by Catharine Aradi

My usual May-June article focuses on suggesting things that players--sophomores and juniors in particular--should be doing to prepare for summer travel competition. I've included those suggestions at the end of this alternative article for players looking ahead to summer ball in 2021 and beyond.

BUT...in the meantime, 2020 is unlikely to be a normal year when it comes to summer---and possibly fall---travel ball. As of this posting in May, many travel tournaments are up in the air.  Will competition even go on? Here are some of the scenarios I see as possible, but we may not know how this plays out for another month or more.

Possible 2020 Travel Ball Scenarios

1) All travel ball tournaments are placed on hold or cancelled until August.  (And maybe even into fall.)

This seems unlikely, BUT, if the ban on gatherings of more than 10, 20 or 50 people remains in place, professional and amateur sports could be sidelined for months.

2) Travel ball tournaments are put on hold or cancelled in some states, but take place on a limited basis in others.

If the worst of the pandemic has passed, some states may relax their social distancing guidelines and permit large gatherings. In that case, states like Texas or Florida might open the ball parks and allow tournaments to take place, while states like California might not. This will depend entirely on the public health directives/policies implemented by each individual state.

3) General social distancing guidelines will be relaxed or even removed enough to allow large gatherings to resume, and tournaments around the country will fire up. This could happen as early as June...or as late as August. 

So far, what we're seeing is a little bit of 2 and 3 combined. But this is also changing on a daily basis. (see Covid-19 page.)

What should YOU take from this?

I've been encouraging my clients since March to be very proactive with their college search. (In particular 2021 grads and early-starting 2022 grads.)  The one benefit of the closing of schools has been that college coaches have had more time to get caught up on communications with prospects---via email and letters, phone calls and texts.

Smart juniors had already shot their videos, taken SAT or ACT tests, and identified colleges they wanted to reach out to. Since many players were sheltering at home, March and April were the perfect time to work on both snail and email letters to coaches. IF travel ball resumes, they'll be ahead of the game.  If it doesn't come back until fall (or if coaches are forced to recruit via other methods for 2021), these girls will have a leg up on those athletes who sat back and waited for college coaches to see them in action over the summer!

Sophomores hoping to catch the eye of college coaches early on also used their at-home time to start contacting college coaches. Ideally, they too had videos to send, but if not, they could introduce themselves and explain that a video would come once life returned to something resembling normal!

Is it too late for you? No! Get busy now and start sending out post cards and emails and let coaches know that you're getting a late start, but will soon catch up and be ready to be recruited!

Whatever you do, don't sit on your hands. Follow the guidelines in my book and get your college search up and running...NOW!

And When Life Returns to Normal...

Here are things you can do to make the most of your travel ball competition:

1) If you're finishing your junior year (or are a sophomore reaching out early to colleges), start/or update the NCAA Eligibility Center Certification Process. Juniors must have their high school send a 6th semester transcript to the EC and have SAT/ACT scores sent to the EC directly from the testing agency. You can link from my web page to the NCAA and NAIA Eligibility Centers. 

2) Players need to have their video shot, edited, and uploaded to YouTube. This is vital to your college search regardless of whether or not your team attends tournaments where college coaches scout.

3) Send snail mail letters/resumes/transcripts (or alternatively a post card) to a wide variety of colleges*. Follow up the snail mail letter with an email update just before travel ball starts. (These emails may not all be read, but it never hurts to double your efforts.)

4) Over the summer, if you have questions about what is or is not permissible at tournaments---e.g., recruiting rules, and so on---please refer to your NCAA handbook or to my book, Preparing to Play Softball at the Collegiate Level. Parents also need to understand when and under what conditions you/your player may talk to coaches. 

Here are some additional things players may want to keep in mind when you are out there on the travel ball circuit:

1) You never know who's watching you or when.  Some coaches may watch you when you're warming up, particularly if you play a position like outfield where you might see limited action during a game. Consequently, you need to be on your toes from the moment you get out of the car at the ball park. Coaches want players who can be positive under the worst conditions...in other words, kids who can face adversity and still love the game.

2) When playing travel ball, you’ll encounter lots of other good players. Every time you look at these girls, remind yourself that only about one in twenty of you will actually end up on a college team. While top travel ball players and top students may have an advantage over those athletes who don't play travel ball or who get little to no exposure, there are no guarantees. Recruiting is a very competitive business.

3) Strong college players come from everywhere these days. No matter what anyone says, don't assume you'll be recruited and offered a scholarship because you were All League in high school or because your team attends a high profile tournament, or because you're from the West Coast...or the East Coast!

4) When college coaches go to major tournaments, you never hear them say, "I'm going to look at every player here." They don't just wander around hoping to discover YOU! They go in with a list, and you need to be on that list if you hope to be scouted.

If a coach you've written comes to see you in action, and you make all of the routine plays and go 1 for 3 with a clutch RBI hit, there's a good chance that coach may decide you're worth watching again. But if this coach is unaware of your existence before taking a seat in the bleachers, he may just see you as one of many good players on the field.

5) Accept in advance that recruiting is not now, and will never be fair!!! However, somewhere out there are plenty of terrific coaches who want see you and who might love to recruit you. Find those coaches and everyone will benefit!

6) Parents too must accept that recruiting is not fair. You are almost certainly going to have to pay something towards your daughter's education. Yes, top athletes occasionally get full ride scholarships, and some players-particularly those with outstanding grades or demonstrated need-may be offered terrific aid packages. But statistically-speaking, the majority of families will have to contribute a good portion of their player's college costs even if she is getting scholarship money.

7) For most coaches, coaching is a business. No matter how nice they seem, no matter how much they talk about your skills, until you actually commit to a college, nothing is set in stone. Don't take things for granted; ask questions; understand the rules; understand the strategies and the realities; and make the best of your opportunities. It's a game of musical chairs. There are too many kids playing the game and not enough seats for all of you. Sometimes, you have to choose between quitting the game (Hey, it's softball, not life or death, right? If you don't want to play, don't!) and taking the first (or last) available seat.

Above all things, make sure you're having fun. Practicing hard pays off in the form of clutch performances, and that's what catches a coach's attention. But no matter what happens, you should be enjoying it all. Your love of the game is your best asset in your college search!

* WHY snail mail versus email? Very few players are willing to take the time to put a personalized letter on a computer, print it out, and mail it to a coach. But letters stand out! A coach won't recruit you just because you mailed a letter, but he or she may pay a little more attention to your follow up email, resume and video because of it.  More importantly, most coaches are inundated by emails, and emails often get ignored, or they just get a quick glance and then get deleted.  Be smart! Start with a letter or even an introductory post card. You can always move to email once the coach has let you know that he or she will happily pay attention to every email you send!