Is College Recruiting Out of Balance?

Recently a couple of 7th grade students accepted verbal offers to major college programs. I completely understand the motivations of the student, the parents, and the university, but still wonder if this is good for anyone involved.

Colleges are currently competing for younger and younger students. Even if a college coach wishes to wait another year to see how a player develops, other colleges are ready to put their offers on the table, so the coach has to quickly take a chance in order to keep from losing the prospect.
Parents feel the pressure to have their kid committed by the time they are high school sophomores because most large D-1 schools deplete their money and stop recruiting kids in a specific class by the time they reach that age. Kids can feel unwanted or left behind if they haven’t received an offer by the time they are high school sophomores, and with good reason.
This raises several questions. How can a 14-year-old know what major will suit her, where she wants to play, or even if the coach who recruited her will still be at the school? Their best interest should be the first priority. If they are focused on packaging themselves to be recruited at age 13 or 14, they can push themselves to the edge of burnout, suffer injuries, or become so obsessed with marketing themselves that they develop a showcase attitude, serving to hamper the kid’s ability to understand the concept of sacrificing self-interest for the betterment of the team. The thing a college coach needs most is actually hampered by the process as it now stands.
From the perspective of parents, it can create a lot of stress. Is she playing on the right team to get the exposure she needs or should she jump to another one? Is she playing in the right tournaments? Do we need to hire private coaches to refine her skills in various parts of the game? What camps should we attend? How much money is all of this costing us? Parents will tell you that they often feel they are selling a product and it can make them feel dirty at the end of the day.
From the perspective of the college, how do you know what you are getting? Kids that young often don’t have the background to choose a place they want to live for four years. This is, literally, one of the biggest lifestyle choices they will ever make. They do not have the experience to ask coaches the right questions, or to determine the style of coach that will make college a great experience. Pretty soon the kid can be miserable and the whole team will feel the effects. Nobody wins in this case.
In addition, the coach has to hope a kid, chosen young, continues to develop in the right direction. Last week I met a kid who is headed to a very high profile university. She was dealing with an injury and wanted my input. Fortunately we knew how to correct the problem and she should be fine, but the path she was taking before our chance encounter could have seen her arrive on campus with a pretty serious injury. Obviously the college would have invested very badly. It is more than an injury question. Every year a lot of recruits suddenly mature and decide they really don’t like softball anymore. Some realize that their interests have changed and their chosen university does not offer the major they want. Some begin to realize that traveling across the country for college sounded like a great idea until the time came, and now they really want to be closer to family. Some fall in love, and previous decisions have to be completely re-considered. Again, the coach could find a good investment has gone bad.
There is one final consideration. Many kids do not mature at the same rate. Our older daughter was a great example of a “late bloomer”. She never realized her potential until her senior year in high school, but once she arrived she was soon re-writing the record books for her college, conference, and on the national level. As a high school junior not a single college was looking at her. We were always so thankful that she was a high school senior and old enough to know exactly what she wanted by the time her offer came, and it made her college experience very remarkable. We are finding that some schools were forward-thinking enough to set aside some scholarship money for just such an occasion. That’s a smart coach you can take seriously.
So, basically, how can we believe the current state of recruiting is healthy for anyone? In most cases, everyone involved is projecting, guessing, or just hoping it turns out right. Sometimes they get lucky. Other times the kid, the parents, and the coach would love to go back and do things differently, all because they didn’t have the luxury of being given enough time to do it right the first time. There are successes, without question. For each of those, there are a lot of cases where things could have gone a lot better if all sides had been given more time to make better choices.