September 16, 2018
Many parents and players who reach out to us with questions about our showcases also have questions about the recruiting process as a whole. To help as many parents and student-athletes as possible, we decided to address one of our most frequently-asked questions: What should I be doing right now to get recruited to play high-academic college softball?
Ultimately, playing at the next level takes a combination of factors that are in your control – hard work, performance on the field and in the classroom – as well as a mindset and self-awareness of your own goals and aims at the next level. The important takeaway is that there are MANY opportunities to continue your career in college, and actively engaging the process is the best way to set yourself up for success. (PRO TIP: “actively engaging” is the key phrase)
While each recruiting journey and process looks different, what’s outlined below identifies a general guide to the process. Three key take-aways to remember as you go through the process are:
Keep an open mind. You may find a school at a showcase that you had never heard of that ends up being the perfect fit – and it might not be “the school” where you envisioned playing. It’s crucial to have goals and an idea of what you’re looking for, but it’s also important to keep in mind that these can develop, grow and change as you go through the process.
Enjoy the process. Appreciate every opportunity that you have with a uniform on your back.
Find the school that is the best holistic fit. The overall fit of a school will heavily impact your overall experience – with or without athletics in the picture. These four years will be transformative and represent one of the biggest decisions that you’ve made up to this point – and a large investment of time, energy and resources – and the process should reflect that with a thoughtful and thorough approach. Coaches may move and take new jobs, athletic careers may come to an end due to injury, but if you choose the school that is the best all-around fit for you, you will be in a great position to have a meaningful college experience. We encourage you to define the “win” in the college recruiting process as finding the best fit school that will then set you up for continued future success.
What you should be doing right now to get recruited obviously depends on your age, grad year and where you are in your journey – you can jump down to what’s most relevant whether you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior – or parents.
If you’ve committed to the school of your dreams… Congratulations!
If you’re not yet committed to or haven’t found the school of your dreams – DON’T WORRY!
At high-academic schools like those that you’re targeting, there is a lot of recruiting action that happens during the fall of senior year. We’ve written about this timing specifically before – check out that post for more details.
Fall of your senior year is a crucial window, as the final punctuation that you’ll put on your high school transcript before applying to college. In everything from your class selection to your in-class efforts, it’s important to continue to challenge yourself and finish strong – always go hard through the bag. Even after a verbal commitment has been made to a school, or applications are in and conversations with coaches have reached their conclusion – a steep drop-off in grades or effort in the classroom can be a huge red flag for coaches in terms of the character and personality of their recruits, and can lead to rescinded offers in the 11th hour.
Senior year also generally opens the opportunity to take some more elective-based classes – if possible and available, use these to explore some of your potential future paths for majors or areas of study that you’re considering so that you can get a taste for them.
Recruiting Process –
Now is the time for any final necessary exposure and conversations with coaches. The recruiting process is just that – a process – and it requires multiple touch-points.
If you’ve already narrowed your list of schools to just a handful, and have had good conversations with the coaches, this fall is when you have the chance to go to their school-specific camps or clinics. This serves a number of purposes: 1. It gives the entire coaching staff the opportunity to see you again – if you’ve been speaking primarily with just the Head Coach, or just the Recruiting Coordinator, this gives the entire staff the chance to meet, get to know and evaluate you as a prospective student-athlete for the program; 2. It’s a great chance for you to get on the school’s campus to get a deeper look at the holistic fit of the school – see how a practice or clinic might run in this program, get to see the facilities up close and get to meet some of the members of the current team to see if the personality and program fit is everything you expect.
If you’re at a stage in the process where you are still exploring or evaluating your options, this is the perfect chance to engage face-to-face with college coaches at a showcase like Headfirst in Florida. This offers a great way for you to get to know and build relationships with a volume of coaches who are still recruiting seniors – which creates a much-needed efficiency for your process at this crucial time.
On the back end of these camp opportunities, you’ll be working through the final process for narrowing your school list, applying and writing college essays. This is also when you may be taking official visits to schools that are fits on every level, from academics to athletics and campus culture. If you’re receiving athletic aid to play at the Division I level, you’ll be signing your National Letter of Intent in November. By winter, all your research, planning, diligence and effort has paid off: your applications are in!
Enjoy your last high school season or last summer with your travel team – and continue to develop your game. At this point, you may have some workouts or programs from your soon-to-be college coach, and you also will have had conversations about where your skills line up in the program’s depth chart. Continue to get after it on the field to work on your weaknesses and build your strengths to maximize your opportunities from the first day you’re on campus.
Relish the tournaments and overnights. Enjoy the hours at the field. Capitalize on the 1000th ground ball rep in the infield. Regardless of the outcome of each game or tournament, enjoy the teammates you’re with, value the opponents you play against. Remember to thank your family, coaches and everyone who helped you along the way.
Junior year is often seen as the toughest year of high school from an academic perspective, and a time when it all seems to come to a head. Traditionally, it’s the time for more advanced classes, more standardized tests, more pressure in the looming college process – and less sleep. You may be involved in leadership roles in some of your extracurricular activities – it’s important to remember that these take time, and to dedicate your time to those leadership positions that you’re most passionate about. It’s more important to be fully engaged in fewer activities than have less significant roles and spread yourself too thin. It’s tough to achieve your best – on the field or in the classroom – if you’re trying to focus on 100 things, and the benefit of healthy sleep can’t be overstated.
On the Field –
Keep playing! The summer after your junior year is another important one to develop as a player – and a crucial one to gain key exposure to targeted groups of college coaches. Your recruiting footprint includes playing, showcasing and also proactive outreach to coaches that are on your narrowing list of schools.
In advance of these camps, update your video (guidelines below) and send it out to some of the programs you’re interested in to touch base before you meet them or see them again at a tournament, camp or showcase.
Recruiting Process –
Fall: This fall is the perfect time to charge full steam ahead into your recruiting process to put yourself in the driver’s seat. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts about this fall’s timing, now is the time that high-academic coaches start to wrap up their incoming application class and turn their attention in full to juniors. By gaining exposure to your target schools this fall, you put your name on their recruiting radar, and set in motion the process portion of the recruiting process. Coaches need to recruit not just the best players they can, but those that are going to be an overall fit – athletically, academically and personality – with their school and program. To effectively do this, coaches need to not just see you play once or twice, but develop a relationship with you over time, so that they can assess you as a student-athlete. This is why every coach we’ve talked to highlights the importance of multiple touch-points throughout the recruiting cycle. The opportunity to engage directly with these coaches at a Headfirst this fall in Florida sets these relationships in motion and puts you well on the way to recruiting success.
Winter: You’ll probably start in with a busier schedule of college visits as you build, narrow and refine your college list and begin to assess holistic fit. In advance of these visits, reach out to the coaches to let them know that you’ll be on campus and to see if they have a window to sit down to talk about the program. This is a great opportunity to get a feel for the program, introduce yourself to the coach and demonstrate your strong interest in the program. Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center (the sooner in your junior year the better). All potential Division I and II athletes must register to determine academic eligibility and qualify to play at these levels. You’ll also need to send your SAT and ACT scores to the NCAA Clearinghouse/Eligibility Center directly.
Summer: The summer after your junior year is a crucial one in high-academic recruiting – this is where the groundwork you’ve been laying on the field and in the classroom starts to pay off in the form of concrete opportunities at the coaches and programs that you’re targeting. Going into the summer, you should evaluate your total recruiting footprint, including tournaments, showcases and school-specific camps. Now is the time to pursue exposure at events that maximize your access to the kinds of schools that you’re targeting and considering. This is also the time to really keep an open mind by making sure that you have a list of qualities that you’re looking for in a school or college experience (outlined below), and then working off of this list of qualities to match schools – rather than only consider “Division X” schools, “League Y” schools, etc.
Above all else, continue to work hard in the classroom and challenge yourself in subjects that you’re passionate about with honors and AP classes if they’re the right fit. You’ve built the groundwork of good habits and effort to set yourself up for success – stick with them as you start to take more advanced classes to build out your transcript and future path.
At some point during your sophomore year, it’s also a good idea to get a baseline for your standardized test score – whether it’s ACT or SAT – and start to invest in your test prep. While these scores are just a part of your overall application portfolio, they are one that gives coaches a fairly clear picture of where you fit into their recruiting class academically.
On the Field –
Again, if you play and enjoy multiple sports, continue to play them. Continue to play with your travel ball team and start thinking about finding showcases where you’ll have access to the schools in which you’re interested.
This is an important summer to continue to improve as a player and also start gaining exposure to college coaches. As you build physicality and maturity, you’ll also begin to more solidly build your on-field identity – are you a speedster? Do you hit for power? As a player, this is the time to develop all aspects of your game – build on your strengths and address your weaknesses – and also gain an understanding of where you might fit in the recruiting landscape.
This awareness will pay off in the recruiting process, as you can tailor your materials, highlights and metrics to fit your skill set. If speed is your game, definitely include that impressive home-to-1B time in the email you send to coaches and include some in-game home-to-1B or stolen base footage in your recruiting video. If you hit for power, include your batted ball exit velo, and highlight some footage both from your BP portion and in-game action of your power. Further details about tailoring your video can be found in the next section below.
Recruiting Process –
This is a good opportunity to start looking at what types of schools are potential academic fits for you. In your initial scan, cast a broad net and keep an open mind as to what types of schools you are interested in, both academically and athletically. Fill out recruiting questionnaires for colleges that interest you so that you’re on their radar and in their system before they get buried in their own season once the winter and spring come around.
There may be people on your high school or travel teams who are starting to verbally commit to play at certain colleges. If this is you, congratulations! If this is not you, you are not being lost in the process, and are not “late”. The most important step is finding the right college fit, not being the first person to commit – academic, social, and athletic fit is imperative. Especially at the high-academic schools that you may be targeting, the recruiting process tends to last a bit longer, as these coaches need to see a more complete transcript and finalized standardized test scores before they level an offer.
Create a two-minute video of yourself training. Post this video on YouTube (PRO TIP: use your name in your username – it’s easier for coaches to remember if it’s as close as possible to your name) and send the link to college coaches and programs that interest you. Write a short note introducing yourself, provide the link and thank them for their time. Coaches watch these videos that come pouring in and many will watch the entire thing if done right. It should not be longer than 3-4 minutes.
Many of you will be playing on travel teams – take care of your body (know when you need a break – you will not do yourself any favors by playing through injury). This is a great summer to get an early jump on your showcasing and exposure experiences, so that you can build up your comfort in the environment. Large format showcases and exposure tournaments offer incredible opportunities and economics of scale in your recruiting process – but also because of that opportunity, they can be intimidating. Getting an early start with these will make you more comfortable in this pressurized setting, and also go a long way in getting your name and information on coaches lists and recruiting boards early in your process. Set a plan for your recruiting exposure, and then prepare yourself for how to stand out to coaches – on the field, in personal and face-to-face interactions and via your correspondence.
Start the year and your high school career off on the right foot by performing in the classroom. Take pride in your grades, just as you do your play on the field. There’s often a mindset or tendency for freshman to take their first year of high school as an adjustment period, and many transcripts bear the brunt of that adjustment. There definitely is a learning curve – athletic, academic and social – that’s required as you make this important transition, but establishing and sticking with your core good habits from the beginning will put you – and your transcript, come application season – in a great place from the get-go.
On the Field –
Athletically, continue to play and improve. If you play multiple sports and enjoy them, continue to play. Do not believe the narrative that you have to specialize early to have a chance to play in college. Coaches love to see and recruit competitors and well-rounded athletes, and college baseball coaches continually tell us that they love to recruit well-rounded athletes – continue to be one.
Regardless of what team you are playing on (freshman, junior varsity or varsity), look for opportunities to play and help your team however you can. If you’ve only ever played shortstop and you are presented with an opportunity to play outfield, take it! Prove that you are a dynamic and versatile player with a team-first attitude – you never know when this versatility will come in handy down the road.
Recruiting Process –
Fill out questionnaires for the colleges you are interested in attending – and be broad with this initial list. This can help you put your name in their system. If you’re especially interested in a school or coach, email or call them letting them know of your interest. Understand that Division I coaches cannot email or call you back per NCAA rules, but it doesn’t hurt to express your early interest. (PRO TIP: Given recent NCAA changes, coaches can’t pursue recruiting specific conversations until after September 1st of your junior year – so if you don’t hear back, they’re not ignoring you, they just can’t contact you directly. Check out our other post about what exactly last spring’s rule change means for your recruiting process.)
When beginning this outreach, it’s important that you as a student-athlete take charge of this communication. You’re the driver of this process and taking charge of the research and communication gives coaches a view of your maturity, drive and self-reliance. We hear repeatedly from college coaches that they are looking for student-athletes who reach out directly – there certainly is a role for parents, but it’s important that the student-athlete be the driver.
Also, start to build out a very (very) rough list of school qualities that you’ll be looking for when you start to build your college list in earnest. Do you think you want to be in a big city? Just outside a city? Big school? Small school? In your home state or far away (sorry mom and dad)?
To help build this list of qualities, go on some admissions tours or self-guided walkarounds at colleges in different areas. Use that trip to your aunt and uncle’s house at Thanksgiving to take a look at a few campuses along the way. It’s important that these tours be at schools that you know you’re NOT actually interested in! This seems counterintuitive. But, by looking at schools that you’re not interested in and forcing yourself to find specific individual qualities about them that you do like, you’re more able to separate the individual qualities from the school as a whole. If you’ve had your heart set on going to NYU, it will be difficult to separate that dream – and its location in one of the country’s biggest cities – from deciding what type of urban/suburban/rural setting may be the overall best fit for your college experience.
Once you’ve done a handful of these visits, start to compile the list of individual qualities that you like into a “superlist”. This can start to outline the qualities that will make up your dream school, and point you towards a list of schools to look at that fit these qualities. For example: if you know that you don’t want to go to Amherst because it’s just too close to home, but while looking around campus, you realize that Amherst is the right distance from a major city (in this case Boston or Hartford), or that 1,800 is the perfect size school, then you have your first series of data points about what you’re looking for in a school.
You know your student-athlete better than anyone – and that means that you’re set up to be an incredible support and ally in this process, as she works through the research, studying and dedication that this will take – all on top of her existing workload of softball and high school. Specifically, there are a handful of ways in which your experience can help pay off:
Building a school list: You’re much more than just a chauffeur in the college visit process. As you go through these college visits with your daughter, ask questions about what she did or didn’t like about a school to help her build out the list of qualities that she’s looking for in a school and college experience. The answers “I liked it” and “fine” won’t suffice here!
As this list of qualities takes shape – or if there’s a specific school that your ballplayer falls in love with after a visit – you can also play the role of “Netflix Recommended for You” algorithm by suggesting other schools that fit the profile. “You said you really liked the idea of Pomona being a small college, but with access to a nearby consortium of schools (the Claremont Colleges) – have you heard of Smith College (the Five College Consortium)?”
Encouraging ownership and communication: As mentioned above, it’s crucial that student-athletes take the lead in coach communication, and in this process as a whole. Coaches want to hear directly from student-athletes, because they are the ones who are going to be in their program for four years working with them on a daily basis. This communication is intimidating for some high schoolers – understandably so – and may require some encouragement, and will definitely require some email proofreading. Setting your student-athlete up to take charge of this communication and process and be in the driver’s seat is going to pay huge dividends through this process, and well beyond.
Also, it’s important that this process be your student-athletes to own. We love you, mom and dad – but ultimately this is your daughter’s process and decision. The decision that she makes through this dedicated, thoughtful and demanding process will determine her life for not only the four years of college, but well beyond, and will leave a lasting impact. It is crucial that this be the right holistic fit, and that the student-athlete feel complete ownership and agency in the process of the decision making.
Support: This process is demanding, it’s hard and it’s going to involve setbacks, rejection and failure. By choosing to pursue the dream of not only playing softball at the highest level possible, but also at some of the best academic colleges in the country, there is no doubt that student-athletes like yours have chosen a more difficult path. BUT, this path is completely and unequivocally worth it in the long run. The long-term success that even simply chasing this dream can lead to is incredible and opens all kinds of doors for her future.
In the short term though, it’s going to take determination, resilience, hard work, some long hours – and a lot of support and encouragement.
Have further questions about your recruiting process? Fill us in on and keep us in touch with your recruiting process on Facebook or Twitter – or reach out to us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (202) 715-6654