I write this having just finished up hosting our annual college coaches’ gathering, the National Collegiate Recruiting Conference.
One of the focuses of this year’s NCRC? The changing landscape of effective college recruiting.
Part of what we do at this event every year is outline the trends, news and changes we’ve tracked over the past year in college recruiting at all levels, and put together an outlook for those that attend this June conference for the upcoming year. To do that, we assemble what has to be one of the most diverse collection of experts from around the country, and let them give our coaches a view from their world on what it takes to be a successful recruiter: Leadership, technological savvy, the right strategy, inspiration, organization, and – most importantly – an understanding of where recruiting is headed for the upcoming year.
There was over 20 hours of information crammed into our weekend conference (hey, it’s for serious recruiters who want to advance their career, not vacation-seekers!), but I wanted to pick out five trends that we wanted to share with everyone around the country that couldn’t make it to this year’s event.
The recruiting trends listed are just observations; you have to decide how to apply them to what you’ll be doing this upcoming year, and how to adjust your approach and your recruiting communication as you seek to connect with this general of teenage prospects:
- Families are balking at college debt. If you are a program that does not offer full athletic scholarships, you will lose athlete prospects this coming year – and in the years to come – if you don’t adequately justify why they should invest in your program and your college. And when I say “you”, I mean you. Make it your job to understand how to have that conversation, and don’t leave it completely up to your financial aid office to sell the family of your top prospects on why they should invest in you. A higher percentage of your recruits than ever before are opting not to incur debt, and we see that as a trend that will continue into the near future.
- Social media isn’t being used correctly by coaches. Note the word correctly. Coaches are great at tweeting, liking, and texting in terms of the function of posting to a social media website. However, we are hearing from athletes that say coaches risk losing their attention with the topics they are posting online – mostly news and other “boring” posts that are easy for coaches and athletic departments to slap up on Facebook or Twitter, but don’t engage and interest the prospects they are trying to reach. Our recommendation? As we outlined in detail for those that were a part of the NCRC, coaches need to focus on showcasing their own personalities, and the personality of your their teams. Do that, and you’ll have a great chance of reaching your recruit.
- It’s getting a lot easier to reach out of region recruits. While I’m not at all saying you’ll get every out-of-area athlete you target in the future, the trends are clear: More athletes than ever are open to seriously considering a program if that coach outlines why the athlete is wanted, how he or she will be used as a part of their overall strategic plan for their team, and developing school-specific reasoning as to why an out-of-area education is going to be better for them compared to staying near home. Use those three talking points to make your case this upcoming year, and watch your results of attracting new out-of-area prospects increase.
- The traditional printed athletic materials are obsolete. I’m not talking about hand-written notes and well-constructed letter messages, I’m referring to the tri-fold brochures you insert into your envelopes. Or, media guides and view books from your athletic department. Anything not specifically related to you and your team that the recruit will be with once he or she comes to campus on your roster. Don’t be generic in visually showcasing your program, be specific. This generation is telling us that unless it’s virtually all pictures in printed materials, with current team members who they will know once they commit, don’t invest money in sending them to your prospects.
- Athletes are becoming less afraid of asking you tough questions. We are getting reports from coaches all over the country that athletes are raising tougher questions during the recruiting process. Many recruits tell us they are being coaches on what to ask by their parents and coaches, afraid of the horror stories that they’ve heard in the media and teaching their kids how to stand on their own two feet so that they don’t make a mistake in choosing a program. This is going to require you to strategically map out a plan to head off objections before they start, and effectively answer them once they do ask them (here are some good reference articles on the topic if you’d like to dig deeper).
The art of effective recruiting is a consistently changing challenge. Make sure you know the trends, and use this time to prepare for the upcoming recruiting year.