A number of high school softball players recently saw their college dreams come true during November's National Letter of Intent early signing period. They signed on the dotted line to play at the next level and took the first step in the next chapter of their softball career.
After going through the college recruiting process myself and going through it once now as a parent, I must say this…
The college recruiting journey is NOT for wimps or whiners. It includes ups and downs and can feel like a crazy roller coaster ride. Not everything that happens feels “fair” and if you have hopes of playing college ball, you're up against some stiff competition!
Making it beyond high school and into the college ranks is about more than just playing well and taking care of business in the classroom. That's only a portion of it. In fact, I'd venture to say, that's the bare minimum.
Since there's SO much to say about the college recruiting process, let's just take a look at these basics first. I'll dive deeper into some other issues in another article.
On the Field
As mentioned, gunning for a spot on a college roster puts you up against a TON of competition. If you want to beat out thousands of others who want the same thing you're after, you must be willing to do something aren't if you want the best chance at coming out on top.
Here are some things to think about when it comes to your softball skills and performance…
• What are you doing to raise your game that others aren't?
• Is there something you can start doing to gain an advantage and begin separating yourself from the pack?
• Do you know what kind of running speed, throwing speed, or batting averages players who make it to college have?
• Do you know how you measure up, in these areas and others, against those you're competing against for a college opportunity?
• Do you know what your biggest strengths are?
• Are you maximizing those strengths?
• Do you know what your biggest weakness is?
• What are you doing to overcome this weakness or make it a non-issue?
• What can you do, where can you focus to SET YOURSELF APART from other players?
I guarantee you, there is something excel at on your team. It may not be a physical skill. Maybe you look the sharpest. Maybe you encourage others and keeping your teammates up more than anyone else. Maybe you constantly make your team space easy to work within by keeping it neat and orderly. Maybe you earn the best grades on the entire team. Whatever you rock at, make SURE you maximize it. Make sure when people see you on the field, they know, hands-down-no-doubt-about-it you do THAT better than anyone else on your team, maybe better than anyone in your league.
In the Classroom
This one is simple. The better you do in the classroom the more opportunities you have. Period. Grades alone help open up more college opportunities. Ideally, you shoot for, and get, all A's and B's. Preferably more A's than B's if at all possible! Anything less limits your options, not only for athletic opportunities, but for other scholarship opportunities as well.
Unfortunately, many student-athletes don't take this area seriously enough until half way through their sophomore year or maybe even their junior year. By this time it becomes very difficult to raise your GPA before coaches at the schools you want go attend must start evaluating you.
In fact, if you have dreams of playing DI softball, coaches begin looking at your class during freshman and sophomore year. If you're not taking your grades seriously from the get go, you immediately put yourself at a disadvantage to the rock star softball players who are.
It's absolutely true that DI programs seek out recruits that early. When trying to make a future decision on someone that early, they want ALL the pieces of the puzzle in order. Otherwise they're taking a chance that you may or may not be eligible or may not get high enough entrance exam scores years down the road. The more sure they can be about these issues by you taking care of business in all areas, the easier you make it for them to choose you.
Either that or other areas must be “worth the risk.” In other words, college coaches *may* be willing to take a little bit of risk on the academic side if you already throw like Monica Abbott, hit like Crystl Bustos, or run like Natasha Whatley as a freshman in high school. That kind of talent isn't bestowed on too many individuals that early so plan on giving yourself the best chance possible by keeping your grades as high as you can.
SATs and ACTs
Like grades, the higher your test scores, the better your chances and the easier you make it for coaches to recruit you. Not only that, good grades and good test scores open the doors to other kinds of aid so you don't only have to rely on athletics.
If you can take some test prep classes, I highly recommend it. I took a prep class in high school and only needed to take my SAT once because I scored well enough the first time. Who wants to spend half their Saturday taking a test? The better you prepare the more likely you are do get the score you need faster. Sadly, many players I know score lower on today's 3-part SAT than I did on the “old” 2-part test. Yikes!
Please don't put yourself in that situation. Do the work beforehand and prepare yourself for success on the test.
I won't lie, test prep classes aren't the most exciting, fun thing you'll ever do, but remember what I said earlier about doing what others aren't willing to do so you can get results they want but won't get? Yeah, this is part of that!
If you can't afford test prep classes or can't find one that fits your schedule, there are a number of free online prep options you can use. No excuses.
Think About What You Want
This goes a little beyond the basics, but it's important in just about anything you do or going after any goal you set.
Start thinking about what you want. You may not know all the exact details right now, but if you at least begin thinking about it, you'll find the answers sooner rather than later. Knowing what you want makes it far easier to make it happen. If you don't know what you're going after how are you going to get it? Work on getting clear about what you want.
With that said, freshman year, or maybe even a year or two before that, is a great time to begin thinking about things such as…
• Do you really want to play college softball?
• How much of a commitment are you willing to make?
• Do you really want to continue 4-5 training and practicing and learning and competing for another 4-5 years after high school?
• Do you want to play in a highly competitive program or do you want to play more “for fun?”
• What do you want to study?
• What kinds of majors are out there and which ones are you interested in?
• Where in the country would you prefer to go to school? East coast? West coast? North? South? Midwest?
• Are you more of a big city girl or small town girl?
• Do you enjoy the cold or would you prefer warm weather?
• Do you need to be near ocean or a lake or are you okay with being landlocked?
• Do you want to go to a big school where you're just a number or would you prefer smaller class sizes, a smaller school, or a smaller campus?
There's more, but that's a start. It's okay if you aren't completely certain of the answers to all these questions, but the sooner you begin thinking them, the clearer you can get on these details. Most high school students don't just wake up one day and suddenly know the exact answers to all these questions. These are issues you need time to consider and work through, AND your preferences may change over time so don't just look at this list once and forget it. Revisit these issues every now and then and make sure you're looking in the right places and for the right things in your college search. You'll be far more productive working smarter and targeting schools that fit more of what you want vs wasting time with those that don't fit at all.
I wish it were as easy as the few basics we talked about here, but it's not. Taking care of business on the field and in the classroom and knowing what you want are just the beginning of finding your home after high school. Next time, I'll go a little further and talk about other things that come into play along the way. Playing softball in college is a LOT of fun, but anything worth doing doesn't come easy!
Don't expect to breeze through the college recruiting process. That's a disappointment waiting to happen. Get informed, do the work, and keep at it. I call this your college recruiting JOURNEY because that's what it is. No one moment decides your fate. It's not a “one lucky roll of the dice” situation so don't treat it as such. The more effort and preparation you put into this process, the more you'll get out of it. Until next time, keep working hard on and off the field!