Welcome to Interview #3.
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NAIA Softball Coach, Steve Babinski, of Indiana Wesleyan University.
How do you find players for your team?
Many ways. Tournaments, camps, emails, connections…I pride myself in recruiting and finding the best fits for my style and the school to help ensure success for the student athlete, our program, and the University. I tell a lot of recruits “no” to find the few a year I say “yes” to.
Indiana Wesleyan is a Christian school. Will all religious schools be similar?
Every school has its own unique flavors. No two schools are identical. In the same way no two Christian schools are identical. You can call yourself a Christian and have differing beliefs or practices from a Christian School. It is important not to assume you understand what each school stands on as their foundation. At IWU we have over 40 different denominations (Wesleyan, Baptist, Catholic, etc.) represented. The school’s stance is that the Bible is 100% real and Jesus dying on the cross for our sins is the only way for us to have an unbroken relationship with God. Not all the students at IWU are Christians but they know what the school’s stance is and are excited to learn more about God, Jesus, and the Bible.
What are differences that recruits should think about when choosing a religious school?
A genuine excitement to grow in knowledge of the faith the school represents. If it is not genuine you will become unhappy and make others around you unhappy. You do not need to fully believe everything the school promotes but you need to sign off on their standards and policies. So if a school has a dry campus policy and you are looking for more freedom…not a good fit for the school or you. Find out what your deal breakers are in finding the right place and please do not compromise them. Transfer rates are through the roof in the last 10-15 years and a big part of that is the student-athlete goes to a school that really isn’t the best fit for them.
Why do you think athletes should consider an NAIA college? What are the benefits of an NAIA school specifically?
I don’t want to convince you to choose an NAIA school…I want you to not rule them out. If you are looking for the best fit and your goal is to get your student athlete a great experience where they can be happy…I encourage you to look at all collegiate possibilities. The misconception is NAIA schools aren’t as competitive or they aren’t offering scholarships…both are incorrect. This year alone my IWU team is 5-2 against NCAA DII schools. The top 25 NAIA teams beat NCAA DI and DII schools each and every year. NAIA can offer scholarships too. Like NCAA, it is up to the institution to provide the scholarship to the coaches. You see fully and partially funded NCAA teams and NAIA teams. Some typical benefits of NAIA schools are the smaller class sizes and a potential greater 1-on-1 education. The NAIA is a character driven entity that promotes sportsmanship, servant leadership, integrity, respect, and responsibility. If you are a great athlete, look into NAIA institutions with an open mind. I left the NCAA DI world so I could verbally coach with my Christian faith every day. I believe I am coaching a DI quality program at the NAIA level…and I am not alone!
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen? If a softball player personally contacts you by phone or email, what will you do next?
Personal emails with a video link is the best. An email that starts ‘Dear Coach’ and then proceeds gets thrown out pretty quick. Start an email ‘Dear Coach Babinski’ and then in the 1st paragraph make it personal and comment on our season or most recent wins. Then…you can copy and paste. It’s a little trick that will show coaches that you took an extra few minutes to connect in a personal way. It will set you apart and make the coach want to read the rest of the email. For me, after a recruit contacts me I will decide on 1st impression if the kid has any chance to play here for me. If they do, I respond personally and begin a very basic dialogue. The younger the kid the more I will direct them to a camp or recruit weekend we host. If it is clear the recruit will not be one of mine based on the letter being non-personal, not good enough, or just a gut feeling…I dismiss the contact and move on.
At what point is your recruiting class done? When is it too late for a player to be thinking they will be recruited? Are there exceptions?
With transfer rates through the roof recruiting is NEVER done:) I have a good freshman who has already decided she wants to transfer because of a change in her major. We graduate 4-6 a year and always have the potential to lose a kid or two due to life interrupting them and their plans. That’s not bad…the students need to follow what’s best for them…it just means I thought I was done with 2015 kids a while ago and now I need 1 more. So yes, there are always exceptions. The more prestigious the school, typically, the sooner their recruiting is done. MANY of our top coaches of all collegiate levels HATE the early signing. It is one of the strongest reasons transfer rates are so high. Kids are deciding what college they want to go to shortly after they hit high school. A 14 year old’s desire for secondary education and a 16 or 17 year old’s are drastically different in a lot of cases. I typically wait until junior year and summer before senior year to sign my student athletes. All coaches are different so that is a great question to ask the coaches of the schools you are looking into
Could you share, in whatever detail you are comfortable, what the athletic scholarship break down looks like on your roster?
For most programs pitchers, catchers, shortstops, and center fielders receive the highest scholarships. Then add the players who have an outstanding skill. Power hitters or potential elite conference players at any position would probably see a higher scholarship. Check with the school if they allow stacking of scholarships. My highest package athletes have a combination of athletic and academic aid because they were just as serious in the classroom as they were with their softball training.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
Support and guidance. Parents need to understand when their child goes to school and they are 18+ they are now legal adults. It is illegal for us as coaches to share details that would violate the governments FERPA standards. All that to say…help you child make her best choice where she fits and will be happy. She is the one who will be going through the grind of school, two-a-days, weights, curfews, study tables, community service, sports psychology, tough professors, etc…all before they see 1 pitch in the spring. Parents, please support them to succeed and be slower to save them when they go through difficulties. Think back to the times where we had to step up in a difficult time and it really helped to shape us…allow your children to grow through the bad and the good. I have 4 kids…and what we are planning on doing is when they hit college…our advice will be in the forms of questions…helping them understand it is their choice but they need to know the questions that should be asked to get the answers to make a good choice…hopefully it works;) So, let your child do the emailing…but please look over the email. Teach your child that social media represents them and if not used wisely will shut doors of opportunities. Teach them to define the difference with deal breakers and preferences in considering a potential college. Everyone is different, so help your 14-18 year old understand what’s really important so when they are 22-23 they are thrilled they are getting the degree at the school you helped them find. Lastly, every player is always 1 play away from ending their career. If life interrupts and playing ball is done…are they still glad they chose that school?
What does the off season, fall season and summer look like for a softball player?
Each division and each coach is different. The NAIA gives us 24 weeks of teachable time with our players. So I use 8 weeks in the fall of team practices 5 days a week with games sprinkled in. Then we go to a strictly lifting and conditioning season of about 5 weeks. That gives us 16 weeks for our winter training and season. Summer, all the kids get a summer weights and conditioning manual and we start it all over again the next fall.
What should players expect from a Christian college athletic experience?
Grow in your knowledge and understanding of who God is and who He has created you to be. Get a great education that will help you truly make a difference in whatever community you go out too after college. Use the gifts God has given you to the best of your ability. Learn to put God 1st, others 2nd, and yourself 3rd.
What is the NCCAA?
The National Christian College Athletic Association is an 50 year old organization of Christian schools made up of mostly NAIA and NCAA DII Christian schools. These schools have duel memberships to their NCAA or NAIA and also to the NCCAA. Schools in the NCCAA have potential opportunities to gain awards and recognitions from the NCCAA as well as possible NCCAA post season berths. Many intercollegiate sports have a National tournament in the NCCAA. For softball, if we do not make it to the NAIA Nationals we can advance to the NCCAA Nationals by winning our NCCAA regional made up of 2 NCAAII schools and 3 NAIA schools.
How do academics and athletics fit together?
Academics is a make or break for me. I am not looking for eligible kids…I am looking for world changers. Show me you can be diligent in the classroom and you passed round 1. If we do not have your intended major I will not have you switch majors because you just love IWU or my staff. If we do not hold your major I see that also as a deal breaker. Everyone is always looking for “how low is too low” for test scores or GPAs and I do not have numbers for you. I will tell you the higher GPA and test score you get the better package you will receive for me.
Coach Babinski is in his 11th season as a Head Coach in the NAIA. He has accumulated 348+ wins, advanced to Nationals 4 times while maintaining team GPA’s over 3.0 each season.
He is also a Vice President and will serve as the President of the NAIA Softball National Fastpitch Coaches Association next year. Coach Babinski got his start as an assistant coach at NCAA DI Bowling Green State University under current Syracuse University Head Coach Leigh Ross. He was a collegiate baseball player and won the Male Athlete of the Year Award his senior season.
Next, take a look at What is the NAIA?
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