Once upon a time, you entered tournaments to win something. A berth to nationals or a World Series, or maybe just for the sake of saying you won the (fill in the blank) tournament. You would see kids fighting and scratching to keep winning so they could claim a victory and advance in the tournament. Winning meant something to everyone involved.
And then the glaciers melted and a new creature emerged from the mist — the showcase.
Just to be sure we are all speaking the same language, a showcase to me is a tournament where teams are given a set schedule of X number of games. The games do not advance you into a higher level of the bracket or anything, you just play your set number of games.
So why Showcase? The premise is that college coaches need to see players to recruit them. This gives those coaches that opportunity. Each team has a guaranteed number of games and a schedule that doesn’t change. This allows college coaches to plan to see the players they want to see. The games don’t count towards a larger goal, so travel ball coaches presumably are more free to play all their kids to get them the exposure they need.
So do you want the good news or the bad news?
Showcases do allow college coaches to plan to see the players they want to see. The schedule is easy to plan for and allows everyone the ability to know when and where they need to be. Many showcases do a great job of drawing a lot of talented teams which in turn draws a lot of college coaches.
First let me qualify this statement. Showcases are a business for the people who run them. I have always felt that if you are going to run a business you should run it to be a profitable enterprise. I understand the basic, free-market ideas that drive this business but that doesn’t solve some of the issues that I am putting in the Bad News category.
Too many teams and too many parks: The sad reality for many teams is they enter a big showcase knowing that a lot of college coaches will attend, and then get assigned to one of the less-prestigious parks.
It’s not uncommon for college coaches to focus their energy and recruiting time on the main field in a showcase and never venture to some of the more remote facilities.
Should players contact coaches in advance and try to convince them to come see them play? Of course they should but that doesn’t guarantee that a coach can or will come to that park to watch them play.
Too many teams: The dream of being recruited has caused a geometric growth in the number of travel ball teams. It’s not uncommon to see multiple teams in an age group all running under the same organization colors because they felt they would get more looks because of the name on the front of their jersey. What has happened is a totally watered down talent pool. I understand that many players are dreaming of playing big-time college softball, but the sad reality is that a great number of those players are chasing after something that just isn’t likely to happen.
I dream of winning the lottery but that doesn’t make it a likely opportunity.
The games are too short: In the effort to squeeze as many teams as possible into an event the game times are usually shortened. It is not uncommon for many players playing in showcase games to only get a single at bat in a game. How much exposure can you get when you are limited in your opportunities to show a coach what you can do.
The events are too expensive: Please refer to my qualifier. Profit is a good thing for the people running the business. How much should a team pay to be in a showcase but assigned to some remote field where very few college coaches will attend their games? And then when you add in the “stay to play” cost of hotels and the bills rack up pretty quickly.
Showcases are a necessary evil. If you have players who want to play college softball on your team, you need to play in showcases. Your players need to work their butts off to encourage college coaches to come watch them play. And players, parents, and coaches need to be realistic. Just because you went to the “right” showcase doesn’t mean you really were at the right showcase.
About the Author: Tory Acheson brings a wealth of knowledge to the Fastpitch Prep staff. He has coached at all levels of the game, including the last 25 years at the college level at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, Tennessee Tech and Kennesaw State. He began his coaching career at the high school level spending 9 years Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wisconsin and is now working as a professional softball instructor.