by Greg Carroll, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
It’s been more than 40 years but I still remember the day I got my first letter from a college coach, introducing me to their program. I was a junior in high school (1978, I’m really that old!) and had gotten some honors that fall which put me on the radar of some college coaches.
“Dear Future Wildcat! We’re so excited to introduce XXXXXX College to you and want to welcome you to our 1979 Recruiting Class!”
The letter went on to talk about their program, their facilities, schools they competed against and other particulars about the coaching staff, honors team members had garnered etc. The letters from that school and others continued to come and they all were all generally the same. They were all exactly what we encourage our client programs NOT to do. They were totally generic and the same letter probably went to every other football player graduating that spring across the United States.
There was just one program out of probably a couple dozen where the coach actually wrote me a letter in his own handwriting and even to this day I could tell you his name and the school. It made an impression.
The turmoil of the last couple years has undeniably changed the recruiting landscape. At Tudor Collegiate Strategies we’ve got the actual data from the recruits of our client programs to back that up and we’re sharing those findings with our clients so they can get the best prospects. The one thing that has not changed is what turns a recruit off faster than any other factor and that is the sense that your message is simply a mass email or letter.
In combination with all the things that have changed over the past couple years it has never been more important for coaches to personalize their approach to recruiting. If you have been following TCS you know we’ve been talking about the fear, anxiety, and stress most recruits carry with them through the recruiting process. They don’t want to make the wrong decision because doing so is COSTLY! They don’t want to disappoint their parents, their coaches, or their friends. They worry about not making friends, not being good enough, balancing academics and athletics. The list is absolutely endless.
How do you combat these fears? You personalize the recruiting process. Here are a few ideas that hopefully will give you some things to think about:
- Several coaches I have spoken to this past year indicated that despite not having campus visits or overnight opportunities they felt like they knew their current recruiting class better than previous groups. Why? Because of Zoom. They felt they got to know them in a much deeper way over Zoom than they would have if they made phone calls as they did in the past. Zooming put a face to those exchanges. They got to see your home, your office, they heard your kids in the background and they saw your pets roaming your house. It was inherently personal. The smart coach will continue to use Zoom as a resource to get personal.
- In the same way, the smart coach will get to know the recruit’s parents on a personal level. You want to be on a first name basis with them. When they finally come for that campus visit you want it to feel like you have known them for months, not an initial introduction. If you are a parent and have ever sent a child off to college you know that the parents have the same fears as their child. Your job is to offer reassurance that you’ve got their child’s back, you have a plan for them. Zooming with parents has the same effect as it does on the recruit. The smart coach will continue to Zoom with parents.
- A couple weeks ago I was talking with a client coach who had been recruiting a very good prospect for several months but was unable to get them to commit. I suggested that he arrange a Zoom session with a couple of his athletes. He scheduled it, set it up, made introductions and then checked out. The recruit and athletes chatted for two hours! The recruit committed the next day. The smart coach will always schedule sessions like that. Your recruits need to see that your athletes like the same things they do, they talk the same way, they have the same fears, they like the same movies, etc. All that makes it safe for them to choose you.
- While Tudor Collegiate Strategies operates in every space that involves recruiting, our priority is on effective messaging. If you are not strategic in your messaging you’re going to lose recruiting battles. If you sort of “fit” your messaging to recruits into your schedule your effort is having the exact opposite effect from what you want. Sporadic messaging, incomplete messaging, mass messaging, and simply dusting off what didn’t work last year and reusing it the next year falls way short. A consistent, 360 degree story about what makes you, your program, your school different from the other schools they’re considering puts you at the front of their line. The smart coach is working with Tudor Collegiate Strategies to assure they have a monthly playbook to be successful with their messaging. It’s what we do!
- Each interaction you have with a recruit is an opportunity to learn something about them. The kind of teammates they want to have, the qualities of their favorite coach, what they see as their own shortcomings, etc. Once you have collected all that information, you start crafting an individualized plan for their development as an athlete, a student, a teammate, a leader on campus, etc. and you present that plan to them AND THEIR PARENTS when you ask for their commitment. The smart coach doesn’t just ask the right questions but instead listens to the answers, saves that information and then uses it to demonstrate that they really know the recruit and have a plan for their success.
- Every program has one – the recruit questionnaire. When was the last time you looked at that document? It’s probably been years and it probably wasn’t great even then. That document likely asks things like athletic honors, height, weight, size, speed indicators, high school average, test scores, etc. That document is a great opportunity to collect other information like what they like to do when they’re not competing, other activities they’re involved with at their school, what led them to your school. Information is power and those questionnaires are typically one dimensional. Also, don’t make completing the questionnaire the price of admission to being a recruit. Think about your last visit to the doctor where the first thing they do is hand you the clipboard with the dreaded questionnaire. If you’re like me, you HATE filling that out. You have plenty of time to find out how fast they can run the forty! The smart coach will take a close look at their athlete questionnaire and give it a fresh look and make it a more useful tool.
Need help personalizing your recruiting approach? Greg Carroll works with college coaches in his work for Tudor Collegiate Strategies, helping them do just that. You can email Greg with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.