other player.
Whether it's through sending out profiles and making follow-up phone calls to coaches who are likely to consider her an impact player, or by being able to come through with a clutch performance when coaches are watching, this girl is willing to put her money where her mouth is. (In case you're wondering, a clutch performance is one where you come through with the really big hit, the really big play, or the really big pitching performance---and I mean big-—when it counts…or when someone is watching!)
Competition is so fierce for spots on the big name teams that players will have to be single-minded in their pursuit of excellence if they want to be considered by those programs. And that means making sacrifices and possibly some tough choices as well. College softball recruiting is a game of musical chairs. There are only so many seats available and when the music starts to slow down, you'd better grab a chair or you may be out of the game. There is good news in all of this, however. At least at the moment, kids who are willing to consider schools other than the Top 25 Div. I programs; kids who are willing to look at schools that are Div. II, III or NAIA; and kids who are willing to travel (if they're in the west) have a much better chance of finding a college to recruit them than those kids who won't do any of the above.
Life is often tough. Sometimes it really stinks. And it's almost never fair. Well, recruiting is just like life. But a cup that's three-quarters full still holds a lot of water. And athletes who really want to play in college can make it happen if they understand the game and are willing to do what it takes to win. They need the support of their parents and coaches, and everyone must stay grounded. We're talking about teenagers here. Unless they are exceptionally motivated and focused, most of them cannot do this alone. So if parents just sit back and wait for it to happen...if parents spend all their time talking about how Washington and UCLA and Michigan are sure to recruit their daughter...then they have no one to blame but themselves when this doesn't happen.
I would, of course, wish for all girls that their dream schools would recruit them. But more than that, I would wish this for every would-be college player…a good school with a caring coach and a decent team to offer her spot where she can play and make a genuine contribution. Ten years from now, no one will give a hoot that most of these kids played college ball---let alone care where they played it. Employers look at things like team work, work ethic, commitment to excellence, willingness to make sacrifices, an understanding of the real world, and oh yes, whether or not the prospective employee has the education (and experience) she needs to prepare her for this job. Funny, but that sounds a lot like what college coaches are looking for in their recruits!