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3 Disturbing Signing-Day Prospect TrendsMonday, February 1st, 2010

Dan TudorIf you’ve somehow managed to tear yourself away from tuning-up the fax machine and making sure it’s loaded with paper, and you’re reading this article, I want to warn you about something as you prepare for signing-day frenzy…

There are a couple of disturbing trends that a lot of coaches – as well as our staff – are noticing this year.  Maybe its just a blip on the recruiting radar, but it’s worth talking about.  And, worth preparing for.

DISTURBING TREND #1 – Your Prospects (and Their Parents) are Playing Hardball

Whether its about scholarship money or playing time, today’s prospects are not afraid to play the role of the lead negotiator.  This is due in large part to the seat at the table that your prospects have given their parents in the process.

Moms and dads know how to negotiate better than kids, and they all know it.  So, prospects – both male and female – are using parents to help them with the evaluation process, as well as sifting through the details of the offer you are floating to them.

DISTURBING TREND #2 - Your Prospects Aren’t Afraid to De-Commit

It happens everywhere, more and more.  It’s happening here, and here, and here….all over the country, in almost every sport. 

Is it a "character" thing?  No.  They’re realizing that the process that allows coaches to (rightfully) jump from job to job also allows them as prospects to (rightfully) change their mind.  And more than ever, they are doing just that.

DISTURBING TREND #3 – Your Prospects Are Making Decisions a LOT Differently Than in Years Past

It isn’t just about how big your stadium is, where you finished in the conference standings, and how often you played on ESPN.  Not anymore.

Our research shows that recruits in all sports – from D1 football to D3 women’s squash – are looking for other things that are more important to their generation of recruits: Things like friendship from their future teammates, honesty from the coaches who recruit them, and a general gut "feeling" of what place seems right to them.

So, what can you do about reversing these trends in your program the next time around?  Here are our recommendations:

  • Don’t make it all about the money.  I know, the total tuition package is the deciding factor for most recruits.  But what I don’t like to see is a coach get caught-up "bidding" against another school for a prospect.  They give $1000 more, and you up your offer by another $1500…and so on, back and forth.  When you do that, everything that they should value about you and your program takes a back seat to who ends up being the highest bidder.  And often times, when you are the highest bidder, they still don’t choose you.
  • Never assume that the commitment is real.  It’s great that they tell you that you’re their number one choice, and that they are giving you a verbal commitment.  But don’t believe it.  Take the attitude that verbal commitments aren’t real.  Recruit them just as hard as you did before (maybe even harder, since verbal commitments tend to bring out the competitive spirit in your rivals as they come after your recruit even harder than they did before they gave you a verbal commitment).  I think we’re reaching the point in college recruiting where a verbal commitment is going to count as much as them agreeing to a campus visit: It will be a good indicator of their overall interest, but by no means a guarantee that they are coming there.
  • Especially at the end of the recruiting process, focus on your unique recruiting offerings.  What sets you apart from other schools?  What do you as a coach bring to the table that other coaches don’t?  How does your school approach education and the student-athlete differently than others?  These things are just some of the list of "difference maker" traits that we have found work great down the stretch with our coach clients who use us to help them formulate a consistent recruiting strategy.  At the end of the process, we find that prospects are looking at all of their favorite schools in the same way…they like something about each of them, and generally like each of the coaches they are dealing with.  It’s during this time that a smart coach will begin to remind them of the small differences in their program versus the others that he or she may be considering. 

I really should have ammended the title of this article to state that these are disturbing trends for coaches that won’t adapt to the new decision-making standards of this generation of athlete.  For those that do, future signing days will be cause for celebration.

Need more tips to help you formulate a better strategy?  We have developed two recruiting guides especially designed for college coaches who want to recruit more effectively.  They’re easy to read, offer concrete strategies to implement for your program, and use the latest recruiting techniques that we have seen work across the country.  For more information, click here.

The Delegation Dilemma for College CoachesMonday, January 18th, 2010

Control freak coachby Mandy Green, Selling for Coaches 

"If it’s to be, it’s up to me."

This seems to be the favorite saying of a lot of the coaches that I am working with these days. To me, it says a great deal about their willingness to delegate. These coaches work non-stop morning to night, and still do (although they are getting better), because they somehow can’t embrace the notion that it’s possible to get things done any other way.

Beneath the many excuses for not delegating lays the reason why many of us coaches avoid delegating things:   

True delegation means giving up a little of what we would like to hold onto (some measure of control) while keeping what we might prefer to give up (accountability).

Delegation is an area of personal and professional management that many coaches struggle with. The difficulty stems from our need to control outcomes and a strongly rooted belief that we know how to do things best (sound like you at all coach?).

It’s often a scary prospect even to think about letting someone else take over a task or duty we’ve been doing for a while:

What if they don’t do it correctly?
What if the outcome is not up to my standards?
What if they don’t do it the way I’ve been doing it?
What if I become less essential to my program?
What if, (gasp), they do it better than me?

Think about it, Coach. By nature we love to keep control. We also fear the repercussions when our support staff fails to complete something correctly or in a timely manner. The failure might reflect badly on us so we take the path of least resistance. Rather than working on improving our delegation skills to the other coaches we work with, sometimes we simply keep hold of more tasks. That way we can make sure things are done completely the way we want them done. Being overworked somehow seems less risky than having things done that might not meet our exact requirements.

Delegation means taking true responsibility and inevitably means giving up some control. If that sounds a bit scary, how can you overcome your mindset and become a better delegator? Here are some tips:

Realize that you just can’t do it all. Everyone has limits. If you fail to acknowledge yours, you will burn out. Maybe not tomorrow and maybe not even next year, but the stress and pressure of trying to do it all will get you eventually.

Start small. Delegation is a skill and learning it needs patience, persistence, and practice. Start by giving away small, uncomplicated tasks. As your confidence grows so will your willingness to delegate more.

Realize that "Your Way" is not always the "Only Way." A big part of letting go is the fear that the task will not be done "right." Consider that there are other ways to achieve the same result.

Work on giving others the tools to do what you do. Delegation will only work if you help your support staff succeed. So make sure he or she has the right resources and then keep communicating, participating and supporting your staff. Remember, delegation means NOT abdicating your responsibility, so you need to make sure you have done everything you can to influence a successful outcome.

Appreciate others’ accomplishments. You might be bored with organizing on-campus visits, but if one of your coaches has never done it, the challenge can be exciting, invigorating, and motivating. The successful outcome is not just a well-organized visit. It’s the opportunity for someone else to shine and get recognized for their achievements.

Seize the opportunity to work on more stimulating projects. The less time you spend on lower level tasks, the more time you have to concentrate on your main objectives. (You know the ones, the really important issues that keep getting shoved to the bottom of the pile because you’re so overloaded…)

Use the leverage. Delegation can put the right people on the right tasks. And the better allocated your coaches and staff are, the greater the productivity, effectiveness and the opportunity for organizational growth.

Delegation, when done well, benefits everyone on your staff. You have more time to concentrate on the main responsibilities of your position. Your support staff will have more opportunities to expand and enrich their jobs. An added bonus is the fact that because delegation relieves your own time pressures, the job gets done better in the long run.

So, cast off your preconceptions about delegation! You were doing a good job before: You can do even better when you delegate more. With a fresh perspective and little courage to "let go", you’ll be amazed by what you can achieve!

Mandy Green helps focus coaches on creating an organized, systematic approach to managing their workload and building great team dynamics.  For more information on how she can help you and your program reach new heights, contact Mandy by email at mandy@sellingforcoaches.com.

Prospects, Coaches and Making Final DecisionsMonday, January 4th, 2010

Mike LeachIf you’re a fan of college football, you spend your New Year’s weekend of 2010 following the drama around two high-level college coaches, Florida’s Urban Meyer and Texas Tech’s Mike Leach.

And in the midst of heart palpitations, storage sheds and round-the-clock ESPN coverage, there were recruiting lessons that every coach should learn.

The main lesson is this: Today’s generation of recruits are focused on the personality, resume and persona far more than past generations.  Twenty years ago, recruits were picking the college brand.  Today, more often than not, they are signing-on with the coach that they see as the Urban Meyer"face" of that college brand. 

It’s been a fascinating transition, one made easier thanks to ESPN and the proliferation of Internet bloggers who focus on personalities in college sports just as much as they focus on the results of the teams they are coaching.

Meyer and Leach each had equal parts drama, sadness and intrigue swirling around their respective stories.  The subtext of the story was being played-out in the trenches of the recruiting war: Prospects were rumored to be de-committing to schools, then re-committing…and coaches from competing programs were scrambling to spin each situation to their favor with recruits still on the fence.

Why?  Because who the coach was going to be affected their opinion of the program and the school, and they were willing to pass-up whatever the school’s benefits were in favor of the next coach on their list who had forged a good relationship during the recruiting process.

So, where does all of this leave you?

First, here are three big truths about how today’s prospects – the kid you’re recruiting right now, Coach – arrive at their final decision during the recruiting process:

  1. Our national studies show that the two most influencial determining factors in choosing a school that they deem to be the "right fit" for them are 1) what a coach tells them over the phone, and 2) what a coach tells them in person.  In other words, they will be drawn or repelled from your program largely due to how you interact with them during the first phases of the recruiting process.
  2. The same study shows that top national prospects are drawn to a coach far more than they are drawn to a university.  In other words, the "logic" behind a school offering a top ranked business program or outstanding internship opportunities take a back seat to how those same highly regarded recruits feel about the relationship with the coach.
  3. Prospects are constantly on the look-out for ways to get to know the real person behind the coaching mask.  When we conduct focus groups with student-athletes at colleges around the country as a part of the On-Campus Workshops that we offer athletic departments, they recount their visits to colleges that were recruiting them and reveal to us that one of the first priorities when talking with the team at those schools was to find out "what the coach really was like at practice" and "what those players wish they knew about him or her before they signed with the school." 

There are always exceptions to these recruiting rules, of course, but the three facts I outlined above should be taken seriously by today’s college recruiter.

With that in mind, here are some practical ways to make sure your next recruiting campaign embraces these facts of life on the recruiting trail:

  • If you’re a coach at a "big brand" school and you’ve demonstrated a history of success, you need to emphasize yourself in your recruiting materials.  That doesn’t mean you don’t talk about the school’s benefits, but the main message needs to be about how you are going to help them have a better career with you than with your competition.
  • If you’re a coach that regularly competes in a "big brand" conference, but consider yourself a lower-tier program that won’t generate the same buzz that your competitor does, you will need to prove to them that the opportunity with you and your program is to their advantage vs. opting for a traditional power.  The two important elements of this strategy are coming up with a compelling story, but even more importantly telling the story in a way that gets them to sign-on with you.  Wonder how coaches from mediocre colleges in your sport somehow get amazing talent to come and play for them?  It’s all about their story, how they tell it, and making sure it includes a compelling reason for that recruit to commit.
  • Take a few existing recruiting letters or emails that you’ve recently sent to your recruits.  How many of them talk about you and your vision along with selling the school and your program?  I like to have coaches take a colored marker and highlight phrases or main ideas that center around you.  Do that test with your messages…were you able to mark anything?  If not, you’re bypassing one of the main motivators for today’s recruit and how they make their decision.
  • Does the head coach matter?  Yes, but the relationship between prospect and assistant coach is vital, too.  Depending on the sport, the head coach’s involvement in the recruiting process should be consistent and personalized as much as possible.  Recruits are looking for reasons to sweat allegiance to a particular coach and program…so give them one with your attention to them as a head coach. 

More and more, you read comments from recruits that sign with a school that center around their relationship with the coach at that school.  Coaches who can create great relationships early on and keep building on it throughout the recruiting process stand an excellent chance to swaying really good recruits away from programs that might appear to be better on paper.

Be one of those coaches.

 

Getting Your Athletic Website Ready for Prime TimeMonday, December 21st, 2009

Athletic Websiteby Sean Devlin, Front Rush 

The recruiting process is about engaging recruits and getting across the university’s and coach’s message, goals, and – ultimately – the brand. This engagement comes in a variety of flavors including email, phone calls, face-to-face, and more recently Facebook and Twitter. One major facet of this engagement that needs to be treated very seriously is the athletic website. Often times this is one of the first and most powerful medium’s that can get across your school’s message.

Perusing the web and doing random Google searches for various universities, you can come across many different athletic websites. Some of these websites are great, some of these are not so great. Some of these are clearly from high budget universities that can afford to bring in a professional firm and make the site very ‘flashy’, others are from universities that may not have the budget but have clearly invested thought into the site, and others resemble a basic web page created too many years ago.

So let’s first talk about the importance of the site and we can worry about the logistics later. In this web savvy world, your recruits are used to seeing and interacting daily with professionally built tools and websites – think Facebook, Hotmail, Google, Gmail, etc. If they come to your site, the first thing they want and expect is a site that is professional looking in design. Having a poor quality design, will immediately undercut your recruiting message. It gives them that ‘huh?’ message right off the bat.

The second thing that your recruits will look for is the content. They want to come to your site and find the things that they are looking for – so the goal is to make it easy for them to find it. We often times see an athletic site that is difficult to find a specific sport, or find out who the coach is, or find out how to get in contact with the university. As a user, this instantly gives frustration and negative feelings — the exact opposite emotion that you want your recruits feeling. Think about what parts of the site that your recruits want to see and put them right up front and easy to find.

The next thing is to give a reason for your recruits to come back. A very effective medium for this is a team blog. In this blog, you can give updates about your team, insight into your program, information about your University. This gives a recruit a reason to come to your site, and keep coming back if you keep the information fresh and new. Every time they come back, your brand gets drilled deeper into their decision making process.

So the issue is then a couple of things.

  • There are budget limitations.
  • You may not feel that you have direct access to have these changes made.

Well with budget limitations, that just means that you can’t invest in a professional firm to re-build the site but that doesn’t mean that most of the above can’t be done. Get the coaches together and make the case to your IT group or SID. By investing time into the site and thinking about the goals of it, the return will be obvious. In addition, for the blog, this can be done totally free of charge. A couple of killer applications for creating a blog are tumblr.com, blogger.com and wordpress.com

If you do have a budget than take a look at a professional firm, there are a couple that we feel actually are dedicated to building athletic websites. Some examples of companies we would recommend to our clients are ICS/Sidearm (internetconsult.com), Presto Sports (prestosports.com), and Jump TV (jumptv.com).

The importance of putting time into the site and thinking about it from a marketing perspective cannot be stressed enough. This is a major location that your recruits are going to land. Get your department together and get moving in the right direction if you feel your online presence needs some work.

Step one in the process of evaluating your website?  Email the experts at Front Rush.  They’ll assess your needs at no charge, and give you recommendations on what the next steps need to be.  Visit them at www.frontrush.com or email the nation’s leading technical guru for college athletics, Sean Devlin, at sdevlin@frontrush.com.

Three Wishy-Washy Words That I Wish You Wouldn’t SayMonday, December 21st, 2009

Off target!We say it when we pick up the phone.  

We say it when we start a new email.

When we say it, the recruiting process slows down.  Or, it stops altogether…never to be re-started again.  It gets us WAY off target.

And you know what?  We actually say it because we think it’s polite, non-pressuring and even a bit clever.

It’s just three little words:

"I was just…"

Those three words, when combined together, do more to grind the gears of recruiting to a stop than just about any other phrase I’ve heard when helping coaches over the past few years.

"I was just calling back to see if…"  Or, "I was just writing to check in…"

Have you ever done that?  I have many times over my professional career.  And every time I let it slip out, the results are less than desireable.

Why is that?  What is it about "I was just" that makes it so bad in a recruiting situation?

When you use that phrase, we all know what you want: You want information.  You want an update.  You need to find out if the prospect you really, really, REALLY want is close to making a decision.  

And, since you are a professional who doesn’t want to pressure your young recruit, you play it cool and slide into the conversation by saying, "I was just…"

However, what you are doing in most cases is giving your prospect the unintended message that they don’t need to take action right now.  Or, depending on the topic of the discussion, you might be telling them that they aren’t all that important to you.  Here’s why starting a sentence with "I was just" can be so crippling:

  • It conveys weakness.  There isn’t much drive or energy behind the phrase, and that communicates all the wrong things to your prospect.
  • It’s a lie.  You weren’t "just checking in" when you called that last prospect, Coach.  Right?  Of course not.  You were wanting concrete information.  You wanted a progress report so you could know what to do next.  You weren’t "just checking in", and your prospect knows it.
  • It gives your prospect permission to put you off for a while longer.  You say you were calling to just "check in" and see if I was close to making a decision?  No, sorry coach…I’m going to need a little more time.  And since it sounds like there’s no urgency on your part, I’m going to take as much as I can get.

So what should you say as your new opening line?  Here are a few ideas:

  • "I wanted to get in touch with you because…"
  • "There’s a decision we need to make here in the next week to ten days…"
  • "I need your feedback on something…"
  • "We were talking about you in the office yesterday, and wanted to ask you…"
  • "I had something happen with another prospect that I needed to let you know about…"
  • "We’ve got a deadline coming up and I wanted to talk to you about it…"

Each of those phrases can set your next conversation in the right direction.  They are strong.  They are going to prompt action.  They are going to demand attention, and – most importantly – they are going to demand a reply. 

I encourage you to really focus on how you start out your sentences when you start conversations.  I know it sounds like such a small thing, but it makes a big difference when it comes to how your recruit responds to you, and what information you get from them.

Try replacing the wishy-washy "I was just" intro when you call or write, and lead-off with something stronger that will stand a better chance of getting the response you’re really looking for from your prospect.

Want even more tips and strategies to use in your everyday recruiting at your college?  Bring Dan to your athletic department for the Selling for Coaches On-Campus Workshop!  We’re rounding out our travel schedule for the upcoming months and would love to add you to the tour schedule.  Email us at dan@sellingforcoaches.com for all the details and to check on dates, or click here for more information on what this two day event is all about. 

What Coaches Say They WantTuesday, October 27th, 2009

by Sean Devlin, Front Rush

Day-to-day, we spend a large portion of our time communicating with college coaches in an effort to understand their goals and initiatives.

Specifically, we want to understand what each coach is trying to accomplish and translate that into our recruiting application here at Front Rush. In this article, we will discuss our conversations with thousands of coaches from a general perspective. Then, we will ask for your feedback and ideas.

Recruiting IS Sales
Coaches want a tool that has a clear focus from a sales perspective; and, they want to be able to fully customize that tool to fit their recruiting needs. We have witnessed coaches track everything from tournaments to favorite movies to give themselves an edge when recruiting.

Software NEEDS to be Easy
Coaches don’t want to give up their time to have to relearn something or spend time learning something that is complicated. They want everything in their recruiting process–especially their recruiting tool–to be very clear and easy to use. In addition, each member of the coaching staff may have a different level of understanding when it comes to computer stuff; and, for the tool to be effective, everyone should be able to use it.

Give Me MORE TIME
Coaches want more time in their day to recruit and to coach. These same coaches want to spend less time initiating and/or completing administrative tasks. Coaches also want to do less data-entry and prefer having recruits complete online submission forms that automatically sync to the database. Coaches also want the ability to schedule emails to send out later and to have their emails in Outlook work hand-in-hand with their recruiting tool.

Help Me STAND OUT from the Competition
Coaches want recruits to see the key differentiators of their respective colleges and universities. They want their recruiting application to have the best email templates as well as the ability to create more easily. If the team has a great game, coaches want to share this with the recruit immediately. If recruiting is sales then marketing is not far behind. A great way to market to recruits is by sending eye-catching email templates that have the latest article/news about the team included.

I Want My Staff on the SAME PAGE
Coaches want a tool that is collaborative. They want to be able to make a note on a recruit and have their staff instantly be able to see it. If a recruit is coming for an on-site visit, everyone should have it on their calendar. If the head coach sends an email to a recruit, his assistants should know how many times that email was opened.

I Will Always WANT MORE
Coaches want to be part of the tool that is built for them and that continues to be improved based on their feedback. If a coach has an idea for a new functionality then there is a good chance that other coaches do as well; and, it should be included in future updates to the application. Many coaches use their tool not only for recruiting but also for roster, alumni, and camps; and, they do not want these items to be under-dressed in their tool.

From a very general view, we have spoken about some of the needs that coaches have shared with us. If you are a college coach, what would you like to see in a recruiting application? What would make your life easier?  Take a second to give us your "wish list" by clicking here

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