by Catharine Aradi

I have seen a lot of changes and a lot of ups and downs over my twenty-plus years as a recruiting consultant.  But these days, I hear from a lot of “old timers”—-tournament directors, travel coaches, college coaches who have been around for a while, and so on-—bemoaning the fact that recruiting just isn’t what it used to be.  

It’s not that the rules have gotten more complex, although they have.  And it’s not that there are so many more players to see and evaluate, although there are.  The big problem appears to be with parents and players themselves.  The general consensus among the people I spoke with seems to be that too many families feel a sense of “entitlement.”  They don't understand how recruiting actually works, nor do they
want to understand.  They just want their player to be recruited because, “She deserves to be recruited.”

If only it was that easy.  My personal feeling is that for many young athletes coming up through the ranks, the whole process is so fraught with emotion that it’s often easier to just “opt out.” They say things like, “If coaches want me, they’ll find me, and if they don't, I won't play college ball,” or “My travel coach has assured me that that he will get me recruited, so I don't actually have to do any work beyond send out some emails.

Why is this opting out?  Well, if you take the attitude of “If they want me, they'll find me,” you're likely to learn that this is generally only true for the top four or five percent of all softball players.  Yes, those kids who have good grades and test scores, and who play on  the very best gold teams in the country, and who perform at a high level with predictable consistency may indeed be “found” by college coaches.  Unfortunately, the other ninety-five percent of athletes need to put themselves on coaches’ radar if they want to be sure someone comes looking!  So players (and their parents) who just assume they'll be recruited because they believe they're “great” are often left behind when it's all over.

Families who choose to believe the travel coach who makes extravagant promises, or families who choose to read into the travel coach's words that which isn't actually there, may also be left behind because, frankly, all any travel coach is obligated to do is get you to tournaments and coach you at practices.  Only a few travel coaches can guarantee the best fields or game times or be confident that college coaches will always seek out their teams.  For everyone else, it's a crap shoot. 

Another key reality families may fail to acknowledge is that if coaches don't magically come looking for you or if your travel coach doesn't magically deliver what he promised, you have nothing to fall back on.  At that point, it may be too late to take control of your college search. Not only will you not know what to do, but you'll find yourself running into dead ends when you do start contacting colleges.

Players who feel they're entitled to recruitment or who hand control over to someone else often rationalize their failure to be recruited by saying, “I didn't really want to play any way,” or “I had offers, but I decided I wanted to stay close to home.”  And that's probably not far from the truth!  However, in my experience, recruiting, while definitely more complicated and challenging than it was fifteen or twenty years ago, can be a lot of fun and very exciting, particularly for the player who approaches it from the perspective of, “I'm going to give it my best shot, work as hard as I can, and look at lots of schools, and I'm betting I'll succeed!”   These athletes almost always reach their goal. 

I work with lots of players who aren't in the top one or two percent of all ball players or who don't necessarily play on a top gold travel team, and yet, they find colleges to recruit them. Their secret is a simple one.  While they believe in themselves and their potential to play in college, they don't feel any sense of entitlement. They don't take winning for granted, and they don't expect it to be handed to them on a silver platter just because they're nice kids or because they are talented athletes.  They have a sense of the big picture, and they know what they're up against.  But rather than opt out of the game, they dig in, work hard, and make sure college coaches know who they are.

Is recruiting more competitive than it used to be? Absolutely!  But softball is a competitive sport.  If you know what it takes to win, and you bring your “A” game to the field, you always have a shot at winning.  The same thing applies to recruiting.  You definitely have to work harder these days, and you can't take anything for granted.  But you can make it fun, you can make it rewarding, and you can make it pay off for you if you're willing to look at all the wonderful possibilities college ball has to offer!