March 29, 2019
With 21 years of experience running high-academic softball showcases, our Headfirst Honor Roll team is eager to connect with like-minded student-athletes and their parents to provide answers and guidance throughout their recruiting process. This week, we asked our staff to address how families can best prepare for high-academic softball showcases, key strategies for communicating with coaches and the best piece of advice to remember during camp:
Click on any of the links below to skip ahead to that question:
Austin Sumners, Dickinson College: I think you need to go in with confidence and be clear on what you want to say or ask to the coach before making an introduction. Coaches meet a lot of players, so you want to have a conversation that they will remember. I also think it always helps to email the coaches ahead of time so they expect your introduction— and if you didn’t reach out to the coach beforehand, make sure to reach out after so the coach has your contact information.
Cory Spera, Lafayette College: This is the question I get asked most often by parents – “my player is nervous about approaching a coach, what should they do?” I give everyone this simple formula: introduce yourself, quickly express your specific interest in their school, then ask a personally relevant question. For example, “Hi, Coach – my name’s Cory Spera and I’m interested in playing at Lafayette because of the school’s unique combination of a liberal arts curriculum with strong science programs. I think I want to pursue medical school after college – do you have any current players on the roster pursuing this same goal? How do they handle the rigorous coursework with their softball schedules?” It’s a formula that doesn’t take too much effort to fill in, it gives the coach a very targeted question to answer, and it shows them you’ve done your research and that your interest is legitimate. Once that ice is broken with your question, you’ll be amazed at how naturally the conversation will flow from there.
Jed Barkin, Denison University: I think it’s important that you go up to a coach with a plan. It can be a nerve-wracking experience, so the more prepared you are with not only what you want to say, but also with a goal in mind of what you’re trying to get out of the conversation, the more comfortable you will feel. Most importantly, I suggest having a specific “why” to include in your initial introduction. It’s great to be interested in a particular school, but if you can express WHY you’re interested, it will allow you to connect on a deeper level with the coach.
Jenna Orlando, Lafayette College: Remember that they’re people too and are expecting to engage in these conversations at camp – so smile and relax. Try and make conversations targeted. This not only shows that you’ve looked into the school and the program, but it also helps later on in sending them a slightly more memorable note about a conversation that was deeper than you giving them your name and telling them you’re interested in their school.
Max McKenna, Amherst College: In addition to echoing Jed and Cory (it’s definitely key to have a plan and a quick intro script that you’ve rehearsed – as weird as that might sound!), I always advise players to start with common ground: softball. It might make you nervous to jump right in and start discussing how interested you are in a school, but you can always start with something instructional related to softball – it’s a key piece that you and every coach will have in common, and a natural starting point for conversation. If a coach sees you run a double-cut from the right field corner, ask them how they practice those in their program. When you do this, be specific in the feedback that you ask, as it gives a clear direction and starting point for the coach, so it’s easier for them to dive right in.
Austin Sumners: An email around the midseason mark for the college coaches is a good time to reach out. Whether it is an introduction or a check-in, it is always good to show as much genuine interest as possible. Another important thing is to reach out to some coaches about two weeks before camp, just to make sure you are on their mind when they arrive to that session.
Cory Spera: You have to thoughtfully reach out to coaches, before and after camp. Don’t let a school in attendance that you’re interested in get to camp without hearing from you – they might not respond to your note, but chances are they saw it and will be looking for you at camp. Don’t have a conversation with a coach and expect they’ll remember that conversation after camp – they probably will, but don’t give them the opportunity to forget, so shoot them a follow-up note. However, in your outreach, before and after camp, be specific when expressing why you’re interested in their school or when you interacted with them at camp. Don’t send a copy and pasted email to every coach in attendance!
Jed Barkin: You definitely need to reach out to the coaches before camp. Luckily, we post on our website the exact coaches that are going to be joining us, so you know exactly who you should contact. I’d include a background on yourself, some key academic and athletic accomplishments, your position(s), and the dates you’re attending camp. Of course, you should also include why you’re interested in that particular school. After camp, it is great to follow up with the coaches you engaged with by writing a handwritten note. This will show an extra level of engagement and is a great way to stand out. Also, you should look into following up with these programs at their individual school camps so you can explore the campus, play in front of the coaches again, and connect on a deeper level.
Jenna Orlando: Doing your research and having goals are obviously so important throughout this process – but keeping an open mind is also essential. We have schools at our event you may have never heard of, which doesn’t make them any less of a potential perfect fit for you. I think keeping this in mind when approaching camp and after attending will help you to not rule out options for the wrong reasons.
Max McKenna: Proactive communication is obviously so important in advance of camp, as is following up with coaches afterwards in a way that can make you stand out.
But just as key is the research that you put in before the event. Earlier this month, our own Cory said that his start into looking for school fit was at the alphabetical top of the “Schools Attending” list for the Honor Roll Camp that he went to after his junior year. This type of research is absolutely key so that you can know which schools to reach out to before camp, and which coaches to proactively engage with while you’re on-site at camp! Look into the schools that are attending, and – it’s ok to paint with a pretty broad brush here – get a sense of which ones fit your academic strengths and interests, as well as your on-field level before you ever get to camp. Having this foundation of research not only helps you know where to go and what you’re doing while you’re at camp, but it also makes the communication easier, because you have some base knowledge on each school to use in conversation.
Al Morris: Research and give as much advice as possible to your ballplayer, but let them reach out to coaches. As a former member of a college coaching staff, I always noticed that an email from a student-athlete carried more weight because it showed initiative on their part.
Austin Sumners: Try and ask as many questions as possible to parents who have had a child go through the recruiting process. Try to be involved as much as your child wants you to be, though understand that it is their process and they have to be somewhere where they’re comfortable. I also think it is important to set soft deadlines on what each child needs to be doing for that part of the process – whether it is doing research on showcases to attend or writing a letter of interest to a coach.
Cory Spera: Even if you have some eligibility left, the coaches are recruiting your child – not you! That’s not to say the parent doesn’t play an imperative role in the recruiting process – nothing can replace parental guidance and support during what is generally a stressful time for your student-athlete. However, when it comes to engaging/interacting with the coaches, let your ballplayer handle that outreach. If a coach reaches out to you, then you can/should engage!
Jed Barkin: It is best to have the student-athletes take control and ownership of the recruiting process. Parents can help by researching schools that may be a good fit or proofreading emails that student-athletes will personally send to coaches. On-site, it is absolutely all right to talk with coaches, but I definitely recommend allowing the players to drive the conversation and take the initiative. All in all, the best advice I can give to parents is to stay on your son or daughter about their outreach to coaches and being proactive in the recruiting process, but allow your child to take ownership and determine their own path.
Jenna Orlando: Keep things in perspective and serve as a reminder of the bigger picture. Having my parents be there to listen and not overly wrapped up in the stress of the process was really helpful when I was headed down a rabbit hole of stress or starting to focus on the wrong priorities. They helped to remind me that the goal was to get an education where I’m happiest – regardless of whether or not softball was in the picture. Try to be the constant source of calm, cool and collected support. Reminding him or her that you’re proud of them here and there is also an underrated, best line to hear from a parent.
Max McKenna: I believe that the absolute best thing that a parent can do in the recruiting process is empower their student-athlete to be the agent and driver. What this means to individual student-athletes and parents will look different – but no one knows your child better than you do, and doing what you can to set him or her up for independence in this process is absolutely key to its success. You’re a sounding board for their reflection on college tours, you’re a shoulder for when they get a “no” from a school they were interested in, and you’re the world’s best question-asker (“Ok, why did you like Amherst, though?”) to help them get to the important questions that they need to ask and answer to find their right college fit.
The high-academic recruiting process is exactly that – a process – and it’s not this or that definitive outcome. Going through the high-academic recruiting gauntlet is more difficult than the regular college search because there are multitudes of different additional layers – but, if done in a thoughtful way, the process itself is a reward, regardless of outcome. Empowering your student-athlete to be the driver and agent in his or her own recruiting not only best sets them up to find what’s important for them in a college fit – the ultimate “win” outcome – but also equips them with the skills, independence and autonomy that will help them in and after college, too.
Al Morris: Prepare and relax. Work extremely hard at your game, because you want to be very confident in yourself heading into the showcase. As an athlete, you know what a showcase entails – 60 yard dash, offensive showcase (about 8 swings), defensive showcase and games – and a lot of talking with college coaches. Always practice with that in mind and work on your game to build upon your strengths and shore up any weak parts of your game. If you do this, you will be ready and relaxed when the time comes.
Austin Sumners: Take control of your process and don’t let the coaches control where you decide to be at the next level. The earlier you start to cross tasks off your recruiting checklist, the easier it is going to be. Also, student athletes tend to get very stressed at showcases – remember to enjoy the game. You never know when your last at bat or pitch is going be, so just give it your all and enjoy it!
Cory Spera: Come into camp with an open mind! You might be attending camp because you’re interested in a short list of schools that will be there. There are so many tremendous universities and programs that attend our events. If you are only open to the dozen or so schools that you’re familiar with, chances are you’ll overlook dozens of other amazing opportunities. I don’t have to look far for proof of this – I attended and played at a school that I was unfamiliar with before I went to Honor Roll in high school. In fact, almost all the schools that ended up on my final short list were unfamiliar to me before camp.
Jed Barkin: Prepare! First, familiarize yourself with the coaches that will be in attendance and make sure you reach out to your top schools of interest. Next, familiarize yourself with and test yourself on the objective measurements we will be recording. You should know your 60-yard dash and general overhand and exit velocities before coming to camp – and you should work on these before showing up! Set goals for yourself and continue to raise your own bar on how strong these numbers can be. Finally, practice your conversations with coaches. Create a plan for initiating conversations and even role-play at home with family members. The more comfortable you are with your talk track, the more comfortable you’ll be when you are on-site talking with the coach from your dream school. To summarize – prepare, prepare, prepare, and then arrive at camp knowing that you are going to crush it. Everything else will take care of itself.
Jenna Orlando: Play your game and control the controllables. I think it’s important to play within yourself. Own the type of player you are so you can approach the event confidently. Being comfortable with your role and then being able to execute it confidently is what’s going to catch a coach’s eye. With that being said, strike outs and errors are going to happen – control the controllable. Your body language after a bobble, cheering on another player at camp after a tough at bat, hustling on and off the field each and every inning – are all things in your hands to control and can set you apart even if you have an “off” day on the field.
Max McKenna: Relax. By the time you get to camp, you’ve been playing this game for 10-15 years – that’s a long time to be doing something, so you know how to do it! Trust the hard work that you’ve done to prepare so that you can let it come through on the field when the lights are on you. To help relax, develop a pre-game routine. Before every practice, game, BP session, bullpen, etc., use the same technique – whether it’s a playlist, a breathing exercise, a dynamic warm-up routine – to get ready. Then, when you get to camp, use that same routine, so that it’s just another day at the yard.