by Greg Carroll, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
A year ago, as the first of the vaccines were being rolled out and many of us were waiting for our demographic to be called (those over 50, those with compromised health conditions, teachers, etc) I told myself there was light at the end of the tunnel and if we collectively played our cards right we’d be back in the gym, out on the fields, and in the bleachers soon.
While hope springs eternal and I remain a “glass is half full kind of guy” a year later we’re in the midst of another variant and a significant outbreak that is challenging even the most positive of us. I remain optimistic and embrace the belief that we will get back to normal with the caveat that it will be a new kind of normal.
That new normal is likely to include new considerations related to recruiting success. Realizing that, I thought it might be a good time to revisit a comprehensive recruiting study Tudor Collegiate Strategies conducted in the summer of 2020 as the pandemic was just beginning to change the recruiting landscape and how recruits and their families were making decisions. You can find that study at 2020-National-Student-Athlete-Coronavirus-Recruiting-Study.
The study, which tracked the decision making of 2,432 students, is an invaluable tool as we close out the 2022 recruiting class but also look at best practices for securing your best class ever in 2023 and beyond. Much of the study’s findings break new ground while some of the findings affirm research we have been following for the past several years. The ever increasing levels of stress and anxiety young adults and college students are carrying with them is impacting choices recruits are making about where they choose to go to school.
“Among prospective student-athletes, worries about college, their athletic career and the stress associated with the process is significant. More than 6 out of 10 recruits are worried about the impact of coronavirus on their college education, as well as the quality of their college sports career when asked to measure their own feelings on the topic.” TCS Covid Study, 2020
The study noted that the stress recruits are feeling related to Covid is less about actually contracting the illness but more related to its indirect effect. For example, what impact a far reaching outbreak like Covid would have on their educational and athletic experience, the impact it will have on their family’s finances and the potential for illness to strike their parents and other family members.
When I’m working with a coaching staff probably the most important thing we talk about is establishing trust with a recruit and their parents. Based on the TCS study building a trustworthy relationship carries added importance right now. Your recruits need to know that you have their back. You don’t build trust when you’re inconsistent with your communication. You undermine your relationship with your recruits when you are not honest about your program’s shortcomings and challenges. And you certainly lose credibility when you talk negatively about another school your recruit might be considering.
How do you establish a trustworthy relationship? By consistently connecting with your recruits and giving them a 360 degree picture of your school. By addressing a shortcoming you KNOW you have even before they have the chance to question it. By talking about overall wellness, not just athletic fitness. You build their trust by showing them things you do each day that promote a positive culture within your program that recognizes the role of mental health, proper nutrition, and academic/athletic balance. If you are not informed about your school’s counseling services and comfortable talking about mental health you need to make an investment there. It will make you a better coach and again, build trust with your recruits. Go back to your Psych 101 textbook and read about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. That will tell you the things you can do to build the trust you need to win a recruit and their parents.
Another important finding from the study noted the importance of being able to demonstrate (not just talk about…) the return on investment a degree from your institution offers. With the uncertainty of the current economic environment, the rapidly changing landscape of future employment opportunities (where the jobs of the future will be and how your school is positioning graduates for that marketplace) it is essential that coaches be informed about graduation rates and percentage of those finishing degree within four years, job placement rates, etc.
“As colleges emphasize online learning as a possible option in 2020-2021, college administrators, athletic departments and coaches need to be aware of the negative perceptions associated with that path forward. This feeling, combined with the growing financial burden that the crisis is causing student-athletes and their families, will mean all parties on a college campus will need to more thoroughly justify the education they are offering, the positive end results of earning a degree from their university after competing there as a student-athlete, and the investment required for that opportunity.” TCS Covid Study, 2020
A last point that affirms another foundational principle of TCS practices is related to the importance of interacting with parents throughout the entire recruiting process from beginning to end. More than 90 percent of recruits tell us they are depending on their parents to help them make their decision. If you are isolating the parents your trustworthy score drops exponentially. The uncertainties and continuing concerns presented by the Covid crisis add to the importance of parent engagement right now.
“Coaches and college officials would be wise to increase their interaction with parents of their recruited and current student-athletes, given their worries about the crisis and their influence on the final decisions made by the prospective student-athlete.” TCS Covid Study, 2020
While the Covid crisis has tested us in many ways it has forced us all to re-examine how we conduct business and assess previous ways of doing business. We’ve been forced to find new ways to accomplish the same things (virtual recruiting and virtual story telling). Those tools will remain important for recruiting success moving forward even as we move past the current Covid challenges.
Greg Carroll is part of the staff at Tudor Collegiate Strategies that works with over 500 programs around the country. He helps college coaches develop a winning recruiting message and strategy. For questions about how that works, email him at Greg@dantudor.com.