by Catharine Aradi

Your college search process will be full of choices, not the least of which will be deciding whether or not you even want to play softball in college.  Although I can't address every possible dilemma you may face during this time, I’d like to touch upon a few issues that may come up.  Hopefully this will help you be better prepared for the unexpected curve ball!


Your biggest decision, whether or not to play in college, may be one that changes as your college search progresses.  Based on what you learn about the realities and the demands of college softball, your desire to play may get weaker or stronger.  Your other collegiate needs and interests—not related to softball—will also figure into this decision because they are part of the same tapestry.  Your heart may be set on going to a big "rah-rah" D-I university—perhaps where Mom or Dad went.  But you may find the softball team at that school is too competitive or doesn't need your position the year you graduate.  Or you might prefer to stay closer to home and attend a local college, but you can't find a team that wants to recruit you.  In cases like these, you may have to examine how much you really want to play college softball. 

Although you may want softball to comprise a big part of your college life, you also have to think about your academic goals, along with your social, personal and financial needs.  Thousands of high school athletes say they want to play in college, but most of them will give up this dream during their college search.  Some may be unwilling to adjust unrealistic expectations to fit their personal reality or other things may take priority.  When you start your college search, it's a good idea to recognize that you could have to make some tough choices and possibly even reconsider your goal of competing at the next level.


Another dilemma athletes sometimes face during their college search is how to do two equally important things at the same time.  For example, the SAT is scheduled for the same weekend that you have a travel ball tournament.  You know you need to take (or retake) the test, but your coach is telling you that you've got to throw the first game because the other pitcher will be out of town…or is injured…or just because he wants you to throw it.

There is no easy solution to this problem. You’ll have to look closely at your personal priorities.  You have to take the SAT, but do you have to do it right now?  For example, if you've scheduled a December test date and know that you could also get into the February test without any conflicts, go ahead and switch your test dates.  On the other hand, if you're scheduled for the June test and know there won't be another until fall, or if you're a senior and you have to get a qualifying test score as quickly as possible, then the SAT must take priority.

In this situation, it's the long-term goal of getting into college that has to take precedence over the short-term goal of winning a game.  (This may be hard for some travel coaches to understand, but it doesn’t matter how good an athlete is if she’s not academically eligible to compete in college.)

Another dilemma often faced by students is how to schedule college visits when they conflict with travel ball or high school sports.  Again, there is no easy solution.  Because I tend to think of the individual athlete's needs first, I would probably lean towards the visit.  This may be an unpopular viewpoint, but since a high school senior expects to be a college freshman in six or eight months, she must do the things that will take her from here to there.  Loyalty to your team or your school is very important, and it may seem unfair to have to make this choice.  But the recruiting process (like life) is not always fair or easy.

It may happen that your travel or high school team has a big game or tournament scheduled for the only time a college coach can bring you in for your visit.  Your team is depending on you; your coach may be shoveling on the guilt.  You really care about winning and about being a team player.  On the other hand, a college coach is offering to pay for part of your college education, and you're really interested in his or her school.  This might be your last chance, or it might simply be your best chance.  What do you do?

I can't make this choice for you—no one can.  But this may be one of those times when you have to think of your future rather than your present.  It probably won’t help much, but if you're getting pressure from your coach or teammates ask them, honestly, what they would do if it were their decision (or their child's decision)?  They may find it's not quite so easy to say they would automatically put the team first.


These are just a few of the choices you may have to make if you want to play college ball.  There are many others you make every day and every week.  Do I go to the mall with my friends or go to my pitching lesson?  Do I go to the beach with my boyfriend's family or go to a tournament?  Do I run my mile today or sleep in?  Unfortunately, the decision often boils down to do I take the easy way or go the hard route?  Each choice you make will impact your life in some way, be it big or small.

Ultimately, you will have to choose which college to attend, whether to play softball and which team to play for.  These may be the toughest decisions you make at seventeen or eighteen.  But hopefully you will be prepared by having made wise decisions (or learned from unwise ones) throughout your college search process. 

ADDED NOTE:  With the arrival of Covid-19 and the pandemic, many athletes are rethinking their collegiate goals. Staying closer to home may take priority over playing on a big-name team. Doing two years at a junior college may prove to be the most affordable (or only) option for some players.  Choosing a college team where you can actually play as opposed to sitting the bench at a program loaded with athletes using their extra year of eligibility could be the smarter choice.
It will be important for 2021, 2022 and 2023 grads to look ahead and try to get a sense of the “big picture” as it applies to their personal college search. You can still compete at the collegiate level, and you can still have a terrific college experience. But you might have to adjust your expectations and reassess your needs in order to find the bet fit for you! And for 2021 grads, recruiting will present a new set of challenges in addition to the normal ones. You can find that college and team that are right for you, but you may have to work twice as hard to do it!