In college recruiting – especially this time of year – there is often a singular focus from coaches who are doing all they can to ask the right questions of their recruits in order to get one thing from them:
Their commitment to visit campus.
That’s the holy grail of college recruiting, no matter what the age of the recruit. And what most coaches end up focusing on are the questions they can ask a recruit that will get them engaged and talking, inching them closer and closer to that campus visit you’re coveting.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.
But it’s only half the story.
As our research clearly shows, getting them to campus – while vitally important in the process – simply moves them into a different phase in the typical recruit’s mind. And yet, the college coaches we have worked with for more than a decade tend to slip into the thinking that “once we’ve had them on campus, we’ve answered all their questions.” What’s more to talk about or ask them, right?
That different phase of your recruit’s mindset is an important thing for you to explore, Coach. In most cases, your recruit is ready to reveal an entirely new set of information and feelings to you following their visit to your campus. If, that is, you ask them.
So, what are some of the core questions we recommend based on the focus group research we’ve compiled with this generation of prospect? I want to outline several key questions that every college coach should ask their recruits once they’ve been on campus for an unofficial or official recruiting visit:
These six key questions are just the start of effective questioning following the visit. Based on their answers, you can develop more questions that are going to give you insights on what they are thinking – and what you next set of actions need to be.
If you don’t ask the questions, or naively assume that their visit to campus answered all of their questions, you risk wasting all of your hard work up to that point. Continue your job as a recruiter, Coach. It’s important if you want to develop consistent post-visit success.
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Have you given them a reason to come to campus? Other than you being interested in them, 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 for them to commit to the visit.
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.
The truth I want college coaches to understand is that today’s prospect is looking for justification as to why they should make you one of their precious visits. Most of your recruits won’t decide to come visit your campus just because you’ve invited them.
Have you laid the groundwork for the visit? From the scenarios we’ve tracked involving clients 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, a stranger contacting you out of the blue and asking you to do that would probably be grounds for contacting the police. Be patient, let the recruiting relationship build over time, and then ask – usually, after solid repeated phone conversations and consistent messaging through letters, emails and direct messaging.
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.
How do you define a “story” when you are recruiting your prospect? It’s an ongoing conversation centering around answering the question of “why should they commit to you, your program and your college”? Most coaches don’t follow-through with that kind of ongoing story, and it leaves them open to random and inconsistent recruiting results. Plus, it will make it much, much harder to secure a campus visit from the recruits you really want.
So, for you and your program, there are three central questions that you need to answer as you begin to redevelop your campus recruiting visit:
If you’re finding it hard to get consistent campus visits from your top prospects, not developing well thought-out answers to these three important questions could be the reason why.
Order your copy of “Freaking Awesome Campus Recruiting Visits” here.
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:
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.
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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:
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.
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.
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.
Let’s break that title down:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and get a personal reply. We’re here to help, Coach!
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:
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.