Turn on your favorite cable channel these days, and you’re likely to hear about a serious crisis or a tragic event.
A school shooting. A protest turned violent. And, the growing incidents of controversial police actions, as well as violence aimed at those same police.
It’s affecting communities around the country, without rhyme or reason. And if you’re a coach who has had one of these events hit close to home, you know one of the first things that crosses your mind is, “how am I going to explain this to my recruits?”
I know that’s the case because when we have a coach who we work with as a client, and an incident happens near their campus, they ask us for help. Unfortunately, we’ve received too many of those requests in recent months as our nation has watched different tragedies unfold in front of our eyes.
These events tend to put the “importance” of recruiting and college sports in serious perspective, of course. However, life – and your job as a college coach – goes on. With that in mind, as with any interaction with your recruits, what you say and do after incidents like these take place, are important.
And while each incident, and each student-athlete you recruit, are unique, we can recommend some important general protocols for any coach to follow that will help communicate with, and (if necessary) calm, your prospects after bad news breaks near your campus or community:
Understand their perspective. As bad as it seems to you (whatever “it” happens to be), understand that it probably isn’t nearly as bad in the eyes of your prospect. What I mean is that you, as a coach on your campus and in your community, live, eat and breathe what goes on at your school and in your town. Most coaches are hyper-sensitive to any potential negative news, and how it might affect the attitude towards their program in the eyes of their recruits; that’s understandable, and I’m not being critical of it (I’d actually rather a coach error on the side of caution versus assuming that everything is o.k.). What I’m saying is that just because something horrible has transpired nearby doesn’t mean you’ve lost your chance to getting that prospect to say yes. From our research and experience, that just isn’t the case.
Don’t wait for them to reach out to you. You, Coach, should reach out to them. Once the situation is over, if at all possible, take the initiative and start the tough conversation about whatever happened. Explain it from your perspective, provide a definition of how they should be looking at whatever the situation is, reassure them, and ask them to ask you questions about it. I would suggest that there are questions or concerns that they will hold back from telling you, so be politely persistent…let them know it’s o.k. to talk about it.
Your tone is as important as your words. Your non-verbal communication is key here, Coach. The more confident, relaxed, and reassuring you sound on the phone, or in person during a home or campus visit, the better. If you take the attitude that you’re going to try to have an open, honest, heart-to-heart conversation with them, you should be fine. But be conscious of the tone you take.
Leave your politics and personal views at the door. Unless it’s a natural disaster you’re referring to, don’t insert your strong political viewpoints in the conversation (Democrats and Republicans can agree that all natural disasters are a bad thing, right?). We hear about so many instances of a parent having a conversation with a coach, the coach dropping a hint at a political belief or opinion on a matter, and then that parent using that disagreeing viewpoint as a reason for eliminating that program from consideration. Such is the world we live in, Coach. Parents – and even some of your kids – can be easily offended by a voiced viewpoint on a crisis or controversy. Keep it in mind, Coach.
Give details on why your team was safe during the incident. If an athlete is truly interested in your program, they’ll be looking for reassurance from you. They want solid, logical reasons to explain why the incident in question is something that, in the end, shouldn’t be something to worry about. In short, they want to “know how to think” about something that happened that may have affected your program. (If you’re our client, let us know anytime you need us to formulate a strategy and the right wording for conversations with your recruits after a crisis is over).
The research says your written and verbal communication counts. If you talk to them over the phone or in person, follow it up with a written summary of what you said. If your first contact with them is via email, letter or social media, follow that up with a phone call.
Don’t use a tragedy against an opponent. Want to discredit yourself and appear downright sleazy in the eyes of your recruit? Try to use a tragedy or crisis against an opponent in the form of negative recruiting. Not only will it not affect their view of your competitor, our focus group testing tells us quite clearly that it will almost immediately discredit you as a likable, trusted coach.
Your goal after a crisis is to provide context of the situation for your prospect. If you don’t, they’ll quickly invent their own story and definition of what happened.
To be completely clear, Coach:
The intent here is not to mislead your prospect or “trick” them into believing some kind of alternate reality. Your goal, as their trusted source, is to give them an understand – from your perspective – as to why a tragedy or crisis shouldn’t be the reason they end up saying no to you and your program.
Your communication plan is the most important part of how you recruit your future team. How are you communicating with your prospect class when there isn’t a crisis to explain? It’s going to determine the caliber of recruit you end up bringing to campus. Since 2005, we’ve helped hundreds of coaches and their programs take a systematic, research-based approach to developing the right recruiting messaging. If you’d like to talk about how we can do that for you and your program this year, email Dan Tudor directly at email@example.com.