by Paul Nemetz-Carlson, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
Every year in college athletics, as late Spring approaches, a surprisingly large number of coaches anxiously await final prospect decisions. Their program hopes and future pinned to high school seniors who – down to 2 or 3 final schools – might just choose them.
The scene repeats itself with other groups playing the same nervous waiting game at different points of the calendar – i.e. National Signing Days and early decision deadlines.
All waiting for a conclusion to a months-long process, clinging to the hope that the well supported presentation of what makes their institution and program great will be enough to sway them and “make” their class.
All wondering why recruiting remains the only part of their professional life where they don’t feel in control.
For many college coaches – especially young coaches – they know recruiting is important, but don’t have the skills, training or guidance to consistently succeed. They understand the basic framework. They know they need to scout players, call them, and provide positive information about their program to convince them to come.
And yet, they regularly feel like a coach I spoke with this week who said, “I’m like a boat in the ocean with my sail up, but no wind.”
In my role, I repeatedly have conversations with coaches – all sports, all levels – and see a lot of them incredibly frustrated with recruiting, wondering, “How did I get here?”
My answer is simple. You are not controlling the process. The process – and the prospects – are controlling you.
If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know most of my articles seek to put coaches back in control of their recruiting. I hope to empower coaches to recruit from a place of confidence and use proven strategies to more effectively guide prospects through a difficult process to choose their schools. I beg them to be more active in taking control of the program’s perceived identity and share where they are going.
Winning programs have many things in common – leadership, experience, strong cultures – but nothing separates teams from their competitors more than the ability to consistently attract talent by controlling the recruiting narrative. To do this, the most skilled recruiters gain confidence from how they manage the process. They provide clear guidance around action steps and when they expect recruits to make decisions. In turn, they ask probing questions that create movement and insight into how the prospect will actually make a decision. They adapt and craft a program story that answers objections and tells recruits why they should choose them. Being in control, they commit and enroll their first choice prospects.
To that end, here are three things you can do to be more empowered, more confident and more in control of the recruiting process.
TIP #1: Create a Timeline and Get Your Recruits on It
Get out of the May 1st rat race! When recruits have too many choices and face a shared hard deadline, they’re bad decision makers. They’re more pressured, more irrational, and their choices are less likely to reflect coaches’ perception of the recruiting process.
To avoid this, set a new date – where prospects are deciding on your program BEFORE they are put in this difficult situation. Create a new timeline that defines the end, one that fits your program and your institutional policies, and SHARE it with them.
A mutually agreed upon timeline is the best way to move the process onto your terms and get away from the pressure of the arbitrary decision date given to them by a guidance counselor, their non-sport friends, or worse, another coach you’re recruiting against.
TIP #2: Understand Your Institutional Process
We’ve all had a coach repeat the old adage, “control what you can control.” It’s great advice in recruiting if you remember to shift your focus away from dreading the decisions made in your admission, financial aid, and compliance offices and learn how they work.
Contrary to what you might think, your admissions office doesn’t make random decisions. They have expectations for each applicant’s GPA, test scores, and academic rigor. They have their own timelines and protocols for their office. Know them, but also know when to push candidates outside those standards and what they need in terms of supplemental support.
Same too for your financial aid office. In fact, many of them award aid right off an established matrix. But too many coaches, don’t understand the basics of how the FAFSA and Estimators work – or how their institution awards merit based scholarships, grants, and financial aid – which forces them to wait until after financial aid awards are already sent out to have difficult money conversations.
Like your individual sport has rules, so does your compliance office. While you may not know them all, when you use them as a resource, rather than an adversary – you can use the rules to create more “let’s see how we can get there” conversations and fewer “you can’t do that.”
TIP #3: Seek Out The Yes and The No
You probably don’t know this, but research says by the time prospects tell you whether or not they’re joining your program, they’ve known for 3 weeks. You just didn’t ask.
You didn’t ask because you were afraid they were going to say no. And if they didn’t say no, there’s always hope, right?
If you truly want to feel in control of the process, you have to be comfortable asking questions that seek out both yes and no. You need to welcome objections. (It actually creates movement and allows you to reframe a potential negative as a positive part of your program story.) Asking for a yes, or a no, lets you to spend less time guessing what the wrong prospects think and more time building relationships with the right ones.
Coach, recruiting is hard. It’s easy to feel out of control because your career depends on a process that asks 16-18 year olds to make informed, logical decisions. And they don’t.
But you can take control of the process if you know how prospects think. At every stage of the process they’re looking to you to provide reasons to choose you and tell them what to do next.
Be committed to being a better guide. Define the timeline. Tell a great story that moves the process forward on your terms. You got this!
Be Distinct! Be Different!
Paul Nemetz-Carlson is one of the trusted experts on staff here at Tudor Collegiate Strategies, working with Dan Tudor and their team to advise college coaching staffs and help coordinate the most powerful recruiting message possible for our clients. Do you want a team of experts working with you and your program to develop the best messaging strategy possible? Click here to find out how our process works, and fill out the contact form so we can have a conversation specific to you and your needs.