College Softball Camps: Who, When, Why?
How do you know which college recruiting camps you should or shouldn’t be signing your daughter up for? It’s the most sensitive yet, misunderstood part of the softball recruiting process…camps. Years ago the common thought “in the softball world” was “camps are where recruiting happens”. So the question is…where do I start? The statement is partially true. About as true as “what’s the fastest route between California and Florida in a car”? Well, the loosely defined answer which is similar to the above would be “on the interstate instead of backroads”. Which interstate? At what speed? In which car?
The same questions need to be asked by the athlete and the families, when discussing taking the camp route for recruiting. Let me add/clarify by saying there’s much more to camps than just recruiting. Camps are a phenomenal way to get one on one training from some of the best minds in softball. But somewhere along the way, the recruiting of the athlete became the more focused aspect of the camp versus the development of the athlete, when it came to college camps. It’s much more complex than “I want to go to XYZ University, so I’m going to go to their camp on September 9th”.
Does that school meet your needs athletically, academically, morally, spiritually, regionally, etc.?
Or the equally important questions…does the coach of that program have a need that matches your graduation year and position? Are you the “type” of player that coach recruits?
With 1,600+ college softball programs, there’s never been any shortage of college softball recruiting camps. And especially now that the new NCAA D1 rules began in mid-August (https://www.nsr-inc.com/scouting-news/divisioni-softball-recruiting-calendar/) , you can bet there will be even more, many on the same weekends as each other, and the importance of attending the RIGHT ones becomes even more important than it was before.
It’s important to note here that the term “camps” is loosely referring to not only to “institutional camps” on the coach’s campus, but also showcase camps of which many athletes in the recruiting process frequently attend with the intention of the “bowling ball approach”…meaning roll the ball down the lane at a bunch of pins instead of one pin and let’s see what pins fall and which ones stay. Don’t get me wrong, I am 110% for showcase camps if they’re ran the right way by the experienced people such as JerradHardin.com, HeadFirst Honor Roll Camps, Faster2First, among a few others. But again, somewhere along the way everyone got lost and forgot the true focus, the athlete! Nowadays everybody thinks they can run a showcase camp and I’ll be the first to tell you, they’re not all good ones.
So Are Showcase Camps Good?
Yes, if it’s the right people running it, with the coaches applicable to that particular athlete’s ability, and the coach(es) there have expressed prior interest in the athlete and it is simply serving as the opportunity for the coach to put a face to the email or call. However, the wrong showcase camp can cost you $100-1,000 and do nothing but waste your time and money.
So How Do I Know Which Institutional Camps To Attend?
First, were you personally invited by the coach? Personally…invited…personally. Let that sink in for a second. Let’s assume you’re getting a bunch of camp email invitations and I know not everyone reading this actually will be, which is a whole new set of Q&A because that means you’re absolutely nowhere in the recruiting process. But for the sake of this blog, let’s assume you are receiving a bunch of camp invites in your email. Some are on the same weekends as the others. Some you’ve attended before and the coaches “invited” you back again, and again. Some you’ve not attended but you totally want to play at that school because they have a cool website, you’ve seen them on tv, or you like their uniforms (yes, I’m kidding). You end up registering for the camp this weekend at XYZ university because they’re on tv (or whatever reason)…the problem is, the coach over at ABC university actually invited you to his camp and it’s on the same weekend. And he has a need that matches your graduation year, position, plus the school has your major and he’s actually seen some video of you and has some interest in confirming your abilities via his camp. But you didn’t know that because when you saw the multitude of camp invites and immediately narrowed down based on whatever the biggest, most television broadcasted team was, you immediately chose that one.
You wouldn’t believe how many very talented prospects I’ve seen lose a solid D2 or even mid-major D1 opportunity because they were too busy going to this power 5 camp for the 11th time in hopes that this camp will be the camp that the coach notices her. And vise versa! No kidding…a truly talented kid who has power 5 ability, but immediately only goes to the camps of the smaller programs that are far less applicable, simply because someone, somewhere told her to “be realistic” which is true…but the very definition of being realistic is “someone who has a good grip on the reality of a situation and understands what can and cannot be done, something that is a practical, achievable idea, or something that resembles the actual truth about life or a situation, based on vast experience”. Did you catch the key words there? BASED ON VAST EXPERIENCE. What teenager much less a parent or even most travel coaches, have “vast experience” in the softball recruiting world? Few…I’d say less than 1% that is for certain.
Either way you look at it, you:
- Over-assess or under-assess your abilities, selling yourself short or missing out on truly applicable opportunities
- Don’t understand that college softball recruiting is subjective not objective. So just because this particular school isn’t giving you the time of day doesn’t absolutely mean you can’t play at that LEVEL, it means the coach of that school isn’t interested in your style of play and/or abilities or simply doesn’t have the need for you. (Sidebar: See #1)
- The measuring stick you’re using is broken or not broken-in (aka vast experience)
So now, how do you know which ones to attend over the others? The best advice I can give you is don’t attempt to figure out that puzzle alone. Even with my prospects I work with as their scout, touching base with the applicable coaches to verify they have a need that matches certain athletes and that this particular camp would be the right evaluation opportunity for that coach, is so vital to success in recruiting. At the completion of camp or at the worst, that week, we should know if the coach says “yes” or “no”.
There’s a reason they call it “the recruiting process” and not “the recruiting day”. If done correctly, each step of the recruiting process SHOULD lead you to the next step of the process. There’s only four steps, believe it or not…but I would safely bet that half of prospects I talk to got lost somewhere along the way in step one or two, and started the process all over again, over and over, not knowing any better.
I’m Not Getting Email Invites To Camps, What Do I Do?
Get help, now. You’re more than welcome to simply google “college softball camps” and believe me, there’s a myriad of websites out there that will give you list upon list of college softball camps. I just googled it and the smallest list had 289 camps…for September through December! Try deciphering that and determining which ones to attend (don’t really). Get help, really. Don’t try to figure that out on your own. A lot of wasted time and money shooting fish in a barrel if you do go at it alone.
College softball recruiting is a subjective, not objective, recruiting sport. Simply said, college coaches recruit based on their “recruiting personalities”. Don’t think of an invite to camp as a sign of the coach’s interest or probability of making an offer. Keep in mind, the schools are making a profit from each player who attends. Most of the time any athlete who can pay to attend will be invited to attend. What you have to keep in mind is that the coaches may only actually be recruiting 5-10 players annually and may actually already have several of them committed or working towards that. So, the chance of you simply and randomly “being discovered at camp” aren’t exactly in your favor. A lot of coach put a huge deal of weight on their institutional camp(s) and see it as a big-time asset in being able to evaluate possible athletes vs currently committed ones. Other coaches simply use it for revenue, PR, etc. Coaches invite hundreds of prospects to their camps because they are revenue for their program. The hard truth is that out of those hundreds, they are only evaluating a small portion of the athletes at camp for their program. You know those 4-7 kids that were standing over to the side at some point in time talking to the college coach during camp? Those are the “prospects”…the other 90-92/100 kids? Those are the “campers”.
In short? Have a plan and don’t go at it alone. Be assessed by a subjective party. Be advised by an experienced party with the more than just 5-10 college coach relationships. There’s 1650+ college softball programs out there…so why in the world would you limit yourself when you’re trying to find the right fit?
Robby Wilson is the National Director of Softball Scouting. Robby has a B.S. in Exercise Science and has been a certified strength and conditioning specialist working with High School and College athletes for 10 years and scouting for NSR over 6 years. As a previous college athlete and high school standout Robby endured the recruiting process himself and has seen firsthand, the changes over the years. As the Director of Scouting, Robby works with College Coaches, high school/club athletes, as well as high school and travel coaches on a daily basis in pursuit of getting the athlete the right exposure and promoting those athletes to collegiate athletic programs for them to continue the love for their sport while getting a quality education. Join Robbie On: Facebook/NSRsoftball, Twitter, Facebook/NSRArkansas.