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#AnythingButSoft: Finding the Right Academic and Athletic Fit

The ultimate goal of the college and recruiting process is to find the school that will be the best all-around fit.

The best path to accomplish this is to put yourself in a position so that the coaches and schools that you are interested in are interested 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, playing softball at the next level adds layers and complexity to the college process – and finding the right school is no different. Athletics add another level of consideration about fit, and also another important factor that can play into your admissions process.

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 and create opportunities after your playing career is over.

3) A college “fit” is a holistic view. Finding the right school means considering on-field and off-field factors: team chemistry, coach fit, academic setting, geography, among others.

If you’re reading this, playing softball at the college level is likely an important piece of the whole, 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 the right type of academic fit? Finding an academic fit is crucial to the college experience, and includes everything from the rigor of academics to the programs and majors that you’re considering. Interests and majors change, and it’s important to keep an open mind and to engage new challenges and experiences. Great first steps include a thoughtful assessment of your potential for academic success at a given school, and a review of the type of programs that they offer.

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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 – 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 is the 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 fits you as a player. Coaches interact 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? When you go for a visit, get a feel for the team dynamic and the players to see if they’d be 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 it the right type of 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 in which you’ll work hard to make the team, and may fight for playing time as a senior. Though neither situation is inherently good or bad, know yourself and what 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.

What’s the balance of academics and athletics?

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. On your visit, 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 you’ll be on the right track for finding the best all-around fit.

Headfirst Honor Roll Camps provide high potential softball players with a platform that allows them to interact with coaches and evaluators from the nation's best academic colleges and universities. 

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Softball, #AnythingButSoft