Dan Tudor

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May 1st, 2018

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Making Early Recruiting Work for You and Your Program

Little by little, over the years, college coaches at all levels have been learning how to incorporate earlier recruiting into their everyday approach.

Not necessarily because they wanted to, but because they had to.

But now, whether you want to face it or not, learning early recruiting strategies are a must. New NCAA legislation continues to redefine what early recruiting means. Those same rules also set up new opportunities for your program to take advantage of, as well as new potential hazards to avoid. Whether your a Division I head coach, or you’re a part of a smaller college program, these emerging rules are going to alter the way you approach recruiting.

How the New Rules Will Redefine Your Recruiting

Quite simply, the emerging early recruiting rules change everything. Most traditional recruiting models will be undergoing radical shifts that has the potential to alter the course of programs around the country. Some of the primary ways I see that happening include:

  • Drastically shortening the time some coaches will have to recruit a prospective student-athlete. September 1st of an athlete’s Junior year in high school is going to be when the starter’s gun sounds, and the mad dash for the best athletes begin. In short, there’s a likelihood that the process that casually started with unofficial visits and parent-lead research and contact with programs and their coaches is now becoming more formalized, with stricter timelines as to how and when that contact can happen.
  • Bigger brand programs will probably have an advantage in this new recruiting landscape. Why? Because if no contact is happening until September 1st of the athlete’s Junior year, more programs will be fighting for the attention of that prospect at the same time. In the majority of cases, athletes will be more geared to look for, and respond to, contact from their “dream” schools, which usually include BCS programs or elite academic institutions at the Division I level.
  • Coaches will probably see their counterparts offering a prospect their scholarship package right away as an incentive to talk to them first (or at all), which means many coaches will feel compelled to match that offer – in some cases, sooner than they would like because they will not have been able to personally get to know the prospect and his or her parents during the unofficial recruiting visit process prior to their Junior year in high school.
  • Speaking of unofficial visits: They’ll continue to happen, but with far less frequency than before. If I can’t visit the coach and team of a sports program our family is interested in, I’m going to wait to see who is going to offer official visits on September 1st of my Junior year. If you aren’t offering me an official visit during my Junior year, will I assume you aren’t as interested in me as a coach compared to other programs who have invited me to campus? I think it’s likely, understanding the psyche and emotions of a student-athlete and parents the way we do.
  • The official visits you do get: There’s no longer room for error. Because we’ll be seeing a condensed time frame unfold quickly, and pressure from other competing coaches to make decisions sooner in the new process versus later, your campus visit has to be freaking awesome. Your ability to create a unique, athlete-lead experience is going to be the separator in more and more recruiting scenarios going forward.
  • Learning how to effectively recruit an athlete after he or she verbally commits will also become a priority. If the previous points hold true, and the process becomes more truncated, athletes are going to be more apt to second-guess their initial decision. Coaches will need to continue to recruiting those athletes that verbally committed to their programs, or risk losing them to programs that continue to reach out and contact them through the process.

New Hurdles – and Opportunities – for Division II, Division III and NAIA Programs

You aren’t a Division I school. You can’t offer full athletic scholarships, or you don’t offer athletic scholarships at all. Or, you’re a NAIA program that has never had to follow NCAA guidelines for contacting prospects. All of these situations can develop into significant hurdles, or significant opportunities, depending on how you and your program develop a strategy for them.

  • Division II programs, who may have had a chance to gain the attention of an athlete earlier in the unofficial visit process simply by showing a good prospect attention before their Division I counterparts decided to, may now find themselves waiting for their prospects to assess the Division I attention they expect to get as the new process gets started. If your approach to a new recruit copies a traditional message, I think it will be hard to get them to pay attention to you right away. Not in all cases, of course, but in many.
  • Division II programs will also have the chance to talk to prospects two months before a student-athlete will be able to hear from a Division I coach. What will you be talking about with them? How will it have the potential to keep you in the game once they do hear from a Division I coach? How are you going to stand out and be memorable when they compare you to your competition?
  • Division III and NAIA programs will have the opportunity to do the most the earliest with prospects. Coaches can contact prospects before their Junior year, which will give them a unique opportunity to define themselves sooner to their prospect, and over a longer period of time, compared to their Division I and II counterparts. For coaches that choose to take advantage of that additional time, it means developing a longer recruiting story.

What Doesn’t Change with the New Early Recruiting Rules

The athletes, and parents, who want to secure the best opportunity as early as possible. No legislation is going to quell the feelings of competitive, goal-driven prospects and the mom’s and dad’s who are whispering in their ear along the way in the process. The club, travel and private coaches who have influence over who an athlete considers will remain.

For you as a college coach, the central question in this emerging early recruiting reality becomes this:

How will you take the feelings of your prospects and parents into account? What will your approach be to match their wants with your process? Or, are you going to hope their drive and desire changes to match a new set of rules that have been adopted?

The new recruiting rules require you, more than ever before, to sit down with your staff, develop a timeline for making decisions on athletes sooner in the process, and be prepared to act quickly and decisively with the recruiting you really want.

In many ways, the newly adopted early recruiting rules have the potential to systemize a chaotic process and help coaches find recruiting sanity with a back-loaded timeline. What will make it work successfully for each coach is how (or if) that coach formats their strategy differently to account for the unique opportunities – and potential pitfalls – in this way of recruiting student-athletes.

Need help developing that strategy, and building an effective story that matches the new timeline for how early recruiting will take place? We work with programs and coaches around the country to develop that approach. If you’re interested in learning more about how we could work one-on-one with you, read about how to become a client, or email Dan Tudor at dan@dantudor.com.

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