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The Cost of Your ProgramMonday, February 1st, 2016

Here’s the deal:

If your recruit, and his or her parents, aren’t buying into your program, it’s not because the price tag is too much. That’s one of the great lies that college coaches have bought into far too long.

The reason they aren’t buying into your program is because they don’t believe what you’ve told them. They don’t care about competing for you enough. And, they don’t love you and your team enough.

That’s the cold, hard, truth.

I feel compelled to lay it on the line like that because of the different ways coaches are telling me they are struggling with “cost”:

  • The net cost of attending your school versus your competitor’s school.
  • The ‘cost’ of choosing your Division III program over a Division II program, even if the net cost of that Division III is less than the Division II…there’s a mental ‘cost’, according to our research, in the minds of many recruits who have the mindset that they need to choose the higher division level program simply because it’s a higher division level.
  • The ‘cost’ of waiting to play for your program instead of playing right away at the other program that’s recruiting them.

Cost is more than money. It’s the idea that your recruit (or the recruit’s parents, or your recruit’s club coach) has to give up something in exchange for going to your program.

Your job, as a serious college recruiter, is to balance that cost with truthful, consistent, compelling stories. You need to prove that you care more about them, and have a plan for them once they commit to your campus. And, you’d better make sure you allow them room to fall in love with the young men or women on your team, and let them develop close-knit relationships with them.

So the magic question is, obviously, “what’s the best way to do that?”

It depends on the individual prospect, of course, but here are some important general guidelines that I think it’s smart to consider as you prove that your ‘cost’ is worth it, in my experience of advising and working one-on-one with college coaches:

  • Talk about money, and the potential cost of your college, sooner rather than later in the recruiting process. One of the most costly mistakes I’ve seen coaches make is delaying speaking with parents and athletes about either the overall cost of the school, the potential scholarship that would be offered, and the types of grants and financial aid that are available to offset the cost of school. The first step in justifying the cost of your program is to talk about the actual dollars and cents involved with attending.
  • If money isn’t the issue, search out the other ‘costs’ they’re tallying. Is there a cost to going to your school instead of staying closer to home? Begin talking about it. Is there a risk you’re asking them to take by choosing your program in the midst of rebuilding, or a program that’s going to ask them to wait two years for playing time? Begin talking about it. Starting that conversation, and getting agreement from your prospect to listen to you over an extended period of time, is critical.
  • Get them to believe. Begin offsetting the cost of your college by giving them something to believe in. I can’t tell you what those things are in an article like this, but it involves more than just listing the following:
    • How many wins you had last year.
    • The great conference that they’ll play in.
    • How many degree options your school offers.
  • Demonstrating a consistent, transparent, passionate conversation with them that tells them why they should choose your program is how you get them to believe. That takes time, and a long-view or recruiting. Most coaches don’t have the discipline or creativity to do that, but if you don’t, our research is clearly showing that this generation of prospects needs this type of messaging from you in order to justify the ‘cost’ of your college. I wish there were an easier, quicker way to get that job done, but in being a part of literally thousands of individual recruiting battles with the coaches we work with, I can tell you that this is how you win consistently.
  • They need to connect with you and your team. This generation of recruits desperately seek a personal connection with you and your team. If there’s one area where we see recruits and their parents justifying the higher ‘cost’ of your program, and making you their number one choice, it’s in this area. When they visit campus, the focus should be connecting with prospects on a personal basis, and not just showing them your ‘stuff’.

The cold, hard, truth is that the ‘cost’ of your program is the thing that is on the mind of your recruit, and his or her family, right now. They’re trying to figure out how to justify it.

What are you actively doing, today, to help them?

A great way to dig deep into topics like this with a few hundred fellow college recruiters? Attend the upcoming National Collegiate Recruiting Conference this Summer! It’s an amazing line-up of experts and coaches who are set to share their successes, and pull back the curtain on the secrets that have put them on top of their game. You MUST be there! Click here for all the details.

The Little Things That Go A Long WayMonday, January 18th, 2016

by Mandy Green, Coaching Productivity Strategies

Recently I was asked by a few coaches to give them my top 10 coaching management books.  Number one on my list was a book called “Winning” by Clive Woodward.  

I had the privilege to be a part of an amazing lecture about team management around 10 years ago.  In this lecture, the speaker told us about the book Winning! The book is about the process coach Clive Woodward went through in turning a struggling England National Rugby team into an International Rugby powerhouse.

In an effort to take his team from good to great, Woodward set out to create a unique and incredibly special experience for the players coming into his program.  His ultimate aim was to make the environment so good that once the players had experienced it, they never wanted to be left out of it. 

Woodward created this experience and environment by focusing on the little things he called Critical Non-Essentials (CNE’s).  CNE’s are all of the little things or details that make your program what it is.  Not just any kind of detail, but the development of things that would and could set your program apart from everybody else.   

These CNE’s that he focused on included: the locker room (seating, equipment, lockers, extras, decorations, laundry); dress code (home games, away games); sports information (web, game, media guides, TV, radio, other); practice (before, warm-up, training, cool-down); equipment (practice gear, game gear, logo’s, colors, misc); game day environment; medical/rehab/recovery; nutrition; fitness/strength and conditioning.

So, how does this apply to recruiting?

What do you do to set yourself apart in the eyes of your recruits if your main competitors have the same quality of players, the same resources, and the same standard of coaching?  To be even better and set yourself apart from your rivals you have to do everything in your power to improve the Critical Non-Essentials of your program.

In my usual weekly readings, I learned that Pete Carroll, when he was the coach of the USC football program, sat down with his staff and captains at the end of every season and analyzed EVERY aspect of the program, from their practice tee-shirts to their game day routines.  They would sit down and he would ask “How can we make this better?”  He did all of this in an effort to create the most productive and special experience for his players.  His players knew that Coach Carroll was willing to go the extra mile for them and it not only showed in how hard they played for him, but in the quality of recruits he kept signing year after year.  

With all of the other things that need to get done in a day, I find with most coaches these little details are what get put on the back burner and never fixed.  The time spent doing this will not only create a more loyal team, it can and will be something you can use as a selling point that will separate you from the rest of the pack.  

Here is what I recommend: buy the book if you have a chance because there are a lot of really great ideas about team management in there.  Just a warning, it is a pretty long book and is mostly about Rugby (a sport I don’t think I will ever understand).  It will be well worth your time to read through it though.  

Next, take the time to examine every aspect of the players’ experience within your program (critical non essentials) and discuss it thoroughly with your team.  Don’t just do this exercise with your coaching staff!  

This is a great exercise to get your team involved with.  Empower your team to give you feedback on how they would like things to be.  You have the ultimate veto power, but let them come up with ideas on what could make each aspect of what they experience within the program everyday a little better.  

If you want more from the players, you first have to give them good reasons why they would want to put in the extra effort.  You do that by making the critical non essentials better.  If you make your program attractive, prestigious and exclusive enough, not only will the players give everything they have within them and more, it could be something that sets your program apart from the rest in the eyes of your recruits.  

The soccer team I was coaching before I read the book was 9-6-3 that fall season.  I was then introduced to Clive Woodward’s ways that next winter.  I applied every piece of information I read in that book in the off-season with the team and went from 9-6-3 to 17-3-1 the next season.  It took A LOT of time and effort to implement these ideas, but the results we got were amazing.   Not only was the team excited and committed to the direction the program was headed, and with the experience they were having, the recruits we brought in during that time were pretty impressed as well.  I signed my top 6 recruits that fall!   

Take the time to do this coach with your staff and team.  It will take some work and patience, but you will reap the benefits from this simple exercise for years to come.  

Mandy Green has been a College Soccer Coach for more than 17 years and is the founder of Coaching Productivity Strategies, where she helps coaches develop and discipline their time management. Mandy teaches practical and immediately usable ideas, methods, strategies, and techniques that will help you achieve more, work less, and win more daily work and recruiting battles. When you learn and apply these powerful, practical techniques, you will dramatically improve the quality of your life in every area. To get more awesome collegiate-specific productivity expertise, go to www.mandygreencps.com and opt-in! 

How to Argue the Correct Way With Your Next RecruitMonday, December 21st, 2015

Because it really seems like an “argument”, doesn’t it?

Where your campus is located is so vastly superior to the two other schools your recruit is looking at, the choice would seem obvious. And so you try to convince them that they should see it your way.

Also, that new U.S. News campus ranking: Your campus just got ranked 49th, while the other school she’s considering came in at a paltry 88th. It’s not even close, so the choice (again) should be obvious.

And the fact that your prospect could start in your program as a Freshman…well, shouldn’t that seal the deal? In your mind it does, right?

Here’s why it’s hard to make that case successfully:

First of all, college coaches we’ve seen attempt it try to do so quickly, at the start of the recruiting process, and condense their argument in one or two long, detail-filled messages. As we’ve talked about before, that’s not the right way to approach this generation of recruit if you want their attention, and gain their trust.

Secondly, you’re essentially bullying them into trying to get them to believe that your point of view is the right one. Your school’s ranking is higher, they could start as a Freshman, and where you’re located is amazing. What’s not to love, right? And so you begin to convince them of how you see the world, and that that your point of view should be their point of view as well.

The problem is, your point of view may not match their point of view.

Marketing author and expert Seth Godin makes the point that “to many people, it feels manipulative or insincere or even morally wrong to momentarily take the other person’s point of view when trying to advance an argument that we already believe in. And that’s one reason why so many people claim to not like engaging in marketing. Marketing is the empathetic act of telling a story that works, that’s true for the person hearing it, that stands up to scrutiny. But marketing is not about merely sharing what you, the marketer believes. It’s about what we, the listener, believe.”

Let’s use the example of your prospect being able to start as a Freshman in your program. You, as an intelligent college coach who has the perspective of a successful playing career under your belt, see this as being a huge selling point to your prospect. Being able to start all four years of school?  Who wouldn’t want that, right?

And yet when we conduct our focus group interviews when beginning work with a new client, or conducting one of our On-Campus Workshops for an athletic department, we find that the majority of athletes you recruit actually are nervous about the idea of starting right away and having the pressure to perform on their shoulders. The ‘safer’ worldview for them? No pressure at the start, get used to the team, and ease into a role where they’ll be able to succeed.  How many times have you seen one of your talented prospects opt not to compete immediately for you, and instead choose a school where they’ll probably have to sit on the bench for a year or two?  For many athletes – even the great ones – that’s the more appealing option.

What I’m saying is that you “convincing” them that your world view is the correct one isn’t going to be easy, especially if you don’t take a patient, consistent approach to the whole thing. They aren’t looking to be convinced, they’re looking to be listened to. It’s true in politics, and it’s true in recruiting.

As Godin observes, “Even when people making an argument know this, they don’t like making an argument that appeals to the other person’s alternative worldview.” Why? It’s harder, it takes more time, and requires a more organized thought pattern. For many coaches, that’s a tough trifecta to overcome.

If you accept this idea to have merit, it may require two key changes in thinking for you and your coaching staff:

  • You will need to commit to developing a long term, consistent approach to telling your story and developing communication that is focused on creating a conversation, rather than relying on the brilliance of your logical argument to sway the minds of your prospect.
  • You will need to ask more questions, and use your recruit’s answers to develop an individual strategy for communicating with that specific recruit.

Let’s go back to the example of the opportunity for a prospect to start for you as a Freshman, rather than sit on the bench for a year or so at another program. Knowing now that she might be tempted to play it safe and choose that other option, you might want to ask her questions that get to the center of her worldview:

“If you play for the other program, you probably wouldn’t be able to play right away. Tell me why you’re thinking this might be o.k. for you?”

“What is it about starting right away for a college program that might seem a little intimidating for you? What worries you or makes you nervous when you picture that in your mind?”

“Walk me through the pros and cons of playing right away for a program.”

Those three sample questions aren’t trying to “sell” a prospect on doing it your way. They are questions designed to find out what your recruit’s view is, so that you can then adapt your argument to fit that view.

(This is also very much the same concept of “collaborating versus negotiating” that we’ve discussed before. It’s always much more effective to come alongside a prospect, instead of sit across a table and negotiate with them over a point of view).

This idea is something that requires a wholesale philosophical change in the way that a recruiting message is structured. That’s why most coaches who read this won’t do it; it’s always going to be more expedient to just sell, sell, sell and let the chips fall where they may.

That’s the challenge for serious college coaches:

Invest the time in creating a smarter, more effective approach, or continuing with an old style of recruiting that requires your recruit to quickly buying what you’re selling.

 

The Customer ISN’T Always Right (and Neither Are Your Recruits)Monday, October 19th, 2015

It was a revolutionary idea back in 1909.

Harry Selfridge, an American entrepreneur who began Selfridge’s Department Store in London at the turn of the century, coined the phrase – and the philosophy – that “the customer is always right.”  It was meant to reassure retail shoppers at the time that they were going to control the shopping experience and that their complaints would be listened to and treated seriously.  It was a revolutionary idea at the time.

But then, in 1914, a counter-philosophy began taking hold. After years of customers taking advantage of the good natured intent of the rule and abusing the kindness of retailers, it was time to re-think the adage.

“If we adopt the policy of admitting whatever claims the customer makes to be proper, and if we always settle them at face value, we shall be subjected to inevitable losses”, wrote Frank Farrington, author of the 1914 book Successful Salesmanship: Is the Customer Always Right?  “If the customer is made perfectly to understand what it means for him to be right, what right on his part is, then he can be depended on to be right if he is honest, and if he is dishonest, a little effort should result in catching him at it.” In short, the customer isn’t always right in the world of retail business.

This has direct application to your recruiting one hundred years later:

Your recruits, and their parents, are dishonest with you at times and are just plain wrong in the way they deal with you during the recruiting process.

The problem that compounds this?  Most college coaches allow it to happen.

Your job as a college coach, as I emphasize in the recruiting training workshops we have done for college athletic departments for more than a decade, is to control the sales process. Somebody has to do it…either you, or your recruit and his or her parents. Since we work for all of you, I vote for you!

That means that there are going to be several times during the recruiting process that you are going to have to identify your prospects as being wrong about something, and require a change in their thinking.

Here are some of the top ways your recruits are going to be wrong during the recruiting process, and what you should do to re-direct their thinking if you want to successfully manage their recruiting process:

Your recruit will easily give in to common misconceptions about your school or program. This will happen earlier rather than later in the process, and if it isn’t corrected and called-out as “wrong” then you will have let it become fact, and it will rule the rest of your recruiting conversation with that athlete and his or her family. Note the root cause of this problem: You. We can’t blame the athlete, who is using limited information and has never gone through the process before, for trying to come to some initial definitions (positive or negative) about you and your program. That’s to be expected, especially if you haven’t won a national championship lately, aren’t in a great location, cost too much, don’t have a successful program history, can’t brag about your extensive resume…you get the picture.

The person that can be blamed is you, since you and you alone are the voice that can correct those common misconceptions quickly and effectively. Most coaches, however, don’t do that. They give in to definition that their prospect has wrongly created, and begin the recruiting process with two strikes against them.

Don’t do it. Correct their perception of your program, and re-define it for them boldly and in as much detail as possible.  And, do it as early as possible. Once we decide something is true, we don’t like being proven wrong and seldom change our mind. Don’t let that happen with your recruit.

Your recruit will tell you they need more time. More time to look at other schools. More time to think about your offer. More time to come back for another visit. In general, “more time” is the same as telling you “I don’t want to make a final decision.”  Even recruits that we interview for our clients as a part of our ongoing strategic work in developing their recruiting message tell us that much of the time they knew they were going to commit to that program, but just didn’t want to make it official…or they were scared to end the recruiting process…or they felt like if they waited another bigger, ‘better’ program would come calling.

For the majority of your prospects, it’s imperative that you set a fair but firm deadline. It’s wrong for your recruits to think that they can control the process and make you wait. It’s your job as a coach to give them the direction that they need to understand your timeline for making a decision.

(Note: This is not a universal rule, certainly. There are situations where you will strategically want to give your prospect more time, and where waiting puts you in a better position to get that athlete. However, in the majority of cases, college coaches don’t direct their recruits strongly enough, resulting in the recruit and his or her family dictating when they will give you a decision. And as I’m sure you’ll agree, most of the time that isn’t to your benefit).

Your recruit lists objections as to why your school or program isn’t going to be right for them.  Sometimes, they’re right. Much of the time, they’re wrong. (And most of the time, the reason they’re wrong is because you haven’t corrected them about the common misconceptions about your school or program, as we talked about a few paragraphs earlier).

Objections are not bad. They are needed in the recruiting process! Tell me about the last top-tier recruit you had who didn’t have any questions, objections, hesitations, or arguments with you about your school. When was the last time that happened? Almost never.

You need to address each objection, and correct it. When your prospect objects to something you have presented, or in the way that they view your college, it’s because they want to know why they should think differently. Read that again, Coach. When your prospect throws out a reason that they aren’t sure your program is going to be right for them, most of the time they want you to give them a counter-opinion as to why they are wrong. You need to do that, Coach. (Here is a quick video primer on the steps to do that).

Do you get the idea, Coach? It’s your job to set the standards, manage the timeline, and correct false assumptions. In short, you need to tell your recruit – your “customer” – when he or she (or the parents, or their coach) is wrong.

If you don’t, nobody will. And if nobody does, the inmates will continue to run the asylum.

Learn more of these kinds of advanced recruiting philosophies and techniques by enrolling in Tudor University, our online training and certification class for college recruiters. It’s an effective way to gain the edge on your recruiting competition! Click here to get started.

How College Coaches Control The Future Of SpecializationSunday, October 11th, 2015

wayneby Wayne Mazzoni, Pitching Coach, Sacred Heart University

I hope all college coaches reading this agree with this statement: The specialization of young athletes is an epidemic we must take part in changing.

To do this, let’s look at the facts and trends. Over the past 15 years there has been a strong movement by people/coaches to make a living from their sport. These are generally well meaning people who enjoy coaching young people, but in an effort to make a living doing what they do, try to get their pool of kids to pay for their coaching services not only in their primary season, but in as many off-seasons as possible. Some of these coaches give priority attention and playing time to their best customers and thus creating an environment where others feel they need to do the same to keep up. In addition, often times these coaches tell their players and parents that not only is playing their sport for two, three, sometimes four seasons is the only way to develop to play in college, but that this is what college coaches want!

So we are left with young athletes and their parents not knowing any better any who think the only way to develop, and in fact keep up, is to narrow their focus on what they spend their time doing. But this is completely contrary to the way we were all raised. It is also completely contrary to raising a healthy, physically and emotionally balanced child. Worse yet, it also seems to put a focus on the future and making that sport seem like an “investment”. It is not an investment. It is a fun, competitive way for children to grow as people. If an 8 year old is hitting baseballs all winter so his parents get rewarded with his recruiting or a scholarship down the road, then we have completely lost our minds. Plenty of other things for a kid to do in the winter. Wrestle, play basketball, ski, walk in the woods with his dog, you name it. If he loves baseball he can find the time to hit or play a day or two a week during the winter and still be involved in other things.

I am not telling anyone how to live, trust me. I am still figuring out live like everyone else. But I do know when I hear a nine year old only play soccer all year round, give up family time, friend time, to devote to this one sport, this one endeavor, I feel like I’m living on Mars. I just don’t get it.

This concept seems to continue in high school. Kids who either would like to play two or three sports start getting the message that to be really good you have to spend time on just one sport. Most of us know better. We know that the more sports you play, the more skills you build, that will help you be a better overall athlete and better in your primary sport.

As college coaches, I think it is our duty to let all people we come in contact with, whether it be at coaches clinics, speeches, during recruiting, or even around the office, it is important we let everyone know how we feel. Recently helping coach my son’s 6th grade football team I saw the older brother of one of our players. Big kid, great shape. He was a very good high school football player. But when I asked him how the season was going, he said he gave up football (as a hs junior) to play fall lacrosse. He said he was getting attention from the lacrosse coach at my school (Sacred Heart University). So I said to the kid, “Do you think Coach Basti would rather you play lax or football this fall?” The kid replied that obviously the coach would want him to be playing lacrosse. Having had this conversation with many of my fellow coaches, across many sports, I went on to tell the kid that I was 100% sure that coach would prefer him to play football and told him all the reasons why. He was floored and said he would give it a second thought.

When I ask the players on my college baseball team if they have any regrets about their sports experience, to a man, they always tell me they wish they had not given up playing another sport when they were in high school. They realized later that this is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and you don’t get to even play high school basketball again when you get older.

While I am a big public school proponent, this is one of the things I love about private/prep schools. Many of them in New England require athletes to play three sports, thus making them well rounded as people, teammates, and athletes. Often times you hear about a kid who did something he never did before and loved it. We have a freshman pitcher on my team now who went to Canterbury School and had to pick up diving to meet this requirement. He said he went into it pretty skeptical but came out loving the whole experience.

Let’s do our part to let all our recruits, friends, family, and community know that believe kids should play multiple sports. If not formally on their school teams, then pick up a golf club, tennis raquet, or even bike or skate board and do something athletic outside of what they plan on doing their four years in college. Specialization will come soon enough, why rush it?

Wayne Mazzoni is the pitching coach at Sacred Heart University and writes his blog at www.CoachMazz.com

Confirming Your New Prospect’s Interest: How Do You Know If They’re Serious?Monday, September 7th, 2015

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What’s On Their Minds?Monday, June 1st, 2015

by Ingrid Rockovich, NCSA Athletic Recruiting

It’s one thing to find all of your potential recruits in one place. But learning how to make your program seem more viable to talented recruits that would be great fits academically and socially?

Between other coaches providing advice, consultants who are hired to help advise you in your search for recruits, and recruiting services who work with recruits every day, knowing where to find definitive insights into the mind of a high school prospect can be pretty difficult.

In an effort to make recruiting easier and lessen the mystery of working with high school prospects, we would like to share some of what we know about how prospects feel about the recruiting process.

There’s something unique about hearing these stories directly from student-athletes: to hear about what they went through, to hear about what scared them or intimidated them, how they were able to succeed and to hear about their final decisions is a pretty powerful experience.

In order to share that experience with others, we started this blog – Recruited Today. This blog is full of stories from prospects about their experiences throughout the recruiting process.

It is our hope that these stories can provide coaches with the real stories about what it’s like to be a high school prospect today and help better the recruiting process for everyone.

Keep an eye on this blog for new stories every day.

Is Your Program the $2 Bill of College Recruiting?Monday, March 30th, 2015

That’s a picture of a $2 bill sitting our counter at home.

In and off itself, that’s not unusual except for the fact that I have teenagers in the house, and loose cash never sits unaccompanied for very long.

But we’re going on three weeks of this $2 bill just lying around, in a place that gets passed by many times a day in our house.  I noticed that it remained untouched about two weeks ago, and now it’s become a sociological experiment.

An experiment that could have some direct implications for you and your program’s recruiting efforts.

Here’s what I mean:

In our experience of working with college coaches, we’ve kept track of some of the things that seem to keep a prospect from actively engaging with recruiters.  You see, there’s this delicate balance of being outgoing, creative, interesting and respected that sometimes crosses over into odd, bothersome or just plain weird.

I think that is what’s going on with our poor ignored $2 bill: Do I really want to hand a cashier a $2 bill?  What if they don’t notice it’s a $2 and they don’t give me the right change? What if they look at me like, “Are you serious, mister?”  It’s like the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin they issued a few decades ago. Seriously?…you want me to carry around  10-pounds of loose change that looks the same as a quarter?

I don’t want to see you being viewed that way when you interact with your next recruit, Coach. So I wanted to pass along several of the red flags that your prospect might view with that “are-you-crazy???” look in their eyes. Nothing too scientific, just general observations I’ve made in our work with our roster of clients:

Your first phone call goes past ten minutes. Your prospect is already a little uneasy about speaking with an adult on the phone – a device that they haven’t grown up with, at least the talking-into-it part. So when a coach takes the attitude that they’re going to try and prove how much the prospect means to them by spending 45 minutes on the phone with them the first time they talk, it is received negatively more than 8 out of ten times, according to our research.

You’re social media posts are a little too immature.  By “immature” I mean you come across as trying to be too much like a kid. Your prospects are really good at picking out the coaches that are trying too hard, and once they come to that conclusion it’s very hard to regain that command and respect most coaches want to establish.  It’s a fine line, because you don’t want to be so stiff and all-business that they aren’t able to relate to you, yet at the same time you can’t abandon your role as their recruiter and their coach. But once that fuzzy, hard-to-define line is crossed, you risk becoming that weird little $2 bill that sits around wondering what’s wrong with you.

You hang around the prospect and your team during a recruiting visit to your campus.  One of the complaints we’ve heard over the last decade from your college athletes while we are working with athletic departments conducting our recruiting workshops is that a coach at a college they were visiting never left their sight. We’ve heard athletes describe visits to schools where the coach would call the hosts every 30 minutes to check in, or hover around conversations and valuable team/prospect time, causing them to sometimes ask the current team members, “Is he always like this?”  Or, “doesn’t she ever let you guys be on your own?”  They notice how you are acting when they are on campus visiting your school, Coach. That’s why we devote an entire chapter in our book, “Freaking Awesome Campus Recruiting Visits” to create a new model visit with your current team, train them to conduct the visit, and then trust your hosts enough to get out of the way and let your team do the bulk of the recruiting.  It works, and it preserves your identity and a confident, normal college coach who gives off a positive vibe to his or her recruits.

You’re only sending them “business” communication.  Let me define that: Updates on your team’s performance, your monthly email newsletter, a new academic ranking from your school, news of a professor who was named tops in his or her field of study…it is very, very, very rare that one of your prospects is going to care enough about that singular event (or a string of those events) to cause them to choose you as their top choice.  As I’m tying this article, I can think of three instances where an athlete looked back on his or her recruiting experiences and was able to talk about “business communication” from a coach being the thing that swayed them to come to their school.  And that is out of thousands upon thousands of focus group conversations that we’ve conducted heading into second decade of work with college coaches.  The truth is, most (not all) send that out because it’s “something to send the recruits” and it’s easy.  It requires little effort in a day filled with a hundred other more important uses for your time.  But my warning remains: Relying on that kind of communication will not get consistent results, especially if you’re trying to set your sights on that “next level recruit” most coaches want to attract.

Not asking them for a commitment during their visit, or at least outlining what their status is. In fairness, this isn’t “weird” for your recruit. It’s just incredibly disappointing, and causes them to question what your intentions are. Even if you aren’t their top choice during your visit to campus, they want – and expect – to be pursued.  They are looking for a serious commitment from you, because I can tell you that when they make the effort to come to campus (even if it’s an official visit and you’re paying for it) they view that as a big commitment on their part. How you ask for a commitment, or outline your plan and their status, is going to vary strategically from recruit to recruit.  But the important thing I want you to know is that if you don’t do that, it’s highly disappointing to them.  And, it can negate any of the positive feelings you and your team has earned in the recruit’s eyes as they leave campus empty handed.

Why do they still print $2 bills?  I don’t know…perhaps so grandmothers around the country can have some creative to give to their grandchildren inside of a birthday greeting card.

Why do coaches still make some of these very basic, easy-to-fix mistakes?  I don’t know that either. But I’m guessing it’s in the absence of a better plan, and a better recruiting strategy.  Or, worst of all, because “that’s the way they’ve always done it.”

Just hear my plea: Your prospects are actively looking to see if you’re a coach who they would enjoy competing for, and like being around. Do everything in your power to demonstrate that you are that coach.

 

We will expand on this topic at the upcoming National Collegiate Recruiting Conference. You need to be a part of that, Coach. You can register here to reserve your seat and get all of the details about the upcoming event.

 

Why We Should All Care About the Little College That’s ClosingMonday, March 9th, 2015

Sweet Briar College is closing it’s doors.  And that makes me sad.

I know quite a few of the coaches there, and they are all good people who worked hard.  I was honored to be on their campus several years ago.  It’s a beautiful place, with 114 years of tradition under it’s belt.

And it’s closing.  Financially, and I’m over-simplifying the situation here, they aren’t making ends meet.  They are shutting their doors, and everyone suffers.  The community, the coaches, and the athletes (here’s an excellent article by my friend, and former SBC lacrosse coach, Hillary London wrote for ESPN on the topic).

In 2007, I began doing some simple research for an athletic director who was a client, and came to a rather abrupt, yet undeniable, conclusion:

There are too many colleges, and not enough incoming college students.  I’ve been sounding that alarm to anyone in college athletics who will listen ever since.  I’m pleased that Mark Cuban reaches the same conclusion; not because I am looking for more colleges to close, but because I want college coaches and athletic directors to view this as a very real “canary in the coal mine”.

There will be more colleges that won’t make it.  And before they close, their athletic departments will be cut back.  Severely cut back.

Since you, as a coach or athletic director, have only a small measure of control over what happens to the larger student loan and budget conversation beginning to happen inside your school’s President’s office on the other side of campus, here’s what I would want to see you doing.

If what I think is going to happen is actually going to happen, I don’t want it happen to you and your college:

Make recruiting your number one priority.  If you’re a small college, the quantity and quality of the athletes you bring to campus is vitally important.  Not only to your athletic department, but to your admissions department.  If you’re at a larger school, you should already be doing this.

Understand your school and department’s budget situation. You need to be a part of the solution.  To do that, you need to know what the challenges are.  Strengthening your college and athletic department should be a team effort.

Find ways to become self-sufficient. The Ivy League has seen their athletic departments become self-sufficient through a sustained, intelligent financial plan. More colleges will follow suit, primarily because of necessity. Will your athletic department be ready to take on the challenge?  Will your individual sports program be ready for the challenge?

Develop your recruiting skills.  If we are seeing the genesis of some kind of grand Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest world of college sports emerging, you’ll fall in one of two categories.  As my old football coach used to say, “You’re either the bug or the windshield.” More and more head coaches and athletic directors are going to be looking for individuals who can recruit.  Period.  The X’s and O’s knowledge?  Yes, that’s important.  Your recruiting knowledge? It’s going to be even more important asset in your coaching career toolbox.  Develop those skills. Become great at it.  It may just be the thing that saves your career.

There is a creative, passionate effort to save Sweet Briar College following the shocking announcement of their impending closure. I’m going to donate, and I would encourage you to do so, as well.

As a college coach interested in avoiding this storyline unfolding on your campus, hear my call: It’s time to become more than just a coach.  It’s time for you to be a better marketer, a more informed financial expert, and a more consistent recruiter.

Fast Food Menu Mayhem and Your Recruiting MessageMonday, December 22nd, 2014

It hurts your eyes, doesn’t it?

It’s a visual overload.  This fast food restaurant near my home town doesn’t know when to say when, when it comes to their menu.

They’ve used every available square inch of their available frontage to show nearly everything on their menu.  From Philly Cheesesteak, to the Shrimp Basket Dinner, to Drinks with Crushed Ice, to Cones, to Burgers…it’s an avalanche of fried food mayhem.

Unfortunately, it resembles the approach that many college coaches take with their messages out to recruits, especially the messages at the start of the recruiting process.  I’ve reviewed letters that cover everything from the number of majors their school offers, to the acreage of the campus, to the conference they play in (and that’s just in the first two paragraphs).  I’ve reviewed emails from coaches that bounce from subject to subject without any kind of connection.  I’ve listened in on phone calls that cover every topic under the sun on the first conversation.

In short, it looks quite a bit like this fast food message: A frantic, unfocused plea to like something about what’s being offered, even though it’s difficult to understand exactly what the specialty of that particular restaurant might be (other than frying stuff).

We’ve covered this topic before, of course.  But let me give you some added ideas on what your prospects want from your initial messages – and how to make sure it comes across both loudly, and clearly:

  • If possible, tell them where you saw them or how you found out about them.  This seemingly obvious idea is mostly ignored by college coaches when they first reach out to a recruit.  And yet, recruits tell us it’s one of the easiest ways for them to determine that you are serious about them initially.  It gives them context for why you are reaching out to them, and – most importantly – why they should take the time to reply back to you.
  • If possible, tell them what you like about them.  I say “if possible” for these top two recommendations because I realize that sometimes you are recruiting from a list, or from a reputable recruiting database, and may not have detailed scouting notes in front of you when you reach out to your new prospect.  However, if you do, use those notes.  Be specific about two or three positives that you saw from their performance and from their information.  It’s another important way to tell them that they are uniquely qualified, in your eyes, to be considered for your program.  When coaches are able to include these first two points in their initial messages, it increases replies by almost a 3-to-1 margin versus a more generic, non-specific message.
  • Less is more.  In your initial message, the worst thing you can do is explain everything about your college, your program, and your team.  If you want a response from your prospect, that is.  That’s because our research clearly shows that recruits are most apt to respond out of curiosity instead of information.  Be short, to the point, and leave room for their curiosity to take over.
  • Be clear about what you want them to do next.  And, narrow it down to just one thing.  Make it simple (“reply back to my email before Friday”) versus complicated and time-intensive (“fill out our online questionnaire”).  At the beginning of your communication with a prospect, your goal is a conversation, not a conversion.  Aim to get a back-and-forth conversation going, and let the relationship (and their interest) build from there.
  • Pick one main theme, and build your reputation around it.  Do you ever notice that the great restaurants in your area usually focus on one thing that is done very, very well?  The great Italian restaurant…the amazing seafood restaurant…there is always a single focus to their greatness.  There’s a simplicity to it all.  That is what more college coaches need to do: Pick one big idea that can gain the initial interest from a recruit, and build around it as the relationship grows.  It could be your area, your academic prowess, the three straight conference championships that your team has won.  Whatever it is, pick one thing and start there with your story.  As time the conversation grows with your recruit, you’ll have time to get into the rest of what’s great about your college.  But be patient, and don’t overload them with information right at the start.

You’ll notice in the picture of the restaurant above that some people are still going in to eat, despite the signage outside.  It’s on a busy corner, so it’s almost impossible not to get people coming in to eat just by virtue of where it’s located.  And, those people wandering in will probably leave feeling full. (Maybe even a little bloated).

But does the business stand out?  Does the menu get talked about?  Does the restaurant become a destination?  Not likely.

You’re probably always going to be able to fill-out a roster and field a team.  But without a clear message to your recruits, it’s going to be nearly impossible to bring in the difference makers that most college coaches crave.

Looking for help with developing a clearer, more focused messages to your recruits? Dan Tudor and the staff at Tudor Collegiate Strategies works with college coaches and their programs around the country on a personalized basis.  To discuss your situation and how the program would work with you, email Dan Tudor directly at dan@dantudor.com. 

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