At least three times a week – often many more – I get asked the same question by a college coach.
“How do we get better players?”
It’s probably a question being asked in your office too because from my experience coaches at all levels are driven by the constant pursuit of better. And, there are only two ways to get better – make your players better or get better players.
For some of those coaches asking the question, better is broadly defined in relation to the current members of their team. However, for most, better represents an aspirational big-picture view of recruiting. It speaks to a hope of being in more conversations – in different conversations – with the best athletes.
They’re asking – independent of our circumstances, our record, our facility – how do we attract the athletes we see our competitors recruiting. You know the ones – the elite, the impact players, the athletes we want to coach.
First, let’s acknowledge that recruiting the best players is difficult because they’re in higher demand and they have more options. There’s a limited pool of true difference makers in every sport. The system, including the influence of high school and club coaches, favors the safe choice – the known brand with a defined tradition and history of success.
To stand out in a crowded field of suitors, you need to tell a better story. You need to communicate consistently with effective messages. You need to provide clear action steps as the experienced guide. But most of all you need to do the work.
Do the right work!
Truthfully, in order to successfully recruit the best players, you need to put in years of hard work. Coaches routinely underestimate the amount of effort and energy it takes to bring in the elite players. These commitments are not the result of you simply providing offers and prospects accepting, but rather a culmination of a long effort to build relationships, a positive perception of your program, and a story that answers the questions of why they should choose you and why you are a better option than your competitors.
To help illustrate my point, I’m going to share a story. A few years ago, I led a staff effort to recruit the National High School Player of the Year – an individual recruited by every program in the country. While the details of your process will be specific and unique to your program, I hope the insight provides a framework to improve your approach to reeling in the best players.
One of the biggest reasons programs aren’t getting better athletes is that they lack the confidence to contact them.
If you’re not telling your story to the best players, the best players aren’t going to come to your school. But to be able to tell your story to the best players, you need to find a way to get them to listen, to answer their phone, or to reply to your email. You need an IN!
Our first in came from the opportunity I had to coach the prospect for a week as a 14-year old at National Development Camp. The opening took place four years before signing an NLI, but it became a core part of the story. It created familiarity in continued evaluation and tracking. It created a natural connection with high school coaches and college counselors that provided a forum to define our institution to key influencers. It created different touch points and pathways to have multiple ways in. It created a reason to answer the phone during the first opportunity to contact.
Becoming a Destination
The BEST way to get better players is to become a destination by presenting yourself as a place recruits want to be.
Because every recruit starts the process with a defined perception of your program, what happens in your program while they are considering you will either confirm or change how they see you as a potential destination. They critically evaluate your players, your performance, and your story. They’re constantly trying to figure out why they should pick you over their safer, known options.
Step 1: Make you team better.
Step 2: Increase your visibility in their orbit to be perceived as better.
Be purposeful in adding players that your best recruits can envision playing with. It helps to have recognizable names that they have competed with – and against – at the highest levels. Their understanding of the player pool is different than yours, so familiarity is often just as powerful an influence on decisions as ratings and your personal evaluation of a player’s talent-level.
To be more visible, we scheduled games against teams top recruits were considering – often on the road to be seen in specific area. We identified the social media platforms our top recruits used and improved both the consistency and the quality of our presentation on those platforms. We occasionally created posts to speak directly to an audience of one.
Personalize The Story
The audience of one matters. Good recruiting stories are comprehensive, compelling, and consistently delivered in many forms. But great ones add a personal element to the foundational message that explains exactly why your program fits each recruit.
Our foundational message focused on both performance and identity. We added multiple strong recruiting classes to build a deeper roster of talented teammates to play with. We told a development story of how being hard to play against prepared our players for success on the national level. We highlighted the best features of our program in positive contrast to competitors. We shared improved performance and a clear idea of where we were going.
Our individual story focused on geography. It was a story of how playing close to home would lead to more publicity, more community influence, and more immediate opportunities upon graduation than other options. It resonated because it was supported by a large close-knit family that wanted to be present at games and involved in the experience.
Identify Objections and Provide Solutions
If you’re going to get better players, you need to welcome objections. The ability to understand what recruits think and identify what they are still unsure about in your program is an essential skill for the best recruiters. Those coaches know objections actually create movement and allow them to reframe a potential negative as a positive part of your program story.
It became clear early on that our two biggest objections would be:
- Were we good enough?
- And, was our program brand strong enough for the parents’ egos, specifically Dad’s?
The first one turned out to be a much easier sell. Supported by our recruiting story, it was solved simply by getting our recruit to a game – albeit as part of a recruiting visit to another campus we happened to be playing at. It was confirmation that our message matched our program reality.
The second was trickier, took much longer, and involved a collective staff effort. To provide answers that connected with the right audience, we had three different voices, a head coach and two assistants – with unique personalities and strengths – present three different messages to three different people – dad, mom, and recruit. The right pairing of messenger and recipient provided a unique way for each individual to see why us and why we were better than their other options.
In the end, we did a lot of things. We built relationships to open the door to conversation. We worked to improve the perception of the program as a desirable destination. We added personal elements that connected emotionally on top of the logic of our foundational story. We identified objections and provided answers. And finally, we worked every day in our program to deliver an experience that matched or exceeded the recruiting promise.
Recruiting is hard. It’s a competition on an uneven playing field where each program has its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. But with knowledge, experience, and a plan, you’ll find that if you attack recruiting the right way, you get the desired results!
Recruiting isn’t A to B, but constantly positioning yourself to be ready to take advantage of an opportunity!
Do what others aren’t willing to do. Do the work.
Be Distinct. Be Different.
Getting better players for our clients is our top priority at Tudor Collegiate Strategies. When we work one-on-one with coaching staffs, we develop a customized approach based on research and on-target messaging for their prospects. If you want to know more, click here or email Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.