WHAT WORKS FOR YOUR DAUGHTER?

                                                                                             by Catharine Aradi

Throughout the year, I get periodic emails and phone calls from parents describing how unhappy their daughter is on her college team.  She may love the school, like the players, etc., but she's not getting playing time, and she's heartbroken.  When the coach recruited her, he or she created a glowing picture of how it was going to be once she was there.  But the reality is completely different.  Parents want to know what they can do, why does this happen, what are her options, etc.?

In order to help prevent this from happening to your daughter, let me suggest a few things to consider ahead of time.  Then I'll look at a couple of ways you might handle this situation if it does come up.


When a coach is recruiting a player, he wants to present the best case scenario for the prospect. Some coaches paint glowing pictures that make it sound like all your daughter has to do is show up and she'll be the #3 hitter, batting .400 as a freshman.  Other coaches are cautiously optimistic, telling her that if she works hard and develops as they hope, she should get lots of playing time.  A third group of coaches may be bluntly honest (particularly if they see your daughter as a role player or if she's considering walking on at their schools.)  They may be very straightforward and tell her she'll have to work hard to get a chance to contribute and that there are no guarantees.

But it almost doesn't matter what they really say!  Most families will hear what they want to hear.  And that means they expect their daughter will play—-even when the coach indicates it could well be otherwise.  Thus, the disappointment of sitting the bench can be crushing, for both parents and child.

Coupled with this is a (frequently) first time sense of powerlessness.  In the past, if things didn't work out on a given team, parents might have confronted the coaches, perhaps complained loudly in the stands, and often ended up finding another team.  But you can't do that in college.  (Well, you can complain loudly in the stands, but that's about all.)  And in fact, interference from a parent generally makes the situation worse.

So how do you avoid this?  Sometimes you can't.  If your player just doesn't make the jump to college level competition as you expected, she may find herself on the bench.  You can come up with fifty reasons why she's only hitting .098 or her ERA is 12.10, but you're not the one stepping into the batter’s box or setting up on the pitching rubber.  If she doesn't produce, she probably doesn't play. 

I know I'll get Internet tomatoes thrown at me by parents who insist that their child can play for UCLA or Tennessee if just given the chance, that she is an Olympic caliber player, and so on.  But consider this.  Since 98-99% of all kids will be done as serious softball players once they graduate college, wouldn't you rather see your child spend that four years actually PLAYING—even if it's on a lesser-known team?

Most parents would deny that they'd rather see their kid unhappy on a big name team they can brag about than see her happy and successful on a smaller team that none of their buddies have heard of.  But if my experience counts for anything (and it should), there are quite a few parents whose behavior indicates this is actually how they feel.  (At least this is how they feel before she goes to that bigger program and is miserable.) If you want to avoid having to deal with a player who's sitting the bench and hating life, there are a few things you can do when choosing a college. 

Ask the right questions, and really listen to the answers.  See how many other players are currently on that team or have been recruited to fill your daughter’s likely college position.  If there are already 3 kids who can play shortstop, chances are your daughter will have to fight for a spot.  That pressure is more than you can imagine…trust me.  Don't assume the bigger program is the better program—-for your daughter anyway.  Yes, it might be fun to tell other parents that Suzy is at a ranked Div. I college.  But again, trust me when I tell you it won't be fun when they ask you how she's doing and you have to tell them (or figure out how to avoid telling them) that she's sitting the bench or she's hitting .102, or worse, that she hates softball now.

Don't put a dollar value on her playing experience.  Yes, it's great to get the most money you can.  But is that money really worth it if she's miserable? There are loans, jobs, grants and various ways to pay for college. If she wasn't playing softball at all, you'd still have to figure out how to cover her expenses.  Would you rather borrow $3000 a year or forego that new car for a couple of years so that your daughter can love every minute of her college softball experience? Or do you prefer to sell her happiness for $20000, for $10000, for $5000?  And keep in mind that changing colleges may end up costing you more than you ever got in scholarship dollars if she hates it there and wants to come home.  For my money, the happiest college players are usually kids at D-III programs.  They aren't getting a dime of athletic money.  And it's amazing how many of them love softball more now than they did in high school. 

Be smart.  Look at the experience of the kids sitting the bench versus that of those playing somewhere else.  Consider lots of options and be honest with yourself about your financial needs versus your ego needs.  Assess each school your athlete is considering, making sure you understand the worst case scenario.  If your daughter can be happy with this, then you're probably okay. 


We all make mistakes.  Athletes do sometimes choose teams and colleges for the wrong reasons, and that's just part of life.  If you find yourself in a situation where your daughter is very unhappy because she's not playing, you do have some options.  This applies mostly to players who are in their sophomore year because it's not unusual for freshmen to sit.  And, assuming the college itself is a good fit, I believe players should give a school at least one year to see if the situation improves.  But by the time she's well into her sophomore year, it should be apparent whether or not she's going to have a chance to play.  If she's sitting the bench and is truly miserable, but doesn't want to give up softball, there are a few things she can do.

The player, not the parent, should go talk to the coach.  Pick a quiet time and approach the coach in a non-confrontational way.   Simply ask the coach to be honest about why you're not playing, what you might work on to improve your skills, and what it would take for you to get the playing time you want. If the coach makes sound suggestions, act on them.  If it means more time in the weight room or in the batting cage, do it.  Work twice as hard as any other player on the team, and show the coach how much you want it.  If you do everything the coach recommends, and things don't improve, you will have a legitimate reason to consider leaving.

If either the coach indicates you're never likely to be more than a role player, or, you do everything the coach asked for and still don't get any more playing time, parents and player will have to decide how important softball is. If the player is happy at the college, maybe it's time to put down the bat and glove. Even if it means giving up a scholarship, she can finish her education and move on with her adult life. If, after some serious thinking and family discussions, the player decides she wants to find a school where she can be a contributing player, do it the right way.  The player or her parents can't just pick up the phone and start calling coaches.  She has to talk to her coach, ask for her release, and assuming that it's granted, she can then start contacting colleges.

But don't make the same mistake twice. Understand that transferring will probably mean that mom and dad have to pay for school...at least for awhile.  The player may still have to prove herself once she gets to a new program. So, be smart. Look for a team where she can realistically make an immediate impact.  After all, there's no point in transferring only to sit the bench again.

For most players, this may mean going to a different kind of team, but it doesn't necessarily mean the team won't be a good one. A player sitting the bench at a mid-level D-I team might be able to start right away at a good D-II or NAIA team.  In some cases, the player might have to go to a smaller, less competitive program, but remember, it's all about the playing time.

If you're smart and lucky, you will choose wisely out of high school.  Finding the right team is always about more than the dollar and the name.  Re-arrange your priorities if necessary.  Finding a team where you can contribute as a freshman (or definitely by the time you're a sophomore) should be higher on the list than either the affiliation or the scholarship!