In a romantic relationship, the feelings you have at the start often dictate whether or not you build that relationship into something more significant and long lasting.
The same doesn’t have to be true for getting your prospect to compete for you at your college.
In fact, requiring them to love your program as you begin the recruiting process in order for you to continue to seriously pursue them isn’t only unrealistic much of the time, it can be detrimental to building a strong program – at any level, in any sport.
In our research over the past two decades, and in the ongoing work with hundreds of clients around the country, we’ve seen concrete evidence that for most prospects, they don’t fall in love with a program right away. Sure, there are a few exceptions sport to sport and region to region, but overall this is a relationship that builds over time. Unlike a romantic relationship we might be pursuing, where emotional evidence of mutual interest is key to feeling like your efforts may be well invested, the recruiting process shows evidence that something else is very likely the case.
Prospects have told us that much of the time, the program they end up committing to seemed wrong for them when they first started the process. Wrong area of the country, wrong size of campus, wrong conference…there were things that just didn’t match up to what they had first been picturing in the head. And that’s important, because most prospects around the country are trying to fit their version of what they’ve dreamed about when it comes to college sports and school into what they are initially seeing from you and your program. The result? You may reach out at first, and get a somewhat lukewarm response. Or, you just get the overall feeling that they aren’t completely sold on your program. Not only is that normal, and to be expected, it absolutely doesn’t mean they will eventually fall in love with the program you run.
When does that tend to happen? Most recruits tell us it starts after 3-4 months of interaction with a coach. It gets confirmed on the campus visit. And it feels complete once they commit. In other words, this is a long process, filled with different stages of changing emotion towards your program, culminating in a commitment declaration…just like a romantic relationship in the real world.
So if we’re looking at all of this with a degree of logic and systematic planning, I would advice a coach to approach building their relationship with their prospects with the following things in mind:
Ignore how they feel, or what they say, in the beginning when it comes to how they view you and your program. At best, they are giving you a non-specific, illogical response that has the goal of simply making sure you don’t stop communicating with them. At worst, they don’t give any sign that they are interested in you because you don’t fit whatever vision of college and college sports they have coming into the recruiting process. Either way, you should keep your head down, moving forward, and realizing that you have a game plan for the long haul.
Expect to be ignored, but work to make it impossible to ignore you. Don’t set up an unrealistic benchmark for your prospects as the process begins. Be patient, keep talking, keep pursuing, and make sure you stay consistent. When their preconceived visions of how the recruiting process will go don’t quite turn out to be reality for them, they’ll be searching for options. Make sure you’re one of them, having proved you care about them and want a relationship with them, and be open and excited when they finally give you the chance to win them over.
Understand what they want, and what they’ve been envisioning. This is a big factor in the process that some coaches gloss over after being spurned for a while at the start of the process: What caused them to think you weren’t the right fit for them? Once you get them to reveal those things, reverse engineer a path back to you with messaging that proves you were the right fit all along.
This methodology works, but only if you commit to it and make sure you stay consistent. Your prospects aren’t perfect, and they can’t fall in love with every program that contacts them initially. Understand that, accept it as a part of the process, and patiently prove that you were the best choice all along. If you do, as the process completes and they commit to you, then (and usually only then) will they fall in love with you, your school, and your program.
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