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August 29th, 2011

A Defense for Negative Recruiting When Bad News Hits

Like thousands of other people around the country, I was saddened to hear University of Tennessee women’s basketball coaching legend Pat Summitt announce health issues that she has started to battle.

It’s rare that someone in any profession – certainly in college coaching – that an individual has built such a unanimously respected coaching and personal resume as Coach Summitt has been able to do over the past many decades.

The day that she announced the news, my Twitter account was buzzing with activity and comments. 

A couple of comments caught my attention:  A few people made the case that this news would be used as negative recruiting material for competing coaches going up against Tennessee’s coaches.  In response to that, I made the claim that not only did it not have to be a negative, Tennessee could easily turn this news into a huge positive when it comes to recruiting the next few classes for the Lady Vols. 

Skeptical followers wondered how I could make such a claim.  I gave them some short answers (it’s Twitter, so that goes without saying, right?) but wanted to expand on that idea here today:  News like this does not necessarily mean recruiting woes for Tennessee women’s basketball, which Coach Summitt will continue to lead as long as her health allows (and if will, grit and determination is a factor, that means that Coach Summitt has a lot more wins left to engineer).

So whether you’re a recruiter at Tennessee, or a coach at another program that is facing potential bad news that could be used against them by a competitor, here are some theories we see working in the real world of college recruiting under trying circumstances:

Players will often rally around a challenging situation.  That includes a coach facing a health battle, a team facing disciplinary actions left-over from a previous staff, or some other bad news that a competing coach might be tempted to use against that program.

When we’ve worked with clients in the middle of this kind of situation, we find that the players will often naturally rally around each other and the program.  The benefit to the coaching staff?  Their athletes will sell the program more, speak more passionately about the coach and his or her talents, and try to connect with prospects on a more personal basis (through texting or social media).

In Tennessee’s case, it’s still a destination school with a great women’s basketball program.  Just as TV political commentators sometimes over-analyze a presidential candidate or an issue’s effect on the electorate, coaches and the sports media that follows them often get it wrong when it comes to how high school recruits will react to a challenging situation.

If you have a solid history of results in your program, a good college with solid academics, and a strong supporting cast helping to lead a team through the challenging situation, you can still get solid recruiting results.  A crisis does not necessarily mean a disaster when it comes to recruiting.

Programs enduring a crisis can actually insulate themselves against negative recruiting from competitors.  Not that Tennessee women’s basketball needs my advice in particular, but I’ll share four quick things that I would recommend any program do to make it harder for a program to use a situation in a negative way with recruits, based on our research:

  1. Speak openly about the situation.  Acknowledge that it’s tough, but you’ll pull through it.
  2. Offer a plan of how that’s happening.  Show your prospect that you’re not paralyzed by the situation, and that you and your staff are calmly handling things in an order manner.
  3. Focus on everything else that’s right about your situation: The school, the academics, the people, the staff…whatever you can show a recruit that will get them to look at the big picture instead of the crisis you are facing.
  4. Involve your team in telling the whole story about the situation.  It’s hard to give specifics here, because you’ll face a situation that is completely unique from the examples we’re sharing here today.  But whatever it is, make sure your team is brought in to help tell the story.  The worst thing any coach or school can do is to deal with a serious crisis outside of the team’s direct involvement.

Tennessee women’s basektball will get through this.  Not only will they survive this crisis, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see their players excel beyond what even they are aware they are capable of doing.  Coach Summitt will make sure of that as she begins to wind down her incredible and inspirational college coaching career.

The big question for you is this:  When you face a trying circumstance in your coaching career, what’s your plan to handle it effectively?

Tudor Collegiate Strategies is the nation’s leader in developing effective recruiting strategies for college coaches.  To inquire about working one-on-one with Dan Tudor, developer of the popular “Selling for Coaches” program for college recruiters, visit our popular website or email Dan directly at dan@dantudor.com.

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