On a consistent basis over the years, we have emphasized the specific ways that high school student-athletes make their decisions as to which programs they will commit to, and which coaches they will play for.
At that age, high school prospects desperately need certain things from a coach and the recruiting process in order to make that life altering decision.
But in our ongoing research, we find that transfer student-athletes need something completely different than their high school counterparts do. And, coaches who fail to understand that difference are going to find it increasingly difficult to land those transfer student-athletes, whether we’re talking about a junior college prospect you have interest in, or an athlete you find through the NCAA Transfer Portal.
Successfully maneuvering through this growingly complex maze is going to make a big difference in the quality of programs that those coaches are able to build. Many coaches are realizing that a handful of these types of recruits can quite literally make the difference between a future conference championship, or another season watching competitors win instead of them.
So, how should a college coach approach recruiting this special classification of student-athlete today?
Let’s begin with junior college transfers:
College coaches need to realize that a junior college transfer has probably followed a path that was not likely the plan growing up. They may have had academic challenges that needed to be corrected at a junior college, injuries in high school that caused them to go to junior college, or they just needed to do it for their athletic development at the junior college level before being ready to go to the four year college level. Other circumstances, such as the cost of college or a family situation, might also be a play when it came to reasons they went to a junior college.
On the surface, those might seem like facts that are basic and fairly unimportant when it comes to recruiting them now for your program; after all, that is the past, and you were focused on their future with you and your program. However, coaches who fail to account for the past, and why it unfolded the way it did for those student-athletes, don’t approach recruiting them in the right context. As a coach, and as a recruiter, you need to approach the process with junior college athletes by understanding why they chose that option.
For example, one of our clients asked us to help develop a strategy for recruiting one of the better athletes in the country in their sport this past year. By making sure we were approaching things in the right context, and asking that young athlete about their decision to go to junior college, the coach discovered that a sick parent was the reason they chose to stay close to home and play for two years of that year in college level, turning down opportunities to go with several four year college offers they had. Knowing that fact, and how it would be affecting his future four year decision, was instrumental in landing that recruit. The coach and I both agreed that had we not known that fact, and what some of those original four year coaches did wrong at the end of the process with that prospect, we would not have approached the situation correctly. Around the country, many college coaches never find out why their student-athletes chose to compete at the junior college level at the beginning of their recruiting process with them, and it ends their chances of successfully recruiting them before the process ever really begins.
The other primary trait we find with junior college athletes is that they do not need as much of the personal relationship with your current team, or even with you, compared to their high school prospect counterparts. For most junior college athletes, this takes on more of the look of a business transaction then it does forming a relationship: they have two years left to compete, in most cases, and they need to understand right away as to why it should be with you and your program. As a result, they become much more focused on your plan for them, and how they see themselves to be used within that plan, during the recruiting process.
In addition, junior college athletes usually go through this decision process much more quickly than their high school counterparts. That should be important for any coach involved in recruiting process to understand and remember, because it will affect how you were able to tell your program story, and the time with which people have to tell it. Most college coaches over-estimate the time they have to help form a decision in the mind of their junior college prospect, and end up getting burned by that at some point in the process when the prospect makes their decision sooner than expected.
As far as student athletes who are being recruited as a result of going through the NCAA transfer portal or individually contacting a school or coach, they emulate the decision making process of junior college transfers, with one important exception:
They made the decision to go to a four year college or university as a student-athletes, and now something has gone wrong with that original plan. Whereas a junior college athlete might’ve been a little frustrated with having to go to junior college in order to gain the opportunity to play in the four-year school eventually, athletes who are coming through the portal tend to be a little shellshocked. They became disillusioned by a coach’s broken promise, or they missed being close to home, or the coach left for another job, or she broke up with her boyfriend…somewhere along the way, something did not go according to plan, and now they are reeling – personally, and as a college student and athlete.
Your job, as the coach who might now be interested in having them compete for your program, is to understand – as deeply as possible- the “why” behind their decision to leave their current college team. Failing to do that will put you at an extreme disadvantage compared to one of your competitors who happens to stumble into a better understanding of what is motivating that athlete’s decision.
So in summary, here are the main things that you will want to do as a college coach anytime you were dealing with transfer in the recruiting process:
- First and foremost, view their decision as something that is happening because their original plan they envisioned growing up as a rising athlete did not materialize.
- They are more concerned with how they fit into your plan moving forward, and not as concerned with relationships as a regular high school recruiting is.
- The exception to that rule is when the basis of their transfer is because of bad relationships with teammates or previous coaches; make sure to look for that as one of the reasons, and plan to emphasize relationships with players on their team that are their age as you take them through the abbreviated transfer recruiting process.
- You won’t have as much time to recruit them and make your case to them. That is why finding out the “why“ behind the reason for transferring Is so critical.
- Because they have been through the process once before, and are older and more mature now, they do not rely on their parents as much for this new decision. While it is always recommended a coach communicate with the parents and get their perspective during the process, you do not need to place this much emphasis on “selling“ the parent of a transfer athlete as you may with a high school recruit.
- We find that they are very cognizant of a mistake or misstep they may have made in the past and choosing their previous program, so look for what those issues might be and spend time in your abbreviated recruiting process emphasizing how your program is going to be different, and bring with it a different outcome for them.
- They usually have less room for negotiations and delays, and can and should be guided strongly through the process towards making a final decision, either to compete for your program or make decision to take another opportunity.
Transfer student-athletes are going to be a more common market segment in college athletics moving forward. How you as a college coach maneuver through that process may determine the strength of your program compared to your competition in years to come, and will certainly determine your individual success as a college coach.
Make a plan today for how you and your program will approach this segment of athletic prospects.
Want help designing a strategy for this situation, and others, in building your program? Our team of experts is helping 500+ coaching staffs at all levels around the country do just that. We even help create recruiting messaging plans that can make your program stand out from the rest with the recruits you really want. For more details, click here and fill out the contact form at the bottom of the page so we can set up a time to talk one-on-one about how we can help you and your coaching staff.