This time of year is a special one for many high school age softball players… seniors will be signing with their school of choice in a few months and juniors can start talking to college coaches starting this Sunday.
Also, aspiring younger players will use the fall to “showcase” their talents in hopes of catching the eye of scouts and coaches who can make their college dreams come true.
One notable softball figure who has a great perspective on the recruiting process from both sides as player and coach is Dena Tyson, the former All-American at the Univ. of Washington and today a successful Corona Angels head coach at the 18U and 16U levels.
Dena is the daughter of legendary Corona Angels head coach Marty Tyson and competed at the University of Washington from 2002 to 2007.
She was part of Husky teams that made the Women’s College World Series three times (2003, ’04 and ’07) and as a senior for Washington was a 1st Team All-American. Dena was also selected to the WCWS All-Tournament Team in 2007.
In today’s blog, Dena has great advice regarding the factors to consider if you’re a talented fastpitch player who has the skills to play at the collegiate level and faces the tough decision on how to pick the best fit.
"How do you pick the right college?"
When I saw this question pop up in my email, I was going to ignore it. Why? Because this is a touchy subject.
However, I do feel that if more of us as players told our stories, we could help girls going through this process and they probably could use some guidance so I have decided to speak about only my experience when trying to pick the right college.
I will discuss why I narrowed my decision down to the Power 5, the mistake that my father made (not me!) and if hindsight is truly 20/20.
Well, obviously, we know where I ended up: the University of Washington!
I had many offers from other conferences but at the time who did I see at the Women’s College World Series all the time? The Pac-10 (now the Pac-12).
I knew I wanted to play at the College World Series and that was my No. 1 goal. With the offers I had, I believed Washington at the time was the best option so, in that regard, I picked the right school and I went to the WCWS three of my four years.
I will say that if playing in the College World Series is your ultimate goal as well, then do your research and find the school and conference that you feel will help get you there.
However, back in 2002 a big-name pitcher in California decided to go to school in the SEC, instead of picking one in the Pac-10 close to home. In my opinion that move created the wave the SEC needed.
Another example: I still remember in 2005 seeing Bethune Cookman (a historically black college) playing Texas in the Super Regionals after they beat Florida and South Florida twice at regionals.
My point is, sometimes you may be the missing piece that a school needs to get over the hump and win a Regional, Super-Regional, or even get them to the College World Series.
Don’t be afraid to take the path less traveled. One of my favorite things to say is, “Don’t add to someone else’s history, create your own history!”
Now here is where I will ruffle some feathers (if I haven’t already!).
Yes, we would all like to play on the Olympic team or even play professionally. However, sometimes it’s just not feasible and some of us can’t make a living that way so most players’ softball careers stop after college.
What you get your degree in is huge. I know that most of the girls that will read this are still young, but hopefully with the recruiting rules changing, by their junior year they will have found a passion that they would like to pursue as a career.
For me, ever since I was in Mrs. Monroe’s third grade class, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. A math teacher to be exact!
Two schools that have world renown undergraduate educational programs offered me a full ride. However, at that time their softball programs were not where we thought they needed to be to get to the World Series so we turned down their offers.
And by we, I mean mostly my Dad.
To this day my Dad still says, “I made a softball decision for my daughter, not a life decision.”
Softball is an amazing sport and playing where I did has allotted me so many opportunities, but in hindsight your occupation will be with you longer than your softball career.
This is what I tell my girls all the time: I can’t bring my All-American trophy with me to a job interview.
Your degree will be the key to opening the doors to your new future! I have friends who played in college and never went to the college World Series, but they graduated making six-figure salaries!
Lastly, I was able to go to college, kind of like a regular student, when I red-shirted after my sophomore year. That year I realized how much time softball took from my daily life. Since I stopped traveling, I developed a group of friends outside of softball and I joined a sorority in the National Pan-Hellenic Council: Sigma Gamma Rho.
It was a great experience and I gained a lot of lasting friendships. There is a reputation about Power 5 schools, and I do believe that if I hadn’t redshirted there is no way I would have had the time to join.
What’s my point?
Sometimes, life and college are bigger than softball! Pick a college that says, “Yes, it’s okay to join a sorority” or “Yes, you can major in nursing if that’s really what you want!”
I coached at a Division 3 school and although many girls knew softball was going to be done after they graduated, we had fun and won a National Championship!
Because at the end of the day, it’s not, “Oh, you are a Division 3 champion.” No, it’s just that you are a champion!
So back to the question: How do you pick the right college?
The answer: Follow your heart!
As a player or a parent, having the right perspective is important when it comes to picking the right school. Truly understanding both your softball goals and your life goals will ultimately help you make the best decision when you pick your school.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and while third grade me would have loved to get my undergraduate degree in education, I have no regrets about my personal school decision.
After all, the University of Washington and Coach Heather Tarr helped make me the woman I am today.
I played at an amazing university, went to the Women’s College World Series three times, came away with some amazing lifelong friendships and I met my husband and we’ve raised three beautiful boys!
Your college experience will be what you make it!
Make a list of what you want out of your college experience and whatever school can meet most of those needs (let’s be real—nothing is perfect) then that’s probably the school for you.