Category Archives: Recruiting
In the 2001 remake of Ocean’s 11 (not to be confused with the Rat Pack movie from 1960), robbery target Terry Benedict tells Danny Ocean that “In my hotel, someone is always watching.”
Parents and softball players would be wise to remember that statement as they go about the business of attempting to get recruited by the team of their choice. Especially now, since as I write this we are in the midst of “Showcase Season,” the big opportunity for college coaches to watch potential recruits in action.
This lesson was reinforced on a Zoom with a couple of D1 coaches as part of the National Fastpitch Coaches College (NFCC) Course 401. Both coaches said there is far more to who they, and most of their contemporaries, select than just on-field talent.
One of them went on to talk about a player who is the #1 prospect in his state. Yet neither his school or the other major D1 college in his state has extended an offer to her. Why not?
It’s simple. It comes down to character. Not just of the player but of the parents.
I’ve heard many college coaches talk about this. When they go to watch a game they don’t just watch what happens on the field.
They also watch what happens off of it. Like how the parents act during the game and how the player speaks to her parents.
In the former case, college coaches want to steer clear of any parents who seem like they will be “those parents.” You know the ones – nothing is good enough for them, their daughter is always getting shortchanged by the coaches, the umpires are idiots who need to be called out at every opportunity, etc.
If you see them acting this way now there is no reason to think they won’t act this way if their daughter is on the collegiate team. And since the pressure is magnified in college, willingly taking on a major headache doesn’t seem like a good strategy.
Unless they are incredibly desperate, most coaches would rather take a player with a little less talent and a lot less baggage. Especially those who have a wide choice of players, i.e., your Power 25.
As far as player interactions with their parents (as well as coaches and teammates), that can be another huge red flag. Players who speak disrespectfully to their parents are likely to do the same to college coaches. Who needs that?
They’re also more likely to break rules, get into academic trouble, or become a cancer on the team if they don’t get their way. It doesn’t take much to send a season south, so again coaches will quickly write those players off their lists.
So it might seem like the best solution is for parents and players to be on their best behavior when college coaches are around. The problem with that is you don’t always know they’re there.
Sure, some coaches will wear their team shirts and sit right behind the backstop in the “scouting” section. But others will be a whole lot less obtrusive.
The aforementioned coach said he likes to hang in the background and listen. He wants to hear if parents are running down the coach, or constantly questioning strategies or decisions, or putting down other players.
If they’re doing it now, there’s no reason to think they won’t do it if their daughter is playing at that school. Hard pass.
No, the real solution, and I know this will be a shocker for some, is to be people of good character. Parents, be supportive of the whole team. Not because someone is watching but because it’s the right thing to do.
Players, be great teammates. Be the person who picks up others, encourages the girl who made an error or struck out, and does little things like grabbing a bat that gets tossed toward the dugout or picking up garbage in dugout after the game.
Because college coaches notice that stuff too. And they like it.
While this should be an automatic, it’s not. It’s a learned behavior for some. So learn it.
Be a good person on and off the field. Because remember, there’s always someone watching.
One the (many) things that make me shake my head in confusion is to see the way teams advertise for players. Whether it’s on a discussion board such as Discuss Fastpitch, in one of the many softball-related Facebook groups, or somewhere else, it’s always the same:
“‘Team Awesome’ is looking for two or three players to fill out its roster for the upcoming season. We need an ‘A’ level #1 starter; must throw 65+ with great control and command of all movement pitches. Also looking for a catcher with pop times of 1.7 seconds who can hit bombs and a shortstop with great lateral movement and an overhand throw of 60+.”
Aren’t we all?
I mean, look at those descriptions. Great teams start with being strong up the middle. If you can acquire a true Ace pitcher, a stud catcher, and a D1 prospect shortstop you’d be pretty well set up to win a lot of ballgames, even if the rest of your team was mediocre at best.
But that’s the thing. Those types of players don’t grow on trees. They’re highly desired by everyone, which means by the time Team Awesome’s ad runs those players have already been snapped up.
It’s also a pretty good bet that the name-brand top-level teams don’t have to advertise or post to find those players. Those players come to them because of their reputation and ability to get them seen by college coaches.
So it’s a pretty good bet Team Awesome is not going to find that caliber of player sitting around after tryout season is done.
That doesn’t mean Team Awesome can’t find great players – players who can help them elevate the state of their game. What they should be doing, in my opinion, is taking a tack more like this:
“Team Awesome has a couple of open opportunities for players ready to make a bigger impact and see the field more often. If you’re a great #2 pitcher stuck behind an incredible #1, come give us a look. If you’re a catcher who has been working her butt off to become a starter but can’t even get a look, we’ll look at you. If you think you have what it takes to play the field against high-level competition but just get overlooked on your current team, we could use another good (position) – especially if you can hit. Being on a trophy-winning team is nice, but being the reason your team earns a trophy is even better.”
Those are the players who are likely to be available. Or who are at least considering seeking their fortunes elsewhere.
Most kids sign up because they want to play ball, not sit on the bench while others play ball. And while there is tremendous satisfaction in working your way up and earning your spot on your current team, that’s not always in the cards for everyone.
Some players are victims of “Daddyball” or “Mommyball,” where the team is built for and around the daughter(s) of the coach(es). No matter how hard you work you’re never going to overcome that mindset, so a change of scenery will create new opportunities.
On the other hand, sometimes, no matter how hard a player works, there are others in their position who also work just as hard – and were blessed with more athletic ability/talent/whatever you want to call it. If a player is stuck behind that person – and rightfully so because she’s better – she can either accept limited playing time or find another situation where she can contribute more.
Those are the players you should be trying to find – the hidden gems looking for a place to shine. They can make just as much of a difference to your team as the studs you think you want but without some of the risk.
Because those stud players you’re advertising for can go anywhere. But the kids who are given opportunities to stand out will likely be at least a little more loyal to the team that gave them that opportunity. Which means you’re less likely to have to run the same ad next year. They’re also likely to be a little more forgiving if your team isn’t quite as awesome as you told them it was during the recruiting process because at least they’re getting the innings they were looking for.
Next time you’re looking for a couple more players, instead of advertising for known studs try encouraging those looking for an opportunity to prove they can be the studs to give your team a try. You never know who you might find that will make your team look better – and you like a recruiting genius.
By now you’ve probably heard that at the recent National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) convention, D1 softball coaches finally stepped up to take a stand against early recruiting.
It wasn’t quite as strong as those coaches saying “For the good of our sport and the prospective student athletes we hereby all agree to VOLUNTARILY stop offering verbal commitments to 7th graders.” But it was a start.
If you don’t feel like following the link, essentially the D1 softball coaches have asked the NCAA to impose a rule that says they can have zero recruiting contact with any player until September 1 of that player’s junior year. That would mean the coaches can’t have any recruiting contact at tournaments, at their own camps, or anywhere else.
If a player calls or email the coach, the first question should be “What grade are you in?” If the answer isn’t “I’m a junior,” the coach should respond that he/she isn’t allowed to talk to that player. A snapshot of the changes can be found here.
In my opinion, this is a tremendous step forward. As I (and many, many others) have stated in the past, asking a 7th or 8th grader to make such a momentous decision as where she will attend college is ridiculous, and a huge disservice to the player.
Your choice of college should be based first on what you plan to do for the rest of your life. Especially since a post-college playing career is generally less lucrative than working the overnight shift at the local mini-mart. A player should be choosing a college with the thought that if she got hurt and could no longer play softball, that would still be the school she wants to attend.
What 7th or 8th grader is prepared to make that decision? Few, if any in my experience. They are going through tremendous changes at that age – physical, mental, social – and most are doing all they can to just manage that.
Freshmen and sophomores are a little more mature, but they too are just really beginning to discover what their likes and aptitudes are – factors that will have a huge effect on their ultimate choice of a career, and thus of a college.
They’re also getting a better idea of their academic acumen, as the change from middle school/junior high school to high school can be huge in terms of academics. By their junior years, they should have a better idea of the type of school that fits their academic capabilities.
I know a lot of people (including myself) who didn’t choose their college until their senior year. It’s a tough decision even at that age, much less a much younger one.
Then there’s the “youth sports” aspect of fastpitch softball. In the last few years, it feels like it’s become less about the “human drama of athletic competition” and more about nailing down the almighty verbal offer. Perhaps a change in the recruiting rules will let the girls enjoy the sport a little longer before they have to start sweating whether Coach So-and-so saw them and liked their performance.
This is definitely a good thing, and heading in the right direction. It’s unfortunate that the coaches, or the institutions, couldn’t just agree to do it themselves. But I suppose all it takes is one to disregard the voluntary rules and the whole structure comes down like a giant game of Jenga.
Making it an edict from the NCAA puts the threat of punishment in place, so maybe it will hold up for a while. At least until certain programs figure out what the loopholes are, because there are always loopholes.
Perhaps it will also put an end to jokes about D1 coaches following tall pregnant women around Walmart, handing out business cards and saying “If you have a girl and she plays softball, especially as a pitcher, call me.”
One thing to keep in mind, of course, is that as I read it a new ruling would only apply to D1 colleges. What about the D2 schools? If they are not included, might they start sweeping in to grab some of those top-tier players whose parents are more concerned with the scholarship than the specific school?
D3 schools aren’t allowed to offer athletic scholarships, of course, but they always seem to find academic money for athletes they like. I wonder how a D1-only ruling would affect them? Probably not an issue right now, but you never know how the law of unintended consequences will affect things.
Still not convinced? Here’s a link to another page on the NFCA website that shows some research on some outcomes that affect early commits, such as coaches leaving or the fact that 60% of players had no idea about what they wanted to major in at the time they committed.
So there you have it. Perhaps some sanity will finally come to recruiting. And perhaps by the time the late bloomers bloom, there will still be a place for them to go play. Most importantly, girls who aren’t even sure which backpack to buy for the new school year won’t be getting pressured to choose what college to attend in a few years.
What do you think? Are you glad early recruiting is potentially ending? Or were you in favor of it? Let’s get a discussion going in the comments below.
If you want an exercise in interesting, pop out to YouTube sometime and take a look at some of the softball skills videos that are posted there. I’d never done it before this morning, but I just finished watching several. All I can say is I wonder how college coaches ever figure out which players to check out based on a video.
I’ve never selected players by video and claim no expertise in this area. These are just my impressions after watching.
Understand that I’ve helped a couple of players put together their skills videos. One was a student of mine, the other one of my team’s players. Having studied video production in school (when video was still edited on tape) and having a decent laptop, I figured I did a credible job of showing off the players. Particularly since I followed the advice in Cathy Aradi’s book Preparing to Play Softball at the College Level on what to show and how long to show it for. But what I found today online definitely made me feel better about what we’d done.
I watched one video where the girl talked so fast and with such sloppy diction that it was tough to make out what she was saying in her introduction. I’m not expecting these kids to be Katie Couric, but at least make sure people can understand what you’re saying. Some of the videos would cross-fade between executions, i.e. the girl would field a ground ball, then there would be a cross-fade right into the next ground ball. It was probably done in the interest of time, but it did make me wonder what was cut out in-between. My understanding, from Aradi’s book and talking with college coaches, is they want to see continuous action. They want to see the error, and how the player recovers. Obviously they don’t want to see an entire video of errors, but one miss in a group of executions is not only ok but desirable, because it’s more honest.
One video I watched had a big section of game film, also listed as something not to do by Aradi. You may think it’s great that your pitcher struck out a kid, but no one knows how good the hitter was. Striking out a career .187 hitter is not that impressive. That same video also included some superimposed commentary intended, I suppose, to help a college coach know just how great the kid is. My guess is the coaches aren’t looking at the results, again because the quality of the opponent is in question. They just want to see the skills. Leave the game films out.
I’ve also talked to several coaches who said they really don’t look at a player’s stats. Making them a feature of the video is a waste of time. The only stats they really care about are your GPA and ACT or SAT scores, because they want to know if they bring you onto the team that you’ll still be eligible once school starts.
Awards and honors are nice, but don’t put too much weight on them. I saw video of a couple of kids claiming to be “All-City” or “All-Conference” as a freshman. After watching their skills all I could conclude is it must be a weak city or conference. They were competent, but no one you’d expect to build your team around.
If you’re going to add music, I’d say forget the ’70s porno music and get something stronger and more upbeat. But then, I have a musical background so I notice those things. I have no idea what the college coaches feel about it, although I’d guess since they’re human that having good music might encourage them to stick with your video a little longer, if for no other reason than to hear the rest of the song.
Speaking of sound, if you’re doing the filming remember that the camera has a microphone. Be careful what you say while taping. I saw one video where the coach or dad (or coach/dad) had to throw in a “good” or a “nice job” after every routine execution. If I were a college coach watching the video, I’d want to make those decisions myself. No need to comment on every skill.
My very favorite, though, was a video that started out with a 10 second promo for the video house that shot it. I really hope they added it just for the YouTube version, and not to send out to college coaches. That would be a real lack of prioritization in my mind. I don’t know if it would hurt the player from a recruiting standpoint, but it would definitely turn me off as a coach.
If you’re getting ready to shoot a recruiting video, check out what’s on YouTube before you start to see what you like and don’t like. Here’s another good resource, courtesy of Cindy Bristow of Softball Excellence. And definitely pick up Aradi’s book. It could help you avoid some classic mistakes.