Softball Success: Here is Where You Will Find It

Years ago I heard a mentor of mine utter a single phrase about personal success that hit me like a ton of bricks. I was young, ambitious and looking for any edge I could get to accelerate my success in the competitive industry I was in at the time, and this sage wisdom made so much sense I couldn't wait to see if it would work for me.

Years later I still remember that simple phrase, try to live by it, and now pass it on to the athletes I coach and others who follow my message, adapting its usage from business to sports.

The simple, yet powerful phrase?

"Success lies at the intersection of preparation and opportunity."

I encourage you to let these words sink in for a moment or two to see just how they resonate with you.

Now with full disclosure...the original phrase used the word "luck" instead of "success." My mentor explained it this way, "People always assume someone who achieves a great measure of success is somehow 'lucky,' when in fact that luck is really the by-product of a lot of hard work (preparation) coupled with the courage and wisdom to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves along the way."

He went on to say that "since opportunity is always present the only variable in determining how successful someone will become is how well prepared they are."

So what can you as parent, coach or player take away from this wisdom?

Here is how I teach it:
  1. I often hear parents and coaches complain that their athlete doesn't work hard enough or seem motivated; that she has so much potential, but doesn't seem to be achieving it. This could be symptom of burnout or more likely the lack of a clear "plan." As a parent or coach it is your responsibility to "connect the dots" for a younger athlete. I often refer to my players as being robots because they are programmed to do what we tell them to do, but are often unable to replicate these tasks on their own.  Sometimes it is as simple as having a discussion about "why" she plays the game, what her dreams and goals are for her sport (maybe softball isn't her favorite sport?). Develop a clear physical and mental game plan to get her from where so is to where she/you want her to be in a few years. Again, it's all about preparation!                                                                         
  2. From the player's perspective I also see far too much a young athlete give up on herself after a mistake, poor at bat or rough inning in the circle. Her thinking slides into the "red zone" and her performance only gets worse over time. She has lost sight that as difficult as the game of softball can be it will always offer every player another opportunity for success; another at bat, another ball hit to you, another inning in the circle, another game. As long as the athlete (and the adults) can frame "failure" as but a learning opportunity to make necessary adjustments for the next opportunity consistent success is inevitable!
  3. Ask your athlete or team this question: How good do you want to be? After they answer the question then ask her/them: How hard are to willing to work to be that good? As my mentor said, to the outside world a person/player's success looks easy. The truth is that every great athlete has put in countless hours of orchestrated physical and mental preparation in advance of their success. They success by design, not by accident!
So softball success does have an address after all. It lies at the intersection of preparation and opportunity! The great news is that your athlete and her team have TOTAL CONTROL over their effort and their their attitude.

Get your athlete excited about her softball future by connecting the dots for her. Help her to design a clear path/plan of preparation each week to get better at the game and you will begin to see a definable transformation to her game. Once she buys into the "big picture" success is sure to follow!

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College Softball Scholarships...6 Crucial Tips to Stay Ahead of the Curve

So you are looking for your darling daughter ("DD") to get an athletic scholarship to play softball in college? Great. Who can blame you? With the cost of college continuing to spiral out of control why not leverage a game your DD loves and is pretty good at into $$ for tuition and room/board.

Depending on where your DD is on her softball path you, as a sports parent, need desperately to develop a solid game plan for how you (and family) and your DD will traverse the rocky ledges of the college softball scholarship maze.

It's a game that has big winners and big losers, and a game with a lot of misinformation and lack of clear information. Most softball parents I know always seem frantic, like they are going to miss out on an exposure opportunity for their DD. They have no strategic plan, so they bounce around like a pinball going from camp to clinic to showcase to colleges.

Let's put it this way, as a sports parent what you need is a Facebook-type "timeline" to follow for your DD so that you are prepared physically, emotionally and monetarily for the travel softball to softball scholarship journey.

National Collegiate Athletic Association
As I am nearing the completion of my newest book, College Softball Scholarships: The A to Z Guide, I'm going to share with you 6 Crucial Tips for staying ahead of the curve on the college softball scholarship timeline.

These should help you to at least start an effective game plan of the process, some "do s" and "don't s," and solid strategies for moving forward. So enjoy this food for thought.

So, here we go with the 6 Crucial Tips to stay ahead of the softball scholarship curve:

Tip #1 - Start the process earlier than you ever thought necessary. As more and more colleges ramp up their softball programs the competition among colleges for athletes is intensifying! Many colleges are now actively recruiting 8th and 9th graders. Yes, it's even college coaches tell me, but those are the recruiting rules of the game in 2014. This means you really need to develop your recruiting plan NOW. Top pitchers are committing earlier than ever before, and athletic money is drying up at many top colleges earlier as well as they commit their senior, junior and sophomore (in high school) recruits early on, leaving them with the 9th and 8th graders to target.

What this really means is doing all you can to put your DD in an optimal position to be seen by her target schools. It all starts with communication. The NCAA has very clearly defined rules for contact between a college coach and potential recruits which you should become intimately familiar with. Here's a good place to start, the NCAA Eligibility Center. As well you'll need to put together a good skills video and post it on YouTube so college coaches can readily view it via a link you include in your DD's email to the coach. You may want to check out other softball players' skills videos on YouTube to get some ideas.

Be proactive in contacting your target colleges. Remember, start NOW with all of the things mentioned in this article. Delay at your DD's own peril!

Tip #2 - Developing a "target list" of schools. Don't let Tip #1 scare you. As a softball parent you are still and always remain "in control" of the recruiting process for your DD. The best way to avoid making a ton of mistakes along the way is to sit down with your DD and start having a serious discussion about the factors that should help you and her to narrow down the colleges you think might be a good fit. Having such a list will help reduce the frenetic mindset that can lead to poor decisions and potentially cost you and your family a lot of scholarship $$.

Keep an open mind to colleges that express interest in your DD that are not on your list. After all there are over 1,400 colleges that have softball programs across America. Often some "sleeper" colleges end up providing student athletes with the best combination of academic and athletic experiences.

Tip #3 - Grades...Grades...Grades! Make the college coach's job easier and your potential for more overall $$ and the possibility of getting your DD into a better academic school by hammering home to your DD the vital importance of her getting GREAT grades and board scores. The simple truth is that the higher your DD's grades/scores are the more ACADEMIC money the college coach can help you get and, in the process, the farther he or she can stretch their ATHLETIC scholarships.

The NCAA regulates the number of athletic scholarships each sport can allot and further many conferences limit that number even more. At the Division 1 level the maximum "full" scholarships any softball program can allocate is 11.7, and many smaller D1 program may only award the equivalent of 6-9 full scholarships.

What this means is that smarter kids give the coach more flexibility. If your DD has a 3.8 and a 2000 SAT score she may be able to get a 50% academic grant/scholarship allowing the coach to only have to allocate 50% of a full athletic scholarship to her. This allows the coach to stretch their 11.7 scholarships to cover more kids on the roster.

As one college softball coach once told me on this subject, "I've never had a parent care where the money came from (athletic or academic)!"

 Tip #4 - Reality Check time! Combining Tips #2 and #3 it's highly advisable to do a reality check on a number of critical factors, including:
  •  How good a player is your DD? Don't target, contact and go to Stanford camps if your DD does not legitimately possess the athletic talent to play ball at the Pac 12 level.
  • How good a student is your DD? Could she get into Stanford or is she a better fit at "State?" Does she want to get a degree, let's say, in nursing? If so what schools might have a good nursing program that will also let her play softball (because many of the bigger programs will not)?
  • Where is a good fit for your DD geographically? I've coached girls here in sunny SoCal that end up playing softball at a Midwest or northeastern college and are utterly shocked at the weather. Would your DD rather play close to home so you can watch her play? If so don't target schools or be lured into interest or offers from schools far away.
  • A big reality check is how much does your DD really want to play in college? At the D1 level student athletes will spend 20 hours or more EACH WEEK, even in the fall, on softball related activities of conditioning, team and individual position workouts plus mandatory study halls. As one former player of mine told me recently she leaves her dorm at 6am and returns after softball and classes at 10pm. If your DD doesn't want softball to be a job in college she might want to look at a smaller D2 or D3 school.

Tip #5 - Choosing the best travel/club team. This is a big part of the drive for a college softball scholarship for sure. Again, back to Tip good is your DD? If she is 6.5 or better on a scale of 10 she needs to be playing for a team/organization that will:
  • Give her exposure at the right showcases, including being on a team that is playing on the main fields (where most of the college coaches end up scouting).
  • Have solid college coaching contacts with the ability to pick up the phone and call a coach at a college your DD might be a good fit for or on her target list.
  • Have enough clout to be able to get your DD nominated for top showcase all star games or into prestigious "invite only" exposure camps like On Deck
As a softball parent you need to distinguish between your DD's "developmental" years and "showcase" years. Meaning your DD might benefit more by being on "Team A" when she is 12-14 with coaches that might be great a teaching the game but benefit more by moving to "Team B" when she hits high school age to be with a coach or coaches that have the experience to maximize her college exposure opportunities.

Tip #6 - Dealing with the pressure. The college softball scholarship process can be full of incredible stress for both parents and athlete. Your DD's on the field performance becomes exceptionally scrutinized, particularly as your DD has friends or teammates who commit to their college when she has not. Thus the importance of starting the process early and developing a solid recruiting plan of action. Your DD will likely feel less pressure if she feels more in charge with the process. And she will feel more in charge and calm if Mom and Dad are calm! Remember, knowledge is power.

Another key factor in minimizing the pressure you and your DD feel is to have a family talk early on as to the ultimate goal (the athletic scholarship), the work, effort, cost and sacrifices necessary by every member of the family to achieve it. If you can't get buy in from everyone the road will inevitably be rocky at times.

I have seen numerous athletes crumble mentally under the weigh of game performance pressures. If your DD knows her only path to college is by getting the softball scholarship she will carry that burden around on and off the field unless you frame it all clearly and comprehensively for her EARLY ON. Often it is worse for the parents to say little or nothing because the athlete is then left to assume the expectations and thus burden she is under.

It is sometimes incomprehensible to me how crazy elevated the process has become from high school sports to college sports in 2014. Ours is a sports fanatical society; a 24/7 orgy of any sport with fantasy teams, endless television, Internet and social media coverage of the most minute and trivial detail. Your DD is inescapably part of that world in her quest for the brass ring...a college softball scholarship.

However, if you can heed these 6 Crucial Tips and commit to following through in developing a comprehensive recruiting plan of action your DD will end up at a great school, getting a top notch education while playing a sport she loves at little or no cost to Mom and Dad. And who might actually end up enjoying the process rather than feeling like a crazed rat in the maze!


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