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.  

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What is a College Softball Camp?

There are three types of camps that college softball programs put on: All Skills, Specific Skills & Team.  An All Skills camp is generally open to all ages and provides instruction and practice for all aspects and positions in the game.  Specific Skills camp examples are Hitting only, Pitching & Catching and Defensive only.  Sometimes all three of these will be scheduled on a single day back-to-back-to-back, where a player may choose to participate in more than one.  Team camps are where your team signs up for a series of scrimmages and are coached by the college players.  Instruction is provided by coaches and players, but it's mostly about playing games.

Over time your daughter (and you) may receive camp brochures and emails about upcoming camps she might be interested in attending.  No, this does not mean she's being recruited by that college.  It means she is on a mailing list, which is likely from being registered through ASA, NSA, etc. 

Why Should My Daughter Attend College Softball Camps?

Younger players (ages 7-12) could participate in a nearby college’s camp for instruction they may not be receiving in recreational softball and sometimes travel softball.  For younger players who go to or watch the college’s games, attending a camp at this age is more of a “meet the girls they want to be like when they grow up” sort of thing.  No, the coach will not be recruiting your 12 year old daughter.

Older players (ages 13-18) are usually there for one of a few (good) reasons:

  1. They hope to get on the coach’s radar for recruiting purposes.
  2. They are already being recruited by the coach, who wants them there.
  3. They are already committed to play at the school (Verbally or Signed) and the coach wants them there.  

Colleges cannot discriminate when they host a camp.  They are open to the public on a first come, first serve basis and are often limited to a certain number of players.  They can and do give advanced notice to the players they are interested in and their commits when a camp will be posted.  A coach may let their recruit know an Elite Camp will be posted online next Tuesday with a “We’d like to see you there.”  Obviously if your daughter wants to play softball at that school some day, she’d better sign-up for that camp.  In the event the coach is not permitted to contact your daughter (or you), they will contact her advocate or one of her coaches.

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For the older players who show up at a camp unannounced hoping to catch the eyes of the coach, it does happen, but odds are better if they know who your daughter is before she gets there.  That can be a challenge.  The best method to do this is to have an advocate for your daughter make contact with the coaches prior to the camp.  The next best way is for the player to contact them.

College coaches get a barage of emails from players, parents, coaches, etc.  They don't have time to read books, so make your email brief and to the point, while understanding they likely cannot reply to you.

It is important to learn the rules of contact that are permissible between players (parents too) and college coaches.  They do change on occasion, so it would be best for you to read them on the NCAA, NAIA and JUCO web sites.  For example, a freshman in high school can call a D1 coach, but the coach cannot call them nor can they have direct contact off-campus (at a tournament or school game, etc.).  However, an NAIA coach can contact your freshman daughter and invite her to practice with her team.  Confusing....I know right?  Know the rules.

That said, the only restrictions for talking with coaches while at their camp is how much time they choose to give your daughter (and you).  Parents - It's okay to talk with the coach at their camp. Be brief and to the point though.  And remember, you most likely won't be able to talk to them at the ball park while they're watching your daughter.

Why Do College Coaches Have Camps?

From a college coach’s perspective, hosting a camp allows them to talk to players they are recruiting.  It gives them the opportunity to get to know them, their personality and to see how they respond to challenges.  For example, I watched the head coach of a big D1 program pair my daughter with another recruit.  She then worked with them at every station of the camp. She front-toss pitched to them, challenging them inside, high, low, outside, change-ups and quick-pitches.  She had a similar approach defensively and got to know the two of them very well including their strengths and weaknesses.

gray deckrowAnother common reason is for the coach to be able to make players offers while they’re on campus.  In most cases they’ll tell you to take some time to think it over before making a decision.  They may give you a deadline, but that’s because they have to look at other players should you not accept.  Any commitments are verbally given first.  There are specific dates during a players’ senior year for each college sanctioning body when they actually sign their National Letters of Intent.  Regardless, although offers can be extended via emails and phone calls, coaches usually like to make them in person on campus.

The coach usually helps schedule a tour (visit) of the school for the players and parents, have them meet with academic advisors and spend time with some of the players on the team.  Again, you should learn the rules for visits (official and unofficial) for each of the sanctioning bodies.  No, visits do not always include offers.

Another big reason coaches have camps is to make money.  Depending on the school, camps are often operated through a legal entity (LLC or S-Corp) that the coach formed.  They may run them like a business.  Some of the money could go to the head coach, while portions could serve as a salary for assistants.  The top D1 schools coaching staff can make a lot of money this way.  Other schools programs may use the proceeds to purchase equipment, warm-ups and other gear for the team.  

Softball is a non-revenue sport, meaning it costs the colleges more to have them than money they generate.  Football and men’s basketball are the two main revenue sports in college (as a whole) that help to pay for the budgets of all other sports.  While some colleges charge admission to get into a softball game, most do not.  Smaller college programs can’t offer big salaries for the coaching staff, so using camps to raise money for the coaches is a reasonable practice.  

***Disclaimer - I do not know all of the inside details about the business side of college softball camps.  I shared only what I have heard from trusted sources.

Which ones?

Quite honestly I’m not a big advocate for players under the age of 13 attending many college camps.  They’re not cheap.  Take her to the local college as a reward or to see if it motivates her to practice and encourages her to dream.  High school age players need to figure out first what their major may be in college.  If your daughter wants to major in nursing, don’t take her to a business school’s camp.  I would stay away from team camps too.

A big part of determining which camps to attend comes from doing research.  You and your daughter need to find colleges that have her major and fit your budget.  It’s something you should work out together.  The cost of sending her to college is going up every year.  Out of state tuition is typically double the price.  Often D3 and some NAIA or private colleges are even more expensive.  And how far away from home is your daughter willing to be or are you willing to allow? 

Get Real About Scholarships

Please don’t assume that she’ll be receiving a big scholarship either.  The top pitchers may get 50% to 100%, catchers could see 40% to 75% with position players averaging 10% to 30%.  And many, more than you would believe, get what’s called a “preferred walk-on,” meaning they’re on the team, but get no athletic money.  The absolute best way to get scholarship money is to have excellent grades and test scores (ACT or SAT).  Players eligible for academic money are a coach’s dream!  FYI – D3 colleges do not have athletic scholarships.

After She Has a List of Schools She's Interested in.....Then What?

So, once you’ve figured out what schools your daughter is interested in that offer her major, you research their softball programs and camps.  You can either take a chance and sign-up hoping to be noticed or you can (try to) contact the coach to see what their recruiting needs are prior to paying.  However, if you call the coach and they do not answer, the rules can prevent them from replying to your message.  The same is true if they cannot reply to your email.  The same rules apply to parents. 

This very reason is why I act as an advocate for my players.  Coaches can reply to my emails, voice messages and text messages.  I can call them and they can call me anytime with few restrictions.  I ask my players to inform me of the camps they are planning to attend.  Sometimes I suggest camps to them as well.  Then, I either call or email the coach about the player.  Some coaches are better than others when it comes to being available, answering phones or replying to emails and voice messages.  It can be very frustrating.

Prior to considering which colleges and camps to attend, I give my players an assessment of what level of college softball they might have the potential to play.  Sending a player to a D1 camp, when I see her as NAIA talent is a waste.  And if I were to contact the coach about her, it would ruin my credibility.  

When I communicate with coaches, I ask what their recruiting needs are.  A typical response is: “We are done with 2017’s now, looking for a 2018 pitcher and corner infielder and wide open for 2019’s.”  This is great information to know, which can save my players time and their parents money if they aren’t what the coach is looking for.  

It also encourages those who do fit the needs of the coach to get to the camp and make an impression.  If I have a player I believe has the potential to play at the level the college is at, I will tell the coach so and give them my opinion of the player's abilities and/or send them a link to their skills video.

After the camp I ask my players to let me know how it went.  I follow up with the coaches to see if they are interested and to what degree.  I then talk with my player and/or her family to let them know where she stands.  They can either scratch one off the list and look elsewhere or pursue whatever the opportunity might be with this school. 

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In the event the coach is really excited about the player, I may ask them if they’re considering making an offer.  Sometimes they say yes and other times they say they would like to see them in game situations and ask for our schedule.  Regardless, getting all of the feedback from coaches is priceless!

As for how many camps your daughter should attend, I cannot really answer that.  All I can say is to go to the camps where they are showing your daughter the love (genuine interest).  The more schools that are actually interested the better.  I call this "casting a wide net".  Visiting a campus, interacting with the coaches and players, seeing the facilities and checking out the surrounding community will go a long ways towards your daughter making an informed decision about her future.

There are also camps that consist of several different college coaches.  They can be a good way for your daughter to be noticed by many schools.  However, if the schools they represent are not ones your daughter is interested in, then save your money.

If only my daughter and I would have known all of this back in the day….sigh.  Going to numerous camps and trying to gauge all of this on the drive home was fruitless.  There’s a big difference between coaches being nice to your daughter versus them asking her to stay after to speak with her and her parents.  

Last Pearl of Wisdom

Finally, I tell my players when they arrive at the camp to smile and introduce themselves to all of the coaches.  They should talk to the other participants, the college players and the coaches throughout the camp whenever possible.  I know they will hustle, dress like a ball player (full uniforms) and not have pity parties when they make mistakes or swing and miss.  For my players, those are a given.  I remind them to thank the coaches and players before leaving.  Then, they should contact me to let me know how it went.

College softball camps are a means for the players to market themselves much as they will the rest of their lives in their careers.  I venture to say most high school girls are initially very uncomfortable with this whole process.  But, they must learn to do this for themselves, which is a big reason why college coaches limit how much they talk to the parents.  They have to learn to step out of their comfort zones and do this for themselves, while parents have to learn to let them go. 

However, in the event your daughter and/or her advocate has had trouble getting feedback from the coach, it may be time to be respectfully blunt with them before you leave a camp.  She can ask, "So are you interested in me?"   If she can't muster up the courage to do so, then feel free to do it for her.  I wish I would have known that this was okay to do several years ago!

So....that was a lot longer than I originally intended.  But, I hope this helps you and your daughters to make sense of college camps and saves you time, money and frustrations.

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