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.
This one is going to be a bit unusual because it’s actually not about a fastpitch softball signing. But I still want to offer my public congratulations to a terrific young woman, Kate Kiser, on her signing to play volleyball at Bowdoin College in Maine next year. Go Polar Bears – coolest mascot ever (pun intended).
So why is a softball guy talking volleyball? Because before she became a bigtime volleyball player with scholarship offers at all levels from all over the country, Kate was also a terrific pitcher and hitter.
I first met Kate when she was 9 or 10 years old. This was shortly after she’d survived a vicious attack by a large dog that had done so much damage she had to wear a pressure mask for a few weeks and had very visible scars.
Her mom Kim (also a terrific woman and a good friend) wanted to get Kate involved in something quickly to take her mind off the trauma, so she signed her up for softball. And knowing her daughter was not one to do anything halfway, she signed her up for some pitching lessons too.
Kate was rather shy and quiet those first couple of lessons, but we hit it off pretty quickly. She was a diligent student, even at that age – one of those you don’t have to worry about whether she will practice in-between lessons or not. She had a rare will to succeed in whatever she did.
I remember after a few weeks she had a game, and was going to pitch. Her mom asked if she should try to do what I was teaching or do it the old way, and I said give it a try, and if it doesn’t work than do what you need to for now. This was during fall ball, so no harm, no foul.
She continued to develop, and after a while hitting lessons were added to the mix, perhaps when she was 11. Because of her busy schedule, as well as mine, lessons often didn’t start until 10:00 pm – pretty late for a young girl. But she was always full of energy.
One of the things I remember most about Kate is her curiosity. I encourage questions during lessons, and Kate would ask them. But then, when we were done, Kate would say “I have one more question,” which really was a lie because she had many more questions. 🙂 We’d chat until her mom decided everyone needed to get to bed.
At first, as a player, she had a rough time. She got onto a Daddy Ball travel team that had its favorites and its “all you others.” You know the type. Whatever Kate did wasn’t good enough for them.
I remember hearing about one tournament at a location where they had to stay in a hotel. She and a good friend of hers didn’t get on the field for pretty much the entire weekend. At 10! It was tough, but she bore it with grace and kept working.
By the time she got to 14U much had changed. By now she was drawing looks from college teams, pitching and hitting up a storm. (Her mom told me at the signing ceremony she was still getting contacts from college softball coaches even though she hadn’t played since her freshman year in high school.)
She built quite a reputation for herself, at least within the general region. People marveled at her “natural talent.” Her mom and I just had a good laugh about that. Because while Kate is undoubtedly a wonderful athlete, none of them were there when she couldn’t find the plate, or I had to cajole her to stop thinking so much and just let the pitch fly, or to “see ball, hit ball” instead of over-analyzing everything. It was her work ethic, not just her athleticism, that got her to that point.
Unfortunately for me and some college softball team, along the way Kate started playing club volleyball. She became a star there too, and eventually had to make a decision on which sport to play.
I blame myself for her decision. She always said her dream was to play for me as her coach. One day, when my 18U IOMT Castaways were going to be short a player for a practice game, I invited 14 year old Kate to come out and guest play for us. She did fine, and then apparently checked it off her bucket list. Just kidding, Kate. If you see her on a volleyball court you know why she went that way.
I do claim credit for two major things in her life, however. I introduced her to the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival (her tastes ran more to classical music at that time – did I mention she also played piano?) and I talked her mom into buying Kate her first Shamrock Shake. For better or for worse, long after she’s player her last game she’ll have me to thank for those two things.
All kidding aside, I am thrilled that Kate, once again after too much thinking, finally decided on her college. She plans to be a surgeon someday, and Bowdoin will be a great place to get that journey started while still being able to play volleyball. And you never know – maybe the softball team will need one more player to help them out and Kate will agree. Right after she asks one more question.
Congratulations, Kate. I know you’ll do well, and I wish you all the best!