Dan Tudor

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Making Sure Your Team Isn’t Licking the Taco ShellsTuesday, September 10th, 2013

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.

And then a minimum wage employee licks the tacos shells. Or, across the street at Dominos, they’re doing horrible things to your pizza.

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.

Building Traditions: What Is Your Selling Point?Monday, January 7th, 2013

by Ellen Sawin, NCSA College Relations

College sports are home to some of the nation’s most famous traditions: Wisconsin football fans “Jumping Around” before the 4th quarter, Florida fans “Gator Chomping” at their opponents, the Fighting Irish slapping their “Play Like A Champion” sign as they take to the field, and so on. High school athletes dream of playing for a team with a tradition and fan base like these. But less than 1% will realize that dream. One school is changing that…

Picture this:

A gym packed to capacity with college kids and community members lining the court. Everyone is dressed in eccentric and hilarious outfits.  And the crowd is perfectly still and dead silent. Two teams take to the court and nothing changes. Play begins and the crowd remains silent. Both teams put points on the board, and the crowd doesn’t make a sound. Then, the home team scores their 10th point… and suddenly the gym erupts in absolute madness.

Sounds like a top tier Division I athletic event, but this occurs at Taylor University, a small NAIA school in Upland, Indiana. It’s their annual Silent Night Game (see a video version here). The tradition originated in the early 1990s and goes well beyond silence and then cheering at the 10th point. The entire crowd also comes together throughout the game for other crazy events, including this year’s half-time dance to “Gangnam Style,” where fans danced right onto the court. And the game concludes with the crowd singing the famous Christmas carol, Silent Night.

Even though Taylor University isn’t the nation’s largest or most well-known University, news and video of this event is spreading like wild fire, garnering them national notoriety. They’re changing the stakes in the recruiting game. They’ve proven that a team from any level can make headlines and develop a tradition of value to their university, athletes, fans and community.

Taylor’s tradition gives a handful of the more than 99% of high school athletes who won’t play at the Division I level, the opportunity to realize their dream of playing in front of a sellout, loyal, and involved crowd. This is a valuable selling point when recruiting high school athletes.

 

How to Know What to Ask to Find the Right FitMonday, February 8th, 2010

by Mandy Green, Selling for Coaches 

I have been working with a lot of coaches lately who have experienced a string of disappointments with their recruits (such as poor performance, attitude problems and personality conflicts) because they failed to find that right personality fit for their program and team. 

If you are like every other coach out there, you spend a lot of time getting to know them as an athlete, you build a personal relationship, get them to commit, and truly believe that they are going to work out to be the difference maker your program needs.   Then for some reason, they don’t turn out quite like you thought they would on and or off of the competitive field. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you take the time to plan your recruiting process more carefully, you will see a huge payoff in the end in the performance and chemistry of your team. Recruiting is the lifeblood of your program, and choosing who to recruit doesn’t need to be such a gamble if you approach it strategically.

A key part of the recruiting process is developing good behavioral type questions to ask via email, over the phone, or even better, when you are face to face with them in your office.  Here are 6 tips for digging deeper in an effort to find the recruits that will in fact be positive additions to your program:

1. First, know what kind of person you are looking for.  Notice I said person, not athlete.  A mistake I see a lot of coaches make is they recruit the athlete and don’t do much digging into what their values are, their leadership capabilities, and other character based qualities about the person.  Start by making a list of your own values and character qualities. Then list what values and character you want in the people in your program. 

2. Before you meet with a recruit, formulate and know the types of questions you want to ask recruits that will get you the information you need.  If you don’t, you run the risk of the conversation turning into an informal conversation, and you’ll end up offering a scholarship or roster spot to someone because you like him or her, not because he or she is the best fit for your program and team. 

3. To get the best information from your recruits, you want them to be comfortable with you. To do this, it is best to start off with questions that are easy to answer. This puts these 16-18 year olds you’re recruiting at ease and gives you an opportunity to develop rapport with them.

• What are the first three things you do when you get up in the morning?
• What music is on your IPod?
• What do you love about your current team?

By building trust and confidence at the beginning of the conversation through questions like these, you will be in a much better position to discover the recruit’s attitudes, beliefs and past patterns of performance.

4. After you’ve warmed-up the recruit, you can then move to behavioral questions that will tell you how well they have demonstrated the values or characteristics that you have determined are critical to your program’s development, culture, and team. The thinking behind these types of questions is that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. 

By getting recruits to talk about what they did in a specific situation, you get a glimpse of how they will likely react in a similar situation with your team or in competition. What’s even better, with careful questioning you can start to understand the values and motivations of the person you’re recruiting, and from this decide whether they have the positive attitude, competitiveness, leadership, or decision making abilities that you want in your program. 

Typical lead-ins for any behavioral type questions you may ask include:

• Tell me about a time when…
• Give me an example of…
• Please describe a situation where you…

5. Dig deeper.  A question that gets asked during almost every traditional recruiting conversation goes something like this: "What do you think are your strengths?" The recruit responds with an equally predictable answer like, "I’m very loyal teammate and I put 100% effort into my play."  You can take that information at face value and form a high opinion of the recruit, or you can ask for proof of the person’s loyalty and commitment by asking a question like this: "Tell me about a time when you demonstrated loyalty. Why do you think this specific example shows loyalty?"

6. If you’re not getting useful information from a recruit, try using a negative question: "Tell me about a time when this didn’t work?  What went wrong?  What did you do to correct the situation?  Negative questions can help you discover how well recruits learn from their mistakes, as well as how willing they are to admit mistakes and take responsibility for them.

Every conversation you have whether it is via email, phone, or face to face, is an opportunity to find concrete evidence that a recruit can do what they say, and that what they do will result in a positive outcome once they are a part of your program. When a recruit describes what they did, don’t assume it was done well. You must dig deeper than face value and confirm that what recruits say they did was actually advantageous to their team.

Getting the players who will be a good fit for your program takes preparation and practice. Be prepared to ask questions that will give you the best predictive information about how well a recruit will perform on the job once they are a part of your program. These six tips, if used properly, will bring you much success in finding the recruits that will be a positive addition to your program.

Mandy Green is the resident team development specialist for Selling for Coaches.  For information on bringing Mandy to your college to work with you and your athletes, email her directly at mandy@sellingforcoaches.com.

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