As head softball coach for the University of Arizona, Mike Candrea has won seven of the last 16 national titles, the most recent in 2006. A key to the Wildcats’ stellar and consistent performance is the superb talent Candrea brings in year after year. Here, he reveals what it takes to make it onto his roster.
STACK: When you evaluate athletes, what attributes are you looking for in certain positions?
Mike Candrea: We look for hard numbers in terms of velocity with pitching. If you can’t throw 58 to 62 miles per hour consistently, you’d better have tremendous movement. At shortstop, we look for quickness, game sense, anticipation and a strong arm. For outfielders, speed more than anything and above-average arm strength are key. In the corners, we want good anticipation and lateral movement—even though this is more important for middle infielders. We also look for athletes who can swing the bat.
Where and when do you start to evaluate talent?
MC: One hundred percent of our evaluation is done in person, and probably all of it is done watching travel ball—ASA. We used to do a lot of recruiting among the 18 and under group, but now we look more at the 16 and under, because athletes are starting to commit to colleges earlier. We have to look down the road at an athlete’s future and determine whether she has tapped out her physical skills, or if she has the tools and talent to grow and get better. So part of the evaluation is figuring out an athlete’s maturity level and if she will stay driven to work hard and improve.
What do you think about athletes committing earlier?
MC: It has plusses and minuses. It’s good when an athlete does her homework; she takes the unofficial visit and knows a school will provide everything she needs academically and athletically. Unfortunately, many athletes think they need to commit early because of peer pressure. In these cases, I wonder if athletes really do their homework—sit down with academic advisors to find out what majors the school offers and if the athletic program has stability. When you commit early, things can change—like the coaching staff. So there’s a gamble to signing early.
Does committing early mean athletes have to be more proactive in the recruiting process?
MC: Most certainly. A lot of times, athletes take unofficial visits, which means they’re paying their own way. We talk to them once they’re on our campus. In the old days, we evaluated players, then offered official paid visits to the ones we wanted to sign. To tell you the truth, most kids who come on official visits nowadays are already committed to Arizona.
What’s the best way to reach you: email, phone, letter?
MC: All three avenues are popular. The one thing I recommend: when you send a letter or email, take the time to know who the coach is and a little bit about the program. Don’t send a letter, “Dear Coach.” We’re able to tell if the letter or email has been sent to 40 different coaches, which doesn’t really excite us. The personal touch is the most important thing.
Any final tips?
MC: Athletically, I think there’s a place for everyone. Just make sure you go to a program where you’ll have a chance to play. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet, get rid of your ego and realize not everyone is meant to play at a top-tier D-I program. But there are enough programs around the country where you can play, get an education and have a great, successful experience. The most important thing is being able to look back in 10 years and say, “I made the best college choice, and it was a great experience."