by Catharine Aradi

I run this article every May since this is when ball players—sophomores and juniors in particular—should be gearing up for summer travel competition.

NOTE: This year, I’m prefacing my list with a reminder that while things appear to be heading back to normal, there are still a few pandemic ramifications that could affect your 2021 summer travel season. 

A few college coaches may still be looking for 2021 grads simply because they couldn’t actively recruit the way they normally do over the past 18 months. Most others will be eagerly watching 2022 and 2023 grads that they have yet to see or meet. But some coaches (especially at Div. I programs) won’t be looking for more than 1 or 2 (if that) 2022 or 2023 grads because they have current team members who will be using their extra year of eligibility. It's also possible that some college coaches may not have as much scholarship money available as they otherwise might have because of players using that extra year and because of budget cuts brought on by the pandemic.

Consequently, it becomes doubly important that 2022 (and early starting 2023 grads) do your homework! You might have to reach out to more colleges for less return, but you can definitely find the one that’s right for you if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort!

If you’re hoping to compete in college, here are some of the things you should do before and/or during the summer:

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

2) If you haven't already done this, get your video shot, edited, and uploaded to YouTube. This is vital to your college search regardless of whether or not your team attends tournaments where a lot of coaches scout.

3) Send snail mail letters/resumes to a wide variety of colleges*. Keep track of every coach you write so you can determine when and if you need to reach out to them again.  Follow up the snail mail letter with an email update just before travel ball starts. (Many of these emails won't 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, be sure you understand when and under what conditions you or your player may talk to coaches.  (It's a good idea before summer starts to visit the NCAA web page to check on any recent recruiting or academic guideline changes.)

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 will watch you during warmups, particularly if you play a position where you might see limited action during a game. So…be on your toes from the moment you get out of the car at the ball park. It doesn't matter if you're hot, tired, had a fight with your boyfriend, pulled a quad muscle, or haven't been doing well at the plate. Put on a happy face. Coaches want players who can be positive under the worst conditions—e.g., kids who can face adversity and still love the game.

2) When playing this summer, you’ll encounter lots of other good players. Every time you look at them, remind yourself that only about one in twenty will actually end up on a college team. While top athletes 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 competitive!

3) If you look at all the seniors who committed to colleges this past year, you'll see that 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 California…or Florida…or Texas!

4) When college coaches scout at tournaments, you never hear them say, "I'm going to look at every player here." They don't 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.

Do players get discovered as a result of dumb luck? SURE. But it usually happens because they do something that makes them stand out from all the other players on the same field. They hit a couple of home runs, or throw a 1-hitter with 12 strike outs, or make three diving catches, or go four for five against a top-notch pitcher. You get the idea. Making the routine plays, going one for three—while exactly what you're supposed to do—will not automatically make a coach say, "Who is that player? I have to see more of her!"

If a coach you've written comes to see you in action, and you make 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!!! It doesn't really matter to the coach at Alabama or Oregon or Arizona or Florida State or Oklahoma that you might be as good as any of his or her players if you only had the chance to get a scholarship and work with the coaching staff. Those coaches get to recruit the very best athletes in the country. They may not notice you, or they may see you, but choose not to recruit you. However, somewhere out there are terrific coaches who do want see you and who might love to recruit you. Find those coaches and everyone will benefit!

6) Parents also need to accept the fact 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 (and by default, recruiting) 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.

Have fun this summer. Remember that practicing hard pays off in the form of clutch performances, and that's often 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 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. You can always move to email once the coach let you know that he or she will happily pay attention to every email you send them!

And remember, you don't have to spend thousands of dollars to find the college and team that are right for you. You simply have to see the big picture and understand how recruiting works for the MAJORITY of high school prospects! Email me if you'd like more information. Have a great summer!