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This is a story about recruiting athletes to play college sports. We are going to talk about a girl who is going to college to play softball at a DIII college. But please understand this story could apply to any  athlete going to any DIII college. Only about 3% of all students attending a four year college play intercollegiate sports at the Division III level, and about 1% play at the Division I level.

                This young lady or her family employed the service of a company to help her find a college to play softball. Now I am not judging these services, but I am asking these questions. If you are paying someone to pay attention to you, and of course other athletes at the same time, and you end up going to a college just a couple hundred miles away that you could have assuredly found on your own, what are you paying for? The attention? Did you want to tell people you were using a recruiting service for status purposes?  Did using the recruiting service give you an unrealistic view of your talent and therefore cause you angst when the D I scholarship never materialized? Couldn’t you have saved all that money and gone on a family vacation or put the money in a 529 college savings account to lessen your total room and board expense during and after college? A DIII college coach works with Admissions and the Financial Aid department all the time. Who better to help you get all the scholarship money than someone inside the college who wants you to go there? Remember a DIII college coach cannot get you anymore financial aid for academics than an equivalent non athletic student. They cannot get you any more financial aid based on your parents’ ability to pay than a non athletic student. That’s an NCAA rule.
                                She ended up going to a college 2 ½ hours away from her home.
                A friend of mine’s son played on a National Championship “elite” pay for play U16 travel soccer team and every one of the players went to a DIII college within three hours travel distance from their home. Colleges can and do recruit from all over the world. DIII colleges are not allowed to give athletic scholarships. Let’s analyze the whole recruiting and going to college to play athletics, process.
                A college coach spends approximately 80% of their time recruiting. Most college coaches recruit every day. Are we to believe that a college coach would not be aware of an athlete just a couple hundred miles away from their school? Are we to believe that a coach from that college would not have found out, or already  known about the  girls  softball  ability in what amounts to be the college’s own back yard.
                A quick check of this college’s softball  team roster showed that most girls who went to that college were within a couple hundred miles of the college, and at least one other girl was from the same “Section” as this girl who was attending that particular college and playing on the team. ALL of the girls were from the same state, well within the coaches’ recruiting area and she could easily schedule recruiting visits. It’s safe to say the coach knows the area well. It is also safe to say  she wants to keep her job. What other job could she get, or any college coach get, outside college athletics that would include all the perks of this job? Think of their job description. They get to live and work in a college atmosphere. Most people say that college was the best four years of their lives, or in my case, seven. They get paid to coach a sport they love. People cheer for them and tell them when they do a good job. If they choose, they can get paid to work out and stay in shape. They get to travel for free, all expenses paid. When they do a great job, they receive an award, and when their team does a great job, they win a trophy and receive national recognition. Also, my favorite part of coaching in college is that you get paid to be around, and hopefully help, develop young people’s bodies and minds for their future, long after they have graduated. And you get to have fun and laugh just about every day. I did it for twenty one years.
                 It’s true, while you are in school every day coaches are working to recruit athletes for their next season, and even beyond. When you commit to that school remember that the coach is recruiting someone, often several someones, to come in and compete for sports on the team EVERY year. Inter team competition, that’s how they get better. Next time you talk to a college coach ask them how many athletes they watched play this year. Ask them how many athletes they recruited and brought in to play on the team the last four years. Ask them how many of the athletes on the team have graduated with degrees in the last four years. Ask them what the team’s Grade Point Average is (GPA). Finally, ask them how important it is to them that their payers have a lot of fun playing their sport. How important is it to you?
                Now this girl joined a pay for play travel team to enhance her visibility and to give her greater options. Maybe, maybe not. Are you trying to tell me that just because you have money to play a sport on an “elite” travel team it makes you one of the best at playing that sport for your age group in your area? Does it say just because an athlete is poor and can’t afford to pay for play that you can’t develop your abilities and  become really good at your sport or even great? I think not.
                 Are we to believe that if she got a bunch of girls together and contacted her high school’s athletic director that she couldn’t have scheduled many pickup games? Or possibly found some bases, gone to a park, set up a field and just played for a couple of hours? When word got out, she may find that she can get a regular game going once a week. It is here I caution to anyone following this paradigm to include one adult to watch over but NOT coach the kids playing the game for safety reasons.
                The girls playing in the pickup games should include ALL girls who want to play, not just the most talented ones. Because as sure as the sun comes up every morning there is going to be a time when you are not the most talented player on the field and you would not want to be excluded from playing the sport you love. ALL girls who come get equal playing time, play different positions, AND HAVE FUN. PLAY FOR FUN!
                She could have used the internet, facebook, texting, and any technological tool that I am completely clueless about to get other girls interested in playing. She could even use the old fashioned “word of mouth” (which would help her develop her communications skills) to spread the word that she wanted to get a game together. You spend a lot more time in life getting along with people in various forms of relationships than you ever do in competition. Besides, if we want true competition to find out who is the best, don’t we have to play for free? Otherwise aren’t we just finding out who is the best that can afford to pay? Is that really true competition? I ask all of you who say you are competitive!
                         I want to know who the best out there is and I want to play against them.                                                  And I want to keep playing against them. That’s the most fun and it’s how I get better.
                I also ask that you keep the teams fairly close and equal in talent. You improve a lot more, and have a lot more fun when the games are close and exciting and not blow outs. Plus, without a coach and spectators you can try new and creative plays without getting yelled at or having a fear of getting benched. Stop the game if it gets lopsided and readjust the teams. This is the way we use to play pickup games. There is a disturbing trend now a days to have teams that are not equal so a few can revel in the false glory of a blowout, which helps neither team get better, and certainly is not fun to me. I have watched children purposely stack the deck and rig the game so that they will be assured a win. That’s not competition, that’s a bizarre form of entitlement. I have seen it done by players who have been excluded from playing on their high school teams as well as players who have spent a lot of money on pay for play teams and are venting their frustrations for their lack of playing time, or lack of enjoyment on those teams.
                 Is it possible by paying a recruiting service and playing on a travel team that the girl I mentioned earlier and her family were putting more value on her talent than was really there? Could they not have saved thousands of dollars and got a more balanced view of athletics and life by doing their own homework? Is it possible that talking about what someone else is doing for you when you could be doing it yourself is really that helpful? I keep hearing how this young generation wants to be independent and sell sufficient. I can’t think of a better way to do that than to take responsibility for your own future. You know what is best for you more than anyone else does! Remember, if you are that good, college coaches will find you. You don’t need a showcase to show your talent. Also, if you are not that good you can expose your weaknesses in a showcase. Obviously, I am not a fan of showcases. Watch my interview on my website,, with Dr. Mike Maloney who is the Director of University of Rochester Sports Medical Center.
                Let’s break this down even farther. Since DIII colleges do not  offer athletic scholarships, and MOST of the colleges, if not ALL of them offer academic scholarships, wouldn’t it be more prudent to spend a lot more time in the library getting your grades up than on the playing field? If you are going to pay someone to help you find a college doesn’t it make more sense to hire an academic tutor?
                 It is in the coaches’ best interests, and hopefully the athletes’, to complete four years of study at their college and graduate. The coaches can even use their graduation rate to entice future athletes to come to their school.  An athletic student is going to spend WAY more time in class and studying, than they will ever spend on the practice or playing field (you would hope)!  Any athlete who does not have to worry about their grades because they are putting in the proper amount of needed time in the classroom and library doing their academic work is going to be much more prepared, not less so, to compete on the playing field. The discipline it takes to balance an academic schedule is a life skill that can be transferred to the classroom, the playing field, the after-college work environment, and even to relationships later on in life. But I digress.
                Coaches want to win. They coach to win.  The coaches enjoy competition. They want competition to be fair and equal within their team and against an opponent. If they don’t, do you really want to play for that kind of coach on that kind of team, one that believes in entitlement? Do YOU want to play for coach who picks his or her team based on what they see recruiting, as you are playing against other high school girls, or do you want to be judged on how well you play against college girls playing on that team. Do you want to play for a coach who says you have to play softball year round and on particular teams and in particular showcases if you want to play for him or her? I wouldn’t and I didn’t. Remember, specialization does not make you special. It just makes you less balanced, and in some cases more susceptible to injuries. Hopefully they coach to develop the mind AND the body in balance, and help the athlete achieve balanced excellence. So as they coach to win, doesn’t it make sense they would want the best players they can get to play for them? And in the spirit of competition doesn’t it make sense that they would then play the players who are playing the best, not simply the best or most talented players? Then it seems that any athlete could show up at the coach’s door and get a tryout. College coaches refer to this kind of athlete as a “walk-on.” And, since softball is a spring sport, an athlete can go to that college for an academic fit, and then work out with the girls on the team and see where her talents lie facing the competition she will most likely be up against while attending that particular college.
                Let’s use the candy comparison/analogy. Let’s say you go to the store and you want a candy bar. If you are my wife and daughter that is ALWAYS going to include chocolate as the main ingredient. So they immediately eliminate the candy bars that do not have a lot of chocolate. Regular candy simply won’t do, they want something that tastes great and is going to make them feel good. You look at all the candy bars lined up in their fancy packaging. This packaging is put on there to entice you into buying that candy bar, and it has nothing to do with how good that candy bar is going to be for you to eat and or how much you will enjoy it. In some cases the company who manufactures the candy bar spends way more time on marketing and packaging that product than they do on its contents. They also want you to enjoy that candy bar and tell your friends how good the candy bar is so that maybe they will buy one. They know that they are competing with all the other candy bar manufacturers for your business (and make no mistake about it, there is definitely a business side to colleges). Come on, honestly, did you really think I was just talking about candy, or was I trying to get you to think at the synthesis level by comparing to seemingly unrelated paradigms? Besides, if I was going to talk to you just about treats, it would be ice cream. Oh how I love ice cream! But again, I digress.
                If my paradigm is correct, and I assure you it is.  I have spent thousands of hours and well over twenty years researching this topic, and I continue to put my paradigm into practice at all levels of youth sports. I have  interviewed other experts in the field (those videos will be coming out soon), and I have also coached and played at just about every level up through college. I love coaching and mostly playing with the really young kids, and it is 95% playing and having FUN when they are as  young as five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten  year olds. I am trying every day  to learn everything I can about youth sports. It led me to write a book about this subject, called Stop the Tsunami in Youth Sports: Achieving Balanced Excellence and Heath While Embracing the Value of Play for Fun. It will be out in e-book form in July of 2012.  

Written by : VJS