Dan Tudor

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Why Your Recruits Choose “Safe” If You Let ThemMonday, August 6th, 2018

It’s a little after 6:00pm, and I’m two blocks from Times Square in New York City. There are hundreds of great restaurants within walking distance, offering every delicacy known to man. I’ve walked by them before, and swore that “next time” I’d venture in and try one. But every next time, faced with that choice, I opted for my old familiar foodie friend:


When faced with a decision, I cave.

I’ll choose ‘safe’ over the ‘unknown’, and my usual from Chipotle is an easy decision I long ago justified as being smart, relatively healthy, fast and affordable. Not exciting, not new…safe. I look at the other restaurants, and check out their menus online, and read the reviews. But in the end, I settle.

So do your recruits. They did last year, and they will again this year unless you help them make the uncomfortable decision. In New York, I don’t have that personal guide walking along with me, offering me advice and direction on the new restaurant that I just can’t pass up. Instead, I opt for the familiar.

Your recruits do the same thing on a regular basis.

Want to work on changing that for this next recruiting class? Here are four core issues you’re going to have to find a way to take control of if you hope for your prospect to take the lead – bypass their own “Chipotle” – and choose you:

  • Understand the psychology behind their motivation for playing it safe. Most recruits start out adventurous and seemingly open to anything, including what you’re telling them about. That’s a common trait early in the process, but as many coaches discover, it wanes as time goes on. Why? Because most of us gravitate to the familiar and safe. That might come in the form of eventually choosing the school that’s the closest to home, the one that’s the highest division level, best conference, biggest offer, or some other traditionally safe-sounding reason for choosing a particular school. Sometimes, you benefit from being the safe choice. Many other times, you don’t. Just understand, this reasoning is common, and it can be overcome.
  • It’s your responsibility to tell them how to think. That sentence sounds a little manipulative, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you “trick” or “force” your prospects into choosing you; coaches don’t have that power. However, you do have the tools needed to define why your program is going to be the better choice in the end, and doing so with passion and confidence (even if you’re coaching at a school that you’re not that passionate about, and don’t feel all that confident about when it comes to what you offer). You need to clearly lay out the reasons they should take the risk and choose you. If you don’t, who will? Telling your story effectively is one of the foundational ways you begin to change the hearts and minds of your prospects.
  • Ask them why they’re apparently feeling ready to take a big risk. Another key responsibility for coaches is to understand why a recruit is apparently ready to take a risk. For example, you have an interested prospect from several states away who is telling you that she’s open to hearing about your program and your school. The first thing I’d want you to ask is, “So tell me why moving away from home and truly going away to college seems like it might be the right decision for you?” If she comes back with solid reasons as to why she’s looking out of her area, then you’ve got a strong start to that prospect’s recruitment. If, on the other hand, all you get is “oh, I don’t know, I just wanted to see what all my options are, and take some time to look around a little,” you don’t have a true prospect. That scenario can take the form of a lot of different conversations, but the main point is this: If you sense your prospect is taking a risk, or isn’t your typical recruit you usually see interested in your program, ask them early on why they’re interested.
  • Ask them to define their timeline. One of the most important aspects of getting a prospect to leave their safe zone and consider a riskier path is to have them define their timeline for seeing the process move forward, and making their final decision. This process also provides you with a natural transition into the conversation about establishing your own timeline for your program, as well as setting up a fair but firm deadline. For more strategies on how to do that effectively, listen to this podcast we did on the topic. Defining their timeline is a critical final piece for making sure your recruit is ready to seriously consider you and your program.

Coach, make sure you’re looking for what your prospect’s safe options are, and make a plan to gently introduce the idea that you are more than a temporary distraction on their way to making a safe choice. Justify why you’re worth the risk, and reinforce that consistently throughout the early parts of the recruiting process.


Helping Your Prospects Wake-Up From Their Summer DoldrumsTuesday, August 9th, 2016

Think it’s hard for you to get back into the swing of things heading into a new school year, Coach?

It can be even harder for your prospects.

They’ve been working out or playing in tournaments, and they’re burned out. They’ve been on vacation, and they don’t want to face the reality of going back to school. And even if they are coming back to that reality, the last thing they want to start doing is begin making hard decisions about college and their future. It’s much easier to put all of that off, not think about about it, and see if they can drag out the lazy, care-free days of Summer.

That means it’s your job, as a college coach and as a recruiter, to get them to re-focus on the recruiting process. And preferably, get them to to place the bulk of that focus on you.

So as we begin the time of the year when coaches and their college programs rev-up for another year, I wanted to pass along several key engagement strategies we’ve seen work coming out of the Summer and into a new Fall season:

You MUST talk about something new. For recruits that you’ve been talking to for any amount of time, now is the time to introduce something new into the conversation. Our studies are showing that while continuing to tell a consistent, compelling broader story to your recruits, your personal conversations with prospects should offer something different heading out of Summer. Now is the time when your recruits are looking for new reasons to continue to talk to you one-on-one.

They’re looking for that “next step”. Coming out of Summer, teenage athletes tell us that they often feel a little stuck. They want to look smart in continuing to talk with you, and they want to know what to do next as you continue to recruit them, but they aren’t sure what’s right. That’s why many of you experience what feels like disinterest from your prospects this time of year; the thing is, it’s not that they’re not interested…they just don’t know what should happen next. Never forget that you’ve been through this process before, but they haven’t. Be a guide.

It might be time to set a deadline. Or, at least a timeline that clearly establishes your expectations as to when a decision needs to be made. This is the easiest time of the year to do that, in the sense that it’s a natural calendar break (end of Summer, beginning of Fall and their new school year) which contributes to an overall feeling that new timelines make sense. In other words, when you start a conversation about deadlines or timelines that you want your prospects to pay attention to, doing it during this time period makes sense and ‘feels’ right to your recruits.

Outline your process for them. As an extension of the deadline and timeline conversation, take them inside your decision making process: Detail for them what you’ll be doing in evaluating them and other recruits this Fall, describe the type of prospect that you’re no longer recruiting (and why you stopped recruiting them), and make clear when you see yourself being done with recruiting. Prospects are craving this kind of behind-the-scenes information that help them understand they “why” behind some of your requests during the process.

Give the parents of your recruits a clear to-do list. One of the best ways to determine if your prospect is serious about you heading out of Summer is to find out if their parents are equally serious about you and your program. And the best way to do that is to give those parents a to-do list, and see if they respond. Some ideas: Tell them to help their son or daughter get their application submitted by a certain date, get back to you on a weekend that works for a visit to your campus, establish a regular time for you and they to talk to one another during the Fall, or ask them to email you a list of their questions about you, your college, or the process so that you can help them with answers.

Establish one clear selling point. One of the most difficult hurdles that your prospects face this time of year, as they talk to you and listen to your message (and the messages of your competitors), is trying to figure out how to define you. They need, and want, a one-line definition of you and your program that defines your main selling point. Once that’s established, you can certainly weave that into your program’s ongoing story to your recruits. Without it, you risk sounding like too many of your competitors: Too vanilla, no definition. Heading into this time of year, that can be the beginning of the end.

That last point needs to be emphasized. As recruits head out of Summer and into the Fall, there will come a point (soon) where they will want to start to whittle their choices down to make this whole process more manageable. Unless you give them smart reasons to define you and your program the right way, you allow them to make-up their own definition of you and your program. Do you really want to give that power over to them heading into this Fall?

This is an important time of year in the recruiting process, Coach. Make sure you establish yourself as a player heading into the Fall, and do it with a strategy in mind. If you do it correctly, you’ll be the coach that re-focuses your prospects heading out of the Summer.

Need help in defining your story for recruits? That’s what we do every week, every month and every year for our roster of clients. We do it using the latest research and communication techniques, and it works. If you want to take a different approach to your recruiting this year, contact Dan Tudor directly at dan@dantudor.com and ask him to explain how the process works, and why it is so effective.

A Flight Delay, a Frustrated Recruit, and Some Key Advice for CoachesMonday, July 29th, 2013

flight-delays-309496Often times, as I head off to conduct a workshop with a college athletic department and their coaches, I have to deal with the inconvenience of flight delays.

(Are there any “convenient” flight delays?)

Weather issues at the Denver airport had me waiting for my flight not too long ago, along with hundreds of my fellow travelers.  Crammed together.  Tightly, with no place to sit.  It was delightful.

But in the midst of the chaos, an opportunity: I overheard a 6′ 7″-ish high school age athlete talking about having come from playing in some basketball tournaments in Las Vegas, and now was traveling home.

Me, with nothing to do while waiting for a delayed flight, and an unsuspecting high school Senior-to-be likely going through the recruiting process just a few steps away?  It was too good to pass up.

I introduced myself and struck up a conversation about playing travel ball, coaches who were recruiting him, and the process he was experiencing from his point of view.  He was the typical college prospect: Dreaming of a D1 offer, hearing from D2 and D3 schools, as well as a few NAIA programs, and not really knowing what to do next in the process.

In the 15 minutes I talked with him, he opened-up about some of his frustrations, and some of his observations about coaches.  While I’m not suggesting he speaks for every athlete around the country, I think it’s worth listening to some of his key points about what he’s gone through so far…there are lessons here for any coach, at any level, in any sport.

Here’s what your “typical recruit” wants from you as they’re being recruited:

  • He wanted to know what to do next, but coaches weren’t telling him.  He has made unofficial visits to campuses, gets the typical recruiting mail, and has coaches calling and texting regularly.  This prospect’s complaint?  Nobody is outlining the process, or telling him what is coming next.  Now, in fairness to college coaches reading this, that might be because they are still evaluating him and trying to figure out where he stands on their recruiting board.  However, I’ve heard this complaint from very highly recruited prospects, as well: Lots of generalized “contact” from coaches, very little direction.  The lesson?  Be the coach that outlines a plan, and keeps prospects updated on what is coming next (and especially, what you want them to do next).
  • He was waiting for a coach to sell him on their program.  Years after we began this campaign to make sure coaches understood how to sell themselves, and why it is so vital to do so, we still have work to do.  None of the thirty or so coaches he was hearing from had sat him down and sold him on why their program was best.  “Don’t get me wrong”, said the player, “they send me a lot of stuff.  But it’s all really general, and it doesn’t spell out why I should come play for them.”  The lesson?  Once you have established a conversation and have developed your relationship with a prospect, they are waiting for you to sell them on why they should play for you.  They want to be told what to do next, and they want to be told why you should be the coach they commit to.  They want bold and passionate, not meet and vanilla.
  • He was getting tired of texts and messages that were boring.  “Coaches text me or call all the time, and it’s just like ‘hey, how’s it going’, or ‘whatta ya got planned this weekend?”, he said.  “It gets old really quick.”  When I asked him what coaches should do, he told me that he and his other friends who are being recruited are wanting coaches to ask better questions that actually mean something to them.  They want to talk via text and social media messaging about things that will help them figure out what to do next, and who really wants them.  The lesson?  This generation of recruits doesn’t just want a coach who “checks in” with them and wastes their time.  That doesn’t win points with them.  Have something to say, and show them that you are reaching out to them for a reason.
  • He is watching who keeps their word, and who doesn’t.  We have made this very real observation about the kids you are recruiting today: They are actively looking for honesty, and honest coaches.  I asked him what makes he and his teammates cross a program off their list, and his answer was pretty direct.  “If a coach lies to us, we’re usually done with him”, he said.  “I have coaches ask me when I’ll be playing next, and promising that they’re going to be in the stands watching.  And when I look and don’t see them, it tells me that they were just b.s.ing me.”  That’s just one way we hear this generation of recruits expressing their frustration about recruiters who don’t keep their word.  It usually doesn’t come down to your facility, how many acres your campus is on, or how many years you’ve been coaching.  It usually centers who the prospect likes the most, and trusts the most.  The lesson?  Understand that your recruits are listening to what you tell them, and they’re keeping track.

We finally boarded our flight, I wished him luck this next year, and watched him cram his giant frame into the coach window seat on the United flight that was supposed to have arrived at our destination two hours earlier.  The conversation I had with this recruit served as a good reminder that there is a little bit of a science to the recruiting part of your job, as well as a healthy dose of psychology and communication skill.

Half the battle is knowing what to say as you enter this crucial recruiting period.  Hopefully, my flight delay – and the conversation that followed – can give you some additional direction as you prepare to communicate with this next class or prospects.

When Your Timeline Doesn’t Match Your Prospect’s TimelineMonday, January 14th, 2013

They are common problems we see unfolding this time of year:

You had set a deadline for your prospect to make a decision by last week, but mom and dad just emailed you to tell you that they really need to visit just one more campus at the end of the month.

You have a verbal commitment from a prospect, and you just got an email saying that they’re having second thoughts and are going to talk to the other coach again before they make their final decision.

You think you have until late Winter to bring one of your prime recruits on campus, but they’ve decided (unbeknownst to you) that they want to make their final choice in the early Fall, and surprise you with an email announcing their decision before you even have the chance to get them to campus.

Any of these scenarios sound familiar to you, Coach?

It all comes down to this reality: Your timeline as a college coach doesn’t match your prospect’s timeline that he or she has set in their mind.

There are two different ways this usually materializes in the recruiting process.  The most common is that you have a timeline that you need your recruit to comply with sooner rather than later, and your prospect is dragging their feet.  However, there is a more treacherous timeline scenario that sneaks-up on coaches, too: Your prospect is going to make their decision earlier than you think, and you never get to fully recruit them because they make their decision much earlier than expected.

For the coach that mishandles either situation, the results can be devastating to a recruiting class.

Here’s are some solid basic strategies we can recommend in approach each unique scenario:

You need your prospect to make a decision, but they aren’t ready and have told you they need “more time”

  • First, understand that a consistent talk-track of messages, starting as early as possible in the process, will put you in the best position to make requests of your recruit for a final decision.  Inconsistent contact, conversely, will make your prospect read your sudden request for a final decision as “pressure”, and may end up being a reason they choose to go with a competitor.
  • As early as possible in the process, ask your recruit what their timeline is for making a final decision.  If you’ve been through our On-Campus Workshop training, I’d recommend using the version of that question that we included in the list of questions we see as essential to ask your prospect.  Establishing the date that your prospect (or their parents) have set in their mind as the timeline for making their final decision is critical to effectively managing the entire recruiting process, and you are the only one who has the power to get agreement with your prospect on what that date is.
  • Whatever date they finally give you, I always recommend – based on my experience of watching the recruiting process unfold hundreds and hundreds of times – to assume that their final decision is actually going to occur 30 days prior to the date that they tell you.  I don’t believe they are being devious when they give you one date and then end up deciding earlier, it just seems to be a very normal occurrence with this generation of recruit.  They feel like making their decision earlier than first thought, and act on that impulse – sometimes with the first available coach that asks them if they’re ready to commit.  Make sure you are that coach.
  • If they are telling you that they still need more time, you have two choices: Give them more time, or set a firm deadline and require a decision:
    • If you want to give them more time, make sure you do so by getting an agreement on when their decision will be made.  Keep in mind that they may be avoiding giving you a firm decision because they’ve already made a decision not in your favor, and they’re just too scared to tell you.  If that’s the case, you’ll see them hesitate in giving you a firm decision date.  That’s your cue for asking them, “It sounds like you have already made your decision…is that right?”  Getting a decision in this example is the priority, even if it’s not in your favor.
    • If you are ready for – and need them to make – a decision, you need to give them a fair but firm deadline.  My recommendation is 10-14 days from now.  Let them know that you don’t want to rush them or pressure them, so you’re giving them another two weeks to think it over.  That being said, ask them if they know what that decision is right now.  And, if they don’t ask them what are the big questions left in their mind that they’re still wrestling with…that’s an opportunity for a conversation between you and your prospect at a crucial time in the process.

You don’t want your prospects to decide on a competing program before you get the chance to sufficiently take them through your recruiting process

  • As early in the process as possible, as them what their timeline is for making a final decision.  If this is during their Sophomore or Junior year, ask again every six to twelve months (their answer will change each time, I guarantee it).  If this is during their Senior year, make sure you ask at least every three months (their answer will change each time, I guarantee it).
  • Re-read the first bullet point again.  It’s that important.
  • Tell them when you will be making your final recruiting invitations, telling them at what point (approximately) you will be wrapping-up your recruiting for their class.  The longer of a horizon that is, the better.  When you begin asking for a decision as that timeline draws to a close, you will not be viewed as “pressuring” them for a decision; rather, you will be seen as a coach who has been fair with them, and are just keeping your word as to when you would be done with the process.
  • A good general approach when it comes to that conversation: “Keith, I’m pretty sure we’re going to be wrapping-up our recruiting by the end of this coming October…maybe a little sooner.  So that’s why I want to keep track of where you’re at, what questions you have, and make sure we get you on campus soon so you can have lots of time to figure out if we’re going to be right for you.”
  • When that deadline comes, keep it.  Move on.  Not doing so will define you as someone not serious about what you’ve said in prior conversations, which opens you up to further negotiating and waffling down the line. (“Hey son, that coach caved when it came to the deadline he gave you…maybe we can work him over for some more money, too.  Just let dad handle everything, kiddo.”)

The bottom line for getting your prospect to come inline with your timeline is setting expectations early, and communicating throughout the process.  Done regularly, you’ll find this particular recruiting hurdle can be easily addressed time and time again.

Successful recruiting is all about strategy, and the right timing.  If you want to team with a group of professional researchers and recruiting experts to help you communicate with prospects more effectively, email Dan Tudor directly at dan@dantudor.com. We’d love to talk to you about the specifics of your program.

Plus, make plans to attend the National Collegiate Recruiting Conference this Summer!  It’s a massive gathering of coaches, recruiters and college marketing experts from around the country with one focus: Learn the latest and best recruiting approaches to take into the new year.  CLICK HERE to find out more, and reserve your seat soon!

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