15th Commandment – Part 4, High School Players

It seems ironic that I am working on this post on the eve of the “big day” for high school juniors. September 1st is now the first day that a Division 1 softball coach can reach out to them and talk about recruiting them to their school. This date has become so crucial that many players will be sitting by their phones at 12:01 am, hoping to get that call and many college coaches will be working the phone to reach out to their top prospects when the clock strikes midnight.

So we know what happened to Cinderella when the clock struck midnight and for some of the high school players hoping to hear from that high profile coach they may end up feeling that same turned into a pumpkin feeling. Now many players will still be getting contacted as soon as the recruiting window opens but for many others they will be playing a waiting game. Yes, I know, many players would have been left waiting before the transfer portal existed but there is no arguing that the world of recruiting for the high school player has been changed by the transfer portal more than anyone probably really thought it would.

In Part 1 of this series we talked about how the life of the college coach has changed so I won’t go into too much detail but there is one thing they are dealing with that really changes the lives of the high school players who are hoping to get recruited. For many high profile programs their focus in recruiting has shifted greatly. Where they used to spend all their time trying to get the very best high school prospects to sign with them they are now looking at transfers as a better way to fill openings on their team. The transfer who has already proven to be able to handle college life and the level of competition is a much safer bet to be able to contribute right away. And for the college coaches who are measured by how much they are winning, right now, they care about the ability of a player to contribute immediately.

For high school players this creates several key things to be aware of and to consider while making their choices:

  1. Playing right away as a freshman just became much less likely. Even for the super talented kids who used to walk right in and play as freshman. There will be some kids who are good but that number just got much smaller since it is so much easier to plug in a transfer with college experience.
  2. High level programs are no longer recruiting players with great potential and hoping to develop them. Once upon a time those programs would occasionally recruit a pure athlete who lacked experience or skills and work to turn them into something very special. Now these programs will wait until that same developmental player goes to a smaller school to learn their craft and then hope to recruit them as transfers later on. The mid level D1, NAIA or JUCO schools will still be recruiting the developmental player but even they can now recruit more polished players so the basic level of skill that opens the door for a recruit has now been elevated.
  3. Predicting when an opportunity to get into the line up just got much more difficult. You used to be able to look at a teams roster, how many kids were in each class, and predict when the numbers were likely to work to your advantage. Now a coach can fill any perceived holes in their line up with a transfer who they know can contribute.
  4. Getting recruited by the very top level programs, which was already very difficult, has become many times more challenging. If you are a high school player dreaming of playing at Oklahoma you have to be the best player in the nation at your position with the kind of confidence to be able to go into that setting and prove not only that you are better than the players already on the roster but better than all the potential transfer players who are dying to go to school there. Think about how high that bar has been set and then think about how realistic that dream is. Crazy!
  5. Mid level and lower level programs will now be working that much harder to recruit high school age players. They have a chance to recruit a much stronger player now that the elite programs are looking at fewer kids. For players and parents putting the ego aside and welcoming the interest of a mid level Division 1 program is a great strategy in the transfer portal days.
  6. If you go to a mid level D1 program or a strong D2/NAIA program you might have opened the door to opportunities at one of those high profile D1 teams. Proving to be a great college player at one of these schools is now a better way to showcase your skills than you ever had in the high school or travel ball worlds if you still hope to play at an elite D1 program.
  7. If you choose the right mid level D1 or D2/NAIA school you might have just landed in the proverbial win/win situation. If you want to play at a higher level program you are in a great place to show you are able to fill one of those roster spots. Or if you don’t want to play at a higher level or don’t play great right away you have already landed at a very good school with a good softball program that really values you and your abilities. So if the greener grass doesn’t materialize you are still in a great situation!

The landscape for the high school player has changed drastically in the last few years. There will be a new learning curve for everyone to navigate as the recruiting system resets itself. Opportunities will still exist for the high school age players hoping to play in college but those opportunities will be loaded with some different questions and challenges. Understanding the challenges and being realistic about the changing landscape will go a long way to players and their parents navigating it successfully. Good Luck!!

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?