Note: This is a copy of an e-mail that I sent to a college coach this past week who asked for advice on recruiting. He said that he doesn’t really like the recruiting part of his job…he’s a natural introvert, and is more comfortable sitting at home reading books than he is getting out there and persuading recruits to come to his college.
Here are my comments back to the coach (well call him “Alex”)…
First – and I don’t know if this is good news or not, but I thought I’d share it – I was (and in many cases, still am) the same way. My first job out of college was a television sportscaster for ABC in California. Since I loved sports, it seemed like a natural career for me to pursue. However, I was the same way you say you are…put me in the office or at home doing research or writing, and I was happy. Throw me out into a strange situation or in front of a crowd who recognized me, and I hated it. I used to be very uncomfortable being recognized, and very uncomfortable trying to form new relationships in business. Like you, around my friends and familiar co-workers I could be the life of the party. In new surroundings, all I did was try to hurry and finish whatever it was that was required of me and get back to my comfort-zone. The reason I tell you all this is to let you know that some of the advice I will now give you is based on real world, personal experience.
I, like you, recognized at the time that my natural tendencies to want to remain introverted wasn’t going to get me very far in my professional life. The same holds true for you, as I think you are recognizing, in the profession you’ve chosen. You’re no doubt an accomplished, knowledgeable coach (looking at your bio and your background, I know this to be true)…you probably love working with athletes…you love the science of the sport that you coach. But lo and behold, in a cruel twist of fate, a major part of your job is recruiting. A lot of coaches – most coaches I work with, in fact – love coaching, but hate recruiting. Tying that back to my personal experience with TV, I loved sportscasting…I just hated the public speaking and dealing with people I didn’t know. If we didn’t find a way to address these conflicting directions, neither of us would do very well in life.
So, mostly by trial and error along with some focused study, here’s how I not only coped with what you’re dealing with but also developed skills that have been good enough to propel me into a semi-successful business and sales career. Here is what I’d recommend to you:
Fake it until you make it. Become a little bit of an actor. I had to basically tell myself that I had to consciously and purposely change my character when in front of other people and when performing the “public” part of my job. For me, that included speaking a little more loudly and directly to people; it included over-pronunciating my words; it included remembering to smile and look people in the eye. Understand that none of this was “natural” for me. In fact, when I set out to address my weaknesses in this way I really felt uncomfortable. But soon, I saw that people were reacting to me more favorably. I saw that my “customers” (the public, viewers, athletes, coaches) tended to mirror the emotions or attitudes that I brought into my conversation with them. It wasn’t at all natural, but it got the results I was hoping for and I think the changes were positive for me personally.
Place yourself in uncomfortable situations as much as possible. Offer to speak to local high schools on biomechanical kinesiology – I think most serious track athletes in your part of Alabama would find it fascinating. Speak at a Kiwanis or Rotary meeting (you get a free lunch, and practice becoming comfortable in front of a group of total strangers). Read a sales or marketing book – there are lots of good ones out there. I loved “The Little Red Book of Selling” by Jeffrey Gitomer. Easy to read, straight to the point, and very insightful and helpful. If I was a track athlete who had a bad habit mechanically when I ran the hurdles, you would work on that weakness with me over and over and over again until I did it the right way, and it came to me naturally. That’s what I am recommending you do…experiencing a little pain (remember, “No Pain, No Gain”) in becoming a natural when it comes to public interaction and recruiting.
Record yourself. Tape record yourself when you’re talking on the phone or in person with an athlete. Then, replay it afterwards. What did you like? What didn’t you like? Analyze it the same way you would a video of one of your track athletes you are training. The hard part about this one is that you have to do it on your own, which takes a lot of self-discipline. But what I’d offer to do, if you want (at no charge), is to have you send me the tape and let me analyze it and comment on it.
Accept that recruiting is a part of the job and embrace it. I meet a lot of coaches who seem to be in denial about the public persona part of college coaching. It’s strange for me because I’ve talked to so many coaches now, but I talk to lots of coaches who seem to think that if they just ignore that part of the job it will just go away. Or, worse yet, they ignore it and assume that because they are such a knowledgeable, successful coach that they don’t need to develop sales skills. Coaches who take that attitude are destined to have problems, both in public relations and in recruiting (that was the subject of last week’s “Chalk Talk Q&A” section in the Tuesday Training newsletter). What I had to do, and what you need to do, is accept that the part of the job you now dislike is going to be a part of your job forever. So, rather than hate it and be frustrated by it forever, accept it and find a way to get good at it.
There are a lot of other things that I could talk about, but these are good starting points. If you have follow-up questions, please e-mail me. And put in a good word for me with your AD so that I can come spend a few days on your campus working more in-depth with you and your fellow coaches! I would love the chance to meet with you personally.