Dan Tudor

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The Inside Disaster Story of One Coach’s Parent Recruiting ImplosionMonday, February 17th, 2014

As I write this, the scenario I’m going to describe is continuing to play out, so I’m going to change the names and blur some of the particulars to protect the innocent (while still passing along a valuable lesson to any coach who cares about being successful as a serious college recruiter).

I talked to a good friend this past weekend who has a teenager that is being actively recruited to play their sport at the college level.  They have a few options, but had settled on a favorite.

Until this weekend.

The parent found out that a particular aspect of the offer had suddenly changed.  The recruiter was telling the player’s coach one thing in an effort to win support from him, telling the parents another thing, and the player something completely different than the other two.  And, each story differed from the original promise made to the family.

Now, putting aside the reasons for the change, let me focus on the end results of poor communication and – worst case scenario – a perceived downright deceptiveness on the part of a college coach.

  1. The parent is in the process of writing a lengthy letter to the athletic director, outlining the promises made and attaching supporting email communication to demonstrate her case.
  2. The parent is now communicating with other parents on the high school team who are getting looks from this college coach, warning them of what has transpired and doing her best to make sure none of them show continuing interest in the program.
  3. The parent is hitting the message boards to publicly flog the coach, and offer her story to anyone who will listen.
  4. Needless to say, they are not considering that college program any longer.

My point here is simple, Coach: What you do, and every little move that is made during the process, will have either positive or negative repercussions.  Very rarely do things happen in recruiting that are interpreted as “neutral” by your prospect and his or her family.  Show up late for your on-campus visit appointment with your prospect?  That’s a negative.  Explain why he fits into your plan, and what his Freshman season will look like realistically and honestly?  That’s a positive.  Appear to change an earlier promise and don’t explain it consistently to the parents and coach of your prospect? That’s a negative.

All of this matches the trend we see in the way parents tend to influence their sons and daughters as they come to their final decision:  They get emotional and passionate – either positively or negatively – about a college coach and their program, either in a good way or a bad way.

The alarming thing, from my perspective, is how infrequently college coaches successfully manage that relationship – especially down the stretch.

That means a couple of things for you as a recruiter preparing to convince a new class or recruits and their parents to get interested in your program and your school:

  • As I mentioned, we’re hearing consistent stories of parents deciding what school is tops on their list very early in the recruiting process, and they’re picking that school based on two main reasons:  1) The prestige and/or financial benefits offered by the college that is recruiting their son or daughter, and 2) which coach or program they decide is treating them with the most respect and honesty (which is why if you’re a TRS client of ours, you see that we design a lot of message content centered around engaging mom and dad with you as a coach).
  • They’ll use logical reasoning to support their emotional decision about their favorite college or program.  In other words, we see that parents are settling on their “favorite” very early on, and then using facts that you (or your competition) presents to support that emotional decision.  And, they have no problem mentioning their feelings and observations to their son or daughter.

One other thing we’re finding that we see as pretty interesting:

You know those recruiting emails that you send to your prospects?  Their parents, the majority of the time, are the ones that are replying to your emails.  About 6 out of 10 times, to be exact.  Kind of scary, huh?  We’ve heard dozens and dozens of accounts from current college athletes who have told us about their parents managing their recruiting conversations and actually communicating back and forth as the recruit.

Now, before we give you some advice on how to successfully combat the emotions of your prospect’s parents, a little clarification:

We’re not talking about every parent.  Just a lot…a slight majority, overall.  And, I’m not suggesting that you should assume a parent is strongly influencing your prospect’s decision in this way in every single case.  There’s no doubt that we see parents playing a major role in helping their prospect with their final decision, but this is less about that indesputable fact then it is about what drives their motivation to influence their kids.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here are four ways to target your strategy if your goal is to sway the parents over to your side:

  1. Prove that you’re a player.  One thing I can now tell you about the parents of your recruits is that they want their sons and daughters to compete at a place they can feel good talking to their friends about.  So, figure out what you can point to in your program, or on your campus, that is going to give them something that they can feel good about telling other people about.  And, keep telling them about it consistently.
  2. Start to write your emails with the parent’s eyes in mind.  Just keep that statistic we quoted earlier in the back of your mind, Coach.  What you’ll want to do is write your email to your prospect with the expectation that the parent is going to read it, respond to it, and then talk to your prospect about what you’ve said them.
  3. Enthusiasm about your prospect counts for a lot!  Parents want to see you pay consistent, serious attention to their kids.  The more passion you show will – over time – cement the idea that you want their son or daughter more than anyone else, in the mind of the parent.  We’ve seen passion cause prospects and their parents to overlook a conference, facilities…even the lack of the prospect’s major at the college!…all because of the passion that a coach showed the prospect.
  4. Demonstrate honesty and consistency down the stretch.  We all know parents make the same illogical choices that kids do when it comes to picking their favorite school.  As the story I told at the start of the article demonstrates, they can turn against a coach with an equal or greater amount of passion if they feel you aren’t being forthright with them in the final parts of the decision making process.

Are you making sure your parents are feeling like you’ve made them a part of the process, and are you actively demonstrating that you are being honest with them?  You need to.  For one coach who didn’t, their recruiting life is in  the process of becoming just a little bit more difficult.

Parents, and the best ways to successfully recruit them, will be one of the topics that coaches will be sharing about at the upcoming National Collegiate Recruiting Conference this June.  Make sure someone from your staff or athletic department is there to represent your campus.  Click here for all the details!

The Strangest Recruiting Story of 2008Monday, February 4th, 2008

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