The danger for coaches in asking their prospects questions lies completely in the answers they receive back.
Very often, those answers guide the coach down the wrong path as they look to recruit student-athletes (and their parents) by formulating what are, on the surface, perfectly reasonable questions.
“What are your academic goals are in college?”
“What do you think makes up a good college athletic experience?”
“Why do you want to compete at this next level?”
Why are these, and questions like them, so dangerous for a serious recruiter? Simple:
Your prospect will likely give you the right answer – with the same mindset that they use when bubbling-in an answer on a multiple choice test.
By “right”, I mean the correct answer. The answer that they think a smart student-athlete would give. The answer that isn’t going to make waves, will let them go on to the next question, and continue on until they pass your test. That is, by the way, what most of your student-athletes view your questions as…it’s a test, something that they have to get through so they can keep moving on through the process.
And so, when you ask questions incorrectly, you’ll risk getting standard answers such as “My academic goals in college are to be the best I can be while competing in sports…” Or, “I think a good athletic experience in college would consist of a proper balance of academics and athletics…” Or, “I want to compete at the next level because I want to challenge myself and make myself the best I can be…”
The answers sound wonderful, but are they genuine? Have you gained any real knowledge by getting those answers?
Are you noticing, Coach, that you’ll finish a 30-minute phone call with a prospect that is filled with lots of questions and reasonably good answers, and feel like you really didn’t learn anything new about your prospect or move the process forward in any tangible way?
If the answer is yes, you’re starting to understand what I mean by getting the “right” answer.
You don’t want the right answer, Coach…you should be aiming for the insightful answers. The answers that they stumble through, and have to start over and explain. The answers they have to think about in order to verbalize to you. Remember those times you really connected with a prospect, and felt like you got really good insights into what kind of a person they’d be if they were on your team? I’ll bet that their answers were conversational and a little disjointed as they tried to verbalize it to you. THAT is the type of answer you should be looking for every single time.
So, how do you create the best environment for bypassing their “right” answers, and get inside their head to get to the good stuff that they’re holding back? Here are some key suggestions I’d recommend:
- Eliminate “yes” and “no” questions. Quite a few of you have read our recruiting guides that outline some of the basics of how to ask effective questions, but for the rest of you I want to set this as a good foundation: Never, ever, ask questions that set-up a “yes” or “no” response from your recruit. As adults, we’ll be asked a question that could garner a yes or no response, and have the mental sophistication to expand on that answer and give our reasons for answering the way we did. Most teenagers, on the other hand, will keep their responses as short as possible in an effort to not say anything embarrassing or too revealing (according to our research and focus groups, this is especially true at the beginning of the recruiting process). This problem has an easy fix: Don’t ask yes-no questions.
- Focus on the process. By focusing your questions on the recruiting process itself, and how they will be figuring out how they’ll be making their decision, you’ll stand an excellent chance of getting truthful, insightful answers. It’s determining the process that actually can lead to developing a strategy for how to recruit that particular prospect based on his or her particular needs. For example, if you discover that they plan on making their decision within the next three months because they don’t want to drag out the recruiting process, you know that your recruiting approach needs to be completely different than if you had the next year and half to tell your story and recruiting them over an extended period of time. That’s the benefit of focusing your questions on the process…they are the questions they feel best equipped to answer honestly.
- Develop one or two follow-up questions that demand honesty. Once you ask a question, be ready with one or two questions that force your recruit to answer more in depth. They won’t want to initially, which is why you’ll need to press them with some tough follow-up questions. For example, if they gave you the answer we used as an example earlier, “I think a good athletic experience in college would consist of a proper balance of academics and athletics”, two logical follow-up questions might be, “That’s interesting…so how would you describe a situation that was out of balance for a college athlete?” And then, “So what are you going to be looking for when you visit campuses that might tip you off to a bad situation that would be out of balance?” When they answer, you may get an idea of what kind of work ethic they’ll be bringing to your program, as well as how you can construct a campus visit that would address some of the specific items on their mental checklist. Notice, however, that you only get that really good information in the follow-up questions. If you don’t ask them, they aren’t likely to tell you.
- Include the parents (especially early on). It amazes me that some coaches still have reluctance to ask parents questions early on in the process. If you are a coach that is holding on to the idea that you are recruiting the athlete and not his or her parents, you are swimming against the tide that is this generation and their reliance on mom and dad as trusted advisors through the recruiting process. This generation of student-athlete wants and expects their parents to be involved in the conversation, and many times they’d prefer if mom and dad answered some of the initial questions you have. I strongly suggest a healthy mix of questions for the parents as well as the prospect, and take the time to ask parents what they are expecting from you as a coach over the coming months. Set yourself apart as a coach who wants them involved, and as someone who is putting value into developing a relationship with them.
Here’s what to do next: Reformulate your questions to include the ideas we’ve listed above, and start asking them to this next class of prospects. What I predict you will discover are better, more in-depth, and more honest answers that give you the tools you need to create more individualized recruiting approaches for each prospect.
This generation of student-athlete and their parents differ greatly from those that you may have previously recruited. Failure to adjust the way you communicate with them will likely make convincing them to come to your college a failed effort, as well.
Want a more personalized assessment of what you and your athletic department need to do to address objections and answer questions for this next class of recruits? Dan and his team of experts is ready to help: Ask us about becoming a client or hosting an On-Campus Workshop by emailing him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.