A national restaurant power like Taco Bell employs smart, well-educated people to craft a branding message that results in increased business and loyalty to their menu and story. Literally tens of millions of dollars of carefully crafted advertising is dedicated to telling this story every year, in just the right way and with just the right balance of entertainment and information.
All of that marketing expertise, all of the money, and all of the carefully crafted marketing messages…they’re down the drain. All because of a kid and his friends killing time with a cell phone camera.
In the same way that fast food restaurants try to clamp down on their minimum wage employees so that they don’t ruin the marketing strategy and brand name of the corporations they work for, colleges and coaches tend to try to clamp down on their student-athletes. Many athletic departments view them as liabilities waiting to happen in the recruiting process (“What if they take that recruit to the frat party?” “How do we know what they’re going to be doing for those ten hours overnight?” “What if they tell the prospect about what happened at practice the other day?”).
And then there’s the military. They know that the best way to make peace with a local population and establish roots in a new territory is through the efforts of soldiers – the lowest paid, most junior-ranking members of the military. Handing out candy, talking to local children, helping to re-build a school…those things are the basis of a theory called Krulak’s Law, named for Marine Corps Commandant General Charles C. Krulak. He talked about it in a 1999 article titled, The Strategic Corporal:
“In many cases, the individual Marine will be the most conspicuous symbol of American foreign policy and will potentially influence not only the immediate tactical situation, but the operational and strategic levels as well. His actions, therefore, will directly impact the outcome of the larger operation; and he will become, as the title of this article suggests – the Strategic Corporal.”
Which brings us to you, Coach. How are you using your army of “boots on the ground” – your team – to recruit your next class of athletes?
So much of it depends on the quality and individual personality skill-sets of your team that it is virtually impossible for me to outline a four point one-size-fits-all plan that will work for every coach in every situation. That said, there are some general principles and key questions I think are important to talk about so that coaches can craft their own approach in how they use their current team to recruit their future team.
The first point I’ll make is that, in my opinion, not using or limiting your current team of student-athletes in the recruiting process is a mistake. That goes beyond a personal opinion, and really points to the research which clearly points to the interaction with your team being one of the biggest contributors to your “brand” in the eyes of a recruit. Want to overcome subpar facilities and a town that isn’t all that exciting on a Saturday night? Get them to fall in love with the guys on your team. Want to see nine months of intense recruiting efforts go up in smoke in a matter of seconds? Let them spend time with that jaded, dissatisfied Senior who you just benched (trust me, they have no problem with licking the taco shells in front of one of your recruits).
It’s your job as a college coach to not only put together great game plans for competitive success, but also great game plans to build your team and make them part of this crucial recruiting effort you engage in each and every year. To do that, I feel one of your primary responsibilities is to understand what’s going on with your team personally, from top to bottom. Unlike the starting line-up you’ll take into a competitive contest, every team member matters when it comes to your recruiting effort.
One of the key questions each coach needs to address in formulating a strategy for recruiting interactions with their teams is who will make up that primary contact – underclassmen or your upperclassmen? Without a doubt, we have seen underclassmen make a bigger impact in the process versus their older counterparts. They are closer in age to your recruits (who seem to get younger and younger every year), which is important. Your recruits want to know who they will be competing with – in fact, we’ve heard numerous college athletes look back at their own recruiting process and point out how irrelevant meeting and hanging-out with a team’s Juniors and Seniors is. Why? It’s pretty basic: They know those older athletes won’t be around when they finally join your team. Why have them spend time with those older student-athetes?
Another key question for a coach to answer is how to incorporate time with student-athletes in their recruit’s visit schedule to campus. From what I’ve seen play out in thousands of recruiting scenarios, more time with your younger athletes is always going to be better than less time. Even if it means fewer meetings with older men in bow ties in an ivy covered building on the other side of campus? Especially if it means fewer of those meetings! Your success rate for recruiting visits will rise proportionally with the amount of time you allow your recruits to just hang out with your current team.
But what about those disaster scenarios you have looping through your mind as a college coach who is leery of handing over so much power to a group of new teenagers who have been on campus a few weeks or a few months? The biggest piece of advice I can give you as a coach that would make you feel more at ease is to encourage you to meet with your team as soon as possible, standing in front of them with a white board and a dry erase marker, and have them establish what they should do with a recruit, what they shouldn’t do with a recruit, and what they will do to keep each other accountable. Have them establish their own rules of what gets talked about and what stays private, as well as where they should and should not take a visiting prospect.
Coaches who have gone through this exercise know that it’s extremely effective, and will actually make your team more enthusiastic about hosting visits – especially if you convey the idea that they get a voice in the process. Let them know you want their two cents at the end of the visit to determine whether or not you should recruit that athlete. Of course, your vote trumps their opinion. But I will say that in my experience, your team is usually right on the money when it comes to how that recruit will fit in to your current team culture. Pay attention to them, Coach…they instinctively know who’s right for your team.
Whatever rules you decide to establish, understand that your team has incredible power to promote – or irreversibly damage – your brand. As the chief architect of that brand, I suggest you devote time to establishing the right culture and message in conjunction with your team. If you do, you’ll like the results.