Saying NO to “Opportunity”: When is it OK?

Mark's profile pic

By Mark Helsel,
US Elite Baseball National Director

I can remember vividly the stress I felt every time I would get an email inviting my son, Christian, to a “must do” event. Each professionally written email made it sound like it would be the exposure opportunity that would open all the right doors for my son. Some of them were “invite only” showcases, some were tournaments, some were camps, and some were special events. But, ALL of them were EXPENSIVE!!

I shudder to think about how many thousands of dollars I may have spent if I hadn’t had a “travel ball lifeline” in my good buddy, Rob Bruno. Rob is the Co-Founder of NorCal Baseball, arguably one of the most successful programs in the country. Under Rob’s leadership NorCal (Northern California) has had over 350 players move on to college from his program. 35 have made to the show and 15 were first round picks. To say Rob has “been around the block” in travel baseball (by the way, he despises that term) is an understatement. More accurately, he has seen (and heard) it all. That’s why I was so blessed to have Rob’s good council as I went through the recruiting process with my son, Christian. Like most dads, I had zero experience with the overwhelming amount of opportunities there were for my son. Wink, wink.

As more and more “opportunities” would fill up my email inbox, I would forward them to Rob and ask, “should we do this one”? I think he must have just copied and pasted the same response over and over, “just not necessary”.

So therein lies the question, what is necessary and what is “just not necessary”? Another way to ask the same question is “When is it ok to say no to opportunity?. Getting clarity and wise counsel in this area could save you literally thousands of dollars. So, based on the incredible tutelage I got from Rob Bruno, as well as operating the last nine years as the Director of US Elite Baseball, I’ll give you some straightforward advice on managing “opportunity”.

First off, there is no replacement for experience. Now that I have been a part of helping over 150 players from our program get scholarships, and few get drafted, I can say with a high level of confidence that there are some guidelines to follow. Some may not be what you want to hear, but they may be what you need to hear. My first piece of advice is to seek the counsel of people who do this kind of thing for a living before you accept any offers to showcases, camps, etc. For example, I encourage all of the parents in our organization to ask either myself, or their US Elite head coach, about opportunities that come their way. We give them straightforward, honest answers. Some of them are very legit opportunities and we encourage them to to do them. However, most of the time we tell them its just not necessary.

For many of these opportunities to make any sense at all to do, your son needs to be really talented for them to pay off in any way. Many of these so called opportunities feast on people’s dreams. They prey on parents who are easily impressed with the glitz and glamour of an event.  Sadly, many times they play the vanity card. After All, what parent doesn’t want to believe their son is good enough to get invited to something really special? I encourage parents to use some common sense. If a player cannot go to a showcase and show at least one elite level tool then 99% of the time that showcase will be a complete waste of their money. Just think about the meaning of the word showcase. What are you going to showcase at a showcase? One of the best examples I can give is when players keep going to showcases and keep proving over and over that they are not fast or do not have a strong arm. Running a 7.6 60 yard dash as a junior in high school or throwing 78 mph across the diamond is not going to get anyone’s attention at a showcase. Why would anyone spend money to prove that they are not fast or don’t have a strong arm?

A few years ago a player tried out for our program and did not make our team. He was a great kid, but had very average skills and ability. A few weeks later we were playing in the Arizona Fall classic and I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was him. He told me after our tryout he tried out for another program and he made their “travel team”.  It was a very well known national organization that I am very familiar with. He paid $1,700 for the weekend to play for them. They had 5 teams in the event. Of course, it was a money grab, but sadly he and his parents we sold a bill of goods. Here’s a general rule of thumb, if the event is expensive (anything over $200) then I will tell you someone is feasting on someone else’s dreams. Sorry, that’s the harsh reality. There are exceptions to this rule, but not many.

Next up we have the ever popular player rankings “opportunities”. Recently a parent told me they were going to an event to improve their son’s rankings. News bulletin: rankings are a great way to make money, but they mean nothing in the recruiting process. Here’s why ranking services are so popular these days; its easy to convince unknowing parents (and players) that being a ranked player is important. The business model is simple; host a paid event and promote it to increase your rankings. The more oblivious the parent is to the reality of rankings the better. I won’t win any popularity contests among the ranking services out there, but I’ll say it publicly….RANKINGS DON’T MATTER! How do I know? Because I talk to recruiting coordinators every day and have been involved in over 150 players getting scholarships and I have NEVER had one college coach ask me what a player was ranked. NEVER! Think about it, who is doing the rankings? The ranking service, of course. Who has an incredible conflict of interest? You guessed it, the ranking service. Most ranking services don’t even rank any players who have not paid to attend their events. Trust me when I tell you that college recruiters don’t need a rankings service to tell them how good a player is. They will watch with their own two eyes and do their own ranking. I have seen the whiteboards in their offices. Those are the only rankings that matter. Another example of how I know rankings don’t matter is because many of our US Elite players who got D1 scholarships were never ranked players. Why? Just not necessary!

So, I’m sure you’re wondering by now, what actually is necessary? Good question. First, if you are a talented player, and have strong aspirations of playing in college you need to play in a player development organization that has track record of consistently helping it’s players get scholarships. There is a proven formula to this process. If you want to play college baseball, you will swing the odds dramatically in your favor if you play in an organization that consistently produces 10+ college players per year. As an example, over 96% of our graduating players get scholarships and we’ve been averaging over 20 for the last 5 years. There are other programs across the country who do similar numbers, and some many times that. Players in these programs have a huge advantage. They do not need to do all the showcases, camps, and special event tournaments because they are getting all the exposure they need from their program. As an example, all of our teams will go on visits to D1 schools this spring. Our players and families will meet the coaches, tour the university and watch the teams play. This summer our high school aged teams will play in front of hundreds of college coaches. We promote our players to the college coaches and they trust our judgement with talent. All the other “stuff” is, well, just not necessary.

Finally, you need to know that there are some bona fide “can’t miss” opportunities for talented players. Some of the most notable are the Perfect Junior National Showcase, the Perfect Game National Showcase, the East Coast Pro Showcase, the Area Code Games, the Tournament of Stars, USA Baseball special events and the Perfect Game All American game. Ask any scout in the country and they will tell you that these events are legit.  If you are fortunate enough to get invited to any of these you need to go. Certainly, there are other events that are worth going to, but the point of this article is that most are simply, yes, you guessed it, just not necessary.