Question: Do I have to play on a travel ball team in order to play in college? I still do workouts and work very hard, but I only play during the school season. I will be attending softball camps in the summer.
Answer: This is a tough question to answer because there are never absolutes when it comes to recruiting. And obviously, playing high school softball can be very valuable as can going to camps. However, there is a down side to not playing travel ball that neither of these two alternates address. College coaches generally don't have the time to scout at high school games because they're usually in the midst of either their own spring season or their fall workouts. Most college camps are staffed by their coaches and players, so you don't have the opportunity to be seen by a lot of coaches from different schools.
Yet, most college coaches want to see prospects they're considering recruiting play in person. College coaches also tend to value travel ball over high school experience because it's usually more competitive and challenging.
If you are able to correctly identify the types of schools that are most likely to recruit you (your "Wow Factor" schools) and then you can attend those schools' camps, you might be lucky enough to be recruited based just on that. But you can only attend so many camps, and if the camps aren't at schools that are realistically in your target zone (see my book for more details), I'm not sure how much you'll get out of these camps. (Remember, most would be college players need to reach out to coaches at many schools through a snail mail packet with a letter/resume/transcript and video link and then follow up with phone calls and emails.)
On a more positive note, while every coach would prefer to see a player in action at a top tournament, some college coaches have restricted travel budgets and can only scout locally or regionally. That's one reason coaches at Div. II and NAIA colleges are allowed to have prospects visit their campus and work out with their teams. (D-I and D-III coaches are not allowed to do this.) So, you may want to focus your college search on Div. II and NAIA schools and let each coach know that you are eager/willing to visit the campus and would welcome the opportunity to work out or try out for their teams. Don't hesitate to reach out to Div. III coaches either because they are a little more likely to recruit players based on their resumes and videos even if they can't see the player in action in person.
Whatever you do, be sure to contact a lot of coaches at all levels of competition and don't limit yourself to one type of college team or one part of the country. The more schools you consider, the more schools you're likely to have considering you!
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