Question: Must We Go to a National Tournament?
I am the assistant coach of a very local (but talented) travel team comprised of girls entering 10th and 11th grade. Our team plays 18u PAL and PONY 16u summer travel. In order to go to go to a recruiting camp, must a player have participated in a national event? Is this always the case, or can one apply to attend a camp and be admitted without this accomplishment? Our team has lost a few core players who have chosen to try out for more high profile teams for recruiting purposes. We have decided to stay independent and enlarge our player recruiting efforts. We have enlisted our head coach (former college player) and our outside batting coach (nationally recognized) to help replenish our roster. In your opinion, have we set a course that will eliminate our players from any real chances at playing college ball via scholarship or walk-on?

Answer: Must You Go to a National Tournament?

Where scouting and recruiting are concerned, it's pretty impossible to generalize an answer to this type of question because of all the variables that factor into recruiting. It is true that many coaches, particularly those at bigger programs (Div. I, top Div. II, etc.) will focus their recruiting efforts on players with a certain level of experience. It doesn't necessarily have to be an ASA or PGF national tournament, but it certainly helps when a coach can see an athlete competing against other top athletes. And most coaches who scout a lot during the summer will focus on the larger tourneys that attract players from all over the country or region. (Some coaches, particularly those at smaller schools, do not scout as much as their travel may be limited by budgetary or other constraints.)

Another aspect of recruiting that may affect your girls is that most Div. I coaches, and many Div. II and NAIA coaches, won't recruit players they haven't seen in action in person. (All coaches prefer this, but coaches at very small schools--usually Div. III schools--who are limited in their travel options, may be more willing to recruit based on a skills video alone.) Because of this, most kids who think they are good enough to play at a Div. I program need to be sure the coach at a given school is going to have the chance to see them at a tournament. (Note: D-I coaches are not permitted to have kids on campus for a "tryout" or "workout" per se.)

So if your team won't be at any of the tournaments where coaches they are writing would be scouting, it's likely they would have to consider walking on at that D-I college as opposed to being actively recruited. The advantage that NAIA and NCAA Div. II coaches have is that they ARE allowed to have prospects visit and work out with their teams. So, if a coach at an NAIA or D-II school gets a video from a player and is really impressed, he/she might invite her to visit and use that opportunity to see the player in action. Players on travel teams that do not get out to top tourneys may want to focus a lot of their college search in this direction.

The bottom line is recruiting isn't fair and never will be. Coaches tend to follow certain patterns when recruiting, out of habit, convenience, experience, etc. And there are just too many good players these days for coaches to consider all of them. So the smart player looks at her college search realistically, and then she focuses her efforts on the types of schools most likely to consider her an impact player, and/or who are more likely to recruit her because they can see her in action one way or another. And remember, whether you go to a big tournament or not, if a coach doesn't know to look at or for a player, there's a good chance she'll be missed completely.