Yesterday was the unofficial start to my 2013-2014 travel season, as I headed East for a workshop with a college athletic department and their coaches.
It got off to a bumpy start, thanks to an inconvenient flight delay (are there any “convenient” flight delays?)
Weather issues at the Denver airport had me waiting for my flight, along with hundreds of my fellow travelers. Crammed together. Tightly, with no place to sit. It was delightful.
But in the midst of the chaos, an opportunity: I overheard a 6′ 7″-ish high school age athlete talking about having come from playing in some basketball tournaments in Las Vegas, and now was traveling home.
Me, with nothing to do while waiting for a delayed flight, and an unsuspecting high school Senior-to-be likely going through the recruiting process just a few steps away? It was too good to pass up.
I introduced myself and struck up a conversation about playing travel ball, coaches who were recruiting him, and the process he was experiencing from his point of view. He was the typical college prospect: Dreaming of a D1 offer, hearing from D2 and D3 schools, as well as a few NAIA programs, and not really knowing what to do next in the process.
In the 15 minutes I talked with him, he opened-up about some of his frustrations, and some of his observations about coaches. While I’m not suggesting he speaks for every athlete around the country, I think it’s worth listening to some of his key points about what he’s gone through so far…there are lessons here for any coach, at any level, in any sport.
Here’s what your “typical recruit” wants from you as they’re being recruited:
- He wanted to know what to do next, but coaches weren’t telling him. He has made unofficial visits to campuses, gets the typical recruiting mail, and has coaches calling and texting regularly. This prospect’s complaint? Nobody is outlining the process, or telling him what is coming next. Now, in fairness to college coaches reading this, that might be because they are still evaluating him and trying to figure out where he stands on their recruiting board. However, I’ve heard this complaint from very highly recruited prospects, as well: Lots of generalized “contact” from coaches, very little direction. The lesson? Be the coach that outlines a plan, and keeps prospects updated on what is coming next (and especially, what you want them to do next).
- He was waiting for a coach to sell him on their program. Years after we began this campaign to make sure coaches understood how to sell themselves, and why it is so vital to do so, we still have work to do. None of the thirty or so coaches he was hearing from had sat him down and sold him on why their program was best. ”Don’t get me wrong”, said the player, “they send me a lot of stuff. But it’s all really general, and it doesn’t spell out why I should come play for them.” The lesson? Once you have established a conversation and have developed your relationship with a prospect, they are waiting for you to sell them on why they should play for you. They want to be told what to do next, and they want to be told why you should be the coach they commit to. They want bold and passionate, not meet and vanilla.
- He was getting tired of texts and messages that were boring. “Coaches text me or call all the time, and it’s just like ‘hey, how’s it going’, or ‘whatta ya got planned this weekend?”, he said. ”It gets old really quick.” When I asked him what coaches should do, he told me that he and his other friends who are being recruited are wanting coaches to ask better questions that actually mean something to them. They want to talk via text and social media messaging about things that will help them figure out what to do next, and who really wants them. The lesson? This generation of recruits doesn’t just want a coach who “checks in” with them and wastes their time. That doesn’t win points with them. Have something to say, and show them that you are reaching out to them for a reason.
- He is watching who keeps their word, and who doesn’t. We have made this very real observation about the kids you are recruiting today: They are actively looking for honesty, and honest coaches. I asked him what makes he and his teammates cross a program off their list, and his answer was pretty direct. ”If a coach lies to us, we’re usually done with him”, he said. ”I have coaches ask me when I’ll be playing next, and promising that they’re going to be in the stands watching. And when I look and don’t see them, it tells me that they were just b.s.ing me.” That’s just one way we hear this generation of recruits expressing their frustration about recruiters who don’t keep their word. It usually doesn’t come down to your facility, how many acres your campus is on, or how many years you’ve been coaching. It usually centers who the prospect likes the most, and trusts the most. The lesson? Understand that your recruits are listening to what you tell them, and they’re keeping track.
We finally boarded our flight, I wished him luck this next year, and watched him cram his giant frame into the coach window seat on the United flight that was supposed to have arrived at our destination two hours earlier. The conversation I had with this recruit served as a good reminder that there is a little bit of a science to the recruiting part of your job, as well as a healthy dose of psychology and communication skill.
Half the battle is knowing what to say as you enter this crucial recruiting period. Hopefully, my flight delay – and the conversation that followed – can give you some additional direction as you prepare to communicate with this next class or prospects.