Jess and my paths crossed many times before we actually came to know each other. I was helping coach the varsity team in Swartz Creek, while she was in middle school and playing in the travel softball club I would eventually be coaching in, FireStix Fastpitch. I recognized her potential mostly in 8th grade while watching a game after our varsity practice. Fast forward to today, where although I am no longer assisting with the school team, Jess is a member of my 16u travel team.
Jess is a 2019 1B/OF Power Hitter who recently gave a verbal commitment to Tiffin University. It seems like yesterday that she was just a middle school girl hanging out at the high school tryouts, where her dad was helping out. My how time flies. Jess learned about my blog and expressed interest in writing, so I asked her to give it a shot. She did, writing her first post, "My Journey to Self-Confidence in Softball" back in April of 2016. She followed that post with, "What it is Like Being a Freshman on Varsity" in July of 2017. This is her third post, which describes the college recruiting process from her point of view.
Regular readers of this blog already know my opinion on early college recruiting in fastpitch softball. I have been strongly outspoken against the practice and absurdity of girls giving verbal commitments to college softball programs while they are still in middle school. Hearing a young prepubescent girl declaring her love for a particular college of her dreams brings a range of emotions for most people. I used to feel shock and awe, thinking how impressive the player must be. Now I just get angry.
Do not misunderstand me as I have no bad feelings towards the young girls in these situations. Had my daughter received an offer in middle school from her dream school, I have no doubt she would have given a verbal commitment too. Although she did not, they were still watching her all the time during all of her high school years. Regardless, I look back and wonder how different our experience would have been had college coaches not been able to recruit players until the fall of their junior years.
I feel so strongly about this issue because I fully understand the downside of early recruiting. I lived it with my daughter. An enormous amount of stress can be felt by these players during the recruiting process. While it may be easy to believe that having a big part of the process over so early (the verbal commitment), many people fail to contemplate the pressure put on the players to live up to and meet such high expectations. I wrote about some of these pressures and issues in my last post, College Recruiting Gone Mad.
Since then the NFCA posted information about this issue as well as a petition for people to sign in effort to put an end to early college recruiting in softball. I signed it and urged my followers to do so too. I have also seen more articles critical of this practice including one I hope you all take a moment to read, Why I Decommitted: Grace Marsalo's Struggle With The Early Verbal, on Flo Softball. This is why I have frequently stressed the importance of taking breaks and more recently the rising trend of players experiencing softball burnout.
A colleague and friend of mine, Donny Dreher of Finesse Fastpitch where my daughter played, recently produced an important video (below) that I encourage you all to watch. Did you know there is a rapidly growing number of college athletes taking anti-depressant medication and or seeing sports psychologists to treat depression? Let that sink in for a minute. While some of you may dismiss this or explain it away, I hope the majority of you take some time to think about this fact and the other concerns.
I am hopeful, yet skeptical, about the NCAA’s proposed changes with the recruiting process. Reading between the lines I see a lot of gray areas. There seems to be much reliance on college coaches to police themselves. I can only hope they have the integrity to make this honor system work and that the NCAA holds those who do not accountable.
Another thing I have noticed in recent years is the ranking of players and teams as young as 12u by some popular fastpitch websites. Good grief.
I am just dumbfounded, frustrated and disappointed. Why? Just read that one of the Big Colleges has gotten another verbal commitment from a 12 year old 7th grade girl. Please understand I am happy for such a young girl to be so gifted athletically that a perennial top 25 D1 college softball program and coach has made her an offer. It is not about that.
It is about the fact that these coaches are robbing a part of the girl’s childhood from them. These college coaches run around all preaching the same old lines, which are turning out to be just a bunch of bologna. What lines? “We love multi-sport athletes.” “Softball should focus on being fun for the younger age groups.” “We watch (recruit) the parents too during the recruiting process.” Yea, you’ve heard these and more I am sure.
Check the ultrasound coach, could be a real stud!
Well I call BS. What messages are college coaches sending to players and parents who increasingly see 7th and 8th grade girls getting recruited to play D1 softball? They are essentially telling them that softball should be their focus now. How do you think a girl’s parents might feel about her risking a potential big scholarship to play another sport or to go snowboarding or skiing? And now there is a growing number of parents asking if their middle school daughters should begin working the college recruiting process.
How fun will it be for the girl who will be constantly held to a higher standard than all of her peers from school to travel softball? What happens when she doesn’t perform as expected or isn’t feeling well? With all eyes on “the girl who’s going to the Big College,” how fun will that be? Yea, it will be awesome when the Big College comes to watch again and again and again, but she does not do well again. No pressure there.
These early offers cannot possibly be for a specific dollar amount of athletic or academic scholarships. Most middle school girls have not even thought about taking the ACT or SAT yet. So, the offer must go something like, “If you score X on your tests and keep progressing athletically, the typical (pitcher) in our program receives X%.” Cool. No pressure there for the 12 year old. And let’s not forget the whole purpose of attending college, which is not softball.
The Big College will also want her playing the highest level of competition across the country right now, not when she is 15 or 16 years old. Have fun mom and dad unnecessarily dropping $20K per year for an extra couple of years. And again remember, we are just talking about a 12 year old girl who in a couple years will be a freshman in high school. After the initial buzz wears off for the parents and player, it will be only about living up to other people’s expectations. Oh and don’t screw up on Snapchat or Twitter dear. Fun?
It is a domino effect as well. With more D1 schools are getting verbal commitments so much earlier than even just a decade ago, the D2 and other divisions and sanctioned schools have also got in on the action. You should see the look on the faces of a player who will be a junior and her parents after I tell them at August tryouts that her dream school is only looking at the sophomore class now.
Another line coaches use is how they also watch parents to make sure they’re not crazy. I get it and know they do. However, at what point do these college coaches do that for a 12 year old? In fact, when did they begin looking at the 12 year old? Are we going to start seeing college coaches recruiting at 12u and 10u tournaments? Seriously? When the parents, who have made a huge financial investment in their daughter since age 9 watches her struggle or lose interest in the game (burnout), then what? No pressure.
Well, that seems to be the world we live in now. Gone are the days a 12 year old girl can just be a kid and play hard, have fun and enjoy a post game cupcake. Yep. These days they’ll just start asking if there are any coaches watching. Can’t wait until these girls are 14 year old freshman. Nope, somebody else might get them. What’s next? Will they start tracking former collegiate athletes who get married to see if they’re expecting children? Check the ultrasound coach, could be a real stud!
A quick update on the progress of the Softball Journey book I have talked about over the years. While I cannot say the exact date it will be completed or published, I can say that I am working on it daily. I will complete the rough draft by the end of November and am hopeful to have it published by spring.
I've been asked what the difference will be between this blog and the book? The short answer is that the book will be all-inclusive and in chronological order from youth recreational softball through the end of a college career and all points in between. I also have much more to discuss, especially concerning the college recruiting process and college softball experience.
Over the past 4 years since I've been blogging trying to help parents through their (daughter's) softball journeys, I have received a wealth of encouragement and feedback from across America (and Canada). The goal of the blog and book is simply to help people with this experience. At times it can be frustrating witnessing people make the same mistakes each year, such as coaching their kids loudly from the peanut gallery with college coaches watching.
I have suggested to many folks that they might be interested in checking out my blog. I know that some have and others have not. You can lead a horse to water, right? That said, I intend the book to be much easier to make use of the information and pearls of wisdom I continue to acquire. It could also be used as a reference book, where at the moment your daughter is 10 years old, but in a few years you'll be more interested in the high school section.
In the meantime I will continue to blog about the things that catch my attention in the moment. Thank you all for reading, sharing and your encouragment!
In recent years I've seen more softball players experience burnout. Last year there were 3 (varsity level) players from our club who had the ability to play at the collegiate level, but instead chose to quit playing travel ball. I'm not sure if they're even going to play for their schools this year.
Our High School tryouts are the 2nd week of March. After that, their next break won't be until the middle of October. Think about that!
It pains me to see players go through this, because it's mostly preventable. Yet more and more fellow coaches tell me of high school aged talented players who've burned out and quit the game. There are many factors that lead to this such as year round practicing & training, college camps and tournaments.
I read this article today, “Year-Round Sports: Growing Old and Wearing Thin?”, and felt compelled to write about it. Those outside of the travel sports (softball) world often do not understand why parents, players and coaches do it. While the author offers an outsider’s view to travel sports, she does not do so in a condescending manner and brings up some good points and questions. I would encourage you to read her article before my response.
You have tryouts, pick your team, collect money, have a few practices and jump right back into playing tournaments. It’s like summer softball never ended. That is except for the change in weather, girls going back to school and the constant player availability problems.
The sport has grown so much that some teams play as many tournaments in the fall as they do during the summer. You try to determine which tournaments to attend based on cost, exposure opportunities and the talent level of your team. After that is figured out, because they fill up quickly, you pay and register your team. Then it is time to practice. Easy enough, right?
Photo of our club inter-squad scrimmage day in the fall of 2016 (16u & 18u)
I’ve been putting off writing this article for a few reasons. It will likely be misinterpreted by some people, while possibly offending others. Regardless, I can’t put if off any longer. My goal for this post is to help parents make the best decisions for their daughters and families concerning their options on playing travel softball. I will even share with you how much I paid for my youngest daughter's travel softball career.
First of all, I am a strong advocate for travel softball. Two of my daughters played travel softball at different levels for years. That is where they learned the game, fundamental and advanced skills, how to handle failure and success, how to deal with getting cut, how to earn playing time and to compete against other teams. They did not learn these things in the recreation league and certainly not in school.
I want to help you by sharing my thoughts on college softball camps. Through the years my daughter attended too many to count or name and now she works them as a member of her college softball team. Today as a 16U travel coach I am encouraging my players to attend camps.
Which ones? How many? What types? Why? Those are some of the most common questions I’m asked. I’ll answer these and more in this article, which I hope you will share with other parents in your softball circles.
Another weekend of the 2015 summer travel softball season has just passed. And with it, sadly, more stories of the unbelievable behavior of parents. From a coach jumping a fence to break up a fight to a mom using her vehicle to block the tournament gate, you cannot make up the kind of lunacy that happens all too frequently at youth sporting events.
I had a long conversation with a couple of Division 1 college coaches this weekend who reiterated, with emphasis, what I’ve been told over recent years: PARENTS ARE BEING RECRUITED TOO!