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)
What I Hate About Fall Ball
While the tournaments are only on weekends, trying to field a team each weekend can make a travel coach feel like Sisyphus. Fall high school sports begin before school does. Volleyball seems to be the bane of my existence, often limiting player availability, especially pitchers.
Every year I have to figure out which of my players can and cannot attend each tourney in the fall. Then, I spend time trying to pick up players from other teams in the club to fill their spots. This is nearly impossible unless you schedule your club’s teams on alternate weekends, which makes it easier to borrow players. You end up playing with half of your actual team at times and your pick-up players.
Just when you think you’ve got it under control, you are informed that some players will not be available on one or two of the days of a tourney. Homecoming dances, fall softball camps, sickness, school events and injuries sap your remaining sanity. Sigh.
Many players in their senior years of high school are made offers in the fall (mostly NAIA, D3 & D2). They receive offers on visits, at camps and/or at fall tournaments. But, still there are parents who are confused as to why their daughters are not being recruited as much as other girls. The fact that their daughter misses half the fall tourneys and/or practices seems to escape them. NAIA, D3 & D2 schools have not been affected by the new NCAA recruiting rules, only D1 schools have been.
Per the new rules, D1 schools cannot attend tournaments to recruit players until October 14th this year (purple). This means that northern teams must travel further from home in the south in order to play, if they want exposure opportunities for D1 schools. This simply increases the overall cost including player fees and travel expenses for the parents.
Graphic courtesy of the NFCA
It also extends the fall season, decreasing the time for players to rest physically and mentally. This increases the risks of overuse injuries and burnout. Both of which I’ve seen more of in recent years. I’ve written extensively about the importance of taking breaks. Not to mention, playing softball late in the year when it’s 45 degrees and windy is not much fun.
The crazy thing about that is how the vast majority of college coaches sing the praises of the multi-sport athlete. It is seriously hypocritical. The shock and dismay they display when finding out one of their prospects won’t be at a tournament, because she has volleyball that weekend is well….dumbfounding. It’s equally ridiculous for college coaches to undervalue players who are not even able to practice softball during the fall, yet are playing in the games.
What I Like About Fall Ball
So, why bother? Because the fall provides numerous opportunities for your players to gain exposure to college coaches. If a player catches the eye of a college coach, she can attend their camp over the fall/winter. This is a win-win for players and college coaches. It also can save parents money, since their daughters can avoid camps of colleges who did not show them any interest.
For players like my daughter, who gave up travel soccer after 8th grade to focus on softball, fall ball was awesome. She got to continue playing, practiced individually through the weeks and gained many high quality exposure opportunities. She made softball her priority, but still found multiple 1 or 2 week periods through the year to take breaks from softball.
When you go on the road in the fall, it is an opportunity for your team to get to know each other. One or two nights in a hotel gives the girls plenty of chances for this. A coach can hope that his/her team gels in the fall. I also like the opportunity to get to know the parents better, typically through dinners and Euchre and beers in the hotel lobby (it’s a Michigan thing).
Fall tourneys typically are only Saturday and Sunday, not Thursday through Sunday. Parents and coaches need not burn all their vacation time. Often you play closer to home, limiting hotel and travel expenses. And in recent years Sunday-only tournaments have gained popularity, giving those volleyball players, who play school tourneys on Saturdays, opportunities to participate.
Note - There are teams who play at the PGF Premier and/or Junior Cup level, who still travel extensively in the fall, which adds considerably to their costs. These are your teams full of D1 prospects, whereas most other "A" level teams have 1-3 D1 prospects.
You get to learn more about your team, positions each girl can play, how they do in game situations and what you need to work on over the winter months. We also use the fall for inter-squad scrimmaging. This allows us to see all the girls in the club, pause play to teach and explain game situations and/or strategies and build club camaraderie. These have not only been valuable learning experiences for the players, but a lot of fun for the coaches and parents, complete with cookouts at the ball park.
Here to Stay
For better or worse, fall ball is here to stay. It is a big part of the college recruiting process, despite the many issues and obstacles. While challenging for travel coaches to manage, it’s too important and valuable to forgo.