All Things Considered: Finding the Right Fit

Many parents and players who reach out to us with questions about our showcases also have questions about the recruiting and college selection process as a whole. To help as many parents and student-athletes as possible, we decided to address the most frequently asked questions.

This is Part IV – check out Part III (“How do I stand out to a college coach at a showcase or tournament?”) here

The ultimate goal of the college and recruiting process is to find the school that will be the best all-around fit for you. The best path to accomplish this is to put yourself in a position so that the coaches and schools that you are interested in develop their own interest in you. So far in our series, we’ve talked about how to stand out to schools and coaches, but an essential part of the process is “the schools that you are interested in.”

As with the other pieces of the puzzle that comprise the recruiting process, the desire to play softball at the next level adds layers and complexity to the college process – and finding the right school is no different. Athletics can be an important factor in your admissions process – but will also add another level of consideration when you evaluate a school’s fit for you.

Above all, remember these three things:

  1. College choice is an academic decision. When you’re talking with a college coach at a showcase, you’re in a softball jersey, but ultimately selecting a college is an academic decision and experience.
  2. Softball careers end. All of them – whether it’s after four years of great college softball or 16 years playing for the Chicago Bandits. You never know when an injury could put you on the sideline or when you’ll play your last game – choose a college because it’s right on multiple levels, not just because it’s an athletic fit. Choosing the right college will help establish your path in life and create opportunities after your playing career is over.
  3. A college “fit” requires a holistic view. Finding the right school means considering on-field and off-field factors: academic setting, team chemistry, coach fit, geography, among others.

If you’re reading this, playing softball at the college level is likely an important piece of the whole for you, and a step in the process, but don’t let it overshadow other factors that weigh into finding the right school for you as a student-athlete.

Some questions to ask yourself throughout the process and as you learn more about the schools:

Is a school an academic fit?

Finding an academic fit is crucial to the college experience, and includes everything from the rigor of academics to the availability and strength of programs and majors that you’re considering. Interests and majors change, and it’s important to keep an open mind to engage new challenges and experiences. Two great first steps are a thoughtful assessment of your potential for academic challenge and success at a given school, and a careful review of the type of programs that they offer.

Is the school a “personality” fit?

If softball doesn’t work out – because of injury, or if the coach accepts a job at another school, or any other number of factors – would you still be happy at the school? Academics certainly plays a large part here – but so too do factors like setting and location, size of student body, and campus culture.

How does your personality fit with the team and with the coach?

When you’re engaging with coaches, make sure to get a feel for how their coaching style may fit you as a player. Coaches interact with their teams in many different ways – it’s important for you (and for the team) that you’re able to effectively communicate and engage with your coach. Similarly, what are the girls on the team like? If you go for a visit to a school and have the opportunity to connect with current players, try to get a feel for the team dynamic and the players (ask questions!) to see if they are people that you’d enjoy spending the majority of your days with – because whether it’s on the field at practice, in the weight room, on road trips, or at meals, you will be.

Is the softball program an athletic fit?

There may be programs and coaches that recruit you to be an immediate impact player as a freshman – and others that recruit you into a situation where you’ll have to battle to make the team, and may fight for playing time as an upperclassman. Though neither situation is inherently good or bad, ask yourself which will be the best fit for you. You may be looking at a program that competes for a national championship every year – understand that you’ll be competing for playing time. Take a look at positional breakdown and the age of the roster. At the same time, if you really like a school and program, don’t be afraid to go in there and compete and win a spot, even if it takes time – across the board, in college athletics, you will have to earn your playing time.

How should I balance academics and athletics when evaluating my options?

Different programs have different expected balances of academics and athletics. For some teams, being pre-med and balancing lab-based classes with athletic commitments works very smoothly and for others it may be unlikely. When you speak with the coach, ask if there are girls on the team pursuing your prospective major, and how they balance the academic workload with their team commitments. If you visit campus, ask some of the players – this way you can get a number of perspectives on what this balance looks like within the program, and how it fits with your expectations of your college experience.

 

College can be a transformative four year experience. Weigh all of the factors by asking yourself the above questions and answering honestly, and not only will you be on the right track for finding the best all-around fit, but you will also be best positioned for success when you arrive on campus.

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