A softball player may decide at a young age that they want to play college softball one day. That is the first step in the recruiting process, making the initial decision. College softball is a four, sometimes five-year commitment, and many will compare being a collegiate student-athlete to that of a full-time job. At the Division I college softball level, athletes will be required to attend 20 hours of practice a week on top of being a full-time student in the fall months. The softball load goes down to eight hours a week in the winter portion of the season, before resuming back to the full 20 hours and travel during the spring season.
When you start the recruiting process with your athlete, it’s important to do your research first. Once you complete the following list the softball piece to the puzzle comes next.
- Brainstorm a Major/Career Path
- Location Preference
- In-State vs. Out-of-State Tuition
- Make a Wants/Needs List
College softball is a four-year commitment. The difference between Division I, II, III, NAIA, and NJCAA is often the softball load. The practice amount, travel schedule, and level of play are the most significant differences at these collegiate levels. Whereas the academic load will be similar. Your preparation and study habits are tantamount to your survival when your work in college begins.
Most college softball hopefuls get caught up in seeking out the softball program first. I cannot stress enough, the importance of making your list from above before thinking about the softball program. College softball is only four years and your eligibility clock begins right away. Choosing the best program, based on your needs, will positively affect your playing time. Grow as a player and understand the importance of getting on the playing field. Committing to what sounds good while putting you on a temporary pedestal is usually a bad decision. Your career is for the rest of your life. It’s common for collegiate athletes to complete their four years and then go back to school afterward at the same school or a different school, so they can focus on the career path they want. Often times, athletes going off to college will include this option, especially if their academic and athletic award is a substantial one. Another year won’t kill the cost of college especially if you benefit from the right degree.
Once you have completed the list above, it’s time to start thinking about the softball part and where that would fit into the process.
Make a List of Schools: It is recommended to make a list of five dream schools and five realistic schools with softball programs that would interest you. Once you have made your list, it’s time to do research on each school and connect the dots to your first list above. If you stay true to your first list, you will be able to narrow down your next list reasonably quickly. These lists are bound to change over time, so don’t be discouraged if you cross out every school on your first list. Most players have trouble making decisions on which softball programs to pursue. It seems like it should be easy but know that you’re seeking a financial reward so broadening the list is better.
Your Level of Play: This is usually the one piece of the puzzle that’s not very well understood. Find someone who can direct you to a list of programs that’s realistic. If you’re not happy with the truth, work harder! But, finding out late that you’re not up to a program’s level can be disheartening and these days decisions are required in a condensed time-frame. Learn early, there’s no time for disappointment.
Research the Softball Program: Once you identify schools that you would be interested in that have softball programs, it’s time to narrow the focus to the softball team. Online research will reveal many things, such as team records over the years, information about the coaching staff and current players – if you are a softball pitcher, it will be essential to make a note of how many pitchers are currently on the pitching staff and when they will graduate.
Go on a Visit: Once you have some schools and college teams in mind, the next step will be planning a visit. Not an unofficial or official visit just a campus drive-by. Most college campuses are open to the public. If you are passing through a state on the way to a softball tournament that has a school you’re interested in, make a pit stop. Seeing a college in person is much different than looking at pictures online. When you find the campus of your dreams, it will shine a little brighter than the others when you are there. When you are on your visits, go check out the softball field. If programs are practicing they often have open practices to the public. These days there are pandemic restrictions but still, check it out and do all you can while you’re there! It’s the best way to get a feel for the softball environment and the culture the coaches have created for the team. Try and visit when students are there…not during Thanksgiving Break for example. You get a much better feel when students are on campus. I know, these days it’s tough.
Attend a Camp/Clinic at a Program that’s Realistic: This is the toughest part as the pandemic has halted camp participation. Well, for when things begin again do the following. Most college softball programs will host yearly softball clinics with one in the summer and one in the winter months. Clinics are the best way to be seen by a college coach. The college coaches will run the camps and clinics with help from the current players. It’s an excellent opportunity to be put into a potential future environment and be surrounded by potential future coaches and players. Before attending the clinic, send an email to the coach introducing yourself and let them know that you are coming. If you don’t send a video and convince a coach to view it you’re going in blind. Know something before you go. Go back to your help and ask! Then once at the clinic, introduce yourself by offering a fist bump while making eye contact. Following the clinic, send a thank you email to the coach and attach a game schedule that indicates to them, you’re playing at a level that has them interested. These days, send them a video! When being recruited there’s no time for modesty. You cannot be afraid to put yourself out there because thousands of softball players may also want to be part of the same softball program one day too. Can you be better than the rest? That’s the task on the field, in the classroom, in the gym, and in the garage. Send those reps.
With the ever-changing pandemic recruiting rules, college coaches are restricted in so many ways. The September 1st rule of the athlete’s junior year of high school still exists. I’d be very aggressive in all your attempts to be noticed. I wouldn’t really be concerned about a rule violation these days. Send info early and hope they’ll respond and tell you something. Include that video! If you are a college softball hopeful, spend the time throughout the recruiting process doing what is necessary. The process will be different for each athlete and today there are restrictions everywhere. Remain true to yourself, stay the course, trust your effort during the process, and don’t look for excuses. I work with so many athletes and I can tell you most of them are unprepared.
Give us a call and we’ll give you a better idea of how to move forward. We’ve got a FREE site with a la carte offerings if you need the help. It’s not a sales pitch, it’s a good plan to listen to. Work hard and smart and you’ll end up at the school and program that will be the right fit for you. – Jim Simpson