Maturity, motivation on and off the field opens doors for fastpitch athletes

Recruiting 101 is designed for players and parents to see current and practical conversation from the most informed voices in the world of college recruiting. How to get seen, how to be taken seriously and how to prepare for the next level are the primary themes we will explore.

When we think of traits and tendencies that help project a young fastpitch softball athlete to the front of the line, there’s always appeal for a girl with a high motor.

Those athletes who by force of will, or their natural wiring, move with urgency and determination through drills and workouts are not guaranteed success stories, but the world of possibilities just seems to open up. Coaches from club programs and colleges see who is invested in the moment and are more willing to bank on the potential payoff of a kid with a purpose.

With jobs on the line (college coaches) and the stability of businesses at stake (club administrators), people have figured out fastpitch athletes need to approach their academic responsibilities with equal attention. And just like skills on the ball field, skills in the classroom can come naturally, or through unusually hard work.

Either way, you’ll need to have a handle on the whole package. Just as athletes value keeping a level head in the heat of competition, students show their savvy by not getting psyched out by the classroom moment.

“The accountability level is a lot higher than the every-day student,” said Barbara Reinalda, associate head coach at Yale University. “Our kids have been taking the hardest work their high school offers, and playing sports, and playing travel ball – their parents aren’t saying, hey, get your homework done. They’ve taken it upon themselves and are not doing it just for their mother and father.

“These are high academic kids already, so we focus more on time management. We also encourage them to know the professors are accessible, and that they shouldn’t feel too proud to use a tutor or visit with a professor.”

While the thought of what it takes to be an Ivy League student may be humbling, it’s more important to grasp the fact almost every school is of value if you value your time there. Do well at your JUCO, and your odds of transferring to a quality program improve; keep your grades on track at your university, it might be a difference-maker when you consider graduate school.

Did you graduate from your NAIA or D-III school with evidence you took it seriously?  Tap into the connections of alumni in the job market and smooth your landing to that first paycheck.

“The colleges don’t always like it when I do this, but I say once you are out of high school, it’s not called ‘softball’ anymore,” said Gary Davis, 18 Gold coach for the Arizona Hotshots club program. “It should be called school, education, career. Softball got you where you wanted to go, and you should still try to improve as an athlete. But you are in a place now that can steer you where you want to go in life.

“The type of kids we recruit are the ones that do a good job in the classroom. Some come about it naturally, and some have to work harder at it. We see how important time management is, and how proud they are about academics. These girls understand (school) is what they’ll hand their hat on eventually.”

Davis had three daughters and made sure they all took schoolwork seriously. One daughter attends graduate school at the University of Georgia; one had a Ph. D and is a principal at a school, and one attends the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and was asked to stay after getting her degree as a graduate assistant. His 18u team’s GPA last year was a cumulative 3.96.

“A lot of my ex-players have graduated, become doctors and lawyers, and some are housewives who have started families, which is fine,” said Davis, who has coached for 22 years. “It’s gratifying to see them come back and talk to our current players. The message is always, don’t waste the opportunity. If you think of (college) just being about softball, you’re forgetting about your life after softball.”

Keeping a clear view of the big picture is a common wish for parents and coaches when they talk to young athletes; of course, the emotions of the moment are often what teenagers have the hardest time navigating. Can you serve the priorities of athlete and student, keeping the balance at college and really give yourself a chance to thrive when it’s time to hang up the uniform?

“The biggest things are work ethic and persistence. I developed that as an athlete when I was younger, just as I managed my time in order to show extra effort in the classroom,” said Katie Appelbe, a former player for Davis with the Hotshots who is a senior catcher at Harvard. “Even when you are being recruited, you work hard to show you have the right attitude, that you’ll be the player who comes in on a day off to put in extra work. That’s something coaches look for.

“You also need to have a motivation and a passion. I’ve maintained my love for softball since Day 1, and it’s grown as I got older. It seems like in high school, while it’s a team sport you act as an individual when you want to be recruited – in college, you want to do well for your teammates and represent your school.”

Appelbe will graduate with a degree in psychology, with one minor in Spanish and another nearly wrapped up in global health. She plans on teaching for two years in the Boston area after graduating; she had an offer to play at Arizona State, but knew her long-term goals were better served in the Ivy League.

“My parents were pretty straight-forward with my sister (a junior shortstop at Georgetown) and me. We were playing athletics to be taught life lessons,” Appelbe said. “It’s a stepping stone to teach leadership in the real world. I’ve always been realistic – I don’t want to get hung up on stats, but I want to have a good year and do the best I can for my teammates.”

“Sometimes, while you want to be as competitive as possible, you must look to see if you’re helping them grow as young ladies,” said Yale’s Reinalda. “Are they growing socially, are they responsible? Winning is great, of course, but we know there are restrictions being in the Ivy League. Those rewards later are fantastic – kids that come in and you’d never think they’d become a doctor or lawyer, and then they are. It’s very fulfilling.”

Each player’s reward from JUCO to D-I will take a different shape; having faith in that reward and taking pride in your own motor will be critical.

“The first year is especially difficult; in general, that’s how it is in college. You have to have a love for school and sports to excel,” Appelbe added. “We don’t see the work as a chore. It’s a gift, and so unique, to play in college. I talk about the people I’ve met and the new experiences; I saw places I would have never seen otherwise. There’s adversity, but the positives outweigh it all.”