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College Softball Recruiting at the Division 3 Level

Damian Coaching1

It seems like I have this conversation at least three times a year.  Whether it is with travel ball coaches at tournaments, Division I coaches at camps, or new coaches here at my current school, Willamette University, I get asked the same question.  “How do you effectively recruit to the D III level”?

I have been at it now for 13 years and my answer stays the same.  “It is more an Art than a Science.  You have to make many strokes and will develop many layers. And just like real Art many will like it and most will hate it”.

I often relate recruiting to being a GM in Major League Baseball.  There are big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox (Division I) and small market teams like the A’s and the Twins (Division III).  As a recruiter of a “small market” team, there are different ways I go about recruiting athletes to come play for our program.

The first thing that I had to learn was how to work with a limited budget.  My recruiting budget is only $1,500 a year so that means I cannot travel to see most players play. Many players and their parents do not understand that I cannot travel to every tournament to see them play and they take this to mean that I am not interested in them.  This is not true.  I go to the Las Vegas tournament in June, the Forth of July tournament in Denver, and one tournament in Southern California in the Fall.  I also attend the Valley Invite in Oregon because it is a local tournament.  Thanks to many coaching friends, I often share hotel rooms and rental cars to help keep costs down. 

Camps are another way I help keep my recruiting costs down.  I try to work as many camps around the country that I can.  We also partner with NIKE and US SPORTS Camps to run an Elite Camp at Willamette very summer. Camps are such a great way for me to see a player for a week and interact with them to see if they like our program and if they can fit in with us.

Recruiting services like Cathi Aradi and Kelly Jackson, and friends of our program like Jerry Wallace and Mike McCauley are also valuable to our recruiting efforts.  With no costs to me, they have helped fill my rosters for years now.  Being on a phone call away basis with them, has really help attract more players to Willamette.

For this article, I did a count of my current roster.  40% of our players, I coached at a camp, 40% came from recruiting services and friends, and only 20% of them came from players writing letters and sending their video to me.  This underscores the importance of the personal contact with recruits rather than impersonal letters.

Another area that makes us different than most is:  what we look for in players.  Every program is different and has different needs from year to year but what we look for at Willamette stays the same.  The first thing I look for is if a player can “fit” into our system of play.  I know a lot of coaches look for the best athletes that they can “coach up” to their specific needs. At Willamette and most D III schools, we do not have the one-on-one time with athletes to get them where we need them.  At Willamette we see if a player can run, because you can’t “coach up” speed (you can make a player quicker but hard to make them faster), we see if they have a high softball IQ, because we do not have enough time with them to teach them the ins and outs of the game (we try to give them the little things to make their game more advanced), and we see if they are a good character person, because softball is a Spring sport and they need to be trustworthy from September to May.

The next thing is to look at their grades and SAT scores.  At Willamette we recruit to an ever, rising profile.  Currently, our profile is a 3.7gpa and a 1500 SAT score.  A lot of parents and players think that I am not interested in them.  I really am but I do not want to waste their time or mine if they are going to get denied admissions to our school.  This is often a difficult conversation to have with a parent that knows their child is a good student and feels they are smart enough to go to any college.

The last major hurdle to clear is having the financial aid talk with parents.  With cost of sending a child to college rising and the down turn of the economy, this conversation gets tougher and tougher.  Most D III schools are private and expensive (Willamette’s total budget is just over $49,000 for 2011-2012) and trying to convince families that it is worth the investment is a hard sell.  We mainly focus on the players next 40 years of their lives not the next four.  When we sell the “whole life” package, it makes that $49,000 a great investment.

The rising costs of playing travel ball is just one of the problematic issues out there today.  I often have parents tell me that they invested their savings into their child playing travel ball with the hopes of them getting a college scholarship.  For some reason, that is difficult for me to understand.  I know every family has their own philosophy and that philosophy is best for them but I hope I invest my savings into helping my children go to the college of their choosing, to get a great education that will help them to a great future.  Playing softball in college is a great thing but “investing” in travel ball seems riskier than the stock market these days.  Who knows what school the kid will end up at?  Or whether they will stick it out at that school or with that team or with that coach?  Hopefully, kids are playing because they love to play and it is fun and their parents are supporting them, not investing in them.

One thing that remains true and constant is that recruiting is the lifeline to any program.  Recruiting is one of best parts of my job.  I love getting to know new people and having great conversations about Willamette and our program.  It is always fun to go watch softball and not have to stress about coaching it. Recruiting is great and I look forward to the summers at the ballpark every year.

To find out more about the Willamette NIKE Softball Camp click Here or call 1(800) NIKE Camp (645-3226) and talk to a US Sports Camp representative.

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