Dan Tudor

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Communicating With Your Recruits After Tragedy StrikesMonday, July 18th, 2016

Turn on your favorite cable channel these days, and you’re likely to hear about a serious crisis or a tragic event.

A school shooting. A protest turned violent. And, the growing incidents of controversial police actions, as well as violence aimed at those same police.

It’s affecting communities around the country, without rhyme or reason. And if you’re a coach who has had one of these events hit close to home, you know one of the first things that crosses your mind is, “how am I going to explain this to my recruits?”

I know that’s the case because when we have a coach who we work with as a client, and an incident happens near their campus, they ask us for help. Unfortunately, we’ve received too many of those requests in recent months as our nation has watched different tragedies unfold in front of our eyes.

These events tend to put the “importance” of recruiting and college sports in serious perspective, of course. However, life – and your job as a college coach – goes on. With that in mind, as with any interaction with your recruits, what you say and do after incidents like these take place, are important.

And while each incident, and each student-athlete you recruit, are unique, we can recommend some important general protocols for any coach to follow that will help communicate with, and (if necessary) calm, your prospects after bad news breaks near your campus or community:

Understand their perspective. As bad as it seems to you (whatever “it” happens to be), understand that it probably isn’t nearly as bad in the eyes of your prospect. What I mean is that you, as a coach on your campus and in your community, live, eat and breathe what goes on at your school and in your town. Most coaches are hyper-sensitive to any potential negative news, and how it might affect the attitude towards their program in the eyes of their recruits; that’s understandable, and I’m not being critical of it (I’d actually rather a coach error on the side of caution versus assuming that everything is o.k.). What I’m saying is that just because something horrible has transpired nearby doesn’t mean you’ve lost your chance to getting that prospect to say yes. From our research and experience, that just isn’t the case.

Don’t wait for them to reach out to you. You, Coach, should reach out to them. Once the situation is over, if at all possible, take the initiative and start the tough conversation about whatever happened. Explain it from your perspective, provide a definition of how they should be looking at whatever the situation is, reassure them, and ask them to ask you questions about it. I would suggest that there are questions or concerns that they will hold back from telling you, so be politely persistent…let them know it’s o.k. to talk about it.

Your tone is as important as your words. Your non-verbal communication is key here, Coach. The more confident, relaxed, and reassuring you sound on the phone, or in person during a home or campus visit, the better. If you take the attitude that you’re going to try to have an open, honest, heart-to-heart conversation with them, you should be fine. But be conscious of the tone you take.

Leave your politics and personal views at the door. Unless it’s a natural disaster you’re referring to, don’t insert your strong political viewpoints in the conversation (Democrats and Republicans can agree that all natural disasters are a bad thing, right?). We hear about so many instances of a parent having a conversation with a coach, the coach dropping a hint at a political belief or opinion on a matter, and then that parent using that disagreeing viewpoint as a reason for eliminating that program from consideration. Such is the world we live in, Coach. Parents – and even some of your kids – can be easily offended by a voiced viewpoint on a crisis or controversy. Keep it in mind, Coach.

Give details on why your team was safe during the incident. If an athlete is truly interested in your program, they’ll be looking for reassurance from you. They want solid, logical reasons to explain why the incident in question is something that, in the end, shouldn’t be something to worry about. In short, they want to “know how to think” about something that happened that may have affected your program. (If you’re our client, let us know anytime you need us to formulate a strategy and the right wording for conversations with your recruits after a crisis is over).

The research says your written and verbal communication counts. If you talk to them over the phone or in person, follow it up with a written summary of what you said. If your first contact with them is via email, letter or social media, follow that up with a phone call.

Don’t use a tragedy against an opponent. Want to discredit yourself and appear downright sleazy in the eyes of your recruit? Try to use a tragedy or crisis against an opponent in the form of negative recruiting. Not only will it not affect their view of your competitor, our focus group testing tells us quite clearly that it will almost immediately discredit you as a likable, trusted coach.

Your goal after a crisis is to provide context of the situation for your prospect. If you don’t, they’ll quickly invent their own story and definition of what happened.

To be completely clear, Coach:

The intent here is not to mislead your prospect or “trick” them into believing some kind of alternate reality. Your goal, as their trusted source, is to give them an understand – from your perspective – as to why a tragedy or crisis shouldn’t be the reason they end up saying no to you and your program.

Your communication plan is the most important part of how you recruit your future team. How are you communicating with your prospect class when there isn’t a crisis to explain? It’s going to determine the caliber of recruit you end up bringing to campus. Since 2005, we’ve helped hundreds of coaches and their programs take a systematic, research-based approach to developing the right recruiting messaging. If you’d like to talk about how we can do that for you and your program this year, email Dan Tudor directly at dan@dantudor.com.

 

When Crisis, Crime, Conflict and Causes Collide with RecruitingMonday, November 9th, 2015

You work on a college campus, Coach.

Eventually, on your campus, there is going to be a crisis that arises. Or, a conflict of some kind will take place.  God forbid, a crime affects your college or athletic department. Or, your college will unite for a passionate cause that’s important to part or all of your campus community.

Not all of them will be peaceful, and few follow a predictable script.

And that is why you, as a college coach engaged in the recruiting younger high school prospects and their over-anxious parents, need to have a plan when it comes to what to say to them when crisis, conflict and causes collide with your message.

I raise this as a topic to discuss not because I want to, frankly. But for the coaches we serve, questions about how to handle these facts of life on a college campus, and how to communicate with prospects about what they mean, are becoming more and more common. You need a plan; if you don’t develop one, you’re going to risk losing recruits over fear and misconceptions.

Full disclosure: I am not an expert on race relations, crime prevention, or protests. This article isn’t a commentary that take sides on a particular issue, which colleges have more crime compared to others, or any of the root origins of the crisis, crime, conflict or causes that arise on campus. Most of you realize that a college campus is supposed to foster debates and free expression, and with that often comes passion and allegiances within your collegiate community.

My concern is for how those issues are viewed by your prospects. My goal here is to give you the beginnings of how to effectively and truthfully address these situations in a way that brings respect to the issues or situations happening on campus, while calming the fears and questions that almost always arise in the minds of your recruits and their parents.

While each situation is different, I wanted to outline some recommended strategies that your program can implement based on working through some of these situations with our clients over the last decade.

Crisis

That’s a big category covering a lot of different possible situations: Natural disasters, a gunman on campus, or someone in the athletic department (or your program) that was discovered to have committed a crime or major infraction. Regardless of the details, when crisis hits, your natural instinct is to hunker down and ride it out. And to be sure, there are times as the crisis is unfolding that you need to make sure you are following leadership instructions on campus, legal advice, or the direction of emergency personnel.

But once the crisis has calmed, and after your responsibilities to your team, fellow coaches and campus community have been met, you need to provide context to your recruits and his or her family. When I recommend that you need to ‘provide context’, I mean you need to do three critical things for your prospects:

  1. Explain as much of the back-story about what lead to the crisis as you can. Heavy on details, and as transparent as possible. Your recruits are looking for raw information, and the more that you can provide to them at the start of the conversation, the better. Your detail and truthfulness will earn the respect, and trust, of your prospect.
  2. Explain your view of the situation, and what your role (or your team’s role) in getting through it. Don’t apologize for the imperfect world that we live in; rather, define for your recruits how you and your program weathered the crisis – and came through to the other side stronger because of it.
  3. The most challenging and most important piece to this puzzle is to communicate calm, and assure them that this shouldn’t affect their view of the program, and certainly shouldn’t change their feelings about continuing on through the recruiting process. Stress that they are a part of the family, and include them as much as possible as you rise up after the crisis is over. Your recruit is looking for reassurance and leadership from you, so make sure you project that as the crisis subsides.

Crime

If you coach in an urban area, or in an area with a history of crime, you’re going to have to address this potential game-ender for your recruits, and his or her parents. Our studies centered around female student-athletes in particular clearly show that the more quickly you bring up the topic and discuss it in detail with your recruit’s parents, the less of a chance you will let the problem develop into something that would prevent them from seriously considering you.

Conversely, the longer you wait to discuss it – or if you make the decision to not address it an just ‘hope’ your recruit and his or her family don’t bring up the topic – the higher the chances you will never be seriously considered by the best student-athletes.

Based on what we’ve watched coaches do to successfully address the crime question on their campus, I’d recommend that you first explain the difference between crime near campus, and crime on campus. There’s a difference that your prospects need to understand. Secondly, you need to give a brief history of how crime isn’t affecting your team (and hopefully that is the case!). The more detail you can give about the circumstances surrounding any crime near campus, and the unique circumstances that were probably in play at the time a crime occurred, the more your prospect’s family will feel comfortable that their son or daughter isn’t going to be at great risk once they come to campus.

You answering this question as early in the process as possible is critical. Crime near campuses sometimes ruins a little bit of the prestige of a college, but it doesn’t have to be a major factor in your recruiting story…IF it actually becomes an active part of your recruiting story (and by the way, if you aren’t defining how you and your team handles crime near campus, your competition might be perfectly happy defining it for you).

Conflict

College campuses have a history of conflict arising occasionally as a part of the political and social issues that are debated between groups or individuals on campus. We’re seeing that happen more and more in todays world, and I believe it will always be a part of campus life at many colleges and universities.

But like the other previous situations we’ve talked about, your recruit and his or her parents may not understand what’s happening, or appreciate the free flow of ideas and debate that happens from time to time. Remember, your high school recruits aren’t engaged with campus conflicts, and need help defining those conflicts.

The most important aspect of how you address this potential area of concern for your prospects center around letting them know that as a college student on your campus, this may or may not affect them – and it will largely depend on what they choose to become involved in as a student on campus. I don’t advise lying or hiding any aspect of the conflict. Instead, take the opportunity to educate your prospect about how college campuses work, and why conflict is sometimes part of passionate conversations between groups of individuals with different world views. Make it a positive part of their potential college experience on your campus…they are looking to you for an explanation, and for context on how to define the conflict they’re seeing at your college.

Causes

It’s probably not fair to list “causes” that are important to college students, athletes and campus personnel alongside natural disasters and crime. The only reason I do is because when it comes to your prospects, for many it holds the potential to result in the identical response: Fear, confusion, and lots of questions about whether your school is right for them or not.

Protests and campus rallys, like the other situations we’ve outlined, need to be defined. The only difference that we’ve noted is that it’s not necessarily vital to bring up the various causes being discussed on campus before a prospect asks about them. For many high school student-athlete prospects, we find that unless they are a member of a group at the center of the cause, it may not be an issue that is important to them in their final decision making process.  Note that this is not meant to say that a particular cause isn’t unimportant as an issue, simply that the prospect may not be engaged enough with that particular cause to need to have it explained to them as a critical part of their final decision.

However, those recruits that identify strongly with a particular cause need an understand of why the cause is being discussed, and that you as a coach support the free exchange ideas as a part of your campus’ culture. Your recruits that identify with a particular cause aren’t necessarily looking for a coach that believes the same things that they do. Rather, they are usually wanting to make sure that they are safe to expand their own beliefs and interests as a part of your program.

Communicating your thoughts regarding causes, and their role on campus and in your program, are one of the most critical discussions you may have with some of your recruits. Only you, as the person that develops the one-on-one relationship with your prospect, can judge the right way to approach this conversation.

Real life happens on college campuses. Having a plan to define it for your recruit, and lead them through their thought process, is critical during times of crisis, crime, conflict and causes.

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