The amount of information offered to help you navigate the college recruiting process is daunting – even downright overwhelming, and one size does NOT fit all. The only authority from which I can speak is my own experience. My daughter is awaiting word on admission from several universities as I write this. A Division III softball career is very possible at two of the ten schools, and one coach, in particular, has been very communicative and optimistic. So here goes – my top 7 tips for a parent about to embark on the softball college recruiting adventure.
1. Listen to your daughter
Everyone – myself included – thought the New England Small Collegiate Athletic Conference (NESCAC) schools would be a perfect fit for my daughter. In fact, my ex-wife even hired someone to help with the recruiting process, which has close ties to the coaches of those schools. They all fit her high academic standard, and she surely could have played there. It made sense to everyone but my daughter, who was adamant about not attending a school that was slightly larger and more diverse than her high school. Do you know what NESCAC stands for? New England Small College Athletic Conference. By definition, this is not the kind of school she wanted. In fact, she is absolutely fine attending a more prominent, high academic institution and NOT playing softball. She even applied to a school that doesn't field a softball team. She knew what she wanted from the beginning, and for a long time, but we didn't listen or listen to her grudgingly. We were wrong.
2. All camps are not created equal
You'll spend a ton of time and money attending college softball camps. Some are hosted by outside companies to which college coaches are invited, and some are hosted by the colleges themselves. The former could cost close to $1,000, the latter several hundred dollars. Some are disorganized, and the opportunity for your daughter to shine is minimal. She'll play out of position and only have a few at-bats against 3 different pitchers who start the at-bat with a 1-1 count. You'll leave thinking it was a money grab. Some are amazingly well-organized, and you'll feel like you got your money's worth; that your daughter was given a fair shot, which is really all you're looking for.
3. It's not you; it's them
Whether you attend a large showcase with hundreds of players or an individual college camp with a few dozen players, know this going in: unless you were contacted by a coach before the event who promises to look for you, or you were invited to the camp by a coach, the chances of you being noticed are slim, no matter how well you perform. Make no mistake, my daughter didn't kill it at all her camps. However, she did have some GREAT camps where she surely deserved a follow-up e-mail. But the truth is, she was never on their radar. She could have set herself on fire in the batter's box, and I don't think the coaches would have noticed. And in the case of the individual college camps, I think (I can't be sure) that coaches invite a few kids to the camp who they are very interested in, and their performance at that camp validates or reverses how they feel about that player. The rest of the campers are just $320 windfalls (or whatever the fee is).
4. It's YOU!
I feel pretty confident about item #3 because my daughter was invited to a camp, killed it, and afterward was introduced as "our softball recruit" during the personal campus tour. Was this her best camp of the dozen or so that she attended? Maybe. My point is that she was invited to participate in this camp, so they already had their eye on her. All she had to do was show them something – give them a performance that validated those feelings. And she did. If they are looking at you and you perform, you're on your way. If they are not looking at you and you perform, it really doesn't matter. You were never gonna get their attention. Even if you set yourself on fire in the batter's box.
5. Be prepared to be frustrated, anxious, and angry
It's almost impossible to not take this whole process personally. After all, this is your little girl we're talking about (even if she is 18 years old), and she's putting herself out there, hoping to be noticed, hoping to be wanted by someone, hoping that someone thinks she's "good enough." And when she doesn't hear from coaches or coaches promise to follow-up but don't, it hurts. You tell yourself, "Hey, this is business; it's not personal." To you, it's VERY personal, and you have to try to separate the two. It's not easy, but it will be a valuable life lesson to your daughter. She'll get a glimpse into how the world works - how disappointing it can be - and how people, namely coaches, function within that world.
6. New Rule: Talk about college only once a week
This was very sound advice from the Dean of Admissions of one of the best universities in the country. He mentioned how we all get so damn wrapped up in the admissions process that we forget what a fun adventure it should be. We talk, advise, and though we don't mean to, we pressure our daughters – almost every day. The new rule is that you only get to talk about college one day a week. Your daughter will love you for it – and if she's like my daughter, she'll let you know when you're breaking the rule.
7. No matter where she goes, it does not define her
Here I'm paraphrasing the title of a wonderful book by Frank Bruni, Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be. It serves as a humbling, timely reminder that whatever institution your daughter attends will not define her. She will not be destined to a life of asking, "do you want fries with that?" if she doesn't get into her top choice or doesn't get recruited to play softball. She will be who she is, and whatever college she attends will bring out the absolute best in her. Hers will undoubtedly be a magical and memorable experience, with or without softball.