Dan Tudor

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Balancing Parents and Prospects During Their Visit to CampusMonday, August 11th, 2014

One of the trickiest balancing acts college coaches are asked to perform on a regular basis is effectively meeting the needs of prospects on their visit to campus, along with their parents.

Unfortunately, it’s an act that many coaches never learn how to master.

For years, when we’ve heard coaches describe their campus visit strategies to us during our On-Campus Workshops and consultations, there has been one primary question that gets asked by college recruiters: What’s the right mix of time and attention that a coaching staff should devote to both prospects and their parents?

While there’s no universal “perfect mix” we could recommend – because, of course, every prospect and parent is unique – there are two important rules that any coach can use to build better campus visit experiences for their best prospects that they really, really want to impress:

  1. Separate the prospect and their parents.  Not too soon into the campus visit, find a way to separate the prospect from their parents.  The reason is simple: Each party will usually have a much more memorable visit, and coaches will get more information from both the recruit and the parents.  Useable, actionable information that will help increase a coach’s chances of winning that recruit they really, really want.
  2. Send parents on the traditional admissions tour, and send the recruit off with some of your team.  This is where I could unload mountains of data from all of our focus group surveys we’ve done with clients over the years, helping them design winning recruiting visits for their prospects.  That data, largely comprised of feedback from current college athletes reflecting back on what they liked and didn’t like about their visits to college campuses, tells us something that I’ll boil down to this main point:  When you separate the recruits and the parents while they are visiting your campus, they are both free to speak their mind.  Parents can ask questions that they might not normally ask around their son or daughter.  Recruits can relax and be themselves around their peers, instead of awkwardly deferring to those over-eager parents who gladly jump in to answer the question that you just tried to direct to their son or daughter.  The long admissions tour?  The parents will be much more receptive than their kids – who, by the way, would love the chance to just hang out and play xBox with your players as a way to determine whether your campus feels best to them.

Yes, there are many potential twists and turns any smart college coach could implement into those two basic rules.  The possibilities are almost endless, depending upon the needs and personality of the recruit coming to their campus.

However, these two rules are big keys to a good foundation from which to build a solid recruiting visit.

Want more specific strategies for great campus recruiting visits?  There are several books we’ve written on that topic – and others – that every coach should have in their office library.  Click here to order these two popular recruiting resources today!

What to Do When Your Long-Distance Recruit Won’t Visit CampusMonday, January 6th, 2014

I’ve been hearing this question a lot…most recently from an assistant soccer coach on the East coast.

“A lot of recruits expect that when they are invited to visit, that it’s automatically an “official visit”, said the coach.  “Plus, some of the recruits just can’t afford the travel expenses.”

The coach added, “I have had a lot of recruits from the West coast contact me recently.  I watch there video, invite them to visit, and then as soon as I address that it’s an unofficial visit, I typically do not hear back from them – and if I do they say, ‘I’ll try to figure out a way to come and visit’.”

Sound familiar, Coach?

Whether you’re a Division I powerhouse, or a small college just trying to build a decent program through recruiting, getting a high-value prospect to visit campus on their own dime is essential to long term recruiting success.  And while there are no “universal” tricks that work with every single one of your recruits, there are several recommended strategies we’d want you to consider (and a few questions you might need to ask yourself as you make efforts to get recruits to visit campus:

  1. First and foremost, have you given them a reason to come to campus?  Other than you being interested, and having a campus for them to come spend the day at, of course.  Because with this generation of prospects, there had better be more of a reason.  We’re finding that they need to understand their role in the program, why you want them, and more…essentially, they want to be able to justify why they should spend their time and money on your campus instead of one close, less expensive, or that’s offering to pay for travel expenses.
  2. Have you laid the groundwork for the visit?  From the scenarios we’ve tracked involving clients who we are helping to deal with this situation, asking for a visit to soon in the process is something that isn’t recommended.  It seems unnatural to the process: You saw them at a game or found them online, got in touch with them, and ask them to visit in that same first conversation.  In any other life circumstance, that would probably be grounds for contacting the police.  Be patient, let the recruiting relationship build over time, and then ask – usually, after solid phone conversations or lengthy text messaging is normal.
  3. Here are the reasons they’ll seriously consider visiting your campus at their expense:  You’ve outlined a specific plan for them if they were to compete for your program, you’ve made it clear why you like them and what role they’ll play once they join your team, or you’ve laid out a promise that something significant will be happening or will be discussed while they are on campus.  Are you building out a story for your recruit behind each one of those key reasons?  If not, you should.
  4. Ask them, “What else would you need to see answered before you feel like it would be worth it to visit campus?”  Ask it EXACTLY the way we’ve outlined.  Why?  Because 1) there is obviously something they need answered, and they aren’t going to tell you what it is until you ask, and 2) acknowledge that you realize they aren’t seeing the value in visiting campus, and you’re o.k. with that right now.  Develop a list of what you need to talk about with your recruit as you patiently build-out your recruiting message plan for them.
  5. Be creative and don’t wait for them to come to campus.  Bring your campus to them.  Technology is cheap and plentiful. Are you using it?  Here’s a great example of how a Division III coach uses his iPad to conduct long-distance campus visits.  Click here.
  6. Set a fair deadline for taking this needed action.  If the unofficial visit is the necessary next step for you, and you’re not going to feel comfortable without them taking that trip to campus, then you need to set a fair but firm deadline for coming to campus (assuming all of the above rules are being followed).  If they still refuse, it’s time to move on.  There will be some recruits that just can’t – or won’t – take that first step and keep the recruiting process moving forward by committing to an unofficial visit.

If you’re interested in our past articles on the topic of campus visits, click here.

This is a vital part of the recruiting process, but you have the primary responsibility as their potential future coach to guide them through the process logically, patiently and effectively.  Hopefully, these ideas we’ve seen work will help you make that happen with your next long-distance recruit.

Making Sure Your Team Isn’t Licking the Taco ShellsTuesday, September 10th, 2013

A national restaurant power like Taco Bell employs smart, well-educated people to craft a branding message that results in increased business and loyalty to their menu and story.  Literally tens of millions of dollars of carefully crafted advertising is dedicated to telling this story every year, in just the right way and with just the right balance of entertainment and information.

And then a minimum wage employee licks the tacos shells. Or, across the street at Dominos, they’re doing horrible things to your pizza.

All of that marketing expertise, all of the money, and all of the carefully crafted marketing messages…they’re down the drain.  All because of a kid and his friends killing time with a cell phone camera.

In the same way that fast food restaurants try to clamp down on their minimum wage employees so that they don’t ruin the marketing strategy and brand name of the corporations they work for, colleges and coaches tend to try to clamp down on their student-athletes.  Many athletic departments view them as liabilities waiting to happen in the recruiting process (“What if they take that recruit to the frat party?”  “How do we know what they’re going to be doing for those ten hours overnight?”  “What if they tell the prospect about what happened at practice the other day?”).

And then there’s the military.  They know that the best way to make peace with a local population and establish roots in a new territory is through the efforts of soldiers – the lowest paid, most junior-ranking members of the military.  Handing out candy, talking to local children, helping to re-build a school…those things are the basis of a theory called Krulak’s Law, named for Marine Corps Com­man­dant Gen­eral Charles C. Kru­lak. He talked about it in a 1999 arti­cle titled, The Strate­gic Cor­po­ral:

“In many cases, the indi­vid­ual Marine will be the most con­spic­u­ous sym­bol of Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy and will poten­tially influ­ence not only the imme­di­ate tac­ti­cal sit­u­a­tion, but the oper­a­tional and strate­gic lev­els as well. His actions, there­fore, will directly impact the out­come of the larger oper­a­tion; and he will become, as the title of this arti­cle sug­gests – the Strate­gic Corporal.”

Which brings us to you, Coach.  How are you using your army of “boots on the ground” – your team – to recruit your next class of athletes?

So much of it depends on the quality and individual personality skill-sets of your team that it is virtually impossible for me to outline a four point one-size-fits-all plan that will work for every coach in every situation.  That said, there are some general principles and key questions I think are important to talk about so that coaches can craft their own approach in how they use their current team to recruit their future team.

The first point I’ll make is that, in my opinion, not using or limiting your current team of student-athletes in the recruiting process is a mistake.  That goes beyond a personal opinion, and really points to the research which clearly points to the interaction with your team being one of the biggest contributors to your “brand” in the eyes of a recruit.  Want to overcome subpar facilities and a town that isn’t all that exciting on a Saturday night?  Get them to fall in love with the guys on your team.  Want to see nine months of intense recruiting efforts go up in smoke in a matter of seconds?  Let them spend time with that jaded, dissatisfied Senior who you just benched (trust me, they have no problem with licking the taco shells in front of one of your recruits).

It’s your job as a college coach to not only put together great game plans for competitive success, but also great game plans to build your team and make them part of this crucial recruiting effort you engage in each and every year.  To do that, I feel one of your primary responsibilities is to understand what’s going on with your team personally, from top to bottom.  Unlike the starting line-up you’ll take into a competitive contest, every team member matters when it comes to your recruiting effort.

One of the key questions each coach needs to address in formulating a strategy for recruiting interactions with their teams is who will make up that primary contact – underclassmen or your upperclassmen?  Without a doubt, we have seen underclassmen make a bigger impact in the process versus their older counterparts.  They are closer in age to your recruits (who seem to get younger and younger every year), which is important.  Your recruits want to know who they will be competing with – in fact, we’ve heard numerous college athletes look back at their own recruiting process and point out how irrelevant meeting and hanging-out with a team’s Juniors and Seniors is.  Why?  It’s pretty basic: They know those older athletes won’t be around when they finally join your team.  Why have them spend time with those older student-athetes?

Another key question for  a coach to answer is how to incorporate time with student-athletes in their recruit’s visit schedule to campus.  From what I’ve seen play out in thousands of recruiting scenarios, more time with your younger athletes is always going to be better than less time.  Even if it means fewer meetings with older men in bow ties in an ivy covered building on the other side of campus?  Especially if it means fewer of those meetings!  Your success rate for recruiting visits will rise proportionally with the amount of time you allow your recruits to just hang out with your current team.

But what about those disaster scenarios you have looping through your mind as a college coach who is leery of handing over so much power to a group of new teenagers who have been on campus a few weeks or a few months?  The biggest piece of advice I can give you as a coach that would make you feel more at ease is to encourage you to meet with your team as soon as possible, standing in front of them with a white board and a dry erase marker, and have them establish what they should do with a recruit, what they shouldn’t do with a recruit, and what they will do to keep each other accountable.  Have them establish their own rules of what gets talked about and what stays private, as well as where they should and should not take a visiting prospect.

Coaches who have gone through this exercise know that it’s extremely effective, and will actually make your team more enthusiastic about hosting visits – especially if you convey the idea that they get a voice in the process.  Let them know you want their two cents at the end of the visit to determine whether or not you should recruit that athlete.  Of course, your vote trumps their opinion.  But I will say that in my experience, your team is usually right on the money when it comes to how that recruit will fit in to your current team culture.  Pay attention to them, Coach…they instinctively know who’s right for your team.

Whatever rules you decide to establish, understand that your team has incredible power to promote – or irreversibly damage – your brand.  As the chief architect of that brand, I suggest you devote time to establishing the right culture and message in conjunction with your team.  If you do, you’ll like the results.

Six Strategies for Making the Most of Personal Recruiting VisitsMonday, August 6th, 2012

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Creating a GREAT Recruiting Environment for Your ProspectsMonday, October 24th, 2011

Let’s break that title down:

  • Creating. Somebody has to do it, and it’s probably going to be you, Coach.  It’s a  verb.  It denotes action.  And it’s a challenge to do.
  • Great. Would you say you are great when it comes to recruiting, the visit, your rapport with parents and athletes?  Why not?
  • Recruiting. That’s sales, Coach.  You’re a sales professional, like it or not.  Recruiting is selling.
  • Environment. That’s what I want to focus on today…the environment you can develop  for great recruiting interactions with this next recruiting class you’re  going after.

What have we found are the best ways to build  that great environment that will put you in the best possible position  to land the recruits you really want?

Here’s a basic list that every coach should make sure is happening at their program:

Make friends with your prospects (and their parents). I  think this is the basis for every good relationship, including your  recruiting relationship with your prospects and their parents.  What’s  the best way to establish a friendship?  Spend time on everything that’s  not about your program, your college, or their sport.  That’s the  simple three step rule to live by.  Focus on creating rapport.  Find  common ground.  By communicating conversationally, the atmosphere is  relaxed and communication is more open. The conversation is natural, not salesy.

Entertain them and feed them. Do you find that when you’re eating with someone, that the conversation  strays from recruiting and scholarships? The more personal the prospect  and their parents are willing to be with you in a relaxed setting, the  more likely you are to gain the “sale”. Can I make another suggestion?   When you have recruits to your office on campus, think about having some  snacks on hand.  Fruit, cheese cubes, crackers, something to  drink…not messy, hard to eat stuff.  Just enough to make sure they’re  comfortable.  Food relaxes people.

Engage them.  Talk about their present circumstance, their key motivators, and the  core issues that are driving their current situation. Don’t probe,  engage…ask…listen. By engaging, you will be able to elicit full  answers, and exchange meaningful iinformation. Study-up on  their situation before the on-campus meeting started, so that you don’t  have to ask stupid questions. And because they already know you, and  feel good about you, I am able to get truthful answers and ascertain key  facts about their recruiting situation. We’ve also found that because  this meeting is taking place in your meeting room, rather than theirs,  they feel more open about sharing information.

Provide some kind of real, tangible value.  This is going to be defined differently by each coach that’s reading  this.  And, that’s O.K…there’s no right or wrong definition of  “value”.  Basically, look for something that gives to your prospect and  their family before you ask them for something (like their commitment).   Maybe it’s a one-on-one meeting with the Athletic Director or President  of the school.  Maybe it’s a list of workouts you’d suggest they do as  they finish up their high school career (whether they sign with you or  not).  In your next staff meeting, be the one that asks, “What can we  give our visiting prospects that gives them something of value?”

Help them be a better athlete. Give  them insights on how to train better.  How to train your way.  Even  coach them up a little while they’re there.  Better yet, have your  current athletes talk to them about what they’ve learned under you and  how they’ve taken their game to the next level.  By the way, this might  be the area where you can give them value.

Don’t settle for an “O.K.” visit.  Aim for GREAT! As we talk about in “Selling for Coaches”,  our advanced recruiting guide for college coaches, you need to look at  every possible area of your visit ad your interaction with them.  Why?   Because they are watching your every move, and making judgement calls  along the way as to whether or not to buy what you’re selling.  They’re  looking at you, your current team, your dorms, how many boring meeting  they are forced to sit through in the admissions office…everything. When we are invited to a school to conduct one of our effective On-Campus Workshops for an athletic department,  a big area of focus when we research the strengths and weaknesses of  their recruiting experience is what happens during a prospect visit and  why.  Start dissecting your campus visit now, before this next class  arrives and finds it just “O.K.”

Ask for the sale after you’ve created an environment for them to buy.  Once all the pieces are in place, don’t let your prospect leave campus  without being asked for their commitment (assuming you still want them  sign after the things you learn about them on the visit).  Not asking is  one of the worse mistakes a coach can make.  It’s safe to say that  there will be no other time during the recruiting process that they will  be more inclined to say “yes” than at the end of an engaging,  energetic, original visit with your team on your campus.

Your  focus should be singular: Build a relationship before you ask them to  “buy” your program.  Each one of these steps that I’ve outlined are  components for building a relationship, not sales techniques.  Don’t put  the selling them on your school ahead of connecting with them on a  personal level.

Questions about this concept?  Or, do you have other things you’d like to ask Dan and his staff?  Email him at dan@dantudor.com and get a personal reply.  We’re here to help, Coach!

Why “Relaxed” Prospects Are WAY Better Than “Excited” ProspectsMonday, August 22nd, 2011

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Strategies for Combating the Too-Close-To-Home ObjectionMonday, August 15th, 2011

In a previous article, we talked about some proven strategies for combating the “too-far-from-home” recruiting objection.

You’ve all heard it before…a recruit you really want, and may have even been the one that initiated the first contact, tells you “no” because they’ve decided that you’re too far from home.

But many coaches also face the opposite side of the coin:

Recruits that decide you’re the wrong choice for them because you’re too close to home.

The biggest hurdle for you behind this objection, according to our research, is the fact that many prospects will have already defined you.  Growing up nearby, they’ve heard people talk about you, made some observations about your campus or your program, and have decided that you’re not “exciting” enough for them as they look forward to the next four years of playing their sport in college.

We’re finding that more and more of this current generation of student-athlete prospects are up for the adventure of going “away” to school.  So, if you’re a coach that is recruiting a prospect that is starting to tell you that you’re too close to home to be a serious consideration, here are a few proven strategies that we’ve seen work with the coaches we work with around the country:

  1. Focus on mom and dad as soon as possible.  Whenever you hear a prospect talk about your college being too close to home, you need to find out how your prospect’s parents are playing into the equation.  Normally, according to our national research, parents are a primary outside factor in the decision making process of a recruit.  The question here is simple: “Why do you want to see your son/daughter play away from home?”  We see parents tending to encourage your prospect to stay close to home whenver possible.  Find out what their view on the matter is.  If you see that there is a conflict within the family (i.e., prospect wants to go out of the area and the parents are hoping he or she stays close to home) then you need to find out which side is going to win out in the end.
  2. Ask about their friends.  One of the big factors in a decision by a recruit to not go far away to play for a program is their friends back home (that includes boyfriends and girlfriends).  When you find that a recruit is not open to staying close to home, you’ll want to ask if they’ll miss their friends, or why they see themselves being o.k. with leaving them behind.  That doesn’t mean you should use friends or family as a “guilt trip” on your recruit.  Rather, you view it as your responsibility to bring up factors that we see playing a major role in the final decision of your recruits so that they are taking into account all possible factors in determining what schools (yours included) they should be considering.
  3. Get them on campus spending time with your team.  Assuming that a big reason your local recruit is not that interested in your program is the fact that they have been on your campus and grown-up nearby hearing the good, the bad and the ugly about the school and your program, you need to get them to take an up-close-and-personal look at what you have to offer as soon as possible.  And, since they have probably already made up their mind about you and the campus, I recommend that you have them spend as much time with your team as possible.  Not you, coach…your team.  The one big thing we see being able to alter their initial assumptions about you and your college is a strong bond with your team.  As we conduct studies with current college athletes as a part of our On-Campus Workshop training sessions for athletic departments, they tell us that their ideal percentage of time they’d like to spend just hanging out informally with your team is 60% of their total time on campus.  If you can achieve that kind of time with your team, you’ve got a shot of creating a bond that overcomes their initial perception of your program.
  4. Make the case that staying close to home gives them a choice.  Make the phrasing your own, but the basic thinking we’ve seen work goes something like this: “If you stay close to home, you get the best of both worlds: You get to be your own person here on our campus, but still get to see your family and friends whenever you want.  Athletes that go far away to school don’t get to have that choice.  They’re stuck on a campus far away from home.”  It’s a valid concept that you should encourage your recruit to consider.

In summary, let me go back to a thought that I started the article with:

This generation of recruit is more open to going away to college and play their sport.  Social media and familiarity with other parts of the country are just two of the reasons we see athletes willing to leave home and compete elsewhere.

In the long run, you’re going to hear more and more of the “too close to home” objections from your recruits.  You can overcome it using these strategies some of the time, but you’ll also want to expand your recruiting base so that you can take advantage of this growing trend.  There are lots of tools and resources we recommend that make this easier than ever.

That being said, when you find yourself recruiting a local athlete you really, really want on your team, these proven strategies just might do the trick in getting them to take a serious second look at you and your program.

Strategies for Combating the Too-Far-From-Home ObjectionSunday, August 7th, 2011

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Warning: Beware of Summer Prospect Visits to CampusMonday, May 9th, 2011

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5 Ways to Use Your Recruiting SensesTuesday, October 26th, 2010

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