It’s the thing that drives recruiters absolutely crazy when it comes to understanding how teenage athletes make their final decisions.
Most of the time, they make irrational final decisions.
This past year it seems like I’ve seen more examples than ever of that in our ongoing work with college coaches. Here are some of the constants I see in this generation of recruits when it comes to how they are choosing the school that they would describe as “the right fit” for them:
They are deciding based upon their emotions. That includes both male and female prospects, Coach. How they feel – and how their parents feel – about you and your program seem to consistently seem outweigh the logic and facts behind your program.
They aren’t taking a long term view of their college experience. Make no mistake, they start thinking about it right after they make their decision (hence all the de-commits and second looks) but as they are making their final decision (the first one, anyway) they are, in large part, considering what feels right at that very moment. I’ve said it many times before: They choose with their hearts, and justify that decision with their head.
They are conscious of the highs and lows in recruiting. If you skip talking to them for a few weeks, expect them to be looking elsewhere for options. If you’re consistently talking to them? You earn big points. And so it goes…up and down, over the course of recruiting. And they are remembering who is giving them those highs (and lows) and factoring that in to their final decision.
They are relying on others to help them make their decisions. Primarily their parents, followed closely by their high school and club coaches. Our research shows that they will often go against what their own gut is telling them and side with these highly influencial outside decision makers. It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what is happening.
They will often turn to irrelevant statistics to justify their actions. You’ve seen it before: You hit it off with the prospect, mom and dad love you, she’s a perfect fit for your program, but then at then end she chooses the school that finished two spots ahead of you in the U.S. News rankings for their major. Will those extra two spots on the list make her happier in the long run? Of course not. But right now, it makes her feel like she made a smarter decision.
We could add more to that list, of course. Or we could end it here and just agree that this generation is a tough one to recruit, and resign ourselves to just rolling the dice and hoping to get lucky every few years with a great recruiting class.
That’s not the smart approach, though. Yet that’s the attitude of many college coaches: They lament the problem after correctly identifying it, and then don’t do anything to change their prospect’s irrational outlook despite knowing that they are taking that approach. In other words, I see coaches reacting to their prospects’ irrational behavior during the recruiting process with their own irrational behavior.
Am I suggesting you fight irrational behavior with your own version of irrational behavior? Yes. I’m giving you permission to attract this next class or recruits using techniques that will help prompt your recruits to stop in their tracks and snap out of their irrational decision making process. See if any of these ideas might work for your recruits:
- Make your case with more passion than the other guy. If your prospects are using emotion to make their decision, we’ve seen plenty of cases where the coach who shows the same kind of passion and emotion connects the best with that athlete. And the last time I checked, passion isn’t a budget related item that your competitor has more of (unless you let them).
- Challenge them: Tell them that they are going about all this the completely wrong way. Once you have their attention, make your case that they need to reconsider how they’re deciding on a program. Get them to take a second look. Compel them to continue the conversation with you…but start it off by contending that they are doing it wrong right now. Get their attention!
- Ask them, “Is that the smart way to do it?” Maybe the answer is yes. Or maybe it isn’t. Asking that question and actually getting them to think about everything in a new light is one of the most productive challenges you can issue during the recruiting process.
- Counter their illogical views with logical facts. Again, the theme here is “do the opposite”. It worked for George Costanza, it can work for you (if you aren’t a “Seinfeld” fan, that won’t mean much too you). If they are all about the feelings, and you can’t seem to connect with them, stop them in their tracks with facts that go against their emotions.
- Always include the parents and coaches. Clue them in on what you’re talking to the prospect about, and why it’s important that your point of view should be seriously considered.
- Exude a confidence – even if you’re not feeling like you have any! – that tells them they’d be CRAZY not to choose you. No explanation needed, Coach. The only thing I’ll tell you is that your prospect and their family are looking at you closely, and trying to figure out if you really believe what you’re selling.
Don’t fret about a prospect acting irrationally, Coach. Develop a strategy around it to ensure that they’ll pick you and your program!
We’re beginning our planning sessions with new clients for this next recruiting class. Want to talk to us about working one-on-one with you and your staff to develop a rock-solid recruiting plan? Contact Dan Tudor directly at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can set up a time to discuss how we do it, and why it works.