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Letter Of Intent Is Great – Do Recruits Have The Right Type Of Commitment?Monday, July 28th, 2014

by Tyler Brandt, National Recruiting Coordinator

In our world of instant media we have grown accustomed to seeing pictures of athletes sitting at tables signing their Letter of Intent and seeing the big proud smiles on kids’ and parents’ faces. Then we click over to the college website and see an article on the new athlete that just “committed”to their college and their program. The question I always asked and answered before I signed any athlete was:

Did They Have The Right TYPE of Commitment to my College and Program to Sign Them!

The three types of commitment that you are looking for are:

1)    Affective

2)    Continuance

3)    Normative

Affective commitment means they have an affection for what you do. This is an important part of finding the right fit because it speaks to style and philosophy. When we look at the athletes and coaches struggling at one school or on a specific team, they have had success somewhere else. The struggle invariably can be tracked back to a poor match in coaching style and philosophy. You need to know if the athlete is connected and committed to your program’s philosophy and style which ultimately is an extension of you.

Continuance commitment means they will not quit because they fear what they would lose if they stopped. These athletes have a clear understanding of their internal connection to their sport and refuse to stop or quit because of the loss they would feel. This eliminates many of the time consuming and emotionally draining conversations with athletes that want to quit because they THOUGHT they wanted to be there and could hack it.

Normative commitment means they stay committed because they have an obligation to fulfill. Regardless of the reason, to the athlete, they have created and wish to fulfill the obligation they have with the sport. It could be to the program for the opportunity or the college for the scholarship or their parents to get the degree. The “what” doesn’t matter, the fact that they will stay committed does.

Understanding these three types of commitments as a coach is critical to ensuring that you will bring the right athletes to your program and that they will have persistence and complete their degree. You will find three things improve immediately as you create and qualify the three types of commitment in your athletes:

1)    Retention Rates

2)    Graduation Rates

3)    Talent pool on your team

A Bonus 4th improvement will be your recruiting program will improve. You will not have to recruit large classes because of the large number of athletes that stay all four years. As they stay in your program they learn your system and improve, creating a more talented team and athletes that have to earn spots.

If you are not currently creating the connection in your recruiting program to these three types of commitment, you are making your job harder and missing out on the RIGHT athletes for your program.

Earning the Trust of Your RecruitMonday, May 26th, 2014

Most of us don’t like interacting with people we don’t feel like we can trust.

The reason we don’t trust the telemarketer that calls us is because we don’t know her, and it doesn’t feel right that a complete stranger should be calling us at home to sell us something.

The reason we don’t click on 999 out of 1,000 pop-up advertisements on the Internet is because we remember the time we were burned before when we accidentally downloaded a virus on our computer.

The reason we don’t like to go shopping for new cars is because we know we’re going to feel pressured by a salesman who gives us the feeling that he’s being less than truthful about the promises he’s making to us.

And that gut reaction we all have to each of those three scenarios has big implications for college coaches.

If this is the time of year you might find yourself reassessing how you interact with your recruits, and figuring out how effective it is (or isn’t), it’s important to understand that the same factors you use to judge the trustworthiness of telemarketers, pop-up ads, or car salesmen, are being used by your teenage prospects – and their parents – to judge your trustworthiness.  And, like you, they’re figuring out whether or not to have a serious interaction with you based on whether they feel like they can trust you or not.

This is important to understand, Coach: The decision to interact happens before your recruit actually listens to what you have to say. How you construct your letters, what you say in your emails, and how you interact with them on social media will determine whether or not you get to communicate with that recruit.

And you might be surprised at how many different types of interactions factor into whether or not your recruit chooses to trust you enough to communicate with you.  Here are a few of the most important:

Your direct interaction between you and your recruit: Did the recruit see how you coached at a camp they attended? How did you act when they watched practice during that unofficial visit?  The way your recruit feels about that momentary experience will alter their interaction with you, either positively or negatively. If you’re reaching out and communicating with them for the first time, you can bet that the way your message is worded is going to determine whether or not they feel you’re worth the interaction.

What they’ve heard about you:  If your recruit heard good things about you from people he or she knows, the entire relationship changes. You automatically get the benefit of the doubt.  So, it begs the question: What are you doing to make sure that your current team, former recruits, and the parents of all of those student-athletes, are saying good things about you to your future prospects?  (It’s an important question, because we find that they are almost always talking about you.  The only thing you can control is what they’re saying).

What your website, social media and email templates look like:  When they look at those properties, what is the brand image that comes to their mind?  If you’re a smaller school, do you look like the bigger brand programs?  If you’re one of the bigger programs, how are you separating yourself from your other big-name competitors?  Serious question, Coach.

Your tone of voice:  This has everything to do how your message (your letter, your email, your phone call) sounds.  When you’re writing your message, does it sound like you would if you were talking face to face with your prospect?  Or, does it sound so formal that your recruit is going to know it’s the typical, mass mail, non-personal message that they’re used to?  Also, are you patient and not rushing your recruit?  Are you pushing too early?  Urgency rarely leads to increased trust from your recruit.  Make sure you are messaging your recruit the right way.

Whether you sound scarce, or plentiful: Ever wonder why we recommend a fair but firm deadline in most circumstances?  Because it works.  If you’re the coach that gives a recruit all the time in the world, and lets them know that they can make the decision any time they want, expect to come across as a program that will take anyone at anytime.  For most coaches, that doesn’t work.  You need to find some kind of “scarcity” to talk about with your recruits.  Scarcity leads to action.

The size of the commitment you’re asking for: If you’re asking me to reply to your email early in the recruiting process, there’s a good chance that’s going to happen.  On the contrary, coaches who want long conversations on the phone right away struggle to get a recruit to respond.  Coaches who jump into an early conversation about a campus visit might be going too fast, too soon.  Be mindful of what you’re asking them to do, and how early in the recruiting process you’re asking for it.

Your offer:  What’s in it for your recruit to listen to what you’re asking them to commit to?  It’s a simple but serious question.

Their fear:  As we talk about extensively in our On-Campus Workshop that we conduct for college athletic departments, your recruit’s fear is present throughout the recruiting experience.  What are you doing to answer that fear?  How are you doing that early on, as well as late in the process?

What they see about you online:  What they read when they Google you, and how well you post on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, matter.  It matters a lot, Coach.  Your online presence is one of the most immediate impressions that gets formed by your recruit.  And in most cases, it helps to determine how much interaction they wish to have with you.

How aligned with them you are:  How are you proving that you are just like they are, and understand where they’re coming from?  More importantly, how are you communicating that?

Your honesty:  This generation of recruits and their parents are actively searching for coaches who prove they are honest.  It’s vital that you demonstrate that honesty, and showcase it to them through your messaging.  You need to repeatedly demonstrate that you are the coach they can trust.  The coaches who are trusted get the best athletes at the end of the day.

How consistent you are in your recruiting efforts: How long have you been showing up? That’s an important question in the mind of your prospect.  When we work with clients, and take their team through a series of focus group questions to determine how best to help formulate their recruiting strategy, one of the most common themes that stands out as being vitally important to recruits is how consistent a coach is in the way they communicate.  If you are the coach who sends a couple of messages at the start, and then is hit-and-miss during the rest of the recruiting process, you’re probably going to get labeled as inconsistent.  And as our research shows, that’s going to hurt you as your prospect reaches their final decision.

Since you’re going to be judged by this generation of recruits, doesn’t it make sense to make sure you’re taking an intelligent, thorough approach when it comes to sending out a message that prompts interaction?

That’s how trust with your recruit is built.  Start now, Coach.

Need help determining the best way to earn trust and create interactions with your recruits?  We successfully work with clients day in and day out throughout the recruiting year in helping them create winning recruiting strategies.  You’ve just read some of the factors we make sure are working in our clients’ favor.  Are you ready to let us help you, too?  Email Dan Tudor directly at dan@dantudor.com to start a conversation about how we would do that for you and your program.

3 Things You Can Do – But Shouldn’t Do – as a College RecruiterMonday, February 24th, 2014

College coaches have an increasing amount of freedom to recruit earlier, more creatively and more aggressively than every before.

But just because there are an increasing number of things a coach can do, it doesn’t mean that they should do them.

And therein lies the problem:

So many coaches we encounter as we first start work with them on a close, one-on-one basis sometimes show a lack of discretion when it comes to what they send to a recruit.  The problem with that is how this generation of recruits take-in information.  With social media, for example, our latest research (click here for the free download) shows that there are a variety of ways they want to interact with coaches, but it depends on the individual social media site.  If a coach carelessly uses one rule and applies them to different social media platforms, they risk alienating their recruit.  I’ve seen it happen, and you’ve seen it happen.

Since we’re entering the time of year when coaches don’t want to make a mistake, I wanted to outline three things we recommend coaches avoid doing, even though they have complete freedom to do them:

Be careful with social media.  Since I just used that as an example of a common mistake area for college coaches, let me give you an example of an error that can be made with this continually evolving medium.  The NCAA allowed coaches to use the social media tool, SnapChat.  Somehow, the governing body that sets the recruiting boundaries for college coaches felt it was appropriate to let coaches send messages that quickly are erased forever to recruits, who can do the same in their replies to coaches (what could go wrong with that scenario?)  Is it popular with high school and college-age kids?  Yes.  Does that mean an adult who is not their friend should use ShapChat to communicate with them?  No.  No.  A thousand times no.  Per the social media research we referenced earlier, the vast majority of today’s teens don’t want their social media world invaded by coaches – especially at the very start of the process.  Please don’t make the mistake of believing that just because your teenage prospects are ShapChatting, Facebooking, and Tweeting on a minute-by-minute basis that they want you to be included in that small, tight-knit group of peers that make up their social media audience.

Don’t shrink away as they get closer to their decision.  College coaches tend to assume that because a prospect has been to campus, and because they’ve received a short series of letters or emails, or because you’ve already talked to them on the phone, a prospect and their parents don’t need to hear from you down the stretch.  I think this is actually due to a coach feeling nervous about what their decision will be, and the tendency of a coach in that position is to shrink away and hope they don’t jinx a positive final decision.  Most of the time, that’s an incorrect tactic: Your prospect needs you to talk to them, ask them how they are making their final decision, and collaborate with them on the steps they’ll take as they make a final decision.  The other reason that makes it a smart move for a coach?  You’ll find out earlier if a recruit is going to tell you “no”.  That’s an important piece of information that any savvy recruiter should want to know.

Watch out for their coach’s influence.  More and more often, a high school or club coach is guiding decisions throughout the process.  The problem?  Many college coaches are making the choice to ignore their recruit’s coach, feeling like they don’t need to recruit them as they recruit the prospect.  Coaches who have that outlook are incorrect: Coaches are more influential than ever, and for 98% of the coaches who aren’t a part of a legendary program that just won it’s third straight national championship, justification for why you and your program are best is absolutely needed.  And, it needs to be done throughout the process.  True, you can choose to ignore this vital group of influencers, but you do so at your own risk (especially as it gets later in the process).

That’s not an exhaustive list, of course, but they are three areas of choice that a coach has that will affect their chances of signing upper-tier prospects.  But not over-stepping their boundaries in the world of social media, not becoming silent in the final stages of a prospect’s decision, and not ignoring your recruit’s coach, are all ways you can immediately improve the odds of bringing in those difference-maker recruits in this next class.

The question is: Will you choose to not do something you have the freedom to do?

Attending this June’s National Collegiate Recruiting Conference is a must for any serious college coach who wants a more expanded list of what’s working, and what’s not, when it comes to cutting-edge techniques that make a difference in their recruiting results.  It’s a can’t-miss event!  Click here for all the details!

The 6 Rs Of Building A DynastyThursday, February 13th, 2014

by Tyler Brandt, National Recruiting Coordinator

Remember when the big thing in school was the 3 Rs; Reading, Writing & Arithmetic? It’s really cute that they sounded like Rs and it’s true they are really important fundamentals of education. To this day without these building blocks it is difficult to succeed academically. The same is true regarding recruiting – just with different Rs.

In today’s ultra competitive world of collegiate level recruiting, we have improved on the original concept and created the 6 Rs. With the integration of these proven fundamentals into your Annual Recruiting Plan, it is time to blow your next recruiting class out of the water. We all know from being college coaches that we are only as good as our next recruit and that the recruiting trail is a grind. Implementing the 6 Rs into your recruiting plan will immediately and positively impact both the talent you bring in and mitigate the grind for you and your staff.

The 6 Rs in recruiting are, in this order:

Read – React – Respond – Right Fit – Retain – Reload

  1. Read – As a former college coach I was making the 1st mistake we see in most programs – long winded, statistically driven fact based recruiting letters. Kids do not read to those letters and if they are not reading your letters that takes us directly to the second challenge.
  2. React – The 2nd issue is they are not having the appropriate emotional reaction to the letter. Without that emotional connection they are always “looking” for the program that does make them “feel” the right way. Using the right language at the right time gets the right internal and external “Reaction.”
  3. Respond – The goal of any type of recruiting contact or communication is to get the prospective student-athlete (PSA) to “Respond.” When an athlete responds you can begin to build a relationship and we all know that the relationship is the key. Without a response to your communication it is impossible to build a relationship of any kind.
  4.  Right Fit – Finding the “Right Fit” is important for your program and for the PSA. The best way to determine fit is to have enough communication to get to know your PSA and eventually bring them to campus for a visit. During the campus-visit you, your team and the PSA will all have the opportunity to make judgments on fit for the program and the college. If the PSA is actually “Reading” the communications they will be “Reacting” appropriately by “Responding” and following through on the tasks of recruiting and everyone will be able to determine if the PSA and the college are the “Right Fit.”
  5. Retain – “Retention” is the result of numbers 1, 2, 3 & 4 being dialed-in! By developing an annual recruiting plan that uses the right language science to elicit the first 4 Rs, the 5th by default becomes a foregone conclusion.
  6. Reload – This is the goal of every program – “Reload” each year. Unfortunately we see most programs rebuilding too often. This is a direct result of not getting the recruits you want and not retaining the athletes you do get. If you run the numbers it is very easy to build a dominant program.

Lets take football as an example:

The goal is to get 11 playmakers on either side of the ball.

  • Year 1: you sign 5 playmakers on both sides of the ball.
  • Year 2: you sign 5 playmakers on both sides of the ball.
  • Year 3: you sign 5 playmakers on both sides of the ball.
  • Year 4: you sign 5 playmakers on both sides of the ball.
  • Year 5: you sign 5 playmakers on both sides of the ball.

As retention increases you only lose 1 playmaker a year, this leaves you with 20 playmakers. Here’s the kicker, 8 playmakers are upperclassman and 8 are underclassman and 4 are probably redshirts. This puts 16 playmakers on the field, 8 offensively and 8 defensively. What do you think your odds are of improving your winning percentage if you landed the playmakers you wanted, those players stayed in your program long term and you had 8 on the playing field at the same time on both sides of the ball?

It’s not rocket science – it’s Language Science. Put the 6 Rs to work for you today!!!

The 5 Things Your Prospect is Asking Santa For This YearMonday, December 16th, 2013

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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.

Your Selling Point That Might Be Frightening Away Your ProspectMonday, October 28th, 2013

Have you seen this creepy old pictures of Halloween costumes from the early 1900′s?

There’s something about them that sends a chill up your spine.  I spent my Halloweens as a kid walking around Acacia Street in one of those sweaty plastic masks with the cheap rubber band that barely held it on my sweaty little head.  Had I run into one of these characters walking around I would have high-tailed it home.

The interesting thing is, one of the things that make these get-ups so creepy is that they are so very simple: Flour bags pulled over your head with two holes for your eyes, and a slit for your mouth.  Add a creepy hand-drawn face, and you’ve got a recipe for big-time scares.

Unbeknownst to many college coaches, there’s something else that might be frightening away your prospect.  What’s more, it’s something simple that many coaches use as a selling point over and over again in their conversations with their prospects – especially the good ones.

I’m talking about the selling point many coaches lead with when they’re talking to their top recruits that goes a little something like this:

“If you come play for me, we’re going to build the program around you.  You’re going to be a star here.”  You might have said it a little different than that when you’ve told a prospect how much you’ll mean to your team in the past, but the general message is the same: We need you, you’ll be a star for us, and that’s why you should want to come and compete for us.

In many cases – not all cases, but many cases – the idea of having to star for your team on day one is pressure they don’t want.  A slight majority of female athletes that we’ve conducted focus group sessions with say that having a program tell them that they are going to have the program built around them, or that they can come in and star for the team as a Freshman, is a big negative in their minds.  Not all recruits, but many.  Those that feel that way describe the imagined pressure on them if they were actually going to be relied upon to “carry” a program.  Interestingly, four to six weeks after their first practices, female Freshmen college athletes tell us they are then ready to assume that role as savior to the program (once they scope out other existing team members, and figure out where they stand compared to their new teammates).

On the male side, the number of student-athletes who feel too pressured to respond to that selling point is much smaller than their female counterparts:  Just slightly more than 2 out of 10 athletes we asked responded that they would not want to be put in that situation right away.  However, with male athletes, another phenomenon takes place that is centered around the selling point of “come here and be a star on day one”:

They think you’re lying to them.  More than 60% of the time, male prospects who hear a coach tell them that they’re going to be a star at their school say they are likely dismiss those comments as something that they wouldn’t take seriously…at the worst, they would assume the coach is outright lying to them in order to “trick” them into making a commitment to their school.  “I think every coach lies a little bit to get their prospects to say yes to them, and it’s our job to make sure we take everything with a grain of salt,” said one college Freshman men’s basketball player we talked to.

The bottom line is that for both males and females going through the recruiting process, this time honored selling point is often frightening them into second-guessing their original interest in that program.  The practice also risks creating a communication challenge moving forward in the recruiting process, especially on the male side, since they seem to be judging the honesty of the coach when they hear them talk about how much they’re going to mean to the program that is recruiting them.

So, what do you do if you’re a coach who honestly is looking at a good athlete, who could start as a Freshman and play early, and wants to communicate that to the recruit?  There are two rules we see coaches needing to follow:

  • You need to go into a LOT of detail with your prospect as to why you see them being able to meet that challenge and opportunity that you are promising them.  Map out their first year step by step, in as much detail as possible as you talk to them.
  • You need to assume that they’re going to receive your compliment with skepticism.  If you do, it will probably mean you will change your approach and focus on proving to them that it will happen, and why you’re going to be the best coach to make that happen.  Additionally, assume that they’ve already heard that approach from one of your competitors, and now hearing it from you makes them wonder if both of you are “just saying that” to try and trick you into competing for your respective programs.

Again, this is something that we see frightening a lot of recruits as they talk to programs that they would otherwise be a great fit for.  It doesn’t happen with every recruit, and even when it does it doesn’t mean you can’t overcome that objection and still bring that recruit to your program, but if you can be aware of this feeling among many athletes and adjust your conversation to accommodate that line of thinking, you’ll be more successful as a college recruiter.

 

 

3 Ways Your Prospect’s Feedback is Getting Lost in TranslationMonday, October 14th, 2013

When you think about it, your prospects – and their parents – actually do say quite a bit during the recruiting process.

I mean for all of the complaining that we do when it comes to the non-communication coming from the recruits you’re trying to have a conversation with, when you think about it they give you a good deal of feedback.  They’ll tell you what they’re looking for in a college, or what they like in a coach, or what they think about the idea of leaving home.  When you ask a question, they’ll do their best to give you an answer.

And that’s where we find the problem occurring.

Coaches are listening to what they’re hearing from prospects and parents (or, many times, from their coach) and they’ll take that feedback at face value.  In other words, a lot of coaches assume that the recruits they’re talking to are actually giving them accurate, truthful information.

Much of the time, that’s not the case.  I’m not suggesting that your prospects are being deceitful on purpose, by the way.  However, I do think that much of what you’re hearing during certain points in the recruiting process needs to be “translated”…their feedback needs to interpreted differently than you’re hearing it.  Not all the time, but much of the time.

Here are four main topics or phrases that you may be hearing as a college recruiter that need to be “translated” into what they might really be trying to say:

“We’ve still got a few more campuses to visit before we make our final decision.”  

POSSIBLE TRANSLATION:

“Your campus was nice, but we’ve still got a lot of unanswered questions before we could think seriously about committing to you, and we’re hoping that another coach makes it easy to love them by giving us the information that you didn’t.”

I started with this because I know many of you are in the middle of campus visits, and you’re always anxious to hear how your prospects liked you, your team, and your college.  If they talk about still needing to take campus visits, and they aren’t ready to decide that you are “the one” after visiting your campus, you can be fairly certain that there are objections left unanswered in their mind, or something on the visit didn’t quite mesh with what they were looking for.

Your job, as a serious recruiter, is to ask them questions that can get them to reveal how they really feel after a visit.  And, if they don’t seem ready to get serious about taking the next step, it’s your job to find out what they didn’t seem to find when they visited campus, or what new questions the visit raised in their mind.

Far too often, college coaches that we advise give their prospects the benefit of the doubt waaaaay far too many times, assuming that the family is engaged in a logical, reasoned evaluation of their visit and just wants to compare apples to…even more apples.  Most of the time, that’s not the case.  It’s far simpler than that.  They just didn’t find all of what they were looking for when they were face to face with you and your program.

“I’ve never really thought about going away to school that far away from home.”

POSSIBLE TRANSLATION:

“At this point, there’s no way on God’s green earth that I would go to school that far away from home.”

If you’re recruiting out-of-area prospects (and you should) understand that the number one reason you will end up losing that prospect to another college is due to the distance from home.  Many recruits are very open to going away from home, but a large percentage either haven’t considered it as an option because of their parents, or have decided that it’s not an option even with their parent’s support.

Not wanting to go away to college is fine, of course.  It’s not for everyone, and I don’t suggest that any coach should fault a prospect for not being interested in your opportunity.  However, I do want them to tell you the truth and reveal – as early in the process as possible – whether or not going out of area for college is a possibility.

How should you do that?  First, focus on the parents.  Our research shows pretty conclusively that how a recruit feels about going out of the area for college is a direct reflection on how the parents feel about it.  And if the parents aren’t on board with the idea, it’s not likely you will be successful recruiting that prospect.  Ask the parents of your out-of-area prospect how they feel about the idea, and if they see it as a possibility.

With your prospect, you need to ask them why specifically they feel they would want to truly go away to college.  What makes that exciting to them?    Why do they feel that would be best for their athletic and academic career?  What have their parents said about the idea, and are they o.k. with not seeing you compete on a regular basis?  If your prospect has trouble answering those questions, or it sounds like they really haven’t thought the whole thing through, it means you have more work to do.  It’s not a lost cause by any means, but don’t assume that it’s a slam dunk, either.

“We’re still thinking about everything, and really haven’t made a decision yet, but don’t worry…we really like you and your staff and you’re one of the schools we’re seriously considering.”

POSSIBLE TRANSLATION:

“We’re not coming to your program unless these three other possibilities fall apart, but you’re a really nice coach so we don’t want to hurt your feelings by having to tell you ‘no’ directly.”

As you move through the process, you may hear something like this given to you as feedback by your recruit.  What I want to tell you is that they aren’t telling their top school this…just you.  And that’s a problem.

The later the recruiting process goes, the more you need to assume that your prospect is not being truthful with you.  I hate to be so negative, but it’s for your own good…more coaches are suckered in to that feedback from their recruits and end up getting jilted at the end when they say yes to your conference rival (the one that’s closer to home, of course) than get word that after careful and measured consideration, you are the program that they’re choosing.

If you hear this kind of feedback as the recruiting year gets later and later into the calendar, you need to start asking your recruits – and their parents – some serious questions: What is it that you’re thinking about?  What are the one or two big questions that you still have in your mind when it comes to my program our the college?  Look for things that they’re unsure about, or need more details on…or, get them to admit that your program is a long shot, and determine that it’s probably going to be a “no” (because in our experience in tracking lots of recruiting conversations for our clients, you’ll get the same answer three months from now as you did when you press for an answer today).

Those three scenarios aren’t an exhaustive list, of course, but it’s a good representation as to what we hear prospects telling coaches, when they mean something completely different.

We just want to make sure you’re looking at your recruiting list – and every prospect on it – with complete accuracy and honestly.  To do that, you need to intelligently interpret their “recruit-speak” into real world feedback that you can use to make important decisions for your program.

Why Your Prospect Avoids Fear (and What To Do About It When You’re Recruiting Them)Monday, September 30th, 2013

When I was a Sophomore in high school, I had this bad habit of hiding my algebra homework under the desk in my room so I wouldn’t have to do it.  Immature, yes.  Self-destructive?  Mr. Grayson tried to make that case a few times.  And yet, I did it.  Over and over again.

Before I could fly to visit clients today, I had to submit to various levels of security checks from the wonderful folks at the TSA.  I’ve been patted, scanned, swabbed, and questioned.  I’ve been asked if I have any liquids in my carry-on, and if I remembered to remove my belt before walking through the scanner. Over and over again.

Do you have an insurance policy?  Do you get an annual check-up?  Do you get a little nervous when a Friday the 13th rolls around?

It’s all about our fear of fear.  Understand what I’m saying:  When I was foolishly avoiding my algebra homework, it wasn’t a fear of math that I was suffering from.  Avoiding the homework was a preventing me from fearing the test and my impending D+ in algebra class.  Insane line of thinking, right?

(Lets forget for a moment that a lot of coaches I’ve talked to over the years are reluctant to press their prized number one recruit for a final decision because they don’t want to hear “no”, even though it’s likely that the non-response from that recruit clearly signals that a “no” is only a matter of time.  Not that different from my irrational fear of my algebra homework, is it?)

Now, let’s apply this to your prospects:

If you’ve had us on your campus anytime in the past few years, you know that one of the big things we try to make coaches understand about this generation of college recruits is that they have a fear of making the wrong decision.  They are scared of saying the wrong thing to you during a phone call, scared to commit to an unofficial visit, and scared to answer your phone call.

They, like you perhaps, have a fear of fear.  They’ll avoid an honest conversation with you to avoid the fear of saying something wrong.  Insane line of thinking, right?

That’s who you’re recruiting, Coach.  That’s why your prospect avoids fear, and why it’s sometimes so hard for you to do your job as a recruiter.

With that in mind, here are a few key principles we see working well for programs around the country that we get the chance to assist as clients:

  • Always focus on their feeling of being fearful.  It’s not actual facts that your prospect is scared about…it’s the feeling of being scared that they’re trying to avoid.  So, if you’re a recruiter who is focusing on selling your facility or last year’s record as a way of overcoming that fear that’s ingrained in the mind of your prospect, you’re going to struggle.  Instead, address the question of why they are feeling scared about something – making an early decision, visiting campus, returning your phone call.  That’s the secret, Coach…focus on the feeling that’s creating the fear.
  • Ask them what scares them most about the whole recruiting process.  Logically, if they have an irrational fear that needs to be discussed as a part of the recruiting process, who is more equipped to lead that conversation: You, or the teenage recruit?  (If you chose the teenage recruit, go back to the beginning of the article).  Of course you have to lead that conversation!  And it starts by asking them the question that most coaches don’t think to bring up: “What scares you the most about the idea of choosing a college program?”
  • Put fear on the table, and tell them what you think they’re thinking.  Tell them what you see them being scared about, and see if they agree with you or not.  It’s easier for them to react to a statement about what you think they’re thinking, than it is for them to tell you what they’re thinking.  Confusing and a little sad, yes.  But we find it to be true, so use it to your advantage.

There is a lot that’s tough for us to outline exactly what you should do when it comes to this fact about their fear, because so much of it revolves around the core principles your coaching staff chooses to adopt.  For example, I can’t tell you whether or not it’s time to press this year’s #1 recruit…maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t.

The point is, fear is driving everything that your prospect does during the recruiting process.  How you react to that fact will determine how successful you are with this generation.

There’s no reason for not having a will, other than to avoid thinking about death.  Applying that truth to how your recruits are reacting to your invitation to come visit campus – and how you change your message – is going to be more and more important with this generation of teenage prospects.

What to Do Now That Your First Contacts Are DoneMonday, September 2nd, 2013

So what’s your plan now?

For most coaches around the country, you’ve now officially started the formal recruiting process with a new class of recruits. The first letters, emails, phone calls and social media messages have been sent. And, if you’re fortunate, maybe you’ve had some of your prospects reply to your initial outreach efforts.

Or, maybe they haven’t.

Regardless, you’re now faced with the daunting two-word question that haunts even the most savvy college recruiter: “What’s next?”

The answer to that question will undoubtedly determine what kind of class you end up with in the months to come. For more than a few coaches, it will determine whether or not they keep their jobs.

So, what should be next? I wish there was a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to that question. However, as you probably already know, the answer for one program and one division level varies greatly from another program at another division level.

That being said, I wanted to outline a few key successful approaches that we’ve seen work on a consistent basis over the years in working closely with individual coaching staffs and conducting research around the country. As you review these strategies and key strategic questions for your program to consider, adapt them to your individual situation:

How are you going to establish the foundation for proving that you are the smart choice? In an age where this generation of student-athlete seems to be gravitating towards more fluff (Twitter, Vine, Instagram: I’m talking to you), a surprising trend has taken shape when you uncover how this generation of recruit actually makes their final decision: They have to justify it logically. It’s true that they can emotionally gravitate to a coach or a school throughout the process; however, at some point in the later stages of the process, they (or their parents, or their coach) start asking the important question of “is this a smart decision.” What you do with your communication between now and that final decision will determine if you pass that important test, and end up being a prime consideration for them.

How are you going to establish the foundation for proving that you are the emotional choice? Since I just made the case that they will initially gravitate to a coach and program that creates an emotional tie with them – the ones that make them feel the best at the start – it’s important to have a strategy for how to create that feeling in the first place. One of the examples I’ll use when we present our On-Campus Workshop to an athletic department staff is Starbucks. They are the master of creating and managing a feeling when you walk into their stores…the color on the walls, the music, the inviting furniture…all of that is done specifically to create a feeling of warmth and comfort. As a smart recruiter, what is your plan to create the right feeling for your recruits now that the initial contact message is in their hands? If you don’t have one, you’re introducing random results into the process (that’s why every Starbucks looks and feels the same; they want you to have the same consistent feeling in each and every store). So, what’s your plan for establishing a feeling that they will gravitate to over the coming months?

The important of engaging the parents early. Our research finds that parents are polite, yet anxious, as you begin to contact their sons and daughters. On the one hand, they know that they aren’t supposed to interfere with the process and let you explain your interest to their young student-athlete, and on the other hand their irresistible urge is to step in and play a part as soon as possible in making sure that the process begins smoothly. We also find that there is an element of competition in their actions; if they are able to help their son or daughter manage the process, maybe that will give them a leg up in the competition for a scholarship or roster spot. While the majority of your competition will ignore the parents as long as possible – and fail to do the most basic functions like getting their prospect’s parents’ cell phone and work email information – I want to encourage you to do the opposite. Establish early contact with the parents of your recruits, and work to establish that same emotional connection with them. Call them, email them, ask them questions, and engage them. If you do, what you’ll find is that they are ready with really useful information, and more importantly, they will look at you as a coach that respects their opinion and input and is treating them as a valued partner in the recruiting process of their son or daughter. Do you have a plan to communicate with your prospect’s parents as you start the process?

Establish a mutually agreed upon timeline for making the final decision sooner rather than later. Do everything you can, as soon as you can, to find out when your prospect (and, yes, their parents) sees themselves making a final decision. Even if they can’t give you an exact date, a general time of year that they verbally commit to is really important. Not only will you find out how long you probably have to recruit that prospect, you’ll also gain valuable insight into how they’ll be making their decision: Will they be making it after taking visits to several schools? Do they want to commit sooner rather than later? Are they being realistic about the process and how they will navigate through it over the coming months? Most coaches we observe wait to have this conversation until after they know the prospect is interested in their program; from my experience, I see it being a critical set of questions to answer so that a coach understands exactly how to strategically design a messaging plan that earns their prospect’s interest. As you start your conversation with each of your prospects, come to an agreement on what the timeline will be for making a final decision.

Are you establishing control of the process? Are you going to control the recruiting conversation and the decision making process, or will you abdicate that role to them? Note that I am not suggesting you “force” them or “trick” them into deciding that you are the best choice (as if you or I have that power). No, what I am suggesting is that you should establish yourself as the party that will be guiding them through the recruiting process, rather than telling yourself that your job is to give them your school’s information, answer questions, and then stand by and wait politely for their decision (if I just described you, I imagine I don’t need to give you a detailed explanation of how unnerving and frustrating that makes the whole task of recruiting, right?). Your job, as a college recruiter, is to guide your athlete’s decision – from start to finish. Not trick, not force, but guide. You do that through effective questioning, establishing logical “next steps” throughout the process, and continually giving them the smart reasons that you and your program are the right choice. So, as you start the process with this next class, how do you plan to establish that role as the leader of the conversation and their trusted guide in making the right decision?

That’s not an exhaustive list, of course. And, some of these questions may not be applicable to you or your program. Heck, you may be knocking all five of these out of the park and not need to adjust your approach at all.

However, if you had the feeling that you were spinning out of control with your last class, and that you really were ineffective when it came to carrying on a logical, consistent conversation with your recruits and their parents – and you’re getting that sinking feeling that this year is turning out to be the start of the same bad story – now is the time to act.

It starts with a plan, and developing answers to these five immediate ares of focus should be the beginning of a more strategic approach to this next recruiting class.

Dan Tudor and his team offer one-on-one help with formulating a research-based approach to communicating with recruits. If you’d like to see what that looks like, and get an overview of his approach, email him at dan@dantudor.com.

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