Get in the Game!

April is around the corner and is a great month to get out and watch college softball games in your area. Early in the college softball season, many teams are taking trips down south to find warm weather, but come April we start seeing home games all across the country. If you have a daughter who loves the game of softball and has the dream of playing in college, it is important to inspire her with the options that are available.  ESPN is showing more games on TV and the internet than ever but that is only Division l. There are so many more options.

Did anyone know that Tufts University is the reigning Dlll National Champs or that North Georgia is currently ranked #1 in Division ll and Butler College  is ranked #1 in the NJCAA (Junior College) poll. Have you seen an NAIA school play?

It is difficult to get to college games because high school softball is going on at the same time but many colleges play night games or on the weekend. You need to make the time! There are so many options available and it is important for young softball players to see what it is out there. Take in a UF/Alabama softball SEC showdown Your players will come back inspired and enthusiastic and why not? The crowd, the intensity, it does not get any better than that in women’s softball.

Take the time to plan outings to college softball games in your area. It is never too young to take a softball player to these games. It will inspire them and give them knowledge to use later in the recruiting process.

What does a Division 1 player look like?

by Kim Gwydir

I hear this comment often from travel ball coach regarding one of their players –  “she has a D1 body”. That comment made me think – is there really a D1 body or mold and did I recruit that way either knowingly our subconsciously?

Here are some facts I came up with

1) Big girls potentially hit the ball farther. If you have any doubts of this – remember Keilani Ricketts from U of Oklahoma (all 6 foot 2 in) who with what looks like an effortless swing and bounce the ball off the outfield fence. In turn, tall girls potentially pitch the ball faster and expend less energy doing it so they can pitch more and eat up more innings.

2) Talent comes in all sizes. One of my best homerun hitters in college was all of 5 foot 2 in tall. One of the best players ever out of South Florida who went to U of Alabama and stared at third base was only 5 feet tall.

3) I remember getting a lot of emails from kids 5 foot 3 in tall that played second base and outfield.

So what does all of that mean?

I think it is naturally for a coach to see a tall kid with a strong build and take notice because they are not the norm. But having a D1 body without the talent is not  going to help that coach win games. I know I took on a few “project” players in my career that had size and I hoped to develop them into D1 players. Sometimes it worked but more often it did not.

I also think there are some coaches who like to recruit a certain type of player. If you look at the coach’s team you will get a good idea if that particular coach has a profile of a certain type of player. What I think you will find is that the better teams at D1 find talent – and that talent can come in all shapes and sizes.

Now my last comment –there are a lot of 5 foot 3 in 2B/OF in the travel ball world. If you fit this mold then you need to do something to standout to college coaches. Remember, there are a lot of players trying to get recruited who are similar to you. If you fit the “average” profile when it comes to size – what can you do to stand out when it comes to recruiting?

1. Speed – I used to say “tall and slow I can deal with if she can hit – small and slow is a deadly combo”. Work on your speed and highlight it to college coaches. Speed can change a softball game and help you stand out from the crowd. Coaches like having “table setter types” who can steal bases at the top of the order and in the 9 spot.

2. Be better technically at your game and get stronger. You can blame your parents for the genetics of your height –  but you can always work to improve your technique and strength. Parents – ever hear of Dustin Pedroia? He is a big time major league player – nothing special to look at but a hard nose player who has a very nice and long major league career. Sadly, few players take the time to learn the finer points of the game and really work on their technique and even less work on the strengthening part before they get to college.  Players who practice on their own outside of team practice are in the minority these days.

3. Be the kind of player on the field coaches want to see. In other words – have a great attitude. It seems corny but time and time again – coaches will tell you attitude matters. If you have a bad one – it does not matter your size – softball coaches do not get paid enough to take on a poor attitude. I was running an exposure game in Florida and we had some Junior College coaches working the event. I asked them to pick an MVP of the game – they chose a player who was about 5 foot 3  and when I asked why – they said it was her hustle and her enthusiasm that just made her stand out from the others. All the players were talented they said, but she stood out because of her attitude and hustle.

All coaches are trying to recruit “difference makers”. Those are the players that make their team better than other teams and help them win games. Players that hit the ball farther throw the ball harder, run faster than the average fit this category but there are those players who bring leadership, heart, determination and these traits help a team win as well. Remember, we are recruiting a softball player so in addition to leadership, hustle and heart you better have skills as well. The problem as a college coach is that it is much easier to evaluate a players hitting, fielding and pitching in a tournament setting than it is to evaluate the character traits like leadership and heart.
Let me give you some tips to help you in the recruiting process.

–   Understand what makes you special as a softball player and tell college coaches often. Meaning, send more than 1 email during             the recruiting process.
–   Tall girls, girls who run really fast or pitchers who throw 70 mph are easy to spot at a tournament – but for the rest, they need to            get the coaches to come to them and stay and watch them they play. This is when a good skills video will help. By seeing them       play  ahead of time through video, the coach can decide if there is something there they like and when they come to the game they are invested in staying and watching that particular player.

There is a quote from John Wooden the great basketball coach at UCLA – it said something along the lines of “Don’t let what you can’t do get in the way of what you can do”. In other words, even if you are not 6 foot tall you can still control your hustle, work ethic and conditioning. Coaches love players who hustle – you know why? They are fun to coach. You don’t spend time trying to motivate them because they are self motivated

Playing for the RIGHT Travel Team

Playing for the right travel team can have a huge impact on a players recruiting. It seems travel teams are conducting tryouts for the next year and this summer has not even ended yet. So what is the right travel team?

Finding the right fit in a travel team requires asking yourself some questions.

1) What are you looking for in a college?
If you want to go out of state to a college, then you need to play on a travel team that plays in tournaments where colleges you want to be seen by will attend. Seems obvious but if you want to be seen by certain colleges then you need to go to them as they will often times not come to you.

2) How competitive an environment do you want?
If you want to play at the top level of softball such as the SEC conference then you need to play for a team where players with those same aspirations play. These kinds of travel teams compete in national level tournaments where teams have players that have the same goals. When I was at Division 1, I wanted to see how recruits performed against players who also wanted to play at Division 1.

3) How much are you willing to spend?
To play on a top level travel team usually requires travel. Not just to tournaments but often times to practice as well. Playing for a local team that goes to local tournaments will be much less expensive.
Top level travel organizations such as the Gold Coast Hurricanes out of Florida an organization I have worked with for many years, will have players from many states not just Florida. They send most of their players off to Top 25 programs. But this is not the right choice for everyone. If your goal is to stay local and a non Division 1 environment is what you are looking for then a local travel team will be the best fit for you.

4) What is the coach’s style of coaching?
Some players thrive with certain types of coaches. Ask around and see what people say about the coach and his/her style and see if it fits what your daughter wants.
Finding the right travel team is a two way street. While you feel a certain team is a good fit for you, it may be the case that they are not looking for your position. While going through the tryout phase it is advisable to tryout for more than one team to have options. A travel will not help you get recruited if you do not get to play.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
1) What is the teams intended schedule for the upcoming season?
2) Where did they play last season?
3) What is the cost? And how is it paid (in one lump sum, monthly payments?)
4) What is included in the team cost?
5) Is there any team fundraising? Does the team have a not-for-profit status? This helps with donations.

Remember, a team may tell you they want to play a very competitive schedule but often times a new team will find it hard to break into the top tournaments. So if a team did not play in a certain high level tournament last summer there is no guarantee they will get in nest summer. The top level showcases can be very hard to get into.

I think a player can get recruited off any team but playing for certain travel teams definitely helps the process. A team with the reputation of being a top program in an area will give a boost to a player’s visibility in the recruiting process. If you do not play on one of these teams then it falls on you to be more proactive in the recruiting process.

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