Do you ever struggle when you try to describe to someone not familiar with college athletics what you do for the living? Do you want to scream when they say something like, “Oh, so you have the whole summer off!”
What they fail to realize is all that time you are on the field or on the court is just a fraction (and a tiny fraction) of what your job entails and just when you get next year’s class in the books it’s time to start focussing your attention on the next one. And hopefully that process is well on its way.
With the end of the academic year just around the corner this can be a good time to take a look at the past year’s recruiting, fully realizing that it was by every definition an unusual year. In many ways the past year was similar to entering the start of your season with your star athlete gone for the year due to a preseason training injury or the late decision of a couple other key players to either transfer or take the year off.
Events like those test your resilience and force you to do a hard pivot. Have you asked yourself how the adjustments you made to your recruiting this past year worked? If you haven’t this might be the ideal time to take a deep dive into how things worked out. Here are a few things to consider as you begin this conversation with yourself, and maybe your staff:
- Our research tells us that recruits typically have a strong allegiance to the coach or staff who first contacted them. Some of the filters that a prospect might use to judge another program typically don’t get applied to that first school. (facilities, cost, prestige, etc.) By a nearly four to one margin, we find prospects trend toward the programs that were first to make contact. With that in mind recruiting is just like dating – that first impression is critical. If your first impression falls short you spend the next several exchanges trying to overcome that bad first step. It’s essential to show excitement early.
- We’ve spent a lot of the past year talking about virtual recruiting. If you’re still not comfortable with your performance in that space your job over the summer is to make an investment in getting better. A common mistake coaches made during the past year is viewing the Zoom session as if it was a phone call. In fact, the Zoom is a performance and even though you may not realize it your responsiveness, enthusiasm, body language, appearance, listening skills, and a host of other behaviors are getting judged. The best way to get better at this new reality is to spend time watching others who are really good at it. It may be another coach in your department, another administrator you Zoom with on campus, For a lot of us, myself included, the actual “performance” is awkward and uncomfortable. But as I’m sure you have realized it gets easier and as it gets easier you become more effective.
- A critical finding from TCS’s 2020 Coronavirus Recruiting Study (here’s the link 2020 National Student-Athlete Coronavirus & Recruiting Study (dantudor.com)) told us that prospects and their families are paying more attention than ever to ROI, or return on investment in the schools they choose. While you may need to study up on your school’s ROI you also need to look at the return on investment in your recruiting resources. As we have been saying all year, things are different now and decisions are being made along new lines. While effective, consistent messaging has always been important, it’s more important now because the best way to demonstrate your ROI is to tell the stories (every 6-9 days) about how you are different and why those differences are relevant to the ROI. During the pandemic, recruits had more time to evaluate, study who you are, etc. That was just one reason decisions were getting made quicker – they were more prepared sooner. They will be looking for that same flow of information in 2021 and 2022. If you don’t deliver their trust in you and your program will be compromised and some other program will gladly step into fill that void. If you’re having trouble finding the words to tell your story Tudor Collegiate Strategies can help.
- If you think about some of the most impactful decisions you’ve made it’s likely they came with a fair amount of trepidation. It’s natural to rely on the familiar but often the returns you’re looking for lie on the other side – you just need to go there! The same thing with your recruiting. Maybe this is the year you try a new strategy. Change the way you do campus visits (half the time the prospect is on campus needs to be spent with your team!). Maybe this is the year you engage parents right from the start (92% of recruits depend on their parents to guide the decision so you need to win THEM early). Maybe this is the year you invest in your assistant so they can carry more of the recruiting burden. Maybe this is the year you invest in an area you know is a weakness (communication skills, evaluation, identification, etc.) Making an investment in your personal development in this area will increase your desire for recruiting and increase your confidence. Another opportunity is committing yourself to building better relationships with your pipeline of high school or club coaches. That can lead to huge dividends. While you are recruiting your prospects and their parents think about making the same effort to recruit their coaches. Opening yourself to change or addressing a weakness can be unsettling but great things are waiting for you if you embrace those challenges.
- If you were recently appointed to your position, or you recently hired an assistant coach, how much do you really know about your institution? Along the same lines, if you have been at the same school for a long time, it’s likely you don’t know as much about your school as you think you do. New deans, new initiatives, , newly designed strategic plans, new department directors, maybe a new president, etc. all impact your school (and the stories you need to tell recruits) in significant ways. A great summer project would be to make an appointment with one department director each week to find out what’s going on and what’s new (alumni, enrollment, admissions, provost, residence life, student activities). Your institution’s five year strategic plan is a great place to start.
This is a very short list of possibilities but I hope they move you toward taking a critical look at your current recruiting practices. While this is not the start of the new year, in many ways right now is the start of your new recruiting year. There’s no better time to take a hard look at your program’s recruiting practices.
Greg Carroll knows what he’s talking about: He’s a longtime college athletic director who now works on the Tudor Collegiate Strategies’ staff, advising coaches on the best recruiting strategies based on our research and knowledge. To contact Greg with follow-up questions you have, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.