Dan Tudor

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Why Smart Recruiters Should Stop Combining Their Restaurant FoodMonday, July 2nd, 2018

I like Mexican food.

I also like Italian food.

So why is it, when I see a sign like this one, do I automatically discount it as something ‘less than special’?

Or, maybe it’s just me. Maybe you like businesses that combine two completely separate categories into one convenient location. Perhaps the chef, showing off his or her versatility in the culinary arts, would be a draw. After all, going to eat a Mexican-Italian restaurant would mean an almost endless variety of food options. You could dine there every night for a year, and you may never repeat the same combination twice.

So what’s my problem?

It’s this: We are a culture that is geared towards specialties. Precise definition.

Online dating sites, like eHarmony? Not precise enough. We needed FarmersOnly.com and ChristianMingle.com. Want to buy a mattress? You don’t go to a department store, you go to Casper.com or get a Sleep Number bed (because we need our own personalized “sleep number”, of course).

So, when we run into businesses that have weird combinations, we pump our brakes a little, right?

It works the same way with recruiting. Your recruiting message, specifically. When you, or your college, tries to present itself as all things to all people, it increasingly fails as a marketing strategy. Coaches that send out information to their recruits which presents everything at once, or makes the case that their college is perfect for every student-athlete, are finding that it’s a message which struggles to gain traction.

What I’m suggesting is simple:

Define yourself as specifically as possible.

In fact, define you, your program, and your college so well that you actually are able to verbalize who isn’t right for you. That’s right, explain to your prospect who isn’t a good fit.

If you do this, at the same time you define yourself out of one prospect’s picture of their ‘perfect school’, you define yourself into another prospect’s picture of their perfect school. In contrast, when you try to describe yourself as perfect for every potential student-athlete, you sound like everyone else. You look like everyone else. And, you are compared to everyone else.

When that happens, how is your recruit left to decide between multiple schools that all sound, look and feel like all their other choices? They’ll gravitate towards the least expensive. Or, the closet to home. Or, the farthest from home. Or, the school at the highest division level.

(Note: This concept also applies to your actual messaging that you’re sending to recruits. Coincidentally, in an earlier article, we used a restaurant comparison to make our point, too!)

They’ll break their own tie, somehow, and experience tells me it doesn’t work out well for most schools.

Unfortunately, that’s where my advice stops. It’s impossible to determine what approach, story or definition is the “right” one for you (shameless plug: we can do that if you’re a client). But you can do it on your own, by answering these four key questions – and then using those answers to craft the core part of your story.

  1. What is our one sentence definition for the perfect student-athlete for our program?
  2. How would I describe a student-athlete who would be completely wrong for me, as their coach, and our program?
  3. What are the three biggest distinctions about our college, location, campus or program that is completely different than most of their other choices?
  4. How can we describe these three distinctions in a way that sounds confident, inspiring and positive?

If you choose to continue to present a bland message which sounds like everyone else they’re hearing from, it’s going to become harder and harder to get their attention. Simple as that. This generation needs a reason to reply to you and take you seriously; the mere fact that you offer degrees and have a sports program isn’t enough any longer.

Begin to find ways to separate yourself from your competition way, way before you get your prospect on campus. You’ll notice much more interest sooner, with better yield results in the end.

We focus on unique ways to tell your program’s story every year at the popular National Collegiate Recruiting Conference. The next conference is happening this summer, so if you’re looking for fresh ideas presented by fellow coaches, make sure you attend! All the details are right here.

We’re Good at ‘Now’, and That’s a Problem for RecruitersMonday, March 12th, 2018

Diets are hard.

I’m in o.k. shape, but I’ve gone through periods where I think to myself, “I can be in even better shape if I just watch what I eat, or skip a meal, every day for the next two or three months.

Things go fine at first, but after a week or two, I tend to struggle with the same thing most other Americans struggle with: The benefits that ‘might’ come later on just can’t compare to that piece of chocolate cake staring me in the face. And plus, lets be honest, celery doesn’t taste that good. Not good enough to wait ten years for the benefits of that sacrifice, anyway.

Same thing holds true for investing and saving. Turns out, most of us are horrible at it. So, we live for the now and trust in our future lottery winnings.

So, how does all of this relate to recruiting today’s student-athlete?

You’re in the same battle. But some of you don’t realize it.

Here’s what I mean:

When your athlete, and their parents, buy-in to the idea of competing for you and your program because of how it’s making them feel now, not the way it’s going to benefit them years – or even decades – from now. That’s a vitally important concept that every college coach needs to consider, because how you choose to embrace that idea I just laid out is going to drive the way you message your prospects moving forward.

At the core of it all is this question I’d want you to answer:

“How does my messaging to prospects, and their parents, need to change?” Because if they are making the decision based on how it makes them feel now, it calls into question the type of recruiting stories you should and shouldn’t tell them. Most people will move up all the perceived benefits and costs of something life a college education, or roster spot on your team, in the future. Instead, we do our best to try to experience them now.

Here’s what I believe that should mean to you when it comes to the messaging adjustment that needs to be made:

Understand that the parents often find it hard to define exactly what they’re “buying”. Even if you offer up full athletic scholarships – and especially if you don’t – parents are a part of the decision making process. Because they don’t get to personally experience what their son or their daughter does in college as a student-athlete, they usually need more definition from you as to what’s in it for them as a mom and/or dad. Coaches that fail to do that are finding parents reverting to the school that is the least expensive, the best brand that will get them approval from their fellow parents, or the school that is the closest to home. It’s critical for coaches to break through the parents’ natural tendency to focus on what feels good now, and make the case for your program’s benefits long term. If coaches don’t, they risk letting parents go the way of many in our population who give up their diets on a daily basis, and fail to save enough money for our future.

Understand that your prospects focus on the feeling you give them now, not (unfortunately) all of the logical reasons choosing your program and your college is going to benefit them in the future. Let me take a time out there, because it’s at this point where I get objections from coaches who just mis-read what I said, thinking that I don’t want you to give recruits all of the smart, logical reasons they should choose your program and school. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m encouraging you to work on giving them the best feeling possible as you are recruiting them, and when they are on campus. That’s how they are making the bulk of their decision. I’m not suggesting to you that it’s the smartest way to pick a college, but that’s how most do it.

Here’s the take-away I want you to leave with here, Coach:

Your prospects are largely making a decision about their future based on how they perceive that future is going to make them feel now.

The question now becomes, “how does your recruiting message need to change to account for this subtle psychological shift in the minds of your prospect and his or her family?” Because what we’re good at is ‘now’. And that has an impact on the types of recruiting messaging that actually works with this generation of recruit.

That’s a really important question that you need to work on answering.

Two Times More Persuasion Power With These Four WordsMonday, July 24th, 2017

Interesting words and phrases that equal better results fascinate me.

Years ago, we published our well known article about the power of “because”, and coaches who have incorporated it into their recruiting language have seen big increases in their ability to get recruits to give them an answer to their key questions. It’s part of the science that we love to see being incorporated into recruiting plans.

Well, there’s another study that we’ll be starting to use in the plans we design for coaching staffs. And it centers around four words that can double a user’s success rate with their prospects.

It involves using the phrase “But you are free to choose”, or “BYAF” for short.

Here’s an important section from the Neuroscience Marketing blog on the strategy:

This technique has been studied extensively. Christopher Carpenter of Western Illinois University conducted a meta study of worldwide research on BYAF and came up with 42 studies that involved 22,000 participants. BYAF was found to double the success rate in this huge data set.

The exact language doesn’t seem to be important. Pointing out that the person isn’t obligated to do as you ask seems equally effective. The key is to give the person the security of knowing they are free to choose.

Why isn’t this used more often? I think BYAF may seem counter-intuitive to sales people. A typical sales effort often focuses on showing how the customer’s other choices are less desirable or won’t work at all. To wrap up a lengthy persuasive discussion with a reminder that the customer is free to choose seems, at first glance, like a recipe for failure. To some salespeople, it may seem to indicated a lack of confidence in their solution.

The way to use BYAF without seeming wishy-washy is to express your confident opinion while still pointing out that the customer is free to choose.

One important rule to follow is to not use it in a direct “sales” situation. I’ll translate that in saying that when you are asking for a final decision from your prospect, using the BYAF method wouldn’t be something you would want to do, according to the research. In that stressful moment of needing to make a decision, hearing you say something to the effect of “look, we want you, but we need your decision before you leave campus. If you aren’t ready to make that decision, you can walk away and we’ll move on. You are free to choose”, would come across as rude, and gimmicky. It screams “hard sell”.

However, in the process of making small decisions along the way, the BYAF strategy works wonderfully. For example, we are starting to see it work when giving the prospect a choice of visiting campus, for example: “We’d love to have you come on our big visit weekend with a lot of other recruits, or you can schedule a time when it would be just you and your parents here on campus. You are free to choose.”

As the article observes, using exactly those four words is vitally important.

There are plenty of situations you can try to use this proven phrasing. Just a few of the more successful areas include:

  • Talking to prospects about visiting campus
  • Applying to your school before the deadline
  • Discussing the cost of coming to your school with parents
  • Spending time with the team while a recruit visits campus

Using science and psychology as a part of your recruiting language is important, Coach. Look for ways to incorporate proven strategies like this as you begin your next recruiting campaign.

For more than a decade, we have teamed with coaches around the country who want to take a more research-based, scientific approach to their recruiting strategies. The process we take them through works. If you’d like to find out how we would specifically work for you and your program, email Dan Tudor directly at dan@dantudor.com

 

Should Coaches Recruit Prospects Who Don’t Love Them?Monday, February 13th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-02-13 at 11.15.32 PMAt some point during the recruiting process, coaches will try to figure out their recruit.

How interested are they? What’s their big key to picking a college?

And, the inevitable question: “Does he or she love our program and our school?”

Because as a coach, do you really want to recruit a player who isn’t in love with you and your college? After all, you should want to get kids on your roster who know they want to be there, right?

Fair question.

The answer? Not necessarily.

Let me explain…

In our most recent focus group research conducted as a part of our ongoing work for our clients, 58% of this most recent incoming Freshmen class made some kind of mention of not fully committing emotionally to their final choice until after they had made their decision official with that program.

Why? The most common explanation had to do with matters of the heart: This generation of prospect is very guarded when it comes to an emotional commitment. In other words, they are apprehensive about fully committing emotionally to a program that they don’t know they’ll be playing for after high school.

That goes against the question I posed from coaches at the start of the article: “Does he or she love our program and our school?” Probably not, in their mind. They might really like you, but if you’re looking for proof of that emotional buy-in, you might be disappointed.

Let me take it one step further:

You know that recruit who told you that there are three or four schools ahead of you on their list, but that they still want to keep you as an option in case those others don’t work out. Now, whether or not you want to wait it out is your choice, in that situation. What I will say, after reviewing the research and understanding how this generation of athlete thinks as they move through the recruiting process, is that I think you can actively continue to pursue that recruit and not worry as to whether or not they’ll be committed to your program and “all in” for you as their coach.

Basically, the majority of recruits tell us they really ‘fall in love’ with a program after they commit, not before.

If you agree that this is true a good amount of the time, I believe it should prompt some key changes to your approach:

  • Showing them that you are o.k. with the idea of them not being 100% sold on you is important, as it gives them permission to not feel pressured into having to “love” you right away.
  • The longer you can take to communicate with them and tell them your complete story, the higher the likelihood that they will eventually fall in love with you. Conversely, the less time you spend giving them clear reasons as to why you and your program are better than their other options, the higher the likelihood that there won’t be any kind of emotional draw towards you.
  • If they don’t “love” you right away, it’s your job to find out why: What are the things standing in their way? What more do you have to tell them in order to get them to take a different look at you?

Don’t make the mistake of demanding their full allegiance as a pre-requisite for your continued attention. More coaches have lost more good recruits that way than they know, and I don’t want you and your program to be the next to add their name to that list.

Looking for in-depth discussions on how to be a more creative, effective recruiter? Listen to our podcast, College Recruiting Weekly. Subscribe on iTunes, Google or Stitcher. Or, click here to listen online now and see our complete library of past shows.

Your Prospect and Their Discovery FatigueMonday, February 6th, 2017

We have only so much attention span.

I know I do, anyway. I think I’m a fairly curious person who likes to learn new things.

I remember when I started to download music onto my first iPod: It was magical. I was cramming my device full of just about any music I could find. 700+ songs within two weeks.

(Nobody needs that much music in a 14 day period, but I did it anyway…Abracadabara? I don’t know why the Steve Miller Band felt they needed to record it, but apparently I felt the need to download it).

But now I’ve slowed down. For me, I’ve reached my energy peak for taking in even more new music, at least at that rate. And I know I’m not alone: Studies suggest that our interest in new music, new media, and new information is limited. We plateau. We get tired.

We suffer from a type of discovery fatigue.

And more important than understanding my musical download tendencies is understanding a common problem in the way your recruit takes-in your recruiting messaging. They have been conditioned to receive information in a certain way, and in certain amounts. How you give them information is almost as important as the information you give them.

So, how do you ensure that your recruiting messaging isn’t wearing out your prospect, and causing you more harm than good? Here are four things you want to measure immediately, based on our latest focus group research with high school athletes in the process making a decision:

  • You can’t overwhelm them with information early on. They aren’t ready for most of what you feel you need to tell them about your school and your program. Especially not at first. One of the surest ways to alienate most recruits today is to give them a long list of statistics, facts, figures and random talking points. That’s not what generates a response, which is what most coaches want after an initial communication. In fact, we’ve found that coaches who do this almost instantly see their recruits tune them out for future conversations. If you aren’t getting a good response rate from your initial communication, check the amount of information you’re piling on.
  • Your recruits are busy. How are you making the process easier for them? Along with a general fatigue, there’s another important element to how you may be making them feel: If they’re busy, and every one of your recruits is, it diminishes their desire to want more information. Making the process easy, and the conversation easy, could be the way you shine the focus on you and your program. How do you start with this? Easy: Ask yourself right now, “How do I make the recruiting process easy for my prospect?”
  • A project without any end is exhausting. “How much more am I going to need to do?” That’s one of the key questions most of your recruits ask themselves as they move through the recruiting cycle. When they don’t know how much is left to do, or when it all needs to end, it’s mentally exhausting. What to do? Give your recruits timeline markers: What do they need to do next? When will you begin making final decisions? Can you tell them when you’ll be wrapping up your recruiting? All of those add context to your recruiting conversations, which is critical.
  • Remember those facts you were holding off on? Your prospects are ready at the end. As you enter the last one-third of the recruiting process, your prospects need logical points to reference to help justify the decision they’re hopefully about to make towards your program. You need to give them a slow, consistent flow of information throughout the recruiting process, absolutely…but many coaches tend to stop relaying facts and reasons to commit as they get towards the end of the process. Actually, that’s when recruits and their parents are needing your information the most – even if you think they already know all about the topics that are relevant to your school. Don’t be that coach. Keep giving them solid information that answers the big questions of, “Why should I commit to you and your school, Coach?”

Discovery fatigue is real, and it can drastically affect how your recruits absorb information from you and other coaches. Evaluate those four areas, and make the changes you need to. If you do, you’ll like your results.

These are just a few of the advanced principles we teach at our new campus recruiting workshop for college athletic departments. Click here to find out what we do, or email us at dan@dantudor.com to get a personalized idea of what we can do for your department and coaches. We’ve conducted training on campuses across the country, so bring us to your school so we can train you, too!

 

Ball Don’t LieMonday, January 30th, 2017

bill_headshot_dantudorBill Lynch, Front Rush

As athletes, we rely on instinctual decision making – our ability to make split-second judgments.  Should I pull up on a fast break or drive to the basket? Should I swing at this pitch? Where do I think this fly ball is going to land?

We’ve trained and sharpened these skills our whole lives, and have been rewarded for it.  Unfortunately, this type of reasoning can also lead us astray.  If we make all of our decisions based on our gut feelings or rules of thumb, we can fall victim to many cognitive biases.

Now I’m not telling you never to trust your gut, because most of our judgments and actions are sound most of the time, as is the confidence we place in our gut.

But not every single time.  We like to think that we’re rational beings, but we often exhibit these cognitive biases that prove otherwise.

This post will attempt to identify and explain how those cognitive biases affect recruiting and coaching experiences, with the aim being a more developed understanding of yourself, your staff, and your competitors.  Let’s get started.

Confirmation Bias

Definition: The tendency to seek out information that reaffirms our own belief.

Example:

Think about the stud athletes who exhibit coachability problems.  He or she argues with teammates on the field, displays a lack of interest when the coach speaks and stands at the back of the huddle.   These all should be cues to take a deeper evaluation, but the minute you hear from someone that the athlete’s coachability isn’t as big of a deal as it seems and that his athletic ability outweighs it, you’re satisfied.  Because that is what you want to hear.

Example:

The coach that sticks to his playbook and always punts on 4th down instead of considering data showing that choice to be sub-optimal at times.

While it may help us feel more secure and better about ourselves, it doesn’t always lead to the best decisions.

Optimism Bias

Definition: The tendency to believe that you are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others.

Example:

To continue with the example used in the confirmation bias, think about a time a ‘project’ didn’t pan out.  Otherwise known as a bust.  It happens all of the time, a player might be raw and needs to develop, or they fit the build of an exceptional athlete but just aren’t there yet.  By overestimating the benefits of recruiting that player and underestimating the costs, you may miss other recruiting or player development opportunities that provide a less risky alternative.

Selective Perception

Definition: The tendency not to notice and more quickly forget things that contradict our prior beliefs.

Example:

When a coach or fan base complains that the referees only called fouls on their team or penalties against them.

Bandwagon Effect

Definition: The phenomenon whereby the rate of uptake of beliefs or ideas increases the more that they have already been adopted by others.  

Example:

Think about a time when you went to a recruiting event and ended up looking at some players solely because everyone else was.  The player may be good, but you’re jumping because everyone else is, without evaluating the kid outside of the hype.  It can be especially costly when that time spent pulls you away from the athletes you came to the event to scout, backed by information prepared beforehand, aka the real purpose you’re there.

The same thing can be said about product fads.  Through the bandwagon effect, you may buy a product you see somewhere that advertises like “Priced at just $$$, our product comes with x,y,z bells and whistles, guaranteed to change the way you do live!”  Then a few months later you realize that while it’s cool and your friends bought into it, nothing has changed.

Framing Effect

Definition: Drawing conclusions from the same information based on how it’s presented.

Example:

This happens a lot in email correspondences and wherever words can be twisted. Take, for instance, a recruit that tells you he’s the captain of his team and helped improve their winning percentage by 20%!  That sounds wonderful right? Now, what if they said something like “We had a better record this year, improving to 6 wins from last year’s 5.”  Doesn’t have the same effect. So remember to look closely at the information and try to peel back layers to find the real meaning.

Sunk Cost

Definition: A cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.

Example:

In sports this can when you have a highly touted recruit that is turning into a bust. Just continuously batting .200, making mistakes they shouldn’t be making, the whole deal.  But you’ve invested so much into them, that you can’t let it go.  Rather than considering the future costs and benefits of allowing someone else to flourish in place of this person, we often just look at the resources already invested.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Definition: The tendency to mistakenly assess your ability as higher than it is.

Example:

Confucius said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

This effect happens across the board where self-assessment is asked.  You’ll see a general overconfidence, whether it’s in how a recruit ranks themselves at a sport or how a coach ranks themselves at their job.  The moral of the story is to shy away from self-reporting assessments or to go about them with the right mindset and rely on them appropriately.

Curse of Knowledge:

Definition: The tendency to assume the people you are communicating with have the same background as you.

Example:

Whenever you are in a teaching position, it is imperative to be able to communicate information at the level of those you are teaching.  It’s like trying to teach a 3rd grader Shakespeare or trying to whiteboard a complicated scheme in your playbook to a freshman player that hasn’t seen it before.  You’ll get the deer in the headlights look, a disconnection from the lecture entirely.

Clustering Illusion

Definition: The tendency to erroneously consider the inevitable “streaks” arising in small samples to be non-random.

Example:

There was a famous study done which looked at the shooting percentage of the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1980-1981 season.  Specifically, they noted if the shot was made or not and then noted if the shot right after it was made or not.  They found that “a player’s performance on a given shot is independent of his performance on previous shots.”  I’m not saying streaks don’t happen, or that you shouldn’t give it to the guy with the hot hand. Rather that in a string of shots over the course of the season streaks will happen.

Outcome Bias

Definition: The error to judge a past decision by its ultimate outcome instead of based on the quality of the decision at the time it was made, given what was known at that time.

Example:

“Ball don’t lie.” NBA player Rasheed Wallace used to say these words after a foul shot was made or missed.  If the referee called a foul on Rasheed which he thought wasn’t a foul, and then the player at the foul line missed his shot, Rasheed would say “Ball don’t lie,” meaning the foul call was wrong because the outcome of the shot was a miss.  He would similarly use it when an arguable call sent him to the line and he made the shot.  “Ball don’t lie,” in this case, meant that the right call was made since the outcome was a made free throw.

As you can see, cognitive biases are pretty common, and they influence decisions and strategies sometimes without even realizing it.  In sports, they can make or break games and seasons.   So when it comes time to make decisions or have an informed discussion, be mindful of these cognitive biases.  Better yet, combine it with hard data and you’ll be golden.

 

The Logic Behind Your Prospect’s Dislike of Phone CallsSaturday, January 21st, 2017

The coach’s hand went up in the middle of one of my recruiting workshops on a campus recently.

“Here’s what’s frustrating”, he said. “If I text my prospects, or send them a direct message on Twitter or Snapchat, they’ll talk to me for an hour or more. But if I try to call them, it’ll usually go to voicemail – which doesn’t get returned – and if I actually get them to answer, they won’t say much at all.”

And then he asked, “Why can’t they just talk with me on the phone the same way they do when they text me on their phone?”

Because for much of this generation, a traditional phone call just isn’t logical.

When we begin work with new clients and start the process with a detailed focus group study of how their players came to the decision to come and compete at that particular university, we ask them about the communication that they had with various coaches. Consistently, they detail instances where the coach who was comfortable with text messaging them consistently was the coach that they felt was easiest to “talk” to and the one that made them feel the most wanted.

Our ongoing studies with athlete prospects, as well as other non-athlete millennial communication studies, tell us why they have an aversion to talking to you, and other coaches, on the phone.

For them, phone calls kind of seem like a waste of time. If you think about it, that’s true. Calling on the phone means the superfluous chit-chat at the start, before you eventually get around to what you wanted to talk about. And even then, that conversation will always be longer instead of shorter. For your prospects, that’s inefficient. Text messaging is faster and straight to the point. They like that.

Conflict avoidance. One of your prospect’s number one fears throughout the recruiting process is that you will criticize them, get mad at them, or pressure them into visiting campus or making a final decision. When you talk to them on the phone, they feel like there is a higher likelihood of that happening. In a text message conversation, they feel more in control. There’s less of a chance of them being put on the spot with a tough question, which gives them more comfort when they’re talking to you.

They get time to think. In a phone call, this generation of student-athlete feels enormous pressure. What it they say something wrong? Or something that makes you less interested in them? With a text message conversation, when you ask them a question or send them a response, they have time to think about what their reply should be. They can type, read it, edit, read it again, and then send it to you. It puts them in more control.

It’s what they’re used to. In the same way that many coaches are more comfortable using a phone because that’s what they grew up using, today’s student-athlete grew up learning to communicate letting their fingers do the talking. In the same way that a coach would complain about having to use text messaging to communicate, they would feel the same way about having to navigate their way through a conversation on the phone with you.

The good news for you phone lovers out there? Once you establish a relationship with them, and earn their trust through their preferred communication methods, they tell us they’re more comfortable with the idea of talking on the phone – or in person – with you. But I’d stress that this is only after a foundational communication relationship has been established.

The bad news? This isn’t optional. Developing a strategic approach to how you set-up the communication relationship is going to determine how well you are able to move your prospect through the recruiting process, from start to finish. And, I’d recommend doing it on their terms.

This generation of student-athlete recruit demands it.

The best way to learn the latest communication techniques so that you can become a more successful recruiter? That’s easy: This June, join your fellow coaches from around the country to the National Collegiate Recruiting Conference. You’ll learn what other coaches do to create effective recruiting plans, and how to make the right changes to your plan. Click here to register.

 

 

 

 

When Logic Fails with Your Recruit – and WhyMonday, October 24th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-10-24 at 10.03.37 PMI’m the most logical guy I know.

Seriously, I seldom make a mistake. I’m always pretty rational, and fairly grounded in reality. Just ask me, and I’ll tell you: I make pretty good decisions, and do it the right way.

Except when it comes to my justification for what shoes to keep wearing. And, it takes me a while to adapt to new technology once in a while, even though I know the reasons behind why I should make the switch.

And then there’s my inexplicable love of Starbucks iced tea. It’s my drink of choice when I’m on the road working with clients, leading a recruiting workshop, or even when I’m back at the office on a normal day. It makes no logical sense for a rational, grounded-in-reality guy like me, to pay $3.85 for a large iced tea.  It’s tea (wholesale cost…what, like $0.01 per serving?) and water. Add the cost of the cup (an added $0.02 per serving) and I walk into Starbucks, stand in line, and plop down my $3.85 every time, knowing that I just made a completely illogical, irrational, totally emotional buying decision.

And so do you.

And so do your recruits.

My point is this: Whatever your recruiting message is, if it’s focused solely on the logical argument that your school and your program are the best choice right out of the gate, you may be making a huge mistake. Not because your prospect doesn’t need that. They do. It’s just that it may not be the right time as you start the recruiting process.

Why? Because like all of us, they are focused on the illogical. I guess what I’m saying is that before deciding that you’re going to lay out a logical course of action for your recruit, you might want to thoughtfully consider whether a logical argument is what is needed.

  • We find that a lot of recruits have an irrational love of the status quo: They don’t want change, they don’t want to leave home, and they don’t want to be faced with making a lot of changes – despite what you can offer them.
  • Many times, your prospect are emotionally connected to the symbol of a particular college name, or a conference, or a division level. It happens a lot. A LOT. And we find that prospects don’t talk about it with you because they know it’s illogical, but it’s hard to break away from those feelings. Really hard. (Hard for mom and dad, too).
  • Along with that comes a kind of community affiliation. The idea that they can be a part of a tribe they’ve always dreamt about is a tough thing to give up. Even if there’s little chance it will happen, or even if it does, it won’t be a situation that benefits the athlete. You’re probably thinking of a past prospect who fit that description right now, aren’t you, Coach? Their decision made no sense.
  • We have discovered through our ongoing research that today’s prospects are driven by fear. How is your recruiting message helping to alleviate that fear?
  • Some prospects’ parents are jealous of the other family’s son or daughter that they played high school or club ball with…the one who got the early D1 verbal offer. And now you want them to take something less than what their friends received? What, you don’t think that they deserve the same thing? (You get the picture).
  • And, the truth is, even though they’re being nice to you, they may not care about you very much. Yet.

So, do you see what I’m talking about when I suggest that your logical approach may not be what is appropriate right away?

Yet, time after time, we see logical adults who are logical coaches approach a very logical process in very logical ways.

And that’s not very logical.

Can I suggest to you that you might need to make a completely illogical argument as to why that recruit belongs at your school playing for you? Breaking out of the status quo is hard, and they’re scared of leaving home. Well, have you ever made a passionate, mostly emotional case as to why going away to school is not only the smart thing to do, but the choice that is going to make them feel good about themselves in the long run? I think you should.

Take any argument you find yourself hearing from a recruit as to why you probably aren’t the right choice, and use that as the basis for making an emotionally charged, obviously passionate case for why they need to look at your program.

If not you, who? If not at the start, when?

When you bought your last car, did you study the facts and statistics first? Or did you picture yourself in the drivers seat, and think about how it was going to feel when your friends we’re impressed with your new ride? Yeah, I thought so.

Don’t feel dumb, that’s how we make buying decision. Have you watched car commercials? Have you ever seen them make a logical case with a lot of text on the screen? No. They’re full of beautiful people, with big smiles, with upbeat music, and fast edits.

It’s an appeal to our emotions. Once you get into the car dealership, and they turn up the heat, it’s all about the payments and interest rate. It’s all about the logic, at that point (but that point is at the end of the process, not the start).

My advice: Find ways, right away, to feed their emotions and make a personal connection rather than a logical case. What you’ll find is that in doing that, you set yourself up for having them listen to your logical case much more intently once you have that illogical, emotional connection.

The 3 Critical Hardwires That Impact Your CoachingMonday, October 19th, 2015

by Mike Davenport, CoachingSportsToday.com

Our brains are hardwired. Firmly fixed in the ways we perceive the world.

For coaches, you ignore these hardwires at your peril. If you do ignore them, odds are your coaching efforts will fail.

We have numerous hardwires, but there are 3 critical ones you need to know about because every time you work with people these hardwires start buzzing.

Hardwire #1: People crave stories

Think back to your early schooling. Remember the story of Columbus sailing the “ocean blue in 1492?” Or Aesop’s Fables? Or those books like “Captains Courageous?” Stories were the way we learned.

Today, it’s stories like Harry Potter, House of Cards, and The Martian that grab and hold our attention — because we are hardwired for them.

So what?

How this impacts you. First, a story will help get your point across. Telling an athlete to “eat a good breakfast on competition day” won’t inspire habit-breaking action. Yet, your story of Bobby, who skipped breakfast and on his way to break the Conference record ran out of gas and collapsed 10 meters from the finish line, just might inspire the action you want.

Second, people hate story-vacuums. If they believe a story is missing, they will create their own.

For instance, years ago, I removed a member from the team for disciplinary reasons. I believed it best to only tell the team, “Betty Sue will no longer be with us as we try to win a championship.” I thought, “That’s that!”

Not even close.

Team members filled in the vacuum of what I didn’t say with god knows what. Her dismissal became a “drama-point” for weeks, and drained the team of critical mental energy.

Since then, I implant a story in other’s minds before they create their own.

Hardwire #2: People are the center of their stories

This story thing gets more involved because we are hardwired to be the center of our stories. It is, no kidding, all about us. We are the center of our own Universe.

It doesn’t matter if you are the most giving and selfless person in the World, it is still your-story.

So what?

How this impacts you. Each athlete has a story, and he is the center of that story. Going one step further — you are the center of your own story, Coach.

Again, so what? Well, think about that for a moment. Constantly running through our heads are me-stories. Your athletes see their time with the team from their perspective. You see your coaching from your perspective.

Understanding this hardwire gives you insight into athlete behavior, and also yours.

For instance, going home torqued because an athlete disappointed you at practice? That’s your-story. At this very moment the athlete is creating her-story. Understanding both stories will help you be better prepared for the next outing.

Hardwire # 3: People value approval over results

“I’d rather be liked than be right.” I heard that a while ago in a locker room.

I get it.

We are hardwired for approval. Okay, some folks don’t have this wiring, but I bet many of your athletes and peers do. Odds are, you do to.

How this impacts you. Let me share two perspectives. First, relationships, especially with youngsters, are often more important than winning.

Second, wording is critical. Read both of these:

  • “I liked your effort. Next time, with some improvements, you might win.”
  • “You are not playing the way we want. Play better so we can win.”

The first one has approval, the second is about results. Think how each of those plays out in the athlete’s me-story. If you want better performance from me, give me the first one any day.

How about you? And what if results get you approval? How does that play out? There’s a question to chew on.

Action You Can (and should) Take

As a coach, you take on the role of a lay-psychologist. You benefit when you understand the working of your athlete’s mind.

Interesting, to thrive in coaching, you need to understand the workings of your own mind, also.

For better understanding, try each hardwire:

  • See how stories resonate with your team.
  • Ask yourself what your-story is. Ask an athlete what his-story he is telling himself.
  • See how approval comments do or don’t impact the quality of action you get.

Knowing what goes on in the other person’s mind makes you a better coach. Knowing what goes on in yours, makes you a better person.

The Epic Coach Struggle: To Yell Or To FascinateMonday, January 19th, 2015

by Mike Davenport, CoachingSportsToday.com

[This is part three in the series on effective persuasion for sport coaches]

Melissa was a great swimmer. Extraordinary some would say. In the straightaways she was tough to beat. But she had a fault — her flip turns. They weren’t as good as they could be.

Coach knew that and had developed a plan to improve Melissa’s turns. He told her the plan, explaining if she could improve her turns she might make the cut for the national championships.

Melissa listened to her coach, she wanted to win, and wanted to make the cut. But she wasn’t convinced she needed to make the change. She tried for one practice, but then gave up. She would just swim harder in the straights, which she knew she could do.

At her conference championships, she swam her best race ever, but missed the cut time by .02 seconds. A time she could have bested if her flip turns had just been a little bit more effective.

An outsider looking in, at Melissa and her performance, could be excused for laying all the blame on Melissa. “Too stubborn,” or “Un-coachable” they might say.

Yet her Coach missed out on a valuable part of convincing Melissa to make the change she needed to make. Know what it was?

Persuasion To The Rescue

For the past several articles, the focus has been on persuasion, the art of convincing someone to take positive action. So far, we’ve discussed:

Melissa’s coach did a great job on those two steps, but let the ball drop on the next step, Step 3: Fire Up Fascination. If he had accomplished that, Melissa might be swimming at the national championships right now.

Welcome To The Fascination Dome

This step, Fire Up Fascination, is the fulcrum of effective persuasion. All too often coaches will ace the first two steps; then assume the athlete’s motivation (or whoever else they are trying to persuade) will be so peeked that the positive action will just happen.

Not so.

It’s harder today than ever to persuade people. Distractions are plentiful and shortcuts are everywhere. To persuade today you need to go further than grabbing their attention and sparking their interest. You have to fire up the fascination. This element alone can make or break whether you are successful persuading someone (or a group) to take positive action, and be an effective coach.

Value Redux

People want to know, demand-to-know, the value to them if they take the action you want them to take. That is the way of the coaching world today.

Yet, many coaches go wrong here. Because the value they espouse is of value to the coach, but not to the athlete.

For instance, you might value winning your conference. Ache for it. But, your athlete, a freshmen, new to your team and to the sport has no attachment to the conference championship. To him, its just another contest. To you, it is the world.

See the detachment between the two? It’s a wide gap. The key to value is to determine what is of value to the OTHER person.

You find that, and here’s where the fulcrum comes in …

Fascination Time

The fascinating element of your persuasion is where your coaching-skills shine. It’s where you make the value to the person so appealing, so enticing, so tantalizing they WILL take the positive action you want them to.

Listen to how one of the leading experts on fascination, Sally Hogshead, describes it:

Fascination is a state of intense focus. When you fascinate your listener, they become completely engrossed so that they’re not distracted. In this neurological state, they are more likely to listen to you, remember you, and take action.

Doesn’t that describe what you’d like your athletes to do? Can you give me a, “Heck Yeah!”

My Example

On Tuesday, I am going to walk into a room full of athletes. They’ve been away from college for 5 weeks, and in the off-season for 13.  I have to persuade them to commit to our spring training plan, and convince them that:

  • There will be value in the hard work
  • The time commitment will be worth it
  • The changes we will be making are wise and in their best interest


It’s a strong-willed group of athletes. What am I going to do?

Point blank, I’m going to show them the value in the plan, and then fascinate them.

How Do YOU Fascinate

Fascinating is not a difficult process, and it’s not perfect, but here’s how to fascinate:

Have empathy: dig deep into how the other person feels and thinks

Describe value: describe it and show them how to get there

Build a fire: spark their interest and build that spark into a fire … and keep it going over time

So for my team, I’m going to:

  • Determine what the benefits/rewards are of our plan and tell the benefits to them
  • Make sure objections/concerns are satisfied (for example seniors might object to not traveling for Spring Break and practicing at home, freshmen might object to a different training plan then they had in high school)
  • Summarize
  • Stoke the fire

And then there’s one last step I’ll take, which I’ll tell you about next week. (Sneak preview: Step 4: Call To Positive Action)

Your Turn

In your pocket you now have three critical steps to convince someone to take positive action. Big deal, right? It is, if you do something with them!

Hey, you want to improve your athlete(s). Right? Do you think that’s going to happen by yelling and screaming? No! That model of persuasion doesn’t work, pure and simple. Your success will come from being effective at persuasion. That’s how you become a coach they remember, with statues and bobbleheads of you, and a paycheck to drool over. You want that right?

(See, I used Steps 1-3 right there, on you. Did they work?)

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