Occasionally we get the question about what parents and players should be aware of regarding the college softball recruiting process, so we figured we'd create this definitive guide on: How to Play Softball in College.
According to SoftballlAmerican.com, NCAA softball brought in $450 million in revenue to university athletics programs in the 2016-2017 season.
Long thought of as a "non-revenue" college sport, women's fastpitch NCAA softball is becoming a bigger and bigger draw for fans. So, if you're a middle school or high school athlete, you might now find yourself wondering how to play softball in college.
This guide will walk you step-by-step through what makes a softball player stand out to recruiters.
We'll also look at some important strategies to help you stay focused on your goal and have the best chance of being picked up by a college team.
Part One: What Are Recruiters Looking For?
When you're considering how to play softball in college, the first thing to know is what college athletics recruiters are looking for.
You might think that recruiters only care about your stats, but focusing only on sports will actually hurt your chances of being noticed by the best NCAA softball programs.
Of course, coaches want to recruit players with excellent softball skills, but they also want to recruit players who are going to stick with the sport and not burn out or get kicked out of school for poor academic performance.
Be a Fully Rounded Human, Not a Softball Robot
Coaches want players that can go the distance and won't burn out from stress. They want strong athletes who can prove their genuine interest in softball, and who can also maintain a decent GPA and make progress toward being well-rounded adult human beings. Developing some non-softball related hobbies is a great way to show recruiters that you're a rounded individual. Hobbies are also fun and worthwhile for their own sake!
Pursuing other interests will also make it easier to figure out your exit strategy. No one can maintain a professional career in sports for their entire life.
When you retire at age 35 from your glamorous career as a pro softballer, having some other skills up your sleeve will be super beneficial. Diversifying your interests and academic pursuits will also prove to recruiters that you have the maturity to make it as a college-level athlete.
Laser focus is great, and athletes who keep their eyes on the prize tend to win out. But remember that there are many prizes to be won, and diverse interests and activities will make both a stronger athlete and a happier and more interesting human being.
Develop Fundamental Skills
Being well-rounded is great but let's face it, if you can't play ball, you can't play ball. The thing is, playing softball is more than just running fast and hitting hard. If you want to grab the attention of recruiters, you'll need to have a deep and intuitive understanding of the fundamentals of the game.
Plenty of kids can run fast; but coaches are looking for strong athletes who have a grasp of the strategy, tactics, statistics, and other high-level skills and knowledge essential to a successful softball team.
If you spend all your time building up your athletic ability at the expense of learning fundamental skills and knowledge, recruiters will notice this in your gameplay and will be less likely to take a second look.
Self Awareness and the Ability to Own Your Mistakes
Self-confidence is important when building your reputation as an athlete. Putting out a self-assured and confident vibe will help attract the attention of coaches and recruiters. The most obvious signal of self-confidence is the ability to own your mistakes.
An athlete who can acknowledge her shortcomings will immediately stand out as a more mature and confident individual than one who pretends to be perfect.
Embracing your own deficiencies and failures is the only way to learn from them and make yourself a better athlete.
And that's the kind of self-awareness and maturity that coaches are looking for at the college level.
Of course, coaches would love to recruit perfect players, but good coaches also understand there's no such thing as perfection. A player who can use her failures to improve herself and the team is a valuable asset to any softball program.
And being resilient in the face of adversity will be very helpful as you meet bigger and bigger challenges throughout your softball career.
You can't be a great college softball player without playing a lot of softball; but you also can't be a great college softball player if you don't get into college.
Coaches and recruiters are well-aware that players will be meeting new, and more difficult academic challenges, while at the same time adjusting to the increased demands of playing college-level sports.
This means that recruiters are more likely to pay attention to you if you show academic skills that match, or exceed, your athleticism.
Many college programs can work a bit of magic for the players they want but maintaining a stellar academic record will make it that much easier for you to get into the school of your choice. The NCAA's academic requirements are increasingly strict in most cases, so getting good grades matters even for the best athletes.
Your coach would certainly prefer not to lose her top player because your grades dropped below the cutoff.
So, if the decision is between two players with similar stats, one who can get a full-ride academic scholarship and breeze through classes, and the other who's going to struggle to maintain their NCAA-mandated grades, which player do you think the coach is more likely to choose?
Part 2: Making a Plan.
There's a lot to think about as you figure out how to play softball in college. Making a detailed plan will help you set achievable goals and keep track of your progress. Writing down an official plan can also help you identify areas where you may need more information or training.
The structure of your plan is up to you, but here are some key things to think about as you map out your strategy for how to play softball in college.
Understand Your Own Goals and Expectations
If, like some people, you've been playing softball since you were a toddler, it might be good to start by taking a step back for a moment to ponder your goals and expectations. You may think you know what you want, and where you're going, but after a bit of introspection, you may realize that your goals have changed without your even realizing it.
Write, meditate, pray, whatever you do to clear your mind and focus your thoughts, go ahead and do it for a day or two. This will help you move forward with confidence, knowing you know yourself.
If you already know, without a shadow of a doubt, that college softball is for you, then it's time to figure out why. What are your expectations from your softball career?
If your reason for playing has anything to do with money, it might be time to consider switching to soccer or basketball. The average salary for women's fastpitch softball in the U.S. is reportedly about $6,000 per season.
Yes, you read that right: $6,000 per season. Despite fast pitch's growing popularity, player salaries are stuck at a disappointing low compared to other pro sports.
If you've dug deep, and you're sure that you're in it for the love of the game, that's awesome. This kind of passion is what recruiters want to see. And passionate athletes who play because they love the game are what will drive up attendance and push those salaries up as well.
No one wants to sign an athlete that's only playing for a potential paycheck, so passion is a great quality in a potential recruit.
Pick a Top School Based on More Than Ws
Winning is fun, and playing on a winning team is an easy way to get noticed by scouts if going pro is part of your plan. But winning isn't everything.
Playing on a well-balanced team under a coaching staff that cares about their players' individual development can be as rewarding as chalking up wins.
We've already established that you're in this for the love of the game, so don't get too focused on wins and losses when choosing your top programs.
So many college and professional athletes burn out or lose their passion for the game because they get caught up in salary negotiations and sponsorship deals that require them to win at all costs.
Do some research on your target programs and try to find a team that values a balance between competitive spirit and personal development.
A great coaching staff that cares about their players and genuinely wants to see you succeed is a valuable experience that will benefit you in more than just your softball career. Many of the best coaches are excellent managers.
The lessons you learn from being part of a well-managed softball team will echo through every part of your life.
Many team athletes go on to successful careers in business management, largely supported by the team-building and management skills that they learned from playing sports.
Speaking of the long term, playing for a program that encourages you to flourish in all aspects of your life is good for your health. No long-term investment is more important than your physical and mental well-being.
Carefully Research Scholarships and Other Funding Options
With the exception of a few top athletes each year, most recruits aren't going to be offered a full-ride athletic scholarship. NCAA softball programs are considered equivalency sports, which means there's a certain amount of scholarship money for the team that can be distributed in whatever way the program chooses.
This means that top recruits might get full-ride scholarships, but everyone else will need to look for other funding sources to supplement their tuition.
Understanding what the scholarship options are will give you a solid foundation in financial negotiations.
Having realistic expectations based on your skills and position will be helpful as well. It's important to know your worth and to go into scholarship negotiations well-informed.
Even if you don’t think you’re an elite or top tier player, that doesn't mean you can't negotiate. If a recruiter is talking to you about scholarship options, that means they want you.
Knowing that you're a sought-after asset, and knowing your true worth, gives you leverage for negotiations when it comes time to discuss money. Of course, you don't want to come across as arrogant, but it's okay to let recruiters know that you know how valuable you are.
One of the best tools in negotiating an offer is the existence of another offer. For this reason, applying to several different programs can be hugely beneficial.
If you want to maximize your offers, consider applying to some “safety” programs. Offers from programs where you might be a big fish in a small pond are likely to be higher than teams where you would be a mid-tier player. You can then use these generous offers to leverage a better deal from your top choice.
Negotiation is a bit of an art form. Effective salary negotiation skills take years of experience to develop, and those who possess them, tend to charge top dollar for their services, so it's unlikely that you'll hire a professional sports agent at this stage in your career.
However, if you're faced with negotiating a scholarship deal, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask for advice from a professional negotiator.
Think Beyond Recruitment
One great way to impress a recruiter is to have a strong idea of what you want to accomplish – other than winning softball games - once you've been recruited.
Many college hopefuls include a statement of purpose in their application, and this is a great idea for athletes as well. Your post-recruitment plan might include stats that you want to achieve or maintain or a big personal record that you've been trying to break. Your plan might also focus on something loftier, like becoming a role model for other young athletes.
Whatever you hope to achieve in your college career and beyond, making it known to recruiters and coaches will likely boost their interest.
Part 3: Implementing Your Plan.
So, now you have a strategy for how to play softball in college. What will it take to put it into action and achieve your goal?
According to NCSASports.org, a 2018 NCAA rule change prohibits Division 1 coaches from participating in early recruitment.
Prior to this rule, recruitment started as early as middle school, or even younger. Many people saw a problem with early recruitment interfering with academic studies for young kids.
Asking a 13-year-old to decide on a professional sports career does seem like a bit too much pressure, doesn't it? The new rule requires coaches to wait until a player's junior year in high school before making a formal contract, signing a letter of intent, or even having contact with the potential recruit.
However, just because you aren't being actively recruited doesn't mean you aren't being scouted. It’s never too early to start playing your best. If you're 10 years old and you're sure you want to be a college softball player, go for it!
The earlier you start working toward your goal, the better off you'll be. Obviously, athletes who train from an early age tend to have a higher level of skill than people who jump into a sport in high school or college. Recruiters will also be impressed by your ability to demonstrate a lifelong commitment to the sport.
Playing your best from childhood onward will give you an edge in terms of physical ability, familiarity with the game, and other skills and knowledge that require experience.
Just remember that coaches are looking at your attitude, and your ability to function as a team player as well.
So, focus on your softball skills, but be sure to live the other parts of your life also.
As you get closer to the recruiting age, coaches likely will also pay attention to your grades and overall academic performance. So don't forget to study.
Hitting up some camps, and other events is a good way to show off your skills to potential recruiters.
Participation in shows that you can function as human off the field, which may win you some points on the "don't be a softball robot" front.
Invitationals and showcases are a great way to get your skills and athletic ability noticed.
Attending a showcase allows you to go all out with your physical ability in a setting where team dynamics and season stats aren't so much of a concern.
This is your time to shine as an individual player, and recruiters pay close attention at these gatherings.
Talk to Coaches, At Your Top College Choices, and at Your Current Level
There's a lot to be said for the direct approach. Playing hard, attending showcases, keeping your grades up, these are all important for coaches to see.
But, when you're trying to figure out how to play softball in college, none of these things will do any good if no one's watching.
Once you're "legal" for recruiters - that is, after September 1st of your junior year in high school - don't be afraid to reach out directly to coaches at your target programs and let them know you want to play for them.
You can also talk to your own coaches, and coaches at other high schools and ask them for advice on how to get into a top college program.
It might seem a bit forward, but any good coach should be happy to learn about a talented player their scouts may have overlooked.
There are a lot of high school softball teams, and only so many college programs to go around.
If recruiters aren't beating your door down, it might not have anything to do with your playing ability.
It's entirely possible that you might have just slipped through the cracks, especially if you're part of a team that doesn't win too often.
Reaching out directly is a good way to get noticed by recruiters where you otherwise might not.
You can also ask your coach if they'd be willing to recommend you to a particular college program.
Make a Highlight Video to Showcase Both Your Talents and Personality
A highlight video can be a great way to get a coach interested in seeing you play.
"Video" is a powerful tool in marketing, and that's just what you're doing: marketing yourself to college softball recruiters. A video is a quick and easy way to show off and entice a recruiter to come see you play.
Once you get a recruiter to come out and watch a game, you have the perfect opportunity to play your best and really knock their socks off.
As mentioned in other parts of this guide, your athletic ability and softball skill are important, but coaches are also looking at you as a whole person.
If you want to wow them, don't be afraid to include a few mistakes in your video.
Try to show how you used those mistakes to fuel your improvement as a player. This will emphasize that you're a mature and self-aware individual with the strength to learn from failure and overcome challenges.
A well-made highlight video should be short and to the point. You should keep it under five minutes and make sure you showcase your individual skills, as well as your ability to operate as part of a team.
A five-minute video of you cranking out home runs might leave coaches wondering if you have what it takes to be part of a unified team.
How to Play Softball in College - Conclusion
Softball is an exciting and fast-growing sport. If you follow the suggestions in this article and keep practicing, you can look forward to the long and fulfilling enjoyment of this wonderful game.
Ultimately, the best answer to the question of how to play softball in college is to practice, keep loving the game, stay healthy, and learn your fundamental skills.
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