Simply defined evolution is the gradual development of something, and history has proven most if not all things evolve over time. Maybe someone can explain to me why the collegiate softball recruiting process has stalled out and ceased to continue in the evolution process.
As the popularity of softball and the desire to play at the collegiate level continues to explode throughout the county, it is becoming increasingly difficult for coaches to build their rosters with the highest level talent available. Navigating the mountains of e-mail’s and videos has become untenable. Even the most prestigious programs in the country only have 1 or 2 full time employees during the off season. Not to mention the massive amount of “Showcase Tournaments” covering ground from coast to coast, and any coach will tell you they have extremely limited resources when comes to Showcase Recruiting.
It has become painfully obvious this recruiting format is outdated and completely obsolete. It has also become obvious the lack of evolution and blind commitment to the process has infested the collegiate playing field with mediocrity. So the question remains the same. Why has the process not evolved?
More than likely the answer is simple because it is the same answer for most problems in life. $$$$$$$$$. Showcase Tournaments are big business and no one wants off the gravy train. The tournaments keep getting bigger and bigger, so much so most tournaments do not even have any college coaches on site. Other tournaments reserve a single venue where the politically connected teams get exposure, while the multitude of other venues receive none. These secondary venues do however serve a very important purpose, by stuffing the tournament director’s coffers with cold hard cash. No worries your cash is not paid in vain, some of the money is used to stuff the college coaches faces full lobster dinners. In short there is no real quest to discover unbridled talent, just to discover politically connected mediocre talent.
Although all the blame does not rest on the collegiate coaching community, they are the ones with the power to force a much needed evolution. For those of you who are not aware the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) is an organization with a board of directors, primarily comprised of collegiate coaches from throughout the country. The NFCA by laws clearly state, “The NFCA shall serve as the facilitator for driving change within the softball community and in the promotion of cooperative efforts with other organizations similarly interested in the development of fastpitch softball programs and opportunities for fastpitch players and coaches.”
The NFCA has provided outstanding leadership in recent recruiting legislation, and from their previously noted mandate it would seem they are perfectly positioned to address this issue as well. It is this writers opinion there is “No Case For Showcase”.
Unlike Alexis Carrasquilllo most 11 and 12 year old players are just beginning their college softball fantasies. However, very much like Alexis most young players start out with very big dreams. The current generation of children is more media driven than ever, and they are exposed to massive amounts of college softball through this media exposure. The problem is they generally only consume Division 1 top 25 softball, and that’s what cultivates all their softball hopes and dreams.
NCAA Research published a document titled “Estimated Probability of Competing in College Athletics”. Nearly 400,000 athletes compete in High School Softball nationwide. Of that number only 5.1% will go on to play at the collegiate level and only 1.6 % will play at the Division 1 level. Let’s face facts those are very depressing numbers. Not to mention data that an 11 or 12 year old player could care less about let alone comprehend. This creates quite a dilemma for the parent, now doesn’t it? Isn’t the parent the cheerleader of dreams? There is not supposed to be a road too long or a mountain to high for your offspring, yet here you are smack dab in the role of “Dream Killer”. Jump on in the water is great. Not!
If you think the answer is to get out ahead of it and drop the bomb on Darling Daughter’s very first trip onto the travel/club softball diamond, it will most likely be her last. So for starters let’s take a giant step back and let her go out and have some fun, which was the original point of the exercise in the first place. Killing or modifying the dream is a process. Believe it or not a process requiring less parental interference than one would think.
Most players begin to realize and accept their limitations around 7th or 8th grade. Granted there are always exceptions and some fantasize longer than others. For my daughter it happened in 8th grade during a trip to Oklahoma for the College World Series. It doesn’t happen all at once and it is very reminiscent of the internal struggle to give up on Santa Clause. However, this is the age where they can truly begin to understand the intricacies of talent, work ethic, and dedication. Even though it was heartbreaking to see it in her eyes and in her sole that she was never going to be an Oregon Duck, it was a proud and heartwarming moment to see the new dream live on, believing she could have what it takes to excel at a smaller Division 1 program. Hence the process. Perhaps in a year or two we will be talking about a Community College program, but at least her dreams were not bludgeoned along the way.
Kill the dream softly and slowly and most importantly stay focused on why you introduced your daughter to this great sport to begin with. It will all be over before you know it. Don’t miss it because you didn’t slow down long enough to watch.
Generally most youth softball teams are made up of 10-12 players. Maybe more maybe less give or take a player or two, Regardless of size the individual personalities that make up every team are critically important not only to the success of the team, but to the individual development of each player on the team. When you are lucky enough to have an entire team buy in and endear the teachings and philosophies of the program the chances of success grow exponentially. If the individuals on the team endear each other the chances of success become even greater. Granted adolescent, pre-teen, teen drama is a cold hard reality that every coach has to navigate. In most cases it is prudent for the players to work these minor situations out on their own. I have always believed it helps them build independent problem solving skills.
However, What happens when a player is introduced to the team or a small clique of players within the team completely up ends the productive process created within the program. The reality is you have a major problem. Is there a team utopia that exists ? Of course not, but there is a very big difference between teen drama and outright mayhem. obviously we need to keep sight of the fact we are talking about children. However, only so much chaos can be endured before the team comes off the rales, and suffers the ultimate fate of dissolving entirely. I have seen this many times before and often it could have been avoided, albeit not without tough discussions and hard feelings. Hard difficult times are inevitable. Take the time to plan your approach before they even happen. I have always believed hard times make the good times even sweeter.
2. So now it happens. You have rotten egg/eggs.
Be mindful it doesn't take a basket of rotten eggs only one. One player can overturn the apple cart and ruin a perfectly good thing for everyone. Your task is to be vigilant and do everything in your power to avoid a complete meltdown.
While the political elite stands idle eating each other alive, the country slides further into an epidemic of epic proportions. There is not a community from coast to coast immune from opioid addiction, and it has infiltrated every color, class creed and religion. Quite simply every single person in America today is at risk of contracting this deadly disease. A disease that steals 70,000 lives and counting, every year. So why the public service announcement in this arena?
Quite often I am grilled by parents, family and friends, as to the reason I invest so much time, effort and money in organized softball. Of course many of them quickly assume the relentless journey is the pursuit of the elusive college scholarship. Although there may be some truth to that assumption, the greater truth is I am simply TERRIFIED.
Even the casual internet researcher would know opioids, specifically Heroin are highly addictive. There is no such thing as a casual opioid user. There are only opioid addicts. There are really only two scenarios for the first time user, Addiction or Death. Experts concur that heroin addiction occurs almost instantly, and they further concur the rate of recovery from this addiction is exceptionally low. In the 1920's Heroin purity in the United States was around 5%. Today purity levels hover around 99% in almost every US market. Even an inhaled dose by a first time user can very easily result in death. An individual who has zero tolerance simply cannot handle a 99% dose, where an addict whose tolerance is rising with every dose can survive. Very toxic and deadly additives such as fentanyl greatly enhance the high for addicts but greatly enhance the chances of death for the casual user.
My philosophy is simple and one of fear. If my kid is at the field or in the gym every day and on the weekends, then they are not left to their own devices out on the streets. If the cost of hitting lessons, club teams and weekend tournaments can help keep my children safe, then so be it. College Scholarship or not.
I am terrified by what I see in my own suburban community. If you think this has not affected yours, then you need to remove your head from the sand and open your eyes.
Just reading through some college recruiting advice and it reminded me of the 3 STAGE REALITY CHECK that should be practiced by every parent and player. It is very interesting to observe the countless hours of games, practices and private instruction not to mention the amount of $$$$ that accompanies all of it, however it seems no one ever takes the time to sit and talk to their play about these 3 simple realities surrounding college athletics...
1. Most of your pre college playing career is made up of teams rostering between 10-13 players. Most if not all college teams roster 22-25 players. As many as 6 of these players are usually pitchers. Which means every single inning of every single game there are 16 splinter pickers chomping at the bit for the starting 9 to mess up. Not quite the same odds as travel ball. Not to mention the possibility of being RED SHIRTED. Many perspective athletes don't even know what this term means. Simply put you get to go to all the practices and meetings. You get to lug all the equipment but you don't get to play in any games. The pay off is an extra year of eligibility, to try and become one of the 9 or at least one of the 16. And don't be foolish enough to think the people on the field are coveting the lions share of the scholarship $$$$ either.
2. Every single player on a college team is the best kid from where ever they came from. Most travel/club teams and high school teams have a diversified talent pool, however once you get to college the playing field levels out significantly. You need your A game every minute of every day to avoid becoming one of the 16. Perhaps you are one of the 9 and you are holding the lions share of the scholarship money, keep your A game close by. The day you signed that letter of intent was the same day the coaching staff started looking for a stronger, smarter, faster and hungrier replacement.
3. Your College Experience is not like everyone else's. The next statement is not going to make it's way onto any recruiting flyers, but it is the cold hard truth. College athletes are more like employees of the University than they are students. While most other students are skipping through the quad or day dreaming in the student center, the student athlete is busy trying to juggle their class schedule, practice schedule, tutoring schedule ( meaning getting tutored) and team meeting schedule all before a three day road trip (meaning travel and games). Most often your day begins by 5:00 AM and ends by midnight if you are lucky. Many college softball players have even sacrificed their graduation ceremony for post season play.
Being a collegiate athlete offers many many rewards, however to gain these rewards one must enter the realm with their eyes wide open. Know before you go and BRING IT EVERYDAY !!!!!
This past week Sue Enquist penned an open letter addressing the incident which got the Atlee Softball team expelled from the Little League Junior Softball World Series. For those of you who do not know Sue, she is renowned in the national softball community. She enjoyed a storied 27 year coaching career with the UCLA Bruins, and is the only person to ever win a national championship as both a player and coach. She also has a host of other accomplishments that qualify her to gain your attention and respect, the most compelling is illustrating her own inappropriate behavior as it relates to the situation at hand.
Restating the obvious from Sue's letter is not our objective here. We would like to take a moment and focus on a term in Sue's letter that jumped out at us, "GREAT FAILURE RECOVERY SYSTEM". In softball as in life players make mistakes all the time. Its how you deal with those mistakes that will define who you are as a person. Right out of the gate you cannot have a "GREAT FAILURE RECOVERY SYSTEM " until you first OWN THE MISTAKE. Accept that you have screwed up and put the rest of the system in motion. Do not deflect the blame to someone else. Focus on the mistake, but only for the purpose of acknowledgement and remorse of the mistake itself. Do not focus on the consequences after the fact. That opportunity sailed as soon as you engaged in the inappropriate behavior. Own the consequences and use them as building blocks for the future, share them for the betterment of others. Universities, Coaches, Bosses and just people in general are more interested in your learned behavior and the response to that behavior than they are in your natural ability to win. Be a better athlete, student, friend, employee and just a better person for yourself.
AN OPEN LETTER BY SUE ENQUIST
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It has been long accepted that softball season never actually ends. Traditionally High School programs have fallen under very strict guidelines regarding coaches access to the players in the off season. Travel/Club teams have filled the year round void when high school coaches are hands off.
It has become more and more apparent over the past several years that these strict guidelines are fading away and High School coaches are demanding more and more of the players time. Conversely travel/club coaches are becoming more aggressive nibbling into high school time. As a result the players are constantly being pulled in different directions. Everyone wants the players complete and undivided attention all the time. Not to mention the increasing pressure to be a single sport athlete. So what are the options?
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We keep speaking of the "Overall Softball Experience", so we should really take the time to elaborate on the meaning. Quite often coaches get so caught up in the X's and O's of the game, they forget to to focus on building love of the game. There is so much more to creating the lifetime memories that will be etched in these young minds forever. It is well known that camaraderie and chemistry are key elements in winning championships. However, these elements cannot be forced or created by sheer will. These elements are nurtured through a naturally occurring process. In other words, as a coach you want to create a fertile environment where camaraderie and chemistry can flourish. Many teams are made up of players who only interact with one another because of the team. The players do not attend the same schools and do not socialize together outside of the softball setting. It is important to create team events that are social in nature and do not involve softball. These events should also involve minimal parental involvement. The players need to bond with one another and learn that they are all inherently the same, sharing common likes, dislikes, fears and fantasies. Your teammates need to come from outside your comfort zone into the inner sanctum of your comfort zone.
Creating new softball experiences can also feed the growth of camaraderie and chemistry. A new tournament experience (new location, Indoor venue) can work. Many teams spend the cold weather months training indoors, however a small cramped environment with a monotonous regime can create a "Cabin Fever" effect. Consider entering an indoor tournament to break the routine. Make a weekend of it and incorporate a non softball activity as part of the experience (snow tubing, skiing, indoor water park). Hotel living, group dining and 24-48 hours of non separation will help cement the bond. It is important not to force friendships but let them blossom naturally as part of the process. It is not out of the ordinary for young girls to clash at times. DO NOT interfere. This is a perfect opportunity for them to build their independent problem solving skills. It will pay dividends back on the field.
Although amusing this rendering should be taken very seriously. Many people misunderstand their parental role in youth sports. We offer some simple suggestions proven to extend your players youth softball experience. Before the game tell your player the following Have Fun... Play Hard... I Love You... At the conclusion of the game Did you have fun? I'm Proud Of You... I Love You... We then invite you to set up a chair far away from your player and enjoy the game.
Perhaps you possess a better knowledge of the game and have more playing experience than the coach, however you have chosen to remain on the side thus forfeiting your right to instruct your player on the field. I'm sure this is because you have no time to take on the extra responsibilities of coaching. NEWS Flash !!!! The person that stepped up also possesses an insurmountable amount of responsibilities and stress awaiting them at home. Simply put be respectful, which will teach your player to be the same. If you just can't do it ! It is time for you to find a situation that is more to your liking.
" I am simply reinforcing skills or mechanics that were taught by my players instructor" No you are being a distraction and not offering anything constructive. When your player looks over at you after every pitch, they are not looking for instruction, they are looking for parental approval. There is a very big difference, and respectable coaches, organizations and recruiters view it as a giant red flag. Let them play. Let the coaches coach. You watch and enjoy. Provide your input and critique away from the field and away from the team.
Rec Ball... Travel Ball... Club ... What does it all mean? This is some of the most misunderstood terminology in all of youth softball. A true and accurate understanding of these terms is an essential first step to success. It is extremely important for every parent to honestly evaluate and assess their players skill level and growth potential. If you cannot be honest with yourself and your child then the softball experience will be very short lived. The allure of playing with friends will diminish rapidly if your player is not being challenged or if they are not playing at the same level as teammates. Utilize the appropriate level of play as a life lesson and overall growth experience. Challenge your player to operate outside their comfort zone. It will pay dividends on and more importantly off the field. New team ! New friends ! New life lesson !
Chances are your local community offers some sort of recreational softball program. Programs generally run from 6 years of age up to 14 years of age. These programs are learning based programs as opposed to competitive based programs. In other words your player is expected to have fun while learning basic softball skills and mechanics (throwing, catching, hitting). All great softball success stories started on the recreation softball field. Programs are locally based and teams are made up of local players. These teams are generally coached by parents. Recreation softball is the last bastion of fair and equal playing time. Players get opportunities all over the field regardless of ability. If your player truly loves the game but has weaker skills and less growth potential, then this is most likely the appropriate level of play for them. Even if they have a greater skill set but don't want to commit a tremendous amount of time to the sport, then this is most likely the appropriate level of play.
Town Travel Softball:
Many communities supplement their recreation softball program with "Travel" teams. These teams range in age from 8 to 14 years of age. Generally the the teams are made up of players from the same community. Recently "Town Travel" teams have been utilizing out of town players to help fill out vacant rosters. These teams join a league and play teams from surrounding communities. The level of play is generally more competitive than the recreational programs. The players are expected to elevate their level of commitment and expend more personal time refining their skills. These teams are often coached by parents as well, however very aggressive programs will bring in an experienced non parent or even hire a paid coaching staff. Although still viewed as a learning based program, expectations are definitely higher.
Pitching is an integral part of softball. Simply put, you cannot win without pitching. Once you engage the game at this level, the experimentation phase has concluded. Beginning at around 10 years of age some of the more dedicated players will start taking private pitching lessons. For every 10 kids that start with pitching at this age maybe 1 of them will continue pitching into high school and beyond. We will cover pitching and catching in a future post. The rest of the field of play settles in as well, at this level. It is going to start to become very clear where your player's strengths and weaknesses lie. Playing time and positioning are no longer absolute. If your player is not happy with positioning or playing time, then there are two options. Hunker down and work harder or go back to the recreational program. There is actually a third option, " Make a Contribution" Again this is a topic that will be covered in a future post.
Make no mistake about it "Club Ball" and "Travel Ball" are two completely different things. Club softball is COMPETITIVE period end of statement. Club programs are very business like (Again a subject for another post). This is where serious athletes come to refine and maximize their growth potential in the sport. Granted there are club programs that start at the 8-10 year old level, however the the goal remains the same. Pitchers at this level are working out on a daily basis, while the rest of the players are supplementing regular practice sessions with private hitting, fielding, and conditioning workouts. The end game ? Play at a higher level! (High School, College). These kids basically play year round with little exception. The expected level of commitment is extremely intense.
Club ball is expensive and extremely time consuming for both parents and players. Fees can run from $1000 -$10,000 / season/ player, not including travel expenses. Expect to spend every weekend in your car, on a plane and sitting at the field. Summer Vacation Softball!!, Spring Break Softball!!!, Fall or Winter Get a Way Softball !! If you player is serious about softball this experience can be very rewarding, but the sacrifice is immense. Many programs even have highly paid, professional coaching staffs.
Laughing hysterically at those last two paragraphs? Why? Because in many areas of the country that description of "Club Ball" has faded away with the "Pull Tab" and the "Hoola Hoop". The most notable reason why, "The Watered Down Effect". Specifically the limited talent available to excel at this level has been thinned or "Watered Down" by a massive influx of Club Softball Organizations. If your player is not in the position she desires or not getting the playing time she expects then just go start another team. The pool of teams has become so large, there are not enough players to sustain them. For sure there is not enough talented players to sustain a level of play, as described above.
For those who dream of a massive "Reset", Dream On ! Like anything else in life youth sports is now driven by the Ole Mighty ! Dollar $$$ . The micro economy of indoor training facilities, camps ,clinics, lessons, equipment training aides, tournament fees, coaching fees, uniforms, fan gear, not to mention food, lodging, and fuel will feed the existence of these programs for decades. Those who dream of making it to the next level will have to "Manage the Mayhem" to meet their dream.
Know your player, learn and accept their abilities, and provide them with the best softball experience. Playing at the right level will give them this experience and provide one of the many building blocks for life!