We field this question repeatedly. The answer is simple. What is your purpose for attending a college camp? Today we look at the good and bad side of college camps.
Let me share a couple of secrets with you. College camps generally fall into two categories. They may be designed to allow coaches to look at potential recruits. A second goal may be to make money for the coaches, or even the program.
Too many kids think they are going to a college camp to learn. In a rare few cases that may be the case, but normally there are too many kids and too few coaches to allow any time for real instruction. A coach may walk by and suggest a different grip or a change in position at finish, but that is usually the extent of it. We will further discuss this topic later in the article.
Remember, college softball coaches don’t make a lot of money when compared to coaches in the revenue-generating sports. Colleges allow them to supplement their income with special events. That makes everyone happy. Because camps have expenses, the goal is to draw a lot of kids in order to maximize profits. We are not saying this is good or bad, but a simple reality. You may arrive to find 25-50 kids in your position, meaning you will often get little individual time.
The second goal of a camp may be to look at recruits. Before you get excited, understand that they usually have specific kids in mind before the camp gets underway. Coaches invite everyone, but they go back and make a special effort to get certain kids to come to their recruiting camps. They have watched these kids at tournaments or they have heard good things about them. These kids match their needs when it comes to position and graduating class. Camps are their one opportunity to watch a specific kid over several hours. Coaches get to see how well she makes adjustments, if she is coachable, the type of attitude she brings, how she compares with other kids at the camp, and whether her personality may fit with the rest of the team. If you are not already “on their radar” you may just be part of the supporting cast and never really be noticed. Remember, everyone in the camp is trying to shine. Most are at the top of their games, so you have to be spectacular to be noticed unless you are already on their list.
Before going to a camp to get recruited, sell yourself. Find out if they need a recruit in your class and at your position. Do all of the right things to get noticed ahead of time, including sending them video, getting them to come to one of your tournaments, and show up at a couple of their games and talk with the coach to demonstrate that their school is atop your list. If they don’t know you before the camp, that is a huge disadvantage. You will immediately notice that they already know a lot of the kids’ names and keep gravitating in their direction.
Now, back to the subject of going to a camp to learn. Usually, you will be disappointed. If you are a pitcher, you may get very little time with the pitching coach. Camps have a very tight agenda and they must stay on schedule. They do not have a lot of time to stop and help a kid deal with specific issues. Even if they do, you may be disappointed with what you get. One of our kids went to two different camps this fall. One coach tried to help the kid get loose and fluid, engaging the legs, staying open, and lengthening the stride for power. The very next week the same pitcher went to a different school and they taught that “tight is right”, trying to get kids to shorten the stride, slap the glove against the leg as hard as possible at release, square back to face the catcher and really jerk up on the arm. Very simply, there is no way you can mix those two forms, regardless of which method you prefer.
You may think that last point is a negative, but there is a positive side to it. Going to a camp allows you to learn a coach’s approach. If you are a long, loose, pitcher who flies off the mound, you want to know if the college coach has the opposite philosophy. Just as camps allow coaches to strike kids off their list, they allow kids to strike schools off their list. But, there is still another side to this. If you are young, remember that the average duration for a college pitching coach is about 18 months. Don’t ever make a decision based on a pitching coach without learning how long they plan to stay and how much the head coach is involved with pitching. The odds are pretty good that a high school freshman considering a D1 school today will have a different pitching coach when she arrives at that college.
We must make an additional disclosure. Much of the information in this article will be different for smaller schools. A small D1 will usually be later in the recruiting cycle than larger programs, so they may pay far more attention to kids at their camps. As you go down the list, many D3 schools rely very heavily on camps to discover potential players
College camps offer another benefit. They give you a chance to stand, side-by-side, with your competition and compare your abilities. This feedback helps you learn areas in your game that could be improved.
Don’t get the idea that we are against camps. As long as kids realize their limitations, we encourage them. Sometimes it is just a great way to get to know other people who love the game as much as you, to become motivated to raise your game, or to simply play on your favorite college field. Knowing what you want from a camp, and choosing accordingly, helps assure it is a profitable experience for everyone.