Maybe it's because of the COVID-19 pandemic where many are stuck at home and are looking to stay connected to softball, but our readership and subscriber totals have exploded over the last six months as we've picked up thousands of new followers.
Via emails and social media contacts, we're getting a ton of questions about the player rankings including the common one: "How do I get my player (or daughter) considered for your rankings?"
We are also frequently asked WHY we do the rankings.
Below is an article we thought would be of interest to our new followers (and some of our older ones!).
Extra Inning Softball’s Brentt Eads--who, as he continues with the 2023 class update, will have done 31 different softball class rankings, including the Classes of 2014 through 2025 (11 years!)--talks about player ratings, why they’re done, how players make the list (or don't) and who wants them in the first place (you may be surprised).
And why they've been appreciated more than ever in this year of the life-changing Coronavirus...
How Do Players Get Recognized?
With hundreds of thousands of fastpitch players competing nationwide (and globally), we're not going to see every single one, but there is a process in how we do recognize those in the ratings.
To everyone that asks: "How does a player get on the lists?" I always mention one or more of three ways:
- Our staff sees them at events ranging from Nationals to showcases to individual games,
- Players are nominated by club coaches,
- Players are recommended by college scouts and coaches.
That brings up the frequent question we get regarding parents and players sending info.
Yes, you can send content to back up your case, it's best to send via email as it's easier to archive; tweeting isn't recommended as sometimes it isn't able to be accessed. And huge videos are a no-no as they often don't come through!
Bu we will keep whatever you send on file; sometimes it even leads to feature articles (we're always looking for great human interest stories!)
Feel free to send to me directly, my email is: email@example.com
Let's now address WHY the rankings are compiled in the first place: it all comes down to one primary reason:
... the softball community wants them!
You wouldn't believe the number of emails we get on a regular basis saying how people are appreciative that this is done so players have something to look forward to, work towards and continue working hard to improve their individual rating.
In these COVID-19 pandemic months of "stay-at-home" quarantines and "self-distancing" reminders, we usually get several emails every day expressing gratitude for the ongoing softball coverage including looking at players for story and ranking purposes.
One softball fan wrote in saying simply, "Thank you for the rankings and keeping us connected to the sport. It's been tough not being on the fields, but reading about these amazing players keeps our spirits up knowing that we'll be playing again soon!"
Here are some points I think are important to consider why the rankings continue to be popular:
1) WE LOVE LISTS
We as Americans love lists (look, I’m creating one right now). We want to know where everything stacks up and how it compares. This includes softball players and their teams.
There is a demand for these lists and, contrary to what some may think, this includes players, parents, club coaches, and, yes, even college coaches.
Someone once posted on our Facebook page something to the effect that, “No college coach even looks at these top 100 rankings.” Not exactly...
I was talking to someone high-up in the game recently, and it was pointed out that the rankings are used as a resource by college coaches to 1) start their recruiting at younger age divisions, including inviting to their elite and summer camps, and 2) to validate they haven’t missed out on players (and to see who their rivals are getting!).
At the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic a few years ago, I even had several college coaches ask about the lists and make comments about how they use it as a recruiting tool. And why wouldn’t they?
It doesn’t mean they agree with how players are listed, it just means they use it as a resource—one of many at their disposal.
At an NFCA Convention one year, a top club coach who has won multiple National Championships told me he needs to be more involved in providing information on his players because college coaches are saying they use it as a way to learn more about the prospects on the market.
You know who else likes the rankings?
Sports Information Directors at colleges! Why? Because it gives them info on players and something they can add to their Signing Releases when they have player info such as where a signee is listed and also where their class ranked overall. Info is good and it can help provide data to showcase a class.
One example: notice how the National Champion UCLA Bruins referenced Extra Inning Softball player rankings in the signing release it put out in November of 2019: Bruins Announce Signing Class.
2) DIALOG AROUND SOFTBALL
Time has proven that the rankings create a discussion around the sport.
Like the Extra Elite 100 player inclusions or not—especially if you have a vested interest in a club or college team, have an athlete that age, or simply just care about softball and follow the age level—you’ll probably have a strong opinion one way or another.
And you probably have a passionate reaction such as “Yes, we played against that athlete and she is legit” or “Wow, she’s so overrated, we beat her — our pitcher is better” or the very common “Why isn’t our player on the list and she is?”
Sports anchor Steve Nissim of WEAR produced a very nice segment on Sam outlining her accomplishments over the last few years.
Here's the 45-second piece...
3) HONORING THE PLAYERS
The ranking’s primary reason for existence is that it honors athletes who work their tails off. Why shouldn’t softball players be recognized for all that they do?
They put a bazillion hours practicing to hone their skills, taking lessons, traveling to games and tournaments and playing—all practically 52 weeks a year now, why is it a bad thing to honor them by saying, “You’re one of the top players in the country at what you do?”
Who wouldn’t want to be considered one of the best at anything, especially for something they love?
Some, including media folks I like, have complained that it's too young to rank these players, that it puts pressure on them... and my response to that is: really?
Why, when it gives them recognition for their hard work, should we not recognize their efforts? They play in national tournaments, some of which are televised and most now are live streamed.
Why, when these softball standouts travel the country playing a sport they love and work hard, even when the game is taken from them, by doing everything they can to stay "softball ready" as we saw when the Coronavirus kept players and teams from even assembling.
4) MORE FASTPITCH COVERAGE
Yes, I'll admit it: the Extra Elite 100 adds to our coverage at Extra Inning Softball and, frankly, adds authenticity and legitimacy to what we do.
Why? Because we get this information from the key influencers in the sport and allows us to create relationships with people who know the sport best.
The best reason I’ve ever heard for doing rankings comes from the person who’s been voted the No. 1 Most Influential Person in Softball: legendary Hall of Famer Sue Enquist, who as a player and coach at UCLA won 11 National Championships.
Sue told me long ago: “Brentt, you’re either in the tribe (of softball) or you’re not—you’re in the tribe because of your rankings. Don’t ever give those up.”
Good enough feedback for me.
5) USE AS A MOTIVATING TOOL
I've come to learn that the rankings are a strong motivating tool for players. I’ve worried that it creates undue pressure on players and I’ve found it’s quite the opposite.
A quick story: concerned that I was “feeding the beast” of adding stress to athletes’ live, I was talking to a Top 25 college head coach a while back and asked if the rankings were a bad thing in this way, in his opinion.
He laughed and said, “Pressure? I’ll tell you what pressure is: when a player sees me leaning over the fence watching her and knowing a scholarship is on the line involving thousands and thousands of dollars… THAT’S pressure! Being put on a list, that’s nothing.”
I’ve been sensitive to this from the very first list I did—the Class of 2014 Hot 100 to this new list of 2022’s. I’ve asked the top players in practically every list—from Jenna Lilley (2014) and Amanda Lorenz (2015) to Megan Fariamo (2018) and Kenzie Hansen (2019, Oklahoma commit) to many others—if being No. 1 in their respective classes put a target on their backs.
Each one gave pretty much the same answer (and I’m paraphrasing):
"I already push myself hard enough, to be No. 1 in my class is an honor and it forces me to work harder to justify the ranking and the confidence in me. But ultimately I know it’s what I do on the field that will validate my performance."
In conclusion, I’ve overseen 11 years of classes with more coming this year (after the 2023's, 2024's are on the clock!) and most of them have been updated two or three times. I’ve gone through the process of 30+ top 100 lists, which now go as deep as 500 players in most cases.
I once stopped to count the hours it takes to produce a list and it ranges to between 70 and 80: there’s the hours and hours of research contacting coaches, watching players in person, compiling the data and info, assembling the list and whittling it down to the final ranking order, writing and editing the bios, securing photos and finally, putting it all together and posting on the website.
And that isn’t counting the years of relationship building and trust it took to develop the lists in the first place.
We take these lists very seriously and don’t just throw them together—a lot of time, energy, and effort goes into making them as accurate as possible.
It’s important to say that this isn’t an exact science: there’s no scientific way to compare a shortstop from California to a pitcher in Oklahoma to a power hitter in Illinois. But it’s fun and as mentioned above, it’s something that the market has enjoyed since they were first compiled many years ago.
And it’s important to note as well that one benefit of starting young is we can update the lists over the next several years and see it evolve as players get closer to entering college.
It’s typical that each list will change 25% from the list before it as new players emerge.
So why do some players make quantum leaps or some drop? It's because some emerge and show they deserve to be on the list based on performance, perhaps as late-bloomers or because they were overlooked, and others drop perhaps because they've peaked or haven't worked as hard or simply got passed up for reasons outside their control such as injury.
A positive example: pitcher Maggie Balint, who had a dominating summer performance at Boulder IDT and took her PA Chaos to the title game one year, went from not being ranked in an early version of a top 100 list to being ranked #4 in the next version. She eventually would sign with Oregon (she's now at San Diego State) and shows that the lists evolve as players emerge, improve or, sometimes, don't progress.
Recently, I talked to a club coach who, when asked about one of his players in the 2020 rankings who had been very high said basically, "She's not improved and shouldn't be in the top 100 right now." And this player is going to a Top 25 national program.
I’ve been told many, many times by players that—when knowing that an updated list is coming out—it fires them up to work hard and perform well so they either move up the top 100 or enter it if not in already.
Will everyone like them?
Of course not, but as long as the softball market finds it of value we will continue to do them and, hopefully, help grow the sport and honor the athletes. That’s what it’s ultimately all about.
--- Brentt Eads, President/Executive Editor
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to write us and let us know what you think! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org