As has happened before, the NCAA has slammed on the breaks and skidded off to the shoulder of the road right before taking the proverbial exit towards recruiting communication reform.
The proposed rules would have allowed a greater variety of contact over longer periods of time, starting sooner. Some coaches and conferences objected to the new rules, and the NCAA announced that they were going to take a longer look at the impact of the proposed changes.
Of course, many upper division coaching staffs are already recruiting Freshmen and Sophomores and desperately trying to find better ways to communicate with them. This latest chapter in the ever-increasing trend of early recruiting just means that club and AAU coaches will continue to exert significant influence over the process as they maintain their cherished roles as gatekeepers in your quest to get verbal commitments from top quality pre-driver’s license teenagers before your buddies down the street can get their commitment.
Regardless of your position on whether the reforms were good or bad for college sports, one fact remains: You need to contact young recruits before you can tell your story in a traditional way through phone calls, emails and letters. With that in mind, here’s a list of what we recommend for coaches who need to continue to recruit prospects using Macgyver-like tricks to lure the right kid to campus:
- Pretend the new rules are in place. Try to find creative, legal ways to brand your program early with a focus on prompting communication. Specifically, the younger prospects reaching out to contact you.
- Social media is big, but it’s not the secret formula. It’s a great way to reach out and have simple back-and-forth conversations with a recruit, but it currently has limits on how well it can give them the logical reasons to choose you. Use it to set-up contact, but continue to find diverse ways to tell your overall story. Seriously, this is important, Coach.
- Brand your program to younger prospects through pictures and short, non-sport related video. Want to know the best use for your Twitter account, Instagram or Facebook fan page? “Showing” your prospects what life around your program is all about. Please, in the name of all that is holy, stop posting press releases and stories about the new library renovations. They want to see where they’re going to eat, the sand volleyball game by the dorms on a Saturday, teammates going shopping at the mall down the street from the college, or a picture of your messy desk. Anything that humanizes you and your program, and talks about more than the sports side of your life and theirs. Social media is the ideal venue for that! (Are your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages reflecting what they want?)
- Understand what club and high school coaches want: Respect, and to be included in the process as one of your peers. The biggest thing the proposed rules would have done would be to lesson the impact the role of the current coaches of your recruits in the early recruiting conversation. But as the saying goes, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Make an effort in this next recruiting cycle to communicate with the coaches of your recruits on a consistent, ongoing basis. And I’m not just talking about asking them to pass along emails or other messages to your prospects (although, yes, you need to continue to do that); I’m talking about “recruiting” them, too. The research we’ve conducted is clear: Those coaches what to be respected and be included in the process, and the best way we’ve found to do that is to mail, email and talk to them on a regular basis (which results in them being more likely to pass along your messages to their recruits, and…dare we dream?…actually recommend you to them.
- Spend more time talking to their parents. The Freshman or Sophomore recruit you really want really wants you to talk to their mom or dad. Proportionally, you can’t go wrong with an 80/20 plan – eighty percent of phone call time with the parents, twenty percent with the recruit. This is especially true with younger recruits, who feel inadequately equipped to talk to you, who they view as powerful and intimidating. Spend time on the phone with the parents finding out what they want out of the process, what they see as a right fit for their son or daughter’s college career, and what they might have available on their calendar for an early unofficial visit to campus.
- Tell the parents and your recruit about the type of kid that’s not right for you and your program. The secret here is that you want them to start selling you on why they would be a good fit for your program. The easiest way to do that is to define who isn’t right for you and what you don’t like in an athlete, and then wait for them to explain why their son or daughter is nothing like that. This is a great principle to use to shift the focus from you selling yourself to them, to them selling themselves to you. Try this the next time you have your new recruit or their parents on the phone for the first time and watch how they follow this script that I’ve laid out…you’ll make it part of your regular recruiting strategy.
- Set up a standing appointment to talk. For younger recruits, you still can’t initiate regular phone calls until they are entering their Senior year. Try flipping it around and ask them what they could commit to in terms of placing a regular phone call to you. Same day of the week, same time. Have a goal of twice a month, and promise them it will be no more than 7 or 8 minutes long, and that you’ll have two amazingly interesting questions for them each time they talk so they won’t be wasting their time.
- Develop amazingly interesting questions. (click here if you need a jump-start for ideas)
- Make sure they’re hearing from the head coach. One of the things we’ve seen from programs big and small is an artificial hierarchy of coaching contacts reaching out to them. At the beginning, its an assistant. Then after a while, they might “earn” the right to hear from someone higher on the coaching depth chart. And then, only after they grace you with their presence on campus, they are allowed to interact with the head coach. If you were running a mafia crime family, this is proper protocol. If you’re a coach who wants to eliminate any questions as to how important they are to your program, and how serious you are about recruiting them, it’s a horribly outdated approach – one that your more savvy competitors are happy to exploit to their benefit.
- Don’t be in a rush for them to visit campus. In other words, don’t make that the next thing that should happen after the first phone call or email exchange. In the workshops we are asked to do on college campuses, I’ll often use the example of moving from casually flirting with a high school sweetheart to immediately jumping to planning on a day to get your marriage license together. In the teenage brain, that’s the equivalent to asking your recruit to come to campus. Why? Because they don’t like you yet, and probably aren’t ready to make that jump to committing to interacting with you in person on your home turf. Be patient. In fact, tell them that you are going to be the program that doesn’t force them to rush to campus…that you’re more interested in making sure you get to know each other first, and develop good back-and-forth communication for a few months.
- Commit to be in the race for the long haul. If you’re recruiting a prospect beginning in their Freshman or Sophomore year, don’t worry about being first right out of the gate. You want to win at the end, not the beginning. Position yourself intelligently and strategically for a long race, and let other coaches get frustrated and miscalculate how to pace themselves correctly.
It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start towards positioning yourself as a coach who is going to find a way to operate intelligently as if the new recruiting allowances are in place.
“Early recruiting” is here to stay. Be the coach that pulls up a chair and gets comfortable with it.
We’ll be discussing the latest NCAA regulations and how it further affects coaches at the upcoming National Collegiate Recruiting Conference. There is still time to register if you’re a coach who wants to be proactive, and formulate a smarter plan using high-level information as you aim for the best of the best in this next recruiting class. It’s an amazingly instructive weekend, Coach!