It’s that time of year when players from across the country head to various showcase camps to play in front of recruiters in hopes of earning a letter of intent or in very rare cases a college scholarship. Much has been written about the state of college recruiting on laxallstars and other sites, about how the system is broken. I’m not going to disagree with that. I don’t believe 9th graders should be making verbal commitments or that college coaches should be offering spots to players who have barely made a varsity impact. Instead of writing about how broken the system is I’m going to focus on player development. My biggest question regarding this process is “What are you showcasing?”
We run a lot of camps at the ELEV|8 Sports Institute and the one trend we have noticed is our camps don’t have more than a handful of current high school players. Each camp is open to players from ages 7-19 or Grades 3-12. The players who come are there to improve their game and have fun….and then they get to 9th grade. I’m not sure when it happened exactly but the growing trend is that once you hit 9th grade you don’t have to get better, you have to “showcase” yourself. When I was that age, about to attend Ward Melville High School, we weren’t close to our peak yet. Ward Melville had 2 junior high schools feeding into one high school.
In 9th grade you played on the 9th grade team. In 10th you played JV, rare exceptions were made where a 10th grader played varsity but the rule was unless you were going to be a starter you were better off developing on JV. After the JV season ended a handful of players would be moved up for the varsity playoffs. There was always room to improve and fight and prove yourself to our legendary high school coach. We would attend camps in the summer that had a shared focus in player development and recruiting. At no point did we feel like we were good enough that we no longer had to focus on getting better. To me this is the most alarming part of the recruiting process.
By giving an offer to a 9th grader a college coach is basically playing the stock market. Buying early and hoping the stock will pay off in a few years. Where’s the motivation for the player who verbals as a rising sophomore to keep getting better? Is his stock going to continue to rise or is he going to plateau as he gets a case of senioritis as a sophomore and relaxes for the next two and a half years? What about the player who is on the small side but keeps working on his game? He was 5’5” in 9th grade but finally hits his growth spurt and surpasses all the “superstars” who got complacent. Who would the college coach rather have?
The main question with these recruiting “cattle calls” is “are you ready to be showcased?” You only have one chance to make a first impression. Showcasing yourself before you’re ready isn’t going to get you the result that you want. Maybe head to a few more of those “instructional” camps. If you’re a good enough player that coach will find you, ask Rob Pannell.