I periodically query 4-year college coaches about recruiting, and here are some of the questions I ask them along with a summary of their answers. How many recruiting emails do you receive on a weekly basis? Virtually all of the coaches I survey say they get emails constantly. The number ranges from 20-30 all the way up to 200-300 a week at bigger schools. Most coaches say they get even more emails before tournaments. (One coach simply told me, “Too many!”) How many tournaments do you attend every year? Most coaches do a fair amount of tournament scouting. Between the head coach and assistants, it seems many schools attend 8 to 20 tourneys over the summer and perhaps 2 to 10 in the fall. (It’s good to know that coaches are still getting out to observe players in a game setting, even if they don/t all scout outside their particular area or region.) How many players annually attend your camps? (This was a key question because I have my own opinion on the value of camps.) Three-quarters of the coaches I’ve surveyed told me they run at least 1 camp a year. Some hold several camps, and attendance rages from 30-50 players to up to 600 annually for some of the larger colleges.
The importance of this question has to do with the odds you as a player will be recruited out of a camp. If there are 20 players attending and you’re one of the stronger athletes and you’re really interested in that college, your odds might be pretty decent. But if you’re one of 200 or more players the coach sees at his/her camps…well…do the math.
How many new players join your team each year? One year it might be 4 players, but another year, it might be 7 or 8. (Smaller colleges that field junior varsity teams bring in as many as 8-10 players.) So, there will generally—on average—be 4-7 spots open at a given college the year you graduate. (And they won’t all be starting spots!) NOTE: Due to the pandemic, some colleges (particularly Div. I) are loaded with players---players using their extra year of eligibility, players who were recruited before the pandemic, etc. This could affect recruiting into the 2024 high school grad class.
How often do you recruit junior college players? Coaches are about equally divided on this question. A third of them say they regularly recruit JC players. A third of them occasionally recruit JC players, and the remaining third say they rarely or never recruit JC players.
The take away from this is that IF you’re attending a JC and hope to transfer to a 4-year college, do your homework. Start reaching out to coaches at 4-year schools when you’re finishing your freshman year and be academically ready to transfer by the end of your sophomore year. Do you “surf” the Internet looking for players? The vast majority of coaches say they spend very little time randomly surfing the Internet looking for players. Some are almost never online, and almost all agreed that the time they do spend on the Internet is usually tied into viewing players’ skills videos.
Most coaches say they rely heavily on videos. (It might be worth noting that they tend to prefer short, concise videos that allow them to quickly assess a player’s athleticism, mechanics and overall skill level. This helps them decide whether or not to try and see more of her. Game footage is fine when requested or when a coach cannot see a player in action, but your first introduction should always be through your skills video.)
Here are a few additional thoughts/comments about the questions I’ve asked college coaches and the answers they’ve given me.
The one question I don’t ask is how many coaches read and respond to every email they get. (I didn’t want to put them on the spot.) But anecdotal evidence suggests that some coaches read/respond to all their emails (possibly coaches who get fewer to begin with); some coaches read/respond to many or most of their emails if only to send a questionnaire or camp notice; and some coaches merely take a glimpse at an email, and if it doesn’t “connect” immediately—e.g. it’s from someone they already know, from a team they recognize, etc.—they send it to the trash folder.
Notes on the pandemic. This has added a new dimension to recruiting because athletes who lost a season of competition were given an extra year of eligibility. This will affect college teams differently, and it might be worth knowing how coaches view this new wrinkle in the fabric of recruiting. 1) It seems most Div. III coaches don’t expect to have players use an extra year unless they’re starting grad school at the same campus or they need another year to complete their course work. And since Div. III schools have no athletic scholarships, most players would have to fund a fifth year on their own. 2) With schools that do offer athletic scholarships (Div. I, II and NAIA), it may come down to Athletic Department funding and whether or not a coach feels he or she wants to fund a player’s extra year. In most cases, this would only be likely if the coach felt the player was making a major contribution to the team. Obviously, a highly competitive program with a long history of post-season play will benefit from retaining All-American players, and the coach would have less of a need to recruit younger players. On the other hand, teams without a lot of scholarship money might be more inclined to encourage graduates to move on and make room for newer (and possibly stronger) athletes. Bear in mind that most college teams only have 4-7 openings each yearl. If you really, really want to play at the next level, you should look at a number of colleges and be open to different types of teams. Most would-be college athletes cannot limit themselves to half a dozen schools and hope for the best. So…what can you can do to increase your chances of finding a college to recruit you?
WANT TO PLAY…and for the right reasons. In my work with high school players, I find the girls who are most successful in getting recruited are those who love softball and who can’t imagine not continuing their game in college. Scholarships are nice, but they’re limited in both quantity and amount for the overwhelming majority of athletes. A scholarship shouldn’t be your primary reason for joining a college team.
LEARN how recruiting really works. Don’t rely on hearsay, other players’ experiences, vague travel team promises (“All our girls get recruited…”), and so on. If you have a solid understanding of the big picture of recruiting, you’re much less likely to make the kind of recruiting mistakes that can leave you without a college team to play for. (My book, Preparing to Play Softball at the Collegiate Level, can help with that.)
BE PROACTIVE. Don’t expect your travel coach or your pitching coach or your mom and dad to find you a college and a team. Not one of them will be putting on a college uniform. You will be. If you’re not willing/able to put some effort into both your college search and being the best high school player you can be, chances are you will not be happy—or successful—on a college team.
BE OPEN. There are over 1200 four-year colleges with softball teams. Try not to lock yourself into one type of college. Consider competition at all levels and look for the team where you can both contribute and play.
Here a few final reminders. 75% of all colleges are not Div. I. They’re Div. II, III or NAIA. Over 60% of colleges are both small (<6000 students) and private (as opposed to state schools), and 90% of colleges are located east of Colorado. If you decide you only want to play for a large Div. I college in the west, for example, your options may be limited. Explore a variety of colleges and teams until you find the one where you can have a happy and rewarding collegiate experience, both on the field and in the classroom!