When Should I Start Worrying About Recruiting? Is It Too Soon?

Probably the most common question we receive from people when they are starting to think about the recruiting process is in regard to the timing of it all. A few things to understand immediately about this process:

1. There is no exact time to begin looking at your options. However, because colleges are limited in the amounts of money they can award, the earlier your research begins, the better.
2. If someone you know played collegiate sports and received a scholarship, they may be a good “tip of the iceberg” type contact to have on the topic. Problems being….

a. Different sports recruit athletes much differently
b. The recruiting process for each sport evolves extraordinarily quickly because of changes to NCAA rules, changing recruiting event types/availability, and advancing technology

NCAA Division I schools are now limited as of April 2018 as to when they can have any contact with prospective student-athletes. College coaches must now wait until September 1 of the athlete's junior year in high school before they can contact them or, by extension, their parents or travel coaches about their interest in particular athletes.

Previously, some colleges were verbally committing kids as early as the 7th and 8th grade. Was it rare? Yes. Does the athlete feels like she is behind once she hears someone in her grade is committed? Absolutely. In this article, we hope to answer a variety of questions about this topic and make the college recruiting process for both athletes and their parents.

What’s a ‘verbal commitment’, how do they occur, and what schools are doing them?

A verbal is an unofficial agreement between a recruit and a coach that usually involves some promised scholarship money for that athlete to join the their team. This is happening throughout the D1 level and also beginning to occur more and more in the D2 level.

Can a coach or athlete change their mind?

In general, we have found that coaches generally are sticking by their verbal commitments simply because they do not want to get a bad reputation in and around the softball community for breaking their commitments. However, that does not mean it is impossible, especially if the athlete’s level of commitment to their improvement changes drastically. The same goes for athletes – a verbal is not a binding commitment, so sometimes kids that committed early to one program change their mind. In softball, different from some other sports, most coaches view the verballed prospect as someone that is hands off for them to pursue unless there is a declared decommitment. However, as the climate within softball changes, this may also change.

I verbally committed to a school, but the coach left – what now?

This is a great question to address during the recruiting process. It’s a good idea to try to find out how long your head coach’s contract is for and pay close attention to the happenings of the program. If a coach leaves, the schools will often leave the decision to keep commitments in place in the new coach’s hands. Because of this, we highly suggest to maintain a good rapport with all the college coaches that were interested in you before you made your verbal commitment.

What do we do now?

1. Educate yourself. You’re doing the right thing reading this and learning about the recruiting process. You also need to learn about the different types of college that are available to fulfill both your academic and athletic pursuits.
2. Make unofficial visits to schools. Whether just driving through a college or lining up a full day visit through the softball coaching staff (which is now only permissible at the D1 level starting Sept. 1 of your junior year), these visits are vital toward helping you narrow down your choices.
3. Go to a few college softball camps. Working with the coaching staff and their players can help you learn a huge amount about whether your skills will mesh with their program needs and whether you will like the team environment that exists at the school. Camps can be attended at any time and will give you a good insight into the softball program.
4. Be realistic. Have people that know you best help determine what level you could realistically play at. You have to be able to measure your talent and drive separately and match it with what program might best fit you.
5. Start now! This process takes a good amount of time and resources. Playing on the right team, contacting coaches, making a skills video all are good things to consider adding into your already hectic schedule of trying to improve your game while maintaining good grades in school.

How involved should parents be in this process?

We’ve heard some great analogies when it comes to this question. Think about the first time driver. Would you hand them the keys and say, “Best of luck?” Of course not. There would be many issues to tackle: knowing the basics of how to actually drive, knowing the rules of the road, how to make safe decisions for yourself and your passengers, and a litany of others. It’s the same with this process: parents need to be involved while allowing their daughter to be “at the wheel,” so to speak. Understand that this process is NOT your high school or travel coach’s job. While good coaches will certainly assist you, many may not have the knowledge or even the time to do everything needed to help you.

Does my travel team make a difference?

Emphatically, YES. Teams with better reputations get better players and, therefore, have more college coaches following them. That being said, you need to do a good job of determining which schools you would like to attend and then figure out where those coaches recruit then find a team that will play in those tournaments. If you don’t find the perfect match for you, then you’ll need to do a little more work putting yourself in front of colleges that you’re interested in attending, including attending camps and making a skills video.

This all sounds overwhelming – what should we do?

We encourage you to come up with a written plan and a schedule for your entire family as it will take a great deal of time and foresight to get everything done. This will help in making it a much smoother process and hopefully making it less stressful on everyone involved.

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