Recruitment Game

Yesterday I was posed with the question: “How do I get recruited?” After brief reflection, the answer seemed easy:

“Make yourself so valuable, that everyone needs you.” This stands in opposition to the current process: getting lucky in Recruiting Musical Chairs.

Musical Chairs

The recruitment game is analogous to a game of musical chairs. Most view it simply: there are x number of chairs, y number of players, and the music runs from Junior-Senior year. If you’re fortunate enough to get on a chair before the music ends, you get to play in college. In order to help you get a better angle to a chair, parents shell out massive amounts of money to “coaches” who run these lame travel programs and travel the world to attend showcases to get a groundball and a swing or two in the hopes of getting lucky. Unfortunately, based on the percentages below, most are left standing while the music runs out:

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Misplaced Focus: Getting a Chair… At Any Cost

Under the current paradigm, most people focus on the game of musical chairs. They try to get into as many games as possible – in front of as many chairs as they can – hoping that the more times they play, the higher the probability they will get a chair. It turns into a numbers game for most. And if you have the financial wherewithal, you can enter more games, in more parts of the country, desperately seeking those chairs that only 1-3% will sit in.

Unfortunately, based on the increasing focus on the game of musical chairs – more entrants enter the system and the travel sports industry explodes. As more people play the game of musical chairs, a student-athlete now believes they need to enter more games in order to possibly get a chair. This leads to increased costs and increased pressure on all participants. Consequently, as costs and pressure rise, strategies to get a chair become more insidious and malevolent. Parents ridiculing other student-athletes, coaches getting berated with calls regarding playing time, student-athletes undercutting their own teammates to forge ahead – all just a byproduct of this vicious musical chairs game.

As chairs run out and the music begins to stop, some athletes find themselves sitting while others are left without a chair. Unfortunately, both are usually left worse off because of the misallocation of value. Many athletes who were fortunate because of timing never developed the skills that are truly valuable at the next level – work ethic, accountability, sacrifice; and the athletes who are left out are left disenfranchised and jaded.

A Vicious Cycle

In running our program, I’ve never once asked a parent how his/her son/daughter was as a player. I honestly don’t care. I care about the person behind the player, the work ethic that they carry with them, and how well they can help others reach their goals. I’m not looking for self-assessed or parent-assessed “great” players, I’m looking for great people who want to achieve greatness and provide value to their teammates. Unfortunately, without provocation, the majority of parents I speak to for the first time assess their child and then preface it with: “I’m not one of those parents, but…” I then get told about little Johnny’s All-star achievements, past dominant performances, and their future greatness. The ironic part of it – these parents are usually well intentioned people with great kids. But they’ve been fooled into focusing on getting a chair in the recruitment game. They believe competition is zero sum and their child needs to get into every tournament and every showcase to show how much better he/she is than their peers.

A New Hope

Although the statistics are admittedly daunting, there is a hack to the game of musical chairs. And this hack doesn’t involve undercutting teammates, demanding more from a coach, or paying large sums of money to travel the country.

The hack is simple: focus 100% of your time and energy on acquiring and fully defining your skillset. Revert your focus from the game of musical chairs to developing skills that will make you so valuable that the traditional game of musical chairs doesn’t apply to you. This is the most misunderstood aspect of the travel sports industry: the better you become BOTH ON AND OFF THE FIELD the more chairs that will be available to you, the less people fighting for those chairs, and the longer the music will play.

So our challenge to you is simple – stop focusing on recruitment and random tournaments. Instead, train to become the best player you can possibly be. Focus on being the best teammate as you can be. Focus on being the best student you can be. Find a program that will help you elevate your game to levels you didn’t think possible. Don’t settle for 80, throw 100. Don’t settle for swinging bunts, mash baseballs. Don’t settle for tournament wins, practice intensely. Train on the edge, push yourself, push your teammates, test your levels of comfort. Focus on gaining and developing skills. Become as valuable a student-athlete as there has ever been. If you do all that, you will see that during your life – you will develop unmatched value and eventually you can play the recruitment game by yourself and choose whatever chair you want to sit in!

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