What You Must Know About College Recruiting

Parents and players ask us questions about college recruiting every single week. It is confusing, it can be ugly, and few people understand the process. In fact, the process is always changing. The first thing you should know is that you are probably getting a late start.
The first question you must ask yourself is, “What do I want?” Preparing to be recruited by an Ivy League school may be far different from other major conferences. There can be a vast difference in the process for an SEC school and one in the Big East. If you do not know those differences you are at a tremendous disadvantage.
You should also know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a D3 school so you can focus on academics. A lot of our kids made that choice from the beginning and we could not be more proud. Getting a great education is top priority. I watched a couple of my D3 students in a tournament this past weekend and had a blast. Know what you want so you know where to start.
This article will mostly deal with big softball schools in major D1 conferences simply because students seeking those programs have no time to waste. If your priorities are different, you can go a bit slower, but you still need to know the process.
Regardless of the school, grades are huge. A college that is choosing between two shortstops of relatively equal skills will take the great student every time. They cannot recruit kids who might crumble under the strain of college academics, while trying to play a college sport, and suddenly the school loses a valuable recruit. Good grades come first. If not, the number of schools available to you diminishes greatly.
Now, some general thoughts on recruiting. This will not be a comprehensive study, but a few general guidelines to help you prepare.
1-The travel team you choose can be a huge factor. If a travel team has a reputation for producing college athletes, the simple fact is that they get more attention. There are exceptions to every rule, but we want to play the odds. Do your research and be sure they are producing. Get a list of the names, dates, and the colleges on which this team placed players. If you want to play in the ACC or Pac-12 and your team has no history of placing kids there, be concerned. Why do certain teams get more of their kids recruited to bigger schools? Here are a few reasons.
-The coach knows the process and can advise you. This person teaches players how to put together the right information, how to make contact with college coaches, and how to prepare to be noticed.
-The coach knows the college coaches and they trust this person’s assessment.
-The coach has a track record of producing winners and colleges are confident in that team’s players.
-The coach has tremendous contacts in the right places to help you to be seen. They may not be attending a tournament you want to play, but often the coach can call a friend at another great team and have you go as a guest player. They help you get into the right camps and make sure the college coaches are watching for you.
-The team plays in the right exposure tournaments. The vast majority of “exposure tournaments” have few, if any, colleges in attendance. If you are seeking D-1 and you are not personally seeing 100 well known D1 coaches at your “exposure tournament”, you are probably in the wrong place. Big schools go to respected tournaments where they will see you play against the nation’s best. These tournaments are selective. They pick historically good teams to participate. College coaches know that. They want to see the best of the best.
-The team plays on the right fields. Just getting into a big exposure tournament is only the start. Is your team respected enough to get on the right field? A big tournament will play in several locations, but there is normally one complex that houses the most respected travel teams and that is where the successful college coaches congregate.
-The right schools are coming to your tournaments. If you want to go to a college in the northeast, find which tournaments those schools attend. You may not want to go a thousand miles away to play if they will not be there. Be on a travel team that plays where these coaches go.
2-You have to sell yourself. Colleges usually don’t walk around tournaments looking at all of the talent and discovering players. They come to a specific tournament to watch kids who have been successful at getting their attention in the class they need. They cannot watch 100 teams play in a single weekend. They usually come with a list of kids they plan to watch and go directly to these fields, walking right past good kids who did not sell themselves.
3-Get on their radar. Use your contacts to help promote you. Your travel team coach is the best one, but current or former players at your college of choice can help. Who do you know that the coach might trust? A good video is an obvious step. See if they are looking for someone at your position in your class. If so, consider their camp. Plan a special trip to their campus where they are free to talk. Plan ahead and make sure they are available to meet you. They are fielding hundreds of recruiting emails. Find a way to be noticed in a positive way.
4-All communication should be very personal. Address the correspondence to a specific name, don’t just say “Dear Coach”. Copy the email to the assistant coaches. Talk about the school and why you are specifically interested. They are more interested in someone who has done the homework and wants to come to their school for more than just softball. In their eyes, you have a better chance of staying.
5-Look and act like someone they want to recruit. If they come to watch you play they know you will not likely show them a lot of great plays in a couple of games. They look at intangibles. Do you get along great with the team, hustle every play, and carry yourself with a great attitude? They have to put up with you for 4 years so they have to like what they see.
6-Get started early if you want D1. Colleges are now recruiting at younger ages. We are not fans of this dynamic, but this is the norm. Two of my students, who are just 13 and 14 years old, recently accepted full scholarship verbal offers to big schools. The reality is that you need to be ahead of the game if you want to play at the highest levels. The big conferences are watching a lot of 14U tournaments.
7-Know what you want. Too many kids tell me they want to play in college, but have no idea which level. Preparing for a big D1 is vastly different from a smaller D1, and the smaller divisions are a far different story. You have to learn more than you want to know and you must do it now. If you wait until you are a high school junior, it can be too late for many schools. The lower the level you want to play, the later you can generally wait to be recruited. There is another huge exception. The very top academic schools cannot extend an offer as early. They have to wait until you are qualified for acceptance which may not happen until you are nearer high school graduation. You need to know that and plan accordingly.
8-Build your skills. Over 70 of my students have accepted D1 offers in less than two years. Most of them had peaked and suddenly everyone else was catching up to them. Too many kids dominate at 13 and think they are on the right track, but they never get any better, so they come to us in a panic at 15. It is a lot easier to establish proper fundamentals early than to repair them when the clock is ticking. Don’t wait.
There is a lot more to recruiting and it could easily fill a book, but these are a few big topics. Some people get upset when they are told they should leave the team dad coaches in order to be on a team that gets more exposure. Some hate to leave their friends. Sometimes you have to make those choices.
Our younger daughter is a great recruiting example. After giving up softball for almost 18-months, she fell in love with a D1 college during high school and returned to the game with a new enthusiasm. The school was just 90-minutes from our home. She went to the college and met with the coach, went to their camp, used our contacts, sent video, talked to alumni, stayed in constant contact with the school, and then she joined a well-known travel team. The school was near our home, but she knew they would be more impressed if she played on a higher level, so when they showed up in Atlanta, Georgia, and saw her repeatedly perform well against some of the country’s best teams in a very strong exposure tournament, they felt comfortable that she was the one. Unfortunately, not all kids’ stories end as happily
Know the realities of college recruiting. In many ways, I dislike the way college recruiting is done, but It is what it is. Schools have limited travel budgets, limited time to recruit, and specific rules on how many recruiting days they can use. It is up to you to make them feel they must use one of those days to look closely at you.

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