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How Geno Made Pressure FunMonday, April 14th, 2014

I had the chance to be in the crowd at the 2014 NCAA women’s basketball national championship game, where the UConn Huskies won the title and completed a perfect season.

At the center of the celebration was their longtime coach, Geno Auriemma.  Fans of women’s basketball seem to either love him or hate him (proportionally, I’m guessing, based on how close you live to Storrs, Connecticutt).  However, no matter which side you land on, you have to admire what he has built through recruiting and coaching.

But what I want to focus on has nothing to do with how well his Huskies played against a previously undefeated Notre Dame team.

It’s actually something I heard their talented center, Breanna Stewart talk about in front of their cheering fans as they were being presented with their championship trophy.  She was asked about how Coach Auriemma convinced them that “the pressure of going after perfection was fun.”

“This season we wanted to chase perfection, and we did that,” said Stewart, the 2014 Women’s Final Four MVP.

Added senior center Stefanie Dolson: “Everyone said we had a lot of pressure on our backs but we didn’t. We went in there having fun. We were loose and playing great.”

For me, this was the big story that not enough people are talking about – and not enough coaches are trying to emulate.

Coach Auriemma has put into practice an idea we’ve advocated for several years, based on our research and focus group studies with prospects and current college student-athletes:

Today’s athlete needs (and wants) to know how to think about ideas and facts you may be presenting them.

That doesn’t mean their not smart.  They are.  And, it doesn’t mean that they are ripe to be manipulated or tricked into playing for another coach (well, most of the time anyway).

What it does mean is that they need help defining how to think about an idea that you are trying to present them, whether that’s when you are recruiting them or when you are coaching them.

Let’s rewind to Breanna Stewart’s comments that I listened to at the Final Four.  To paraphrase, she recalled how Coach Auriemma starting talking to the team about how fun they were going to have trying to chase perfection and win a national championship.  And, that the pressure and incredibly hard work that it was going to take to achieve that goal should be…wait for it….”fun”.

In short, he took a concept with a lot of potential negativity tied to it – hard work, sacrifice, pressure – and declared it to be “fun”.  And, as most teenagers and young adults tend to do, his team listened to what he was saying and decided to believe it.

Understand, they had the choice to look at it as a negative. Truthfully, most coaches and student-athletes are going to choose to take that approach.  As humans, we tend to look at the worst possible outcome for a particular situation, not the best.  What happens when you are told something contrary, and buy-in to a coach’s vision and enthusiasm?  You win national championships.

Again, here’s what Coach Auriemma did:

  • Observed a potential negative situation.
  • Crafted a more positive way to think about that potential negative situation.
  • Verbally reinforced the way he wanted the situation to be viewed by his team.
  • Followed through with that idea throughout the season.
  • Resulted in a positive outcome.

Your words and ideas are powerful.  What you tell your recruits, your team, your assistant coach, your head coach, and your athletic director, about how to view a situation is key to making it through that potential negative situation.

What kind of situations or obstacles are needing your defining (or re-defining)?  It might be your team’s record, your facility, your college’s location, the challenge of trying to win a conference title, the challenge of winning your first conference match in two years, the challenge of recruiting your best class ever, or why the new offense you are installing this next season is going to be the key to turning everything around.

Whatever it is, your team is listening to you.  What exactly are you telling them?

The Advantage Of Coaching BackwardsFriday, February 21st, 2014

by Mike Davenport, CoachingSportsToday.com

“Begin With The End In Mind” – Stephen R. Covey

My youngest son is great at creating Lego masterpieces. One day I asked him how he did it …

“I see myself as this tiny Lego guy, floating in space, see. Suddenly, I’m in my new Lego creation. I ask myself ‘How does the Lego make me feel? What can I hear? How does it smell? What is the view?’ I feel all those things. I take those answers. Then I get on it and build the Lego.”

It would be easy to dismiss this as a kid’s imagination-run-amok. To do so would miss a sneaky advantage for your coaching.

DOWN WITH GOALS

Not long ago I would get tied up with goal setting.

At the start of a season I’d think,

Okay, what’s a goal, we want? Hm, let’s win the Conference. Fine.

And from there I would make that a goal and then figure out how to make it happen. But I learned over the years that was a doomed plan for several reasons:

  • There were plenty of other good teams trying to achieve the exact same thing.
  • If we set a goal like that and didn’t achieve it, the loss weighed very heavy.
  • Goals are one-dimensional … boringly yesterday.

So I don’t do that any more.

I use experience-coaching instead.

UP WITH THE EXPERIENCE

Experience-coaching is not goal-setting. Goals happen when you have achieved something like – I’m going to win a medal at Sochi!

Admirable, but experience-coaching works differently.

  1. I imagine myself in the end place.
  2. I experience it … smell it … taste it … hear it … sense it.
  3. Then I reverse-engineer things like my son does when he floats in space and pretends he is in the Lego.

Experience the end, and then I build to get to there.

See, experience-coaching is about the intrinsic (experience) rather than the extrinsic (achievement). The difference is subtle … so small it is easy to miss. Yet so powerful it could knock your socks off.

PEOPLE WANT THE EXPERIENCE

Today, more than ever, people want the experience.

There are books, podcasts, and TEDTALKS about it.

Shoot, we now EXPECT the experience.

The coach who can deliver the experience is the one who will be positively and warmly remembered. And to help you be THAT COACH, you need to zone right in on the experience.

AN EXAMPLE

Here’s me …

I imagine my team at the last contest of the year. They are happy. Smiles all around. They hug each other and high five. Parents are happy. Things are good. It’s a very positive experience.

Then I question:

What’s it going to take to make that experience happen?

Obviously it had something to do with how well they performed. But that is just one small part of the equation.

  • Where are they standing?
  • Are they cold, hot, hungry?
  • Is the whole team together, or just parts?
  • Are they inside/outside?
  • What are they experiencing at that moment?

Then I work backwards to build that experience, one-part-at-a-time. And this is the tricky-smart-beautiful part. So much of that building impacts what I do today.

For instance, for the parents to be there they will need to know the date and time of the event. That means communications from me. For that to work, I need to have a way to communicate with them, and I need to build that now (such as collect their email addresses.) So that goes on the to-do list.

Then, for the athletes not to be hungry, we need food. Maybe we need to bring it, and that means buying it, which means money. So, do I have to do check request, or buy it with a credit card? Who’s card? Another to-do-lister.

That continues until every aspect of the experience is planned, and before you know it my to-do-list is stuffed.

QUIETING THE ECHO CHAMBER

Like all coaches, regardless of the level or the sport, there is pressure to win. Internal pressure especially. I hate that part of coaching, which is one of the big advantages, for me, of using experience-coaching.

Simply, it quiets the noise in my Echo Chamber. Stuff like, “What if we don’t win?”

Instead, when those rustlings arise (and they do) I focus on creating the experience. That distracts me from the gnash of the contest outcome. It also gives me an action plan to focus on.

This may all sound like ramblings of an old coach well into his bozo years. I get that. And I can’t say this would work for any other coach.

But I will say, “Ya won’t know until you try.”

Worth a shot?

Dr. Mike Davenport is a longtime college coach and the man behind the popular website CoachingSportsToday.com.  He is a regular contributor to College Recruiting Weekly.

Reading Their Hand Signals in the Big Game of RecruitingMonday, February 10th, 2014

The headline you can take away from the Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos was how Seattle’s defense managed to shut-down the Broncos high flying offense, leading to one of the biggest championship routs in the history of the big game.

It wasn’t through brute force.  And it wasn’t from stopping a last-minute drive at the end of the game for a lucky win.

No, the big news was that the Seattle defense was able to crack the code of Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning’s vaunted hand signals – the same secret code that lead Denver to the becoming one of the best offensive powers during the 2013 NFL regular season.  Here’s what Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman said after the game:

“All we did was play situational football,” Sherman said after the game. “We knew what route concepts they liked on different downs, so we jumped all the routes. Then we figured out the hand signals for a few of the route audibles in the first half. Me and my he other guys in the secondary… we’re not just three All-Pro players. We’re three All-Pro minds. Now, if Peyton had thrown in some double moves, if he had gone out of character, we could’ve been exposed.”

So, what does all this have to do with recruiting your next college prospect?  Simple:

I want you to start stealing their hand signals.

They give them all the time, and yet sometimes coaches miss them.  I want to outline a few of the big signals you should be looking for, and de-code them for you so that you can get a better idea of how these recruits (and their parents…and their coaches) try to give you a head-fake in the big game of recruiting:

  • Your prospect doesn’t return your phone call.  They’re either busy, or find you boring and too time consuming.  The solution?  Text them.  It’s been consistently replacing phone calls as the top personalized way to have a conversation with a prospect.  (Not because you like it that way, Coach, but because they like it that way).  They’re silence is signaling that they either want a new way to communicate with you, or they’re ready for something more significant in terms of what you’re talking to them about.
  • Your prospect puts your call on speaker phone.  Finally got them on the phone, and they put you on speaker?  Get out of that call as soon as possible.  They’re bored, and not listening to you with 100% focus.  Give them one or two specific things you want them to do next, and end the call.  Why?  Well, let me ask you a question: Why do you put people on speaker phone?  So you can do other things while kind of paying attention to whoever is on the line.
  • Your prospect just told you they need a little more time to think about your offer.  They’ve decided that you’re clearly not their number one choice and just don’t know how to tell you that, or they have interest in your program but they’re trying to see if something better comes along – whether that’s a better athletic option, or more money.  They’re signaling that it’s time for you to make a strong case for why you should be a serious contender for their services, and that you’d better either set a fair deadline or get them to confirm that they probably aren’t going to be choosing to compete for you or your program.  Either way, it’s time to get them to define why they need a little more time. 
  • Your prospect gives you a verbal commitment.  After you tell them thats great, and that you’re excited about that news, ask them when they’re going to announce it on Twitter.  That’s this generation’s real letter of intent.  Whether you’re a big-time D1 program, a small private college, or someone in between, if they aren’t willing to announce their decision on Twitter they’re signaling that they’re still keeping their options open.  Trust me on this one, Coach.
  • Your prospect calls you and ask you questions without you prompting them to do so.  They’re signaling they’re interested.  Ask them what they want to see happen next in the process.
  • Your prospect emails you back after you send them a message.  They’re signaling they’re interested.  Ask them what they want to see happen next in the process.
  • Your prospect gives you updates on what they just turned into admissions, or what they just heard from financial aid, or what they just did in the last game that they played.  They’re signaling they’re interested.  Ask them what they want to see happen next in the process.

That’s not an exhaustive list, of course, but chances are you’re dealing with a prospect or two that are signaling what’s really going on behind the scenes.  Your job as a coach is to read what they’re signaling, interpret it, and then act on it.  It’s a crucial part of the job if you’re aiming to be a high-level, successful college recruiter.

No go out there and play the big game in recruiting the way we all know you can.

Want more innovative approaches that will help you become a dominant recruiter?  You need to be at the National Collegiate Recruiting Conference this June.  It’s the greatest weekend on earth for serious recruiters who want to make sure they use the latest techniques and approaches with this next class of recruits.  Get all of the details here.

Anticipation (and How to Use It In Recruiting)Monday, December 23rd, 2013

The night of Christmas Eve, lots of little kids are full of anticipation.

The thought of toys under the tree, some extra sugar in their bellies, and just the overall fun and excitement of what the holidays brings is almost too much for them to handle.  If you doubt me, I’ll let you talk to the 7-year old boy in our house who has spent the last week trying (and failing) to guess what’s under the wrapping paper in those boxes under the tree with his name on them.

What many coaches miss in that scene being repeated in homes around the country is the incredible power of that anticipation, and how it changes the emotions, thinking and general outlook kids who can’t wait for Christmas morning.  More specifically, many coaches miss the lesson that they can take away and apply to their recruiting efforts.

The reason we talk about the importance of creating a “feeling” in the story that you tell your recruits is because they rely on those powerful emotions to make their final decision much of the time.  You and I can agree that this isn’t always the smartest way to choose a college or program, but there’s little doubt that it occurs on a regular basis in the recruiting process – at least according to our research.

So as a serious recruiter looking to connect with a prospect you really want,  shouldn’t you want to create the same energy and excitement around your contact with a recruit, as well as how they view your program emotionally while making their final decision?  If so, building anticipation – and understanding the components of why it’s such a powerful force – should be something that you aim to do in your recruiting message.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Your prospect will anticipate your next message more if you lead into it with the previous message.  One of the key principles we put to work in creating effective recruiting campaigns for our clients is the idea that messaging should be ongoing, and sequential.  In other words, one message should set up the next message…and so on, and so on, and so on.  Too many messages we see from coaches are all encompassing, one-size-fits-all behemoths that tend to overwhelm and bore their teenage recipient.  Coaches need to start focusing on breaking up their longer messages into shorter, easier to digest stories that build into the next message rather than answer every single question right away.  That’s one of the big keys to anticipation in recruiting.
  • Your prospect will anticipate talking to you if you exceed their expectations.  Too often, a coach will jeopardize an interaction with a recruit by falling-back on the same tired, boring, run-of-the-mill conversation points that recruited athletes tell us they dread: “What movies are you watching”, “What did you download on iTunes this week”, “did anything great happen at school this week”…you get the picture, Coach.  When you earn the privilege of having a one-on-one talk with your recruit, you’d better try to figure out a way to amaze them if you want to keep positive anticipation on your side with them.  Are you asking questions no one else is?  Are you going to reveal an important “next step” you want them to take in the process?  Will you go over their strengths and weaknesses from the last time you watched them play?  Can you update them on any part of the process on your campus regarding their application?  ALL of that builds importance and value in their conversation with you…this time and the next time.  (By the way, you’ll know you have let negative anticipation seep into the relationship when your calls go to voicemail, or they aren’t returning your emails as much as they used to).
  • Your prospect will anticipate coming to campus if they have been given exciting peeks at what awaits them  when they get there.  Have you teased your recruit and given them glimpses of what your team is like, what campus is like, why he or she would want to see the dorms, and what the area is like around your college?  Those are some of the key elements our research has uncovered as to what triggers that “anticipation” in the minds of your recruits when it comes to the risky, scary idea of committing to a campus visit.  Recruits will rarely visit a campus without a good reason that is solidified in their mind – either one that they came up with on their own, or a picture that you have painted for them over a period of time.

One more thing:

Since we’re building-out these concepts using the excitement of presents under the tree during Christmas and the holidays, think about what happens after they open the presents.  There’s an almost immediate “crash”.  The anticipation and excitement is gone, and all that’s left is a pile of toys, the hand-knit underwear their Aunt Edna sent them, and wrapping paper strewn all over the place.  The energy is gone – as is that valuable anticipation.

If you’re a parent, watch what happens Christmas morning after the presents are all opened.  You’ll see what I’m talking about.

The point I’m making is that you need to anticipate that, Coach.  That means after they visit campus, for example, you need to anticipate that they will need a clear picture of what the next step in your process is in order to maintain their focus and excitement about the idea of competing for you. My personal observation is that coaches tend to take an optimistic view of their recruit, picturing that with each step they take in the recruiting process he or she becomes more and more excited, and naturally wants to talk more about competing for you.  In the majority of cases, I find that the opposite is true: The anticipated is now the familiar, and they’ll search out a new source of anticipation and excitement in the form of another program (remember that recruit who got spotted late by a competitor and rushed through the process to commit with them?…That’s a prime example of a kid continuing to look for anticipation and excitement in the form of another program).

Your job, Coach, is to put a focus on managing the experience and continuing to build that anticipation in your recruits’ mind.  In trying to show them why you are the smart choice, it is also your job to get them to “stop believing in Santa”, to a large extent.  If you can master that art, you’ll solve a key riddle when it comes to how to ride that wave of anticipation in the recruiting process.

After the holidays comes New Years, and with New Years comes resolutions!  If you are focused on developing a more research-based, strategic approach to the recruiting process, talk to Dan Tudor and his team.  To get an overview of how the process works, and what they do when they work with a coaching staff as clients, click here.  Or, contact Dan directly at dan@dantudor.com

The Incredible Value of Repetition in Your Recruiting MessageMonday, November 25th, 2013

Somewhere on the bottle of shampoo you have in your shower, there is a tried and true line of instruction that was developed decades ago as a way to get consumers to run out of the product sooner, thereby raising profits through the corresponding increased shampoo sales.

“Lather, rinse, repeat.”

When advertising agencies figured out that adding the word “repeat” to the instructions on a shampoo bottle resulted in increased sales, it established a truth that has yet to be proven wrong when it comes to consumer (that’s us) buying habits: There is an ongoing need to repeat actions in order to get results.

The same holds true for things like radio advertising.  If your athletic department buys radio advertising to promote upcoming games or fundraising events, the advertising representatives probably made the case that the ad would need to be aired five to seven times per day. Why?  Because the average radio listener would need to hear that ad at least four or five times before they decided to take action on attending the event.

Think about your own buying habits, Coach.  How many ads or references from friends before you decided on what car to buy?  Or what brand smart phone to use?  Or what shampoo to buy?  I’m guessing it took more than one interaction with an advertising message for you to decide to buy that particular brand.

The moral of the story is pretty simple: Repetition in advertising works.

Which brings us to your recruiting message…

The trend we see most often when it comes to how college coaches tend to communicate with their recruits involves cramming as much information about the college and their program into one email or letter as possible.  That’s the wrong way to do it – and most coaches, deep down, know it.  They just don’t know how to do it differently.

We’ll change that today.

There are several rules we follow when we work with coaches one-on-one as clients in helping them create a consistent, interesting recruiting campaign for their recruits.  Use them to develop your own brand of repetition and consistent messaging for this next recruiting class:

  • Make sure you are communicating foundational, logical facts to your prospect every six to nine days.  Without this first point in place, a coach risks inconsistent recruiting results.  Our research, outlined in our two recruiting guides for college coaches, solidly indicates that when a prospect sees ongoing, regular contact from a coach, not only do they engage with the messaging on a more regular basis, but they also make the judgement that the coach is interested in them, and values them.  Those feelings are what every coach should want their recruits to feel.
  • If you have negatives associated with your program, or big objections that many prospects bring up in the recruiting process, address it early and often.  Don’t run from it, and don’t wait for them to bring it up (or sit back and hope they don’t bring it up).  Consistent, early discussion about it gives you the chance to re-define that objection.  And, it gives you a greater chance to turn their opinion of you around.  Lather, rinse and definitely repeat, Coach.
  • Short, logical, fact-based repetitive messages.  That’s what your prospect needs in order to get to the point of being able to choose you over your competitors.  Remember that initial recruiting letter I described many coaches sending out?  The one where every little fact about your college and program is crammed into one message?  Don’t do that!  Instead, take one concept and address it from many different angles.  Spend a few weeks talking about one topic, and take your time in repetitively making your point to your recruit.  It works, Coach.
  • Repeat your name and your college name often.  Advertisers have followed this psychological principle for decades.  Why?  Repetition of who you are, and associating that with positive connotations, produces results.  A good example of this principle at work are the commercials for online computer repair giant pcmatic.com – they manage to say their brand name a whopping 16 times in their one minute television commercial, not including the visual references to their name.  Why?  They need people to remember their brand, and associate trust with it.
  • Mix it up.  Your recruiting campaign needs to feature a regular flow of mail, email, phone contact, personal contact (like a home visit and/or campus visit) and social media.  This generation reacts to a good combination of all of these facets of recruiting.  If you focus only on one or two communication methods with your recruits, you are leaving the door open for a competitor that will utilize all of their communication resources.  Our studies show that this generation of athletic recruit wants – and needs – a variety of communication types.
  • Social media is personal. Be careful how you use repeatedly use it.  The shiny new toy for college recruiters that is social media is ripe with possibilities – and pitfalls.  Communicating with them the right way on a consistent basis is one of the best ways to form a personal connection with that recruit.  Social media is very personal for most kids, so doing it the right way means a faster way to connect with those recruits.  On the other hand, a coach who feeds a steady stream of game results and player-0f-the-week press releases will lose the attention of a prospect quickly.  Show the personal, behind-the-scenes personality of you and your program – that’s what recruits are looking for (we’ve designed a free research study on how high school prospects use social media in recruiting, Coach…download it here).

Repetition is one of the least used – and most effective – strategies that a coach can utilize in their recruiting message.  Follow these rules in creating a consistent, ongoing conversation with your recruits and watch what happens when it comes to your results.

Dan and his experts at Tudor Collegiate Strategies can help you develop a consistent, research-based message for your recruits. Click here for a detailed explanation of how we do that, or email Dan directly at dan@dantudor.com.

Recruiting Lessons From the Sticky Note on the Hotel BedMonday, May 13th, 2013

Sticky note 1When you’re a tired traveler, and you’re virtually immune to all forms of marketing that a hotel chain can throw out you, their sales message needs to be simple.

It needs to hit you over the head, and get straight to the point if they have any hope of making you remember them from the other two gazillion hotel options we have.

So I’m giving credit to the folks at Hampton Inn for playing by those rules with a simple, inexpensive and direct message when this weary traveler checked into one of their hotels on the East coast not to long ago.

 

Note 2

The yellow sticky note caught my attention right when I walked into the room, mainly because it was out of place.  I’m notgoing to lie, it alarmed me at first.  When you see a sticky note on the headboard of a hotel bed, there’s a flurry of frightening possibilities that rush through your mind as to what is written on the note awaiting you upon your arrival

“Let us know if it still smells like a horse in here.”  Or, “Per the health department inspector, no free breakfast in the morning.”

This one was a little more positive:

“Duvet covers and sheets are clean for your arrival”

My first reaction upon reading it was, “So what?  You want me to get excited about you doing your job?”

But a few weeks later, I’m struck by how that simple message has resonated with me.  Every time I think about reserving a room at a Hampton Inn – a rather mediocre chain in a sea of hotel options, some less expensive and some more expensive – I honestly go back to the idea that I know I’ll get clean, fresh sheets when I stay there.  I don’t remember if they charged me for a bottle of water, or how big their flat screen TV was, but I do remember that they delivered on the fresh sheets promised in the sticky note (believe me, I double checked before I crawled into bed…you make a promise like that, and I’m going to hold you to it!)

And therein lies the valuable lesson for serious college recruiters.

How you communicate your message, and the degree of simplicity in which it is delivered, is key to making sure it sticks with your next class or prospects.  Here are the ideas you should take away from the sticky note on the hotel bed:

Aim for something that looks out of place in your message.  Whether it’s an email, a letter, a social media message, or even a phone call, your first task as a marketer of your program is to get your reader’s attention.  Most coaches do a poor job of that (or end up in the news for taking it to an extreme).  The sticky note worked for Hampton Inn…maybe you could use one in your next letter?  Or what about a big, bold P.S. message in your next email (did you know your prospect will read the P.S. first, and then likely read the rest of the message to find out what you meant in your P.S.?)  Grab your prospect’s attention by using something that seems out of place.

Keep it simple.  There wasn’t a slick, glossy brochure waiting for me with how committed the Hampton Inn staff was at keeping my room clean.  Nope, it was just a simple Post-It note stuck to the headboard.  Simple gets remembered.  Are you getting straight to the point and keeping it simple like all of our research shows you should?

Be direct.  If you want to tell your recruits that your off-season training program sets you apart from everyone else in your conference, tell them.  If you’ve got proof that your college’s degree has made the difference in the lives of the guys of your team, tell that story.  Don’t dance around the main idea you want to get across: Use simple language, and don’t waste time getting to the main point (Tip: Most of the first paragraphs in your letters and emails are pure fluff, and aren’t needed.  Delete it.  Just start with the second paragraph, because I’ll bet that’s where you start getting down to business, right?)

Communicating properly with recruits is something that coaches often over-think, and they miss the mark.  That’s why you might be finding it so hard to get the attention of the recruits you really want (and why our clients have a better reach and connection with their prospects when we put these rules in place in their recruiting system).

Follow these four rules as you write your next recruiting message, and watch what happens.

If you like the advice you’re getting in our newsletter and blog, you’ll love the one-on-one access you have to our staff and the extra training you’ll get as one of our Premium Members.  Click here for all the information!

11 Things You Need to Do Now That the NCAA Has Put Recruiting Reform on HoldSunday, May 5th, 2013

As has happened before, the NCAA has slammed on the breaks and skidded off to the shoulder of the road right before taking the proverbial exit towards recruiting communication reform.

The proposed rules would have allowed a greater variety of contact over longer periods of time, starting sooner.  Some coaches and conferences objected to the new rules, and the NCAA announced that they were going to take a longer look at the impact of the proposed changes.

Of course, many upper division coaching staffs are already recruiting Freshmen and Sophomores and desperately trying to find better ways to communicate with them.  This latest chapter in the ever-increasing trend of early recruiting just means that club and AAU coaches will continue to exert significant influence over the process as they maintain their cherished roles as gatekeepers in your quest to get verbal commitments from top quality pre-driver’s license teenagers before your buddies down the street can get their commitment.

Regardless of your position on whether the reforms were good or bad for college sports, one fact remains: You need to contact young recruits before you can tell your story in a traditional way through phone calls, emails and letters.  With that in mind, here’s a list of what we recommend for coaches who need to continue to recruit prospects using Macgyver-like tricks to lure the right kid to campus:

  • Pretend the new rules are in place.  Try to find creative, legal ways to brand your program early with a focus on prompting communication.  Specifically, the younger prospects reaching out to contact you.
  • Social media is big, but it’s not the secret formula.  It’s a great way to reach out and have simple back-and-forth conversations with a recruit, but it currently has limits on how well it can give them the logical reasons to choose you.  Use it to set-up contact, but continue to find diverse ways to tell your overall story.  Seriously, this is important, Coach.
  • Brand your program to younger prospects through pictures and short, non-sport related video.  Want to know the best use for your Twitter account, Instagram or Facebook fan page?  “Showing” your prospects what life around your program is all about.  Please, in the name of all that is holy, stop posting press releases and stories about the new library renovations.  They want to see where they’re going to eat, the sand volleyball game by the dorms on a Saturday, teammates going shopping at the mall down the street from the college, or a picture of your messy desk.  Anything that humanizes you and your program, and talks about more than the sports side of your life and theirs.  Social media is the ideal venue for that!  (Are your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages reflecting what they want?)
  • Understand what club and high school coaches want: Respect, and to be included in the process as one of your peers.  The biggest thing the proposed rules would have done would be to lesson the impact the role of the current coaches of your recruits in the early recruiting conversation.  But as the saying goes, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”  Make an effort in this next recruiting cycle to communicate with the coaches of your recruits on a consistent, ongoing basis.  And I’m not just talking about asking them to pass along emails or other messages to your prospects (although, yes, you need to continue to do that); I’m talking about “recruiting” them, too.  The research we’ve conducted is clear: Those coaches what to be respected and be included in the process, and the best way we’ve found to do that is to mail, email and talk to them on a regular basis (which results in them being more likely to pass along your messages to their recruits, and…dare we dream?…actually recommend you to them.
  • Spend more time talking to their parents.  The Freshman or Sophomore recruit you really want really wants you to talk to their mom or dad.  Proportionally, you can’t go wrong with an 80/20 plan – eighty percent of phone call time with the parents, twenty percent with the recruit.  This is especially true with younger recruits, who feel inadequately equipped to talk to you, who they view as powerful and intimidating.  Spend time on the phone with the parents finding out what they want out of the process, what they see as a right fit for their son or daughter’s college career, and what they might have available on their calendar for an early unofficial visit to campus.
  • Tell the parents and your recruit about the type of kid that’s not right for you and your program.  The secret here is that you want them to start selling you on why they would be a good fit for your program.  The easiest way to do that is to define who isn’t right for you and what you don’t like in an athlete, and then wait for them to explain why their son or daughter is nothing like that.  This is a great principle to use to shift the focus from you selling yourself to them, to them selling themselves to you.  Try this the next time you have your new recruit or their parents on the phone for the first time and watch how they follow this script that I’ve laid out…you’ll make it part of your regular recruiting strategy.
  • Set up a standing appointment to talk.  For younger recruits, you still can’t initiate regular phone calls until they are entering their Senior year.  Try flipping it around and ask them what they could commit to in terms of placing a regular phone call to you.  Same day of the week, same time.  Have a goal of twice a month, and promise them it will be no more than 7 or 8 minutes long, and that you’ll have two amazingly interesting questions for them each time they talk so they won’t be wasting their time.
  • Develop amazingly interesting questions. (click here if you need a jump-start for ideas)
  • Make sure they’re hearing from the head coach.  One of the things we’ve seen from programs big and small is an artificial hierarchy of coaching contacts reaching out to them.  At the beginning, its an assistant.  Then after a while, they might “earn” the right to hear from someone higher on the coaching depth chart.  And then, only after they grace you with their presence on campus, they are allowed to interact with the head coach.  If you were running a mafia crime family, this is proper protocol.  If you’re a coach who wants to eliminate any questions as to how important they are to your program, and how serious you are about recruiting them, it’s a horribly outdated approach – one that your more savvy competitors are happy to exploit to their benefit.
  • Don’t be in a rush for them to visit campus.  In other words, don’t make that the next thing that should happen after the first phone call or email exchange.  In the workshops we are asked to do on college campuses, I’ll often use the example of moving from casually flirting with a high school sweetheart to immediately jumping to planning on a day to get your marriage license together.  In the teenage brain, that’s the equivalent to asking your recruit to come to campus.  Why?  Because they don’t like you yet, and probably aren’t ready to make that jump to committing to interacting with you in person on your home turf.  Be patient.  In fact, tell them that you are going to be the program that doesn’t force them to rush to campus…that you’re more interested in making sure you get to know each other first, and develop good back-and-forth communication for a few months.
  • Commit to be in the race for the long haul.  If you’re recruiting a prospect beginning in their Freshman or Sophomore year, don’t worry about being first right out of the gate.  You want to win at the end, not the beginning.  Position yourself intelligently and strategically for a long race, and let other coaches get frustrated and miscalculate how to pace themselves correctly.

It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start towards positioning yourself as a coach who is going to find a way to operate intelligently as if the new recruiting allowances are in place.

“Early recruiting” is here to stay.  Be the coach that pulls up a chair and gets comfortable with it.

We’ll be discussing the latest NCAA regulations and how it further affects coaches at the upcoming National Collegiate Recruiting Conference.  There is still time to register if you’re a coach who wants to be proactive, and formulate a smarter plan using high-level information as you aim for the best of the best in this next recruiting class.  It’s an amazingly instructive weekend, Coach!

Building Anticipation Instead of Anxiety When You’re RecruitingMonday, April 1st, 2013

Think about it:

If we can define anxiety as “experiencing failure in advance of it happening”, then the opposite definition must be true also, right?

I’m talking about anticipation.  When you’re anticipating something, it’s usually because you just can’t wait for it to happen.  Buying your first new home, moving in, re-decorating and having your first family gathering there all involves anticipation.  You’re excited about seeing those things come to fruition.

On the other hand, for families that are experiencing financial difficulties and are in risk of losing their home to foreclosure, they are experiencing anxiety. Lots of anxiety.  Why?  Because they are experiencing that failure in advance of it happening.

So, how does this all apply to recruiting?  More than you probably think it does, actually.

When you recruit with anticipation, you will highlight the highs. Chances are, you will automatically focus on the things that will excite your prospects and push you and your staff even harder in your pursuit of that next level recruit.  And, you’ll probably put a lot of time and attention into how you do that.

If you recruit with anxiety, on the other hand, chances are you will hesitate.  You’ll second guess yourself.  You’ll talk yourself out of that recruit that (on paper, anyway) you don’t seem to have a chance at landing.  If things are really desperate, you’ll be insuring yourself and your program against disaster and most of all, building deniability into everything that you’re doing on the recruiting front. When you work under the cloud of anxiety – whether it’s in recruiting or the general operation of your coaching staff – the best strategy is to probably play it safe, because if (when?) it fails, you’ll be blameless (or so you think).

Not only is it more upbeat to work with anticipation, it’s often a more self-fulfilling point of view, too.  Especially when it comes to recruiting, Coach.

And by the way, your prospects notice when you recruit with anticipation compared to recruiting with an attitude of anxiety.  True, sometimes introducing a small amount of anxiety at the right times is a smart strategy during certain stages of the recruiting process, building ongoing positive anticipation in your consistent recruiting message should be a priority for any savvy college recruiter.

Here are three easy concepts I feel you should make sure are a part of your recruiting strategy moving forward:

  1. Look at the tone of your messaging. There are two different tones that we see being used all the time which are not usually effective, according to our research:  First, when you are too “sanitized” in the way you sell your program, you’re going to fall short of building anticipation.  By “sanitized” I mean rattling-off statistics about your college, listing facts about your campus, outlining the recent history of your program…all of that is too detached, and too unemotional to make a connection with most prospects.  Secondly, you don’t want a constant tone of pressure, negativity or anxiety.  You don’t want to present a tone of pressure on an ongoing basis, for all the reasons we’ve just outlined.  So as you review your recruiting materials, define how it builds anticipation (and if it doesn’t, work on changing it).
  2. Ask yourself, “What can I get them to anticipate next?” If you’re a client of ours, you know how important it is to have the flow of the recruiting process move as quickly and as efficiently as possible toward securing a campus visit.  In that scenario, we would want to have the prospect anticipate the campus visit?  If possible, we’d want to focus on selling the idea of meeting the guys on the team…or sitting down face to face with the biology professor if the recruit was a strong pre-med candidate…or the opportunity to hear what kind of scholarship offer you’ll be outlining for she and her parents.  It could be anything that is the logical next step in the process.  The key question is, “what are you getting them to anticipate next?”
  3. Define what they should anticipate. Don’t wait for prospects and their parents to assign value to the next phase in the recruiting process, do it for them.  That’s not manipulative, by the way…it’s intelligent.  You know how important it is to get to campus for that early unofficial visit, but does the athlete?  Do her parents?  Does his coach?  Smart coaches will focus on defining the importance on building anticipation for the next phase of the recruiting cycle.  So, are you defining exactly what your prospect should anticipate next from you?

Setting the tone, outlining the tone, and defining the tone.  Those three aspects of your recruiting message can result in exciting positive changes for your recruiting efforts moving forward!

There’s a live event coming up this Summer that will help you gain cutting edge recruiting skills from a gathering of the best experts, authors, coaches and communication gurus: The National Collegiate Recruiting Conference.  Make sure your staff is represented at this one-of-a-kind event!  CLICK HERE for the details.

 

Getting Recruits to Drink Your Outrageously Expensive Bottled WaterMonday, March 11th, 2013

If you’re  a college recruiter who is regularly trying to overcome the cost of your college with your prospect, I give you the $7.50 bottle of water.

When I checked into my hotel room, there is was…waiting for me (and my wallet).

I am old enough to remember when bottled water was a novelty.  In fact, it was a joke.  ”Yeah right”, I remember thinking back in the olden days, “pay for water I could get for free from the faucet?  Good luck with that scam.”

A few decades later, the joke’s on me.  Bottled water is the norm.  So much so that there were actually a few moments when I considered breaking the seal of the hotel bottled water, and adding the $7.50 onto my room bill.

So, how did I get to this point?  How did I almost drink a $7.50 bottle of water when I once considered it highway robbery?

If you can answer that question, then you’re on your way to figuring out the formula for selling the cost of your program, or not being able to offer a full scholarship, to your recruits.

I can barely figure out my own motives for almost drinking a bottle of water that would equal a few gallons of gas in cost, so I’m not about to suggest that there is a blanket one-size-fits-all strategy or set of answers that will work in every situation.  But I think I do have a good understanding of how our human nature works, and after seeing several hundred recruiting scenarios up-close and personal with the cost of a college at the core of a discussion between coaches and the parents and athlete, I have come up with some solid ideas on why I believe you can win this particular conversation with your recruits.

Or, in other words, how to get your recruits (and their parents) to take a sip of your $7.50 bottle of water:

First, accept the fact that some people aren’t going to drink your $7.50 bottle of water. Either they can’t afford it, or they know they can get it cheaper (or for free) somewhere else.  If you aren’t ready to walk away from a prospect because they just aren’t buying the idea of paying a significant sum for your water, that probably means you aren’t seriously recruiting enough good prospects.  If you had an over-abundance of top tier recruits, you wouldn’t care if they weren’t interested in your expensive water.  If that’s not the case with you, it’s time to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if you’re recruiting enough really good athletes.

You can change the paradigm with repeated exposure. Remember the first time you saw a bottle of water for sale in a hotel room?  You probably rolled your eyes like I did.  Fast forward to today.  Now, when you see a bottle of water in a hotel room, not only is it not an oddity, it’s something you probably treat yourself to during your stay.  What happened?  Repeated exposure.  You’ve come to accept it as “acceptable”.  So, how do you use this principle to improve your recruiting argument?  Repeated exposure.  You need to tell your recruits, through repeated messaging on a consistent basis, why it would be smart to invest in your college and your program.  Not enough coaches do that the right way, and it shows in the number of kids (and parents) that choose “cheaper” over the best choice.

We’ve been told what to think. Bottled water is cleaner, more purified, more convenient and better tasting, right?  Sometimes, yes.  Much of the time, no. But we’ve given up thinking on our own when it comes to bottled water.  Water bottlers have told us that it’s better, and why.  My favorite bottled water is Dasani, which is bottled by CocaCola.  That refreshingly clean looking blue bottle with the little water droplets on the bottle made from formed plastic – as well as that pinch of salt they add for flavoring – make it number one for me.  They have told me how to think about in the way it looks, the way it tastes, and the way it’s presented.  So, Coach…how good of a job are you doing with your recruits in telling them how to think about your bottled water in the way you and your program looks, the way it feels, and the way you present it?  Make sure you have an answer to those three questions, Coach.  And make a point of telling them what to think.

Understand that they might have the money, but just aren’t sure they want to spend it on your water. Did I have $7.50 to spend on water? Sure I did.  I ended up paying $12 for a bowl of oatmeal the next morning at the hotel’s over-priced cafe, so the money wasn’t an issue.  It’s just that I didn’t want to pay the $7.50 for water.  See the distinction?  So when you hear a family talk about not being able to afford your school, or how they just can’t compete for you unless you cover more of their scholarship, understand that they are probably making car payments, house payments, and may even take nice vacations a few times a year.  Furthermore, if that bigger brand school offered a walk-on spot for them at the last minute, chances are they’ll be able to somehow make the sacrifice and pony-up the cash for that college experience.  I’ll say it again: More times than you think your prospect has the money, they just don’t want to spend it on you.  (So, what can you tell them consistently and creatively that get them to cost-justify the expense in their mind?)

There are some big things they DON’T care about when it comes to your bottled water. The vast majority of the time, they don’t care about how many bottles you sold last year, the quality of the facility that it was bottled in, who else is drinking it, or even how convenient it is for them to access the water.  In the same way, most recruits – according to our ongoing research – won’t make their decision based on your facility, your record, who else is on your team, or how big your campus is.  It’s about how you relate to them as their coach and if you are consistent in the way you communicate why they should choose your program over others, and if they feel like they are a fit in your program based on the plan that you outline for them (or that they outline for themselves).  Are you focusing on the stuff that they don’t care about, or those two big ideas that we know matters most to them?  That’s a serious question, Coach.

Like I said, that’s not an exhaustive list.  And I’m not conceding the idea that once in a while, a prospect is going to say your facility just wasn’t as good as the other program recruiting them (they’re more than likely just using it as an excuse to cover-up another real objection, but that’s another topic for another day). However, these core ideas on “why they aren’t drinking your bottled water” are proving to be reliable indicators for us as we work one-on-one with coaching staffs in their recruiting approaches.

So, if it’s working for us, we’re pretty confident that it will work for you, too.  If, that is, you can formulate answers for those questions we know pop into your prospects’ minds as they consider whether or not to drink your very expensive $7.50 bottle of water.

Want personalized help in creating a proven marketing plan to increase the number of recruits who will want to drink your bottled water?  Let us help. CLICK HERE to see us explain the client option that coaches around the country are using for better recruiting results.

7 Critical Things Your Prospect Presentation Absolutely NeedsTuesday, March 5th, 2013

“Presentation” might be the wrong word, actually.

As a college recruiter, you don’t give recruting “presentations” in the same way that a business sales professional might give a sales presentation to a new prospective client.  And if you are doing it that way, prepare to have a long, painful life as a struggling college recruiter.

There are fundamental differences in what you want to do as a college coach trying to connect with a teenage with their prospect, especially when it comes to the reasons they are making their decision on what coach – and what program – is the best fit for them.

But that being said, “presentation” is the best word that I could come up with, because it really wraps in all the elements of the process that you use to recruit a student-athlete.  We’re not just talking about the opportunities you have to go into a prospect’s home and talk to them about competing for you and your program, or hosting them on campus as a part of an unofficial or official visit

“Presentations” can include a lot more:

  • The letters and emails that you write…that’s part of your presentation.
  • The phone calls that you make…that’s part of your presentation.
  • What is said about your school or you online…that’s part of your presentation.
  • When a prospect comes to visit your campus…that’s a part of your presentation.

You can’t overlook one area of your overall presentation and expect success.  Especially when it comes to the top athletes you really, really want for your program.

So in looking at programs we work with, and see what they do right on a consistent basis, here’s my list of the 7 things YOU need in your recruiting presentation if you’re looking for an added degree of success with your next recruiting class:

  1. Develop a belief in your school and your program. It pains me when I hear a coach tell me privately that he or she doesn’t think their school can compete with others in their conference.  What you absolutely need as a part of your overall recruiting presentation is a heart-felt belief that your school, your program – and you as a coach – are the best option for your recruit.  Assume that you are going to sign the athlete when you first start talking to them.  Today’s prospects want to compete for coaches who are confident (not cocky, confident).  If you don’t display passion about you and your program, don’t expect them to be passionate about the idea of coming to compete for you.
  2. Focus on helping them reach their objectives. Not sell your school.  Not brag about your program.  Not show off your new building.  Help connect the dots and show them how you (and your school, and your program, and maybe even the new building) will help them reach their athletic and academic objectives.  An easy way to make sure you’re doing this is by taking a look at each facet of your recruiting process and explain how whatever you do helps your recruit reach their objective.  “But Dan, what if I don’t know what their objective in college is?”  Ask.
  3. Tell them you have some ideas on how to help them. Do you know how original you’d be if you would just come to them with tangible ideas for them instead of bullet-pointed athletic department brochures?  Kids will always stay engaged if you give yourself away and get them to connect with you through ideas about them.  Not you, them.
  4. Try to ask one amazing question at the beginning of each new type of contact.One for your first letter, your first email, your first phone call, and when you first meet.  I’m talking about a question that makes them stop and really think about the answer before they give it to you.  Whenever you ask a question they haven’t been presented with before, that’s a sign of a great presentation.
  5. Don’t “need” the recruit. Prospects and their parents have become increasingly adept at sniffing out desparation, and it’s not something that they view favorably.  If you find yourself “pressing” for prospects – especially at the end of your recruiting cycle – then you need more prospects.  We have a coach we’ve worked with for several years who is heading into these upcoming months with nine prospects that are “A” rated recruits.  They only need to sign two this year.  Two years ago, their list was 1/3 the size it is now.  Do like they did and assess your needs and make adjustments in the numbers so that you aren’t begging at the end.
  6. Ask for the sale. If you’ve taken part in one of our famous On-Campus Workshops at your school, you know this is a familiar mantra we preach to college recruiters.  You’re recruiting them for a reason: You want them to play for you.  So, once you know in your heart that they’d be perfect for you – and you’re ready to hear a “yes” from them and follow-up with all the commitments that come along with possibly hearing that answer – ask them to commit.  Even if they say “no, not yet,” they’ll remember you as a coach that is passionate about them and that wants them for their team.  You might even be surprised when you get that immediate “yes!” from a prospect you really want….if you consistently ask.
  7. Be 100% focused 100% of the time. Are you smiling and confident?  Your prospect is watching. Are you and your staff wearing school polo shirts?  Your prospect is watching. Are you prepared for their visit and engaged with them individually, or are you thinking about what went wrong at practice yesterday?  Your prospect is watching. They are judging you as much as they are judging your school and your program.  Every part of your interaction with them matters, Coach.  Pay attention to the details and stay focused.

Now that you have my list, here’s a quick mental homework assignment I’d love for you to invest the next five minutes in doing: What three or four things can you do right away to improve your overall recruiting presentation?  Write down those changes on a card or piece of paper, and put it up on your wall in your office.  Don’t take it down until you’ve followed your own advice and made those changes to your presentation.

Those seven guiding principles can help you form the basis for a really effective recruiting presentaiton, which will help you make a big impact on this next recruiting class you’re starting to contact.

Do you have questions for Dan?  Email him directly at dan@dantudor.com.

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