7 Tips to Increase the odds of getting a scholarship

I’m writing this blog to help those players and parents who want to go through the college recruiting process and arrive at a successful outcome. I’m inspired to share my 7 top tips based on years of experience. The truth is, I got hooked on the “high” of helping kids, starting with my own son, Christian. When he was 12 he told me he wanted to play baseball in the SEC. So, we set out on a journey together. It was so incredible on many levels. (And, yes, he got to play in the SEC). Ever since that humble beginning, I’ve enjoyed helping kids achieve one of their biggest goals for this period of their lives; earning a scholarship to play baseball in college.

There are so many great lessons along the way. And the great news is so many of them transcend far beyond baseball and impact these young men’s lives long after baseball is over. It makes this journey extra special knowing we are really learning life skills through baseball. So, buckle up. I’ll give you my best tips on how to make your journey special and successful.

Tip # 1: “Begin with the end in mind”

Steven Covey (Author of the best selling 7 Habits Series) states this. Begin with the End in Mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen. One of the best ways to incorporate this habit into your life is to develop a Personal Mission Statement”.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make in this journey is they do not have a clear vision for what they want.  This, unfortunately, leads to not having a clear plan to achieve what you want. When Christian told me at 12 years old what he wanted I can distinctly remember explaining to him the difference between a goal and a dream. A goal was well thought out, well planned and measurable. A dream was merely a vision. I taught him an important life lesson early in his life that successful people have a plan, and they work on their plan every day.

Action Points: Are your goals clearly defined? Do you have them written down? Do you have a plan to achieve your goal? Are they measurable?

Tip # 2: It takes a village. Trust is the key.

Nobody goes through this journey successfully by themselves. People who reach lofty goals assemble teams of people around them to help them achieve their goals. Think of an olympic athlete, for example. They have trainers, consultants, nutritionists, mental coaches, instructors, agents, publicists and many other people who play a key role in their journey to a gold medal. You must have a team and you must trust your team. You have to believe they have your best interest in mind and genuinely want to help you reach your goals. My experience with putting a team of people around you is to start with belief in yourself. Until you believe in yourself, nobody will take you seriously. Another key component to putting a great team of people around you is to be humble. Honestly, nobody wants to help arrogant, self centered kids.  

Action Points: Do you have a team of people around you? Do you trust them? Do you clearly understand their roles?

Tip # 3: Check your ego at the door.

Over the years I can tell you that the number one derailer of goals is pride and ego. So many times I have seen pride and ego stand in the way of reaching goals. It disguises itself in many ways, but it always boils down to it. Let me illustrate my point. When my son, Christian, was 15 years old he was playing baseball in front of the, then, Virginia Tech recruiting coordinator, Mike Gambino. Mike is a transparent guy, a real straight shooter. He made a statement to me that completely changed my son’s career (for the better). He said, referring to Christian, “his feet are too slow to play infield in the ACC”. Wow, not exactly the words you want to hear from a college coach. That moment was the test. It represented the proverbial “Y” in the road. I could either trust Mike’s evaluation and we could get to work on speeding up Christian’s feet, or I could choose to disagree with Mike and believe that Christian “was just fine the way he was”. Believe it or not, many players and parents choose the latter. The truth hurts just a little too much, so pride and ego take over and they move away from that kind of truth and go somewhere more “comfortable”. I have seen it over and over in my time as Director of US Elite Baseball. Our program was inspired by Mike Gambino. I appreciated his honesty and his transparency. (Side note; Mike is the head coach now at Boston College). We tell our players and parents all the time that we will give them what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. I always find it fascinating to see how people respond to the truth. Players who will play at the next level need to have thick skin.

Tip # 4: It’s not about what parents want!

Parents, if you are reading this, brace yourself. This is not about your career i.e. what you want. It’s about your son’s career and what he wants. I know that sounds so obvious, but in my position I get to see this dynamic play out almost daily. I witness parents speaking on behalf of their sons all the time. A few years ago, I had an experience that illustrates this point perfectly. We were in Georgia playing in the 17U WWBA. One of the dads asked to have a meeting with me, and he began by telling me that his son should be getting more time on the field. On our team, this particular player was a pitcher only. I listened to the dad give me all the reasons why his son should be on the field. Sadly, it’s usually the same argument like his batting average in high school, or that he hits third on his local team, etc. Of course, absolutely NONE of that matters to a coach or a scout, but parents continue to think it does for some reason. Regardless, I got to the point in the conversation where I said, “Let’s get your son involved in this conversation and hear what he has to say”. Of course, the dad wanted nothing to do with that idea. In fact, he boldly stated that his son would be horrified if he knew this conversation was even taking place. It was at that point that I abruptly ended our conversation by simply stating, “this is not your career, so have your son reach out to me if he wants to discuss”. I never heard another peep.

Action Point: Players need to speak for themselves. It’s their career. If you are a parent and you are speaking on behalf of your son, stop immediately.

Tip #5: Swing the odds in your favor

I’m constantly amazed at the players and parents who say they want to earn a scholarship to play baseball in college, but they are on a team, or in a program, that has virtually no history or success of helping players reach that goal. For example, I have a lot of confidence in my dentist. He has performed literally thousands and thousands of procedures on people before me. He has a great reputation for success. Therefore, I feel good about turning my dental needs over to him. Makes sense, right? Now, stop and think about all the thousands of kids who are playing “travel baseball” and hoping to get a scholarship to play baseball in college. Many of them are playing on teams, or in programs with almost no history of success for helping players reach that goal. Sorry to be so bold, but does that make any sense logically? I say no, it does not. It doesn’t mean they are bad people or not good coaches. It means that helping kids get scholarships is not their area of expertise.

At US Elite we actively recruit kids who are playing on other teams. Some have called that “stealing players”. I would vehemently disagree. If we believe we can help a player, and provide a great opportunity from him, we are going to at least let him know that somebody has noticed him. Isn’t that what everyone is hoping happens to them? Years ago I approached a coach of a small local program and asked him about his shortstop. I mentioned that he caught my eye and that I thought we could open some doors for him. His coach immediately copped an attitude and told me to stay away from his players. I distinctly remember thinking how that coach absolutely did not have the best interests of his player in mind. He was literally willing to sabotage an opportunity for one of his own players because of his own personal gain (winning another trophy). In case you’re wondering, I still spoke the player and he got a scholarship after playing in our program for 3 years.

At US Elite, we have very good reason to believe we can help players. Over 400 have played in our program and moved on to college and/or professional baseball. I can say with 100% confidence that we have our players best interests in mind. In fact, we actively look for opportunities for our players.

Action point: Answer these questions honestly; Have I thoroughly researched opportunities to be developed (groomed) for the next level? Does the program that I am currently in now offer me the absolute best opportunities to get a scholarship? If the answer is yes, stay put. If the answer is no, you are wasting time by not being in a program that helps you swing the odds in your favor.

Tip # 6 Understand what matters to recruiters

One of the biggest areas of misinformation in the recruiting process is what matters to college coaches when they are evaluating players. To keep it simple, I will simply list the two categories:

What matters

  • Academics
  • Character
  • Leadership
  • Being coachable
  • Controlling emotions
  • Energy
  • Work ethic
  • Being a competitor
  • Toughness
  • Great teammate
  • Baseball IQ
  • Quality At Bats (hitters)
  • Swings and misses (hitters)
  • Ball to strike ratio (pitchers)
  • Off speed command (pitchers)
  • Baseball actions (how your body works)
  • Mechanics
  • References from credible people
  • Talent (What God gave you)
  • Body type
  • Athleticism
  • Skill set (What you’ve done with what God gave you)
  • Projection (what can you become)

What doesn’t matter

  • Player rankings (PBR, PG, etc)
  • Batting average
  • What parents think
  • Where you hit in the lineup
  • High school stats
  • Honors (like “All conference”)
  • Your team’s record
  • Stats from your local team

Tip # 7: There are no shortcuts

Finally, my last piece of advice is to stop looking for the easy way, or the shortcuts. They don’t exist. 98% of high school baseball players will not get to play D1 baseball. Those are the facts. 2% will, and those kids are talented and have earned it. In 13 years of helping players in this journey I can think of 5 (maybe) who were what I call “freaks of nature”. Those are the kids who could probably have done everything wrong and still gotten an opportunity to play at the next level. The other 95% did everything right (swung the odds in their favor).

A few years ago I had a dad inform me that “they” had decided not to play fall ball with us. This was despite the fact that some of the most scouted events of the year are in the fall and his son was a junior and told me his goal was to play in college. Naturally, I wanted to know what their plan was. They told me that there were just going to “do camps”. The dad rationalized that he could save a lot of money and just go to the camps of schools they were interested in. Sounds logical, right? No, not at all if you understand how this process works. The first mistake they made was going to camps of schools that he was not talented enough to play at. Unless you can go to a camp and do something extraordinary, like throw 95 across the infield, or run a 6.4 60, you will not stand out at any camp, especially at a power 5 conference. In this kid’s case, he had no plus tools, so I knew he would go to all the camps and get no attention, which is exactly what happened. And, even if he had stood out, the first thing a college coach would have asked would have been, “where can I see you play competitive baseball”.

In conclusion, there is a formula for success in the recruiting process. If you have the desire, work ethic and a plan, great things can happen for you.

Action Point: Do you have a plan? Are you doing all the things you need to do to get what you want?

About The Author. Mark Helsel is the founder and National Director of US Elite Baseball. Read Mark’s full bio HERE.