Most of you have instinctively developed a mental to-do list with new prospects: What you want to see happen, in what order, and by what time.
And therein lies the problem. Not the fact that you want to systematically move them through your process…we’re all for that! We’re big on systematically approaching the recruiting process. No, the problems surface when a coach starts going “out of order” in terms of what the prospect is looking for early in the process. It’s a problem because unlike a college coach, who has been through this process a few hundred times and is almost numb to the emotional and mental challenges it presents to a teenager, your recruits have developed an unwritten list of things that seem odd to them when a coach approaches them.
I want to do my part in putting at least a few of those rules in writing. Here are four of the things that I would recommend a coach not try to accomplish early on in the recruiting process (especially during the first contact with a new recruit):
- Avoid asking them who else they are considering, or which other programs have contacted them so far. Too much, too soon. That’s privileged information in the eyes of most of your recruits, and you haven’t yet earned the relationship capital to spend on that question yet. Look for a time later on in the process when they offer up a suggestion of either what they’re looking for in a college, or make reference to any kind of negative experience associated with visiting another school or talking to another coach. That will give you the green light to gently approach the subject.
- Avoid asking them to come visit campus. On the first phone call, or during any kind of one-on-one, back-and-forth conversations, do not tell them “I want you to come to campus”, or “When can you come to campus?”. When you do that, it jumps several spaces ahead on their recruiting game board, and doesn’t seem natural to them…kind of like asking someone you just met on the first day of high school to go to the prom in the Spring. It doesn’t seem right in the eyes of most recruits. Only bring it up once you have either a) spent two or three conversations asking them questions and getting to know them, or b) they bring it up (that would apply to their parents, as well). Jump on this too early, and you’ll seem disingenuous an too hurried, according to our research.
- Avoid the idea that you shouldn’t talk to the parents first. Coaches who try talking to the parents first uncover something rather surprising: They actually get information. The parents are usually more prepared to talk early on, and it takes some of the pressure and anxiety away from the prospect. You can always say hi to the recruit at the end of the phone call, but there’s nothing wrong with spending the majority of that first call with a parent on the phone. By the way, you should remember who will likely be in charge of getting an application turned in, scheduling a visit, and talking about an offer or financial aid offer: That’s right, mom and dad. So would it be such a bad thing to separate yourself from all the other coaches who will ignore this advice?
- Avoid small talk. I’ve saved the best for last here, Coach: You know, the kind of stuff that makes it sound like you and the teenager on the phone have been besties for the last few years? Don’t do it. Nothing is more awkward than when an older adult who the recruit doesn’t know well tries to “connect” with a teenager by talking about movies, what apps they’re into, or if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend. Prospects will answer the questions politely, more than likely, but then they’ll come back and talk about you in one of our focus groups and describe how ‘weird’ it was when you did it. So don’t do it. Let them introduce small talk, and then respond to it. Simple rule, and it works, Coach. Your first contact or two should highlight what you like about them athletically, how you see them possibly fitting into your program, and finding out as much as possible about how they see themselves going through the recruiting process.
Sometimes, it’s easier to avoid missteps than worry about a list of universal to-do’s during a first contact – and if it makes you feel any better, there isn’t any universal to-do list for your first contact with a recruit.
Avoid these mistakes, and watch what it does for the rest of your recruiting conversation with this prospect class.
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